Save Coburg residents challenge council plans

Coburg mall[By Sue Bolton] More than 90 people crammed into the Coburg Library on June 6 to hear from Michael Buxton, RMIT professor of environment and planning, and to oppose the Moreland Council’s plans for a mini-CBD in the central Coburg shopping centre.

The meeting was organised by the Save Coburg Residents Network which formed in January to oppose the council’s C123 planning amendment. Most residents only discovered the plans a couple of weeks before the deadline for public submissions.

The plan includes a row of 10-storey buildings along both sides of Bell St on the western entrance to the shopping centre and 10-storey buildings along one side of Sydney Road to the north.

Buxton gave a good overview of how planning has developed in Melbourne. The planning laws were initially liberalised by the Jeff Kennett Coalition government in the 1990s with the planning minister being given extraordinary powers to overturn council planning decisions.

The following Labor government and the current Coalition government have liberalised even further, with the planning minister getting more powers.

Under the latest liberalisation of the laws, Buxton says that many things that residents normally object to, will be allowed. Premier Denis Napthine’s Coalition government’s new planning laws “will allow big box retailers to be in industrial zones, miles from public transport and outside Principle Activity Centres. It will effect future retailing in central Coburg.”

These big box retailers such as Bunnings and Officeworks are a relatively new phenomenon said Buxton, but they are now beginning to control retail. “We are moving towards monopoly retail,” he said.

Buxton pointed out that once the Moreland Council’s structure plan for central Coburg is adopted “there will be no more rights for residents to oppose, or even be notified”.

He said that “these sites need to be developed, the issue is the scale and the bulk of the development. The bulk needs to be controlled, for example with three-storey apartments and six-storeys well to the centre.”

“I don’t think 10 storeys is appropriate. Councils have bought the myth that you can only have increased density by cramming people in,” he said.

“Will the offices the council hopes for come here?” asked Buxton. “I don’t think so. There’s a ‘build it and they’ll come’ mentality.”

“Heritage strip shopping centres are under threat all over Melbourne. These strips will disappear because councils have included them in the structure plans. We need to keep our heritage in iconic streets like Sydney Road. Heritage is what makes Melbourne great”, said Buxton.

In response to a question about the protests in Turkey against developments in Gezi Park, Buxton said that Istanbul and Asian cities are under huge pressure. Some cities are unrecognisable now.

“Melbourne is under more pressure for high rise than any other city in the world.”

“Councils and government aren’t considering the impact on transport and pressure on schools, childcare and health services,” said Buxton. He pointed to the example of Port Melbourne where a big increase in population with new developments has led to schools contracting their catchments and parents not being able to get their children into school.

The meeting concluded by voting on a series of resolutions to be presented to the council.