Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Northcote planning needs an independent voice

I've written a lot about climate change on this blog, but voters should know that I started campaigning back in 2003 with Save Westgarth Village to fight planning changes that were being forced through with too little community say.

Fast-forward to 2010, and the electorate of Northcote is under the same threat from big developers, and a Victorian Labor Government that has received large political donations from the industry. That's why I am calling for political donation disclosures on applications for all major developments. Voters deserve to know, and good developers will have nothing to hide.

But there's a lot more than that to the question of development in our community. As we go to the election, uncertainty looms over at least three large developments where locals have so far had only a small voice in shaping the future of their communities.

Amcor's Fairfield plant will give way to large-scale development when it closes in 2012. A development of more than 90 units and townhouses at the Northcote Bowl site is hanging over locals' heads, and the Arthurton Road site will see a massive development overshadow local residents.

A number of common themes emerge from these proposals - firstly, the lack of community say. The Northcote Leader reported that in August the Labor-dominated Darebin Council moved to exclude third-party appeal rights to VCAT for the Arthurton Road site. Why, when this will exclude the right of residents to have a proper say on a development that will profoundly affect them?

The unreliability of planning laws also features among resident concerns. As many as 12 storeys have been proposed for the Arthurton Road site, and residents are made to feel as if they should be grateful it has been scaled back to five, when even that height may well be excessive for a development of that scale.

Running through each of the proposals is the fear of locals that the traffic implications of large-scale development simply haven't been thought through. Heidelberg Road, Victoria Road and Arthurton Road are already stretched and pressured, yet the Government's approach seems to be that the traffic will look after itself.

If elected as an independent MP for Northcote, I would fight for all of these issues to be robustly addressed, and for better protections for residents living with developments that are already underway.

There is more that could be done to resolve disputes between developers and residents, and more to ensure that developers make good any impacts they impose on their way to profiting from the sale of their apartments - this includes cracking of neighbouring buildings, exposure to potential hazards during demolition, loss of solar generating capacity through overshadowing, and loss of amenity due to the presence of developers and their machinery.

It's not a choice between no development and over-development. We can achieve a balance that will meet economic, social and environmental needs by including the community's voice. No-one wants endless urban sprawl that will bring more cars (with their emissions) through Northcote from outside the city. On the other hand, no-one wants excessive development driven only by developer profits.

Voters in this election need to ask what sort of advocacy they are going to get on planning issues from Northcote MP Fiona Richardson, who is part of the Government that set the planning policies leading to such poor outcomes. An independent with sound planning policies can offer a voice that is not beholden to the development industry, or to a political party - an independent voice whose only task is to represent you in the Parliament.

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Comments are most welcome on any of the posts at Northcote Independent. I encourage feedback - positive or negative. Feel free to disagree, but remember that posts are moderated to ensure they are on the topic and in the spirit of open debate, as outlined in my editorial policy.