Failing to do their jobs

Yesterday, the Victorian State Government announced that the changes to Victoria’s planning laws that could sideline councils will be after the November election.

The changes as outlined in The Age would involve the following:

The planned changes to Victoria’s Planning and Environment Act, outlined in a draft bill released in December, would for the first time allow developers – with the authorisation of the planning minister – to prepare planning scheme amendments, including exhibiting the planning changes, receiving submissions and presenting the amendments to the council for approval. The amendments could relate to subdivisions, commercial or residential developments or height limits, and would require the planning minister’s final approval.

These proposed changes are good news for anyone who has been involved in the planning process here in Victoria as it takes the power away from the oft politically motivated local councillors. Therefore it is not surprising that The Municipal Association of Victoria has expressed concern over the proposed changes likening the proposed changes amounted to “trying to crack a nut with a sledgehammer”. In contrast the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA), Property Council of Australia, Master Builders Association and the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA) all came out in support of the proposed changes, although the PIA Victorian president David Vorchheimer called for more action and not just to “tinker around the edges” and the UDIA called for greater clarity.

However, what was disappointing was that there was no response in the article from two key players whose involvement in the whole planning process is quite significant. Those players being the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Victorian Government Architect, whose silence on the whole matter is a little concerning. My concern is that the AIA is repeatedly silent on these kinds of issues, especially when its members have to deal with issues surrounding the planning process on a daily basis. In a way it is failing its mission statement to “expand and advocate the value of architects and architecture to the sustainable growth of our community, economy and culture”. The planning process is a key component of the sustainable growth of our community and the Institute’s repeated failure to provide any stance or comment on this important issue is symptomatic of a greater failure to properly engage with the local community. The only time we seem to hear from the Institute in the local press is when the Awards season comes around.

Also disappointing was the lack of response from the Victorian Government Architect, Geoffrey London. As I did with the AIA, if we first must look at their key purposes of the Victorian Government Architect as outlined on their website which is to provide strategic advice to Government about architecture and urban design; to offer a critical understanding of building design to Government Ministers and Departments; and to promote an awareness of the importance of good design including the process of making great places and sustainable urban environments. Surely an issue as important as this would warrant a comment from Mr London but alas we hear nothing and like the AIA, it is symptomatic of a failure to engage with the public and even with the greater architectural community. Ever since the creation of the role of the Victoria Government Architect, Geoffrey London and his predecessor before him, John Denton have been increasingly silent on important issues and the only time we seem to see them is at functions such as this .

With all this in mind, it’s now time for the AIA and the Victorian Government Architect to step up to the plate and fulfil their purposes with these proposed changes to the planning process here in Victoria is an opportune time to make their respective marks on the architectural landscape of this city. Let’s hope we hear something sometime soon. Maybe.

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