Listen Up: RZSAC Advice falling on deaf ears

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Clause 1 yet again has more dismaying changes to Victorian Planning Schemes to report to BDAV members. Regular readers of BDAV News will need little reminding of the present overhaul of the residential zones, which have left some municipalities in a holding pattern while they seek to convert from ‘neutral conversion’ zones to one of the three new zones and countless varied schedules being creatively authored by individual planning departments.

To assist Councils in preparing their ‘wish list’ of new zones and schedules, the RZSAC (Residential Zones Standing Advisory Committee) was convened and has been conducting panel hearings and providing independent advice to Councils for the last 18 months.

In many instances, the findings of the RZSAC, which is comprised of highly experienced planning practitioners, have been pretty scathing. Some Councils were advised to scrap their proposed zones and go back to the drawing board, encouraged to increase the degree of consultation with their communities, reduce the areas locked up by the Neighbourhood Residential Zone (NRZ), or questioned over how Council’s preference for the wide spread application of the NRZ could be justified.

Despite receiving this type of advice Matthew Guy continued to approve planning scheme amendments that the RZSAC had determined contained issue. With the election of the new State Labor government, many industry bodies were hopeful that this practice would cease.

We were therefore somewhat dismayed to learn that the new planning minister Richard Wynne has recently approved Amendment C153 to the City of Moreland’s planning scheme, which sees the imposition of new residential zones, with the most restrictive, the NRZ, strongly favoured. The RZSAC report for Moreland’s proposed amendments (to be read in conjunction with Overarching Issues Report issued in September 2014) advised caution and recommended that further analysis into the impacts on supply and the overarching themes of Plan Melbourne be taken into consideration. Moreland is by no means alone in disregarding the independent recommendations of the RZSAC.

Another recommendation of the RZSAC which was put forward in the Overarching Issues Report and adopted by the former Planning Minister back in September 2014 was an amendment to the maximum height controls in the Neighbourhood Residential Zone (mandatorily 8 m except on a sloping site) to allow for additional building height where a flood level is prescribed by Melbourne Water. Despite this recommendation being adopted eight months ago, the relevant Clause (32.09  – 8) has still not been amended, although some Councils have updated their schedules to reflect this recommendation. In the absence of a state-wide amendment, it leaves some municipalities with no choice but to impose a maximum mandatory height limit, with no leeway for the requirements of water authorities. This glaring error could have been cleaned up months ago and is an example of how important planning considerations have been overlooked in the formulation of the new zone controls.

So with the expertise and independent advice of the RZSAC being ignored or discounted we are left with a system in flux which continues to perplex applicants and Councils alike. We once again urge practitioners to approach the interpretation of planning controls with caution and to stay in touch with their local municipalities to ensure they are not caught out by pending changes.

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