There has been considerable debate in the community about the proposed development at 17 Smith Street, Daylesford. The proposal involves subdivision of land to the east of Smith Street south of St Michael’s Primary School. A citizens” group led by Debora Semple and Jenni Draper appealed to VCAT where the matter was unresolved. The matter was referred by the Minister for Planning to the Priority Projects Standing Advisory Committee for consideration. The Committee recommended that a permit be issued subject to certain conditions.
What was considered? And what was decided?
The Committee considered issues under five headings.
Neighbourhood character and design
Objectors to the proposal argued that the treed landscape is a key feature and that the view of Daylesford from the entry would be affected. The site is vacant land and is not included in the character of the adjacent precinct . Given the evidence provided and the permit conditions recommended, the Committee believed that the “lot layout and size is consistent with the neighbouring development”. In addition “the development will be visible as a relatively distant view from some locations along the Midland Highway entrance to Daylesford and from Raglan Street but these views will be softened over time by vegetation and tree growth.”
Objections submitted to the Committee included that the proposal would considerably increase traffic in the surrounding road network, that the entrance to the development would damage a significant Oak tree at the entrance from Smith Street and that vehicle and pedestrian safety would be impaired. The Committee found that traffic generated by the proposed development could be accommodated in the surrounding street network. The agreed that the proposed intersection treatment at the Smith Street entrance to the site appeared practical and the proposed pedestrian and traffic audit provides the basis to resolve other outstanding issues. the Committee also determined that the proposed concept solution to protect the Smith St Oak tree was well thought out.
Stormwater and service issues
Objectors were concerned that paving in the development would impair natural drainage into groundwater and would increase flow and erosion downstream. The Committee considered expert evidence and a submission from Council and was generally satisfied with the proposed stormwater management and infrastructure servicing requirements. The Committee found that that there were rigorous permit conditions around stormwater management that should ensure appropriate outcomes are realised. The Committee also found that that adequate utilities and services could be provided.
The Committee recognised that there were no permit requirements to remove exotic trees and that many native trees proposed for removal were exempt from permit consideration. The removal of two manna gums was considered appropriate “on the grounds of their health and because such trees are not considered appropriate in a residential environment.” The applicants have committed to offset removal of native vegetation.
Compliance with Clause 56
Clause 56 of the Hepburn Planning Scheme refers to the subdivision of land and includes provisions to ensure liveable and sustainable communities, attractive urban landscape and accessibility and mobility. Issues of concern to the objectors in assessing compliance with Clause 56 of the Hepburn Planning Scheme were mainly addressed under other headings above and no further issues were raised with respect to ResCode compliance.
Net Community Benefit
This issue was not included in the terms of the Committee’s referral as were other issues which might normally be considered in a detailed Net Community Benefit assessment. However, in its review of material presented as part of the application and its assessment of the issues considered at the roundtable, the Committee concluded that the subdivision and subsequent development would generate a Net Community Benefit.
The determinations of the Committee seem reasonable on all these grounds. The average lot size is quite large in relation to new suburbs and is similar to many traditional lots in Daylesford. The proposed permit conditions included in the Committee recommendations are comprehensive and should ensure that undesirable outcomes are avoided.
What is the context to the decisions?
As locals have found through the Smith Street process, the planning scheme is extensive. It includes zones and overlays that prevent certain types of developments and impose planning restrictions. In developing a planning scheme, zones and overlays need to be chosen to best outline the type of land uses you want to see in an area (zone) and the design and siting of those uses (overlays). Then there are other provisions specific to a type of use or development.
To apply a policy or decision criteria you need what is called a permit trigger. A “permit trigger” is a clause in the planning scheme that requires get a permit. Permit triggers are identified in the zone, overlay or particular provisions in the planning scheme.
There is no ‘use’ permit required for a dwelling in a general residential zone. A permit is required under the zone to subdivide land and that trigger refers to Clause 56 in the Planning Scheme and this is the main permit trigger. Both parties agreed that this trigger was complied with. There were no additional decision guidelines for subdivision outside the ‘Clause 56 assessments’.
So what about overlay or development triggers? There are Environmental Sensitivity Overlays (ESOs) that apply to the whole Shire but generally are not relevant to sewered land. This is a Bushfire Prone area but thee is no Bushfire Management Overlay. There is no Neighbourhood Character Overlay and the land was zoned residential when the study was undertaken. There is no Heritage Overlay, Vegetation Protection Overlay or Significant Landscape Overlay. There is no Design and Development (DDO) or Development Plan Overlay (DPO). This limits many considerations and the weight they can be given to overturn the use and development of the land for the purpose it is zoned.
Why has this happened? And what could be done?
For a long time I have advocated for a better planning scheme for Hepburn. It is nearly 20 years since I first called for better use of planning tools to protect character and landscape while still facilitating growth.
Hepburn was lucky in many ways. It had been in a popularity slump through the 60s, 70s and into the 80s. But with the rise in popularity, the one thing that was stopping ‘overdevelopment’ was the lack of sewerage. Why was that important? Often you needed a second block of land for your septic field and that requirement gave a sense of spaciousness and allowed for gardens. When Daylesford and Hepburn Springs were sewered, that restriction disappeared.
There are two tools that can be used in areas where redevelopment is occurring or for greenfield sites where a character outcome is sought – in the prior a Design and Development Overlay and the latter a Development Plan Overlay.
Many Councils, especially rural councils with vacant zoned land, have applied a Development Plan Overlay. This requires applicants to consider how the development will connect to other land and to establish criteria that the subdivision needs to deliver. DPO6 to the Moorabool Planning Scheme is an example of a DPO which addresses many of the issues raised in 17 Smith St. The development of similar controls that relate to the physical nature of the site and surrounding land should be considered by Council.
Lisa Gervasoni is a Daylesford resident with a background in town planning.