University case study of the failed Camberwell Railway Station Redevelopment.

The Age

What is the case about?

The Camberwell Station redevelopment was a proposal, many years in the making, to build three and nine storey towers beside and above the 1918 Camberwell Railway Station which services the Camberwell Junction shopping strip on Burke Road and surrounding residential areas (CSTP Pty Ltd v Boroondara CC & Ors, 2009). The development had been in planning since before 2002 by the State Government owned Victorian Rail Track Corporation (VicTrack) which owns the railway station and adjoining land. The development would have seen a mix of lower level business with residential above, but faced criticism from residents, the Boroondara Council and from high profile individuals, including actor Geoffrey Rush, as the development would have been much taller than other structures along the shopping strip, which generally sees buildings of only two storeys, and would have almost totally blocked the view of the railway station from Burke Road. The dispute came to a head in 2009 with a hearing at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) that ruled in the favour of VicTrack and their chosen developer, but with a requirement that some design alterations be made. However, the development was shelved in 2012 following the election of a conservative Government two years earlier (Carey, 2012).

What are the substantive issues in the dispute?

The substantive issues came down to differing policy at the state and local government levels. Policy of the state would like to “facilitate residential and commercial development in existing activity centres with good access to public transport” (CSTP Pty Ltd v Boroondara CC & Ors, 2009). This is consistent with a global governmental push for high density urban living along high capacity transport corridors as cities become evermore populated. In 2010 the then Labor State Government made moves to amend planning schemes to encourage “high-rise corridors” along railway, tram and bus routes, moves that were opposed by the Liberal-National opposition who believed that the policy would lead to “unliveable” conditions (Johnston, 2010).

Camberwell’s Boroondara Council and Boroondara Residents Action Group (BRAG) appear to have agreed with this sentiment and had further worries about neighbourhood character in the “leafy east”. The opponents of the nine-storey station development proposed an alternative development which would have seen a low level structure, consistent with the height of existing Burke Road buildings, and only on the southern side of the site (BRAG, 2009). Whether or not such a development would be cost-effective is unknown, especially considering the cost of railway works including the removal of train stabling and accommodating those trains elsewhere.

(This answer should have made reference to “substantive issues” as set out in Planning Australia by Thompson and Maginn).

What are the planning issues?

At the zoning level, the proposed development was not in breach of planning law as agreed by VCAT. The railway station was zoned as a Public Use Zone (PUZ) and was adjoined by areas zoned Business as well as Burke Road which was a category one main road (CSTP Pty Ltd v Boroondara CC & Ors, 2009). VCAT made note of seemingly conflicting Council planning schemes. The proposed development had been in the planning since at least 2002 and would have been relying on an old 1993 structure plan which came to clash with a new plan released by Council in 2008. The 1993 plan appeared visionary for its time as it pre-dates the Melbourne 2030 strategy, which called for major development in “Principal Activity Centres”, as it encouraged “significant development” at the Camberwell Railway Station site. The new 2008 plan encouraged “low scale” development at the station (Camberwell Junction Structure Plan, 2008, p. 8) but was released the year after the developers had applied to Council for a planning permit. As demonstrated, this new Council plan clashed with State Government strategies that aimed “to create a more sustainable urban form for metropolitan Melbourne” which would see development of a “high level of intensity and scale” in activity centres, close to public transport (CSTP Pty Ltd v Boroondara CC & Ors, 2009).

How has the planning system been applied here?

VCAT made many notes encouraging a balance between state and local government policy frameworks, but ultimately resolved the conflict by attempting to satisfy planning scheme “clause 11.01” that states, “It is the State Government’s expectation that planning and responsible authorities will endeavour to integrate the range of policies relevant to the issues to be determined and balance conflicting objectives in favour of net community benefit and sustainable development…” (CSTP Pty Ltd v Boroondara CC & Ors, 2009). “Net community benefit” and “sustainable development” are the key planning issues for the site at Camberwell Junction. The 2002 Melbourne 2030 plan listed the shopping strip as one of Melbourne’s 25 “Principal Activity Centres” and as such is an area where “concentration of new development” is encouraged (Department of Infrastructure, 2002, p. 33). That, coupled with the 1993 structure plan, made it clear that the proposed development at the Camberwell Railway Station should go ahead. The main limitation of this process was community consultation. Planning applications are judged according to planning law and policy and, where the developer fails to provide adequate consultation, planning assessors can be overrun with complaints that are irrelevant to their main purpose.

What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of the planning system to resolve these disputes?

For the Camberwell Railway Station redevelopment the planning system was effective in solving the core planning dispute, that being differing policy at state and local government levels, but it fails to provide the community with an opportunity to express their thoughts on the design of the development itself rather than whether the development is in breach of planning law and policy. The community consultation “burden” falls onto the developer who really should be required to provide a constructive level of community involvement for a development in place of high community significance. Allowing the community to have their say will result in the best outcome as participants can feel as though they have been included in the design process and can take a piece of joint pride in the result. Failure to allow this may lead to community resentment and possible political interference where the project is not bipartisan.

In 2013, around three years after the election of a conservative State Government, a raft of new residential zones were brought into effect (Peterson, 2014). Boroondara Council moved to apply the most restrictive zone in the new suite to a huge area under its authority. The measure restricted developments to eight metres high and allowed councils to determine minimum lot sizes. While this did not apply to the Camberwell Railway Station site, it can be seen as a possible retaliation against developments like that proposed for Camberwell Junction and demonstrates the importance of bringing the community with you in the development process.

References

BRAG. (2009, January 31). Camberwell Station BRAG Plan vs Govt Plan [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFfwQJLqJ9s

Carey, A. (2012, October 3). Camberwell station development shelved. The Age. Retrieved from http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/camberwell-station-development-shelved-20121003-26yls.html

City of Boroondara. (2008). Camberwell Junction Structure Plan – Adopted by Council 27 October 2008. Retrieved from https://www.boroondara.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2017-05/Camberwell-Junction-Structure-Plan.pdf

CSTP Pty Ltd v Boroondara CC & Ors 2009 VCAT 1078

Department of Infrastructure. (2002). Melbourne 2030: Planning for Sustainable Growth: October 2002. Retrieved from https://www.planning.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/20466/Melbourne-2030-Planning-for-sustainable-growth-text-only-version.pdf

Johnston, M. (2010, June 22). New laws promote high rise corridors. Herald Sun. Retrieved from http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/new-laws-promote-high-rise-corridors/news-story/28d558817353a8f40ae002cdeb534e79?sv=32539b83cc57eedc1318ed89e24737da

Peterson, C. (2014, February 18). NEW RESIDENTIAL ZONES – WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR MELBOURNE [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://urban.melbourne/planning/2014/02/18/new-residential-zones-what-does-this-mean-for-melbourne

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