Planning will be a major political issue in the upcoming Victorian State election, especially in inner city Melbourne.
The State Government wants to house an extra one million people in Melbourne by 2030. The current population is 4 million. However unlike the early days of capitalism, where there was some state controlled planning, today it is a free market free-for-all.
In inner city areas like Richmond and Fitzroy, developers are proposing large apartment complexes on ex-industrial sites or next to long-standing lower density residential areas.
For the developers, there is big money in new apartments in areas of Melbourne close to the CBD, the nightlife and inner city culture in general. The more people they squeeze into these complexes the more money they make. For local Councils, they also make money from extra rates.
For the State Government, more people in the inner city is a cheaper option than having to build the necessary infrastructure for new estates in the outer metropolitan areas. While far from perfect at least public transport exists in the inner suburbs.
It all seems a ‘win-win’ situation for underfunded Councils, profit-driven developers, and the neo-liberal Labor Government at Spring Street. There are however many losers.
Residents face an uphill battle to have their modest concerns such as overshadowing from tall buildings, parking and traffic issues, heard by local Council – let alone by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) or the Minister for Planning. The government is equipped with an army of lawyers and in-house ‘experts’ that are paid to represent the rich developers.
Most new developments do not include social housing and therefore poorer people get squeezed out. The complexes are almost exclusively apartments and car parks – they don’t include any extra services for the new residents.
The State Government does not provide any extra funding to Councils to create new child care places, or more libraries, neighbourhood houses or other services for the new residents. The State Government also doesn’t create any extra public transport.
In other words, the new developments create greater pressure on already under-funded services and infrastructure. The Docklands developments in the 1990s are a classic case study in this and only now is the City of Melbourne and the State Government grudgingly undertaking some catch-up.
The Socialist Party supports the right of more people to live in the cities, if that is their choice. We, however, support a significant expansion of public and social housing to ensure people of all backgrounds are afforded the opportunity, regardless of their income levels.
In contrast to Labor, we want to build communities, not middle class ghettoes. The new developments need to include well funded extra child care, public transport and other services. We need a state wide planning scheme that sets the parameters for all development.
The type of development must respect currently existing rivers, open space, heritage and long standing neighbourhood character. This is best done by a democratic planning process that allows open and transparent resident involvement. For that, we need to scrap the unelected VCAT. In the context of a democratic plan, Councils and residents need the powers to accept, amend or reject developments.
A socialist planning policy would be centred around residents and the environment. The involvement of ordinary people in the process is crucial. That is why we campaign to organise and mobilise residents in the fight to put people’s needs before the profits and greed of the big developers.
By Stephen Jolly