The Age - We must protect Melbourne's liveability for all

Are we stuffing up Melbourne? This question was asked by Stuart Moseley, CEO of the Victorian Planning Authority in Tuesday’s Age.

Yes, they are. Just ask anyone who has lived here for years.

The nonchalance with which the state’s chief planner dismissed the genuine concerns of Melburnians who are seeing their city irreversibly and negatively cluttered with people, cars and new development is a good example of why it is always dangerous to send unelected bureaucrats to argue the case for the elected government.

Moseley wrote: ‘‘It’s uncomfortable when you suddenly realise you have to fight for a car park in your once-quiet street.’’

Many of us would argue it is not just about fighting for a car park. It is about the heritage and beauty of our established suburbs being obliterated for yet another block of flats.

Moseley also wrote: ‘‘Many of us don’t much like change, especially if we have to sacrifice something to achieve it.’’

No,Mr Moseley, many of us do not like change, because in this instance most of us don’t benefit from it, and we feel powerless to stop it. Indeed, as Moseley argued, the state government’s plan is ‘‘to accommodate 70 per cent of the new housing growth in Melbourne’s established areas. That means densification.’’

If you live in an established suburb and are concerned about the level of congestion, inappropriate development and the erosion of your quality of life, understand this: the state government plans only for it to get worse.

Moseley made mention that a single-person household will be the most common household type within the next decade.

However, what worried me greatly was this civil servant publicly commenting that 450,000 Melburnians are living in houses with more bedrooms than they need. How dare these people – who have worked hard all their lives, paid their taxes and live in a large home full of memories – not make way for newcomers!

Victoria’s planning policies should never be reduced to a Spartan, utilitarian consideration of the greatest good for the greatest number – they must always protect the liveability of all Victorians.

Melbourne will overtake Sydney in population at current projections by 2028. Terrifyingly, by 2050, Melbourne is projected to explode to a city of 8 million people, about the size of London currently.

This is not the Melbourne I grew up in, and it is not a Melbourne that sounds like a particularly nice place to live in, either. Victorians, but particularly Melburnians, are genuinely worried about the pace of population growth, and what this will do to our quality of life.

Some 77 per cent of our state’s population live in Melbourne and about 86 per cent of our yearly growth settles in the capital. Victoria needs a decentralisation strategy to grow the whole state, to take the pressure off Melbourne and grow our regional centres. The Committee for Geelong put it best, pointing out that rail travel between European centres over a similar distance to that between Melbourne and Geelong ‘‘took a fraction of the time, opening up new opportunities for employment and investment’’.

Not only is decentralisation important to protecting and conserving Melbourne’s liveability, it makes economic sense. Essential Economics observes: ‘‘It is less costly for government to develop the regions than provide for increased infrastructure to manage increased growth in Melbourne. Indeed, it has been estimated that to provide infrastructure to support a 50,000-person population increase in regional Victoria, it would cost $1 billion, compared with $3.1 billion to provide for the same increase in metropolitan Melbourne.’’

Victoria has not had a decentralisation agenda since the Hamer government in the 1970s and early 1980s, and we desperately need one again today. No state government can control the number of people that flow through its borders, but it must have a plan on how to manage it.

The last thing we want is for Melbourne to continue to decline in quality of life for its residents and falling economic productivity in regional Victoria due to our vacillating Planning Minister’s failure to plan for the population boom.