By Ross Lowrey
The Suburban Rail Loop Bill to create the Suburban Rail Loop Authority will make lasting changes to the way Melbourne is planned. The Bill gives the Premier and SRL Minister complete power to plan and develop SRL Precincts. And it gives the SRL Authority a clear mandate to capture value from increased development within SRL Precincts. The end result will be a ring of intense development following the suburban rail loop corridor around the middle suburbs of Melbourne, which is out of step with Plan Melbourne.
The Suburban Rail Loop Bill passed on 7th October 2021 will make lasting changes to the way Melbourne is planned. The Bill creates the SRL Authority with wide-ranging powers to plan and develop SRL Precincts.
The Bill gives the SRL Minister the authority to declare the planning area for an SRL Precinct. SRL Precincts are intended to be broad areas of land, which can be up to 1600 metres from a station on the Suburban Rail Loop according to the SRL Business and Investment Case. Declaring an area to be an SRL Precinct triggers the changes that give the SRL Authority the power of a planning authority to prepare amendments to a planning scheme under the Planning and Environment Act 1987 – a power usually undertaken by the Minister for Planning or councils. The Bill even removes the power of the Victorian Parliament to revoke an amendment.
In addition, the SRL Authority has been given wide-ranging powers to undertake development declared to be ‘SRL Projects’ by the Premier, which can be for transport or non-transport infrastructure. Non-transport infrastructure includes buildings, civic space, utilities and other infrastructure associated with urban development. Declaring any sort of development as an SRL Project allows the SRL Authority to bypass normal planning procedures afforded under the Planning and Environment Act 1987 or even the Major Transport Projects Facilitation Act 2009.
Finally, the Bill gives the SRL Authority a mandate to capture value from increased development in SRL Precincts. It has a specific objective to enhance opportunities for the State to capture value created by the development of precincts. The need to recover the cost of the SRL tunnel is likely to become a key driver for the development of SRL Precincts. The end result will be a ring of intense development in 15 locations following the suburban rail loop corridor around the outer suburbs of Melbourne, which is out of step with the objectives of Plan Melbourne.
Marianne Richards, President of the TCPA, says “The Government is planning urban renewal on an unprecedented scale. The proposed size of each SRL Precinct is extraordinarily large. The area within 1.6 km of a station is about 8 km2, which is about 6 times the size of the Hoddle grid in Melbourne’s CBD. In fact, each SRL Precinct is larger than the combined area of both the Docklands urban renewal precinct, at 1.9 km2, and the Fishermans Bend urban renewal precinct, at 4.8 km2.”
Ross Lowrey, the author of the Briefing Note, says ”The Suburban Rail Loop Bill gives the Premier and SRL Minister unprecedented power to plan and develop SRL Precincts. The bypassing of normal planning procedures and the emphasis on capturing value is very worrying. The TCPA supports Transit-Oriented Development, but this Act does nothing to ensure we get the right outcomes from development around SRL stations.”