Residents are angry that more apartment developments are colonising established residential suburbs. (ABC News: Simon Leo Brown)
When the residents of a small inner-Melbourne block of public housing units built a community garden, they were picturing halcyon days in the sun, tending their vegetables.
- Grassroots campaigns are popping up all over Melbourne in opposition to the construction of large multi-storey developments
- Groups are worried about the impact on parking, transportation and loss of privacy
- An urban geographer said the developments failed to cater to community expectations and “don’t have to be ugly”
“There was probably a good half dozen people out of the 18 units who were quite communal, in terms of the garden, growing vegetables,” said resident Marg Welsh.
“We’d have days where we were pruning roses or planting the tomatoes for summer.”
But a new 12-storey apartment complex across the road from her Abbotsford home cast a shadow over that dream.
“I pretty much gave up gardening in this space, I gave up planting vegetables, I just felt like I couldn’t be out the front,” Ms Welsh said.
Grassroots campaigns against multi-storey developments are cropping up across Melbourne where, to the ire of locals, apartment towers are popping up and colonising old residential suburbs.
Marg Welsh no longer felt she could be out front gardening after the new building was finished. (ABC News: Nicole Asher)
“There’s a call for medium and high-rise development that’s sympathetic to the surrounds and respects other local people,” said Kate Shaw, an urban geographer at the University of Melbourne.
“People responding negatively to this kind of construction in their neighbourhoods are not responding negatively to the need to build more housing.
“They’re responding to the kind of construction that’s going on around them, which has no regard for their concerns, and no regard for the local neighbourhood and everything to do with making a profit.”
Not against appropriate development
Residents said the development would cause traffic problems and a loss of privacy. (ABC News: Justine Longmore)
In the leafy suburb of Elsternwick, south of the Melbourne CBD, residents are fighting to stop two high-rise apartment towers, of 10 and 14 storeys.
“This development will destroy the area with its related problems such as traffic, parking, noise, pollution, over-shadowing and loss of privacy,” said Kathy Deacon of the group Stop the Elsternwick Towers.
Local residents fear the development would cause traffic, pollution an noise problems. (Facebook: Stop Elsternwick Towers)
The plans have already been rejected by the Glen Eira City Council because of the “significant” impact the towers will have on the heritage area and on a planned Jewish cultural precinct.
Ms Deacon insisted the group as not motivated by a not-in-my-backyard mentality.
“We’re not against development,” she said.
“This is an inappropriate development with no regard for local residents or communities.
“We understand that Melbourne is growing exponentially, and the need to provide housing, but not high-rise housing in the middle of a residential area.”
The Elsternwick plans will go before a hearing at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) later this month.
‘It doesn’t have to be ugly’
Any new development should preserve a local community worth living in, Glen McCallum said. (ABC News: Nicole Asher)
Victoria is growing faster than any other Australian state — the population is forecast to swell by 125,000 every year, reaching 11.2 million by 2056.
The Victorian Government estimates 9 million of those people will be living in greater Melbourne.
As the population booms infill development, developing vacant parcels of land in established suburbs, and increases to housing density are not only necessary but inevitable.
“It’s striking a balance between the need to develop to increase density to allow for an increased population, but also kind of preserve a place worth living in,” said Glen McCallum of the group Protect Fitzroy North.
A group of interest groups want this row of shops on Queens Parade to be given heritage protection. (ABC News: Nicole Asher)
Mr McCallum is part of a united cluster of local interest groups working to save a heritage shopping strip from being developed.
The group has nominated a section of Queens Parade, separating Clifton Hill from Fitzroy North, for heritage protection.
“We’re in one of the great heritage shopping strips in Melbourne, the only one that’s on an intact Hoddle boulevard,” Mr McCallum explained.
“People are going to need those spaces if they are expected to live at density in the future.”
University of Melbourne modelling suggests the city’s forecast population increase could largely be absorbed by medium-density housing around public transport hubs and main roads.
“It doesn’t have to be as ugly as it is, at the moment,” Dr Shaw said.
Residents ‘anticipating the worst’
Dr Shaw warned that not only were high-density developments failing to provide affordable housing, they were also failing to cater to community expectations in terms of design.
“It’s development that is very much in your face, very close to the neighbours, often blocking out neighbours’ light, often casting them into shadow,” she said.
“The problem is that there are so many bad examples that, when a proposal comes up, they [residents] could be forgiven for anticipating the worst.
“There are developments that are being done at the moment, particularly in the CBD, Abbotsford, Collingwood, Fitzroy, Clifton Hill, Brunswick and Northcote, which are just rude, really.”
Urban geographer Kate Shaw said new developments often fail to cater for community design expectations. (ABC News: Billy Draper)
Dr Shaw believes the solution to stopping unsympathetic high rises lies in giving more power to local governments to reject proposals.
“Bad examples are almost invariably approved at appeal, within the state government standards, but exceeding the local government standards,” she said.
“Local councils are pretty good at getting a sense of the scale and form [of a development] and recognising the desires of their residents.”
That is a sentiment shared by the Glen Eira council.
“VCAT has a role to play in reviewing planning decisions, as a way of providing a fair and equitable planning system,” said planning director Ron Torres.
“Decisions should give greater weight to local planning policies and the council strategic planning vision for its areas.”
A Victorian Government spokesperson described the state’s planning system as open and transparent, allowing people to have their say.
“VCAT is an independent arbiter and considers submissions from all parties — including local councils,” the spokesperson said.