Dark clouds loom: The Baw Baw Shire Council is concerned zoning changes could rip apart town centres. Photo: William Kulich.
PROPOSED reforms to Victoria’s planning zones have been condemned by Baw Baw Shire Councillors and officials, but the State Government is standing by its methods.
Councillors Patricia Jones and Adam Tyson criticised some of the proposed changes at a council meeting last week, with Cr Jones accusing the Department of Planning and Community Development of forgetting regional Victorians.
“Metropolitan policy makers, not understanding regional [towns, have drafted zones with] unforeseen difficulties for those living in alternate areas,” Cr Jones said.
A report by council officers on what the changes would mean for Baw Baw criticised “unclear” changes to business and residential zones.
Baw Baw Director of Growth and Development Melissa Harris told The Warragul Citizen the council’s main concern is a business zone change which removes some restrictions on what can be built in large-scale retail areas.
“Council is concerned that this change may undermine established retail strategies and encourage retail uses currently located in CBD areas to relocate to areas where land and lease costs would be lower,” Ms Harris said.
“This could have the effect of fragmenting town centres and threatening the viability of established retail areas.”
Victorian Planning Minister Matthew Guy however argues the council’s concerns are “out-dated”.
“The planning fraternity [has] very rigid and out-dated views about what forms a town and about what forms an activities area, that are really linked to the 1970s and 1980s,” Mr Guy said.
“This romantic notion that the only area where a place of employment should be able to open is in a defined area or part of a town [is] just an out-dated point of view.”
“I cannot imagine why a small business would leave the central part of Warragul to open up in a new industrial estate half way to Nilma [when] their market is in the central part of Warragul”.
But that is exactly what could happen, according to RMIT University Professor and former Department of Planning and Environment senior manager Michael Buxton.
“It’s really going to mean the death of many regional town centres,” Prof Buxton said.
“It will make it much easier for larger retailers to set up their big box retail outlets out of town and [for] the associated small businesses [to come with them.]”
“What we’ll tend to get is retail moving out of town, and town centres being used for office and residential.”
Professor Buxton said Mr Guy’s suggestion that planners must progress from the 1970s is irrelevant.
“It has nothing to do with 1970s planning,” Prof Buxton said.
“What he (Guy) is doing is throwing away the rules to advantage big retailers and big developers.”
“This is the worst of American retail planning, or lack of it.”
But Mr Guy said it is unlikely retailers will leave town centres.
“No Coles or Woolies is going to… make a million-dollar or multimillion-dollar investment where there are no people, but that’s what’s kind of being put forward”.
Public submissions to the proposed changes will be published in September.
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