February 21, 2018  |  Second reading

Planning and Environment Amendment (Distinctive Areas and Landscapes) Bill 2017 Page 361 21 February 2018 ASSEMBLY

Mr Howard – (Buninyong) (12:20:17) — I am pleased to add my comments on this significant piece of planning and environment amendment legislation, and I am pleased that many members on the other side of the house have spoken supportively on this piece of legislation too. We know this piece of legislation has particularly come out of discussions that the member for Macedon has had with the Minister for Planning, including when he was the shadow planning minister ahead of the election, because people from the area of Macedon in particular — the Woodend and Gisborne areas — have been very concerned for some period of time. The reason they moved up to these beautiful areas was that they wanted that tree change lifestyle. They recognised that the areas in those parts of the Macedon Ranges are beautiful, that they have that lovely treed character, normally with larger blocks, and that they provide a great lifestyle. They are aware of course that Macedon is close to Melbourne so there is pressure on those towns where more and more people are wanting to go and live. The threat is that you would get standard residential development happening in a lot of these places that do have special character, and therefore you would potentially lose that character.

I am thoroughly aware of this because up until the last election I represented part of the Shire of Macedon Ranges. It was not the part that has this particular treed character — I represented the Kyneton, Malmsbury and Tylden areas in the Macedon Ranges shire — but clearly I was aware whenever I travelled to those areas that this was an issue. I know that the former member for Macedon was thoroughly aware of this issue and had been working for some period of time to find a solution that would satisfy the residents of those towns that the government was aware of their issue and could put protections within the planning scheme to protect the special character of their towns.

This piece of legislation does not of course just relate to Macedon, but there is a clear starting point there. I noticed that the people of Macedon are very pleased that the commitment, or promise, which was made by the Labor Party ahead of the last election, and which was drawn out by the current member for Macedon, is being kept and that meetings have already taken place in Kyneton to discuss the character of the Macedon Ranges shire area — particularly, as I said, the Woodend and Gisborne areas, but also other areas in that shire — so that we can discuss the issues with those people and put in place a declaration that this is a distinctive area to be recognised and a statement of planning policy can be inserted within the planning framework to ensure ongoing protection of this area.

I know this is an area of particular concern to people in the Macedon Ranges shire, but I also know that people in my electorate and in areas around Ballarat have been raising concerns, particularly around the eastern fringes of the City of Ballarat and out into Mount Clear, Mount Helen and even Buninyong, where we know we have a backbone of Crown land.

Another commitment made at the last election was that if Labor was elected the area of state forest known as the Canadian State Forest would get status that would see it protected. It is now a regional park known as Woowookarung; it has gained a new name, recognising the Aboriginal heritage in the area. It has been exciting to see that Woowookarung has now been protected under this government as an area of forest around the east of the City of Ballarat. In doing that, we know there is a lot of housing out to the edges of Woowookarung Regional Park, and the residents in that area say, ‘Well, we still have some of our trees and larger block sizes in our area that flow out from the Woowookarung Regional Park, and we want to know that we’re not going to see in years to come the next-door neighbour’s larger block being broken up into smaller, standard residential blocks that will then see the trees in our neighbourhood being removed for standard residential development’.

I am sure that as we work through this the City of Ballarat will be looking at this change to see whether it can apply to those areas through to the east and the south of the City of Ballarat and indeed further around to other forested areas that I expect might be relinquished by their forest leasees in the coming years. The city will obviously have to deal with the rezoning of that land — I am talking about areas around Mount Clear and Mount Helen — as was the case with the Canadian State Forest, as it was then, so that we can ensure that the special character of those areas is not going to be lost in a move to having high density residential areas.

Obviously a sensible planning scheme does recognise that in inner-city areas there is the opportunity to develop higher density. We do not want to see our city sprawling out. We know that in the Melbourne metropolitan area and the broader Melbourne area we have established green zones, which is very sensible, to ensure that areas of special character are protected within our urban areas so that we do not lose the character of those areas and so that we provide some green lungs in our urban areas. Around those green-lung areas we need to ensure that we do not just have standard housing where there are natural treed areas. We need to try and protect natural treed areas or areas where the communities feel there is special character that needs to be protected.

I am very pleased to see that the government has honoured the commitment made to the people of the Macedon area ahead of the last election via this bill. Those people will have the satisfaction of knowing that their neighbourhoods are now in a position to be protected. This concept can flow on to other communities within regional Victoria, and the bill notes other areas. For other speakers from Melbourne metro areas who see areas within their urbanised electorates that do have special character that perhaps was not initially foreseen in the planning of this bill, we need to acknowledge that if you do have these large areas of special character, they can be recognised and we can build protections into the legislation.

I am certainly pleased to see this bill coming forward. I congratulate the former member for Macedon and the current member for Macedon for working with the Labor shadow ministers to bring forward this plan that is now coming in under our planning minister. Labor has recognised that these are areas that the planning scheme perhaps does not provide enough security for and has provided for statements of planning policy so that we can enshrine further information in our planning schemes to give greater confidence to people who know that they have special character in their neighbourhoods. Many people move away from Melbourne to an area with special character. We want to see that that special character can be protected in the future.

I am certainly very pleased to speak in support of this legislation. I think it will lead to some great opportunities for communities in my electorate into the future and other areas across the state to recognise specific character. We need to ensure that we do not just have standard residential accommodation built in all areas across electorates. Higher density accommodation can be appropriate in some areas of electorates or towns, but we need to ensure that medium density and lower density can be achieved in areas to preserve the particular character of those towns across our state. I am very pleased to see this bill.