The Courier has documented the rumblings in the suburbs for some time now. A fundamental fear that growth and development will destroy the place they call home and change forever the character of the city they love. On one hand the population growth is steady and almost inevitable, meaning the demand for new housing will keep pace with it. Where the demand is, the market will follow.
Currently the overwhelming majority of this growth is being absorbed by the greenfields sites but it is inevitable as the city grows, the demand for these inner city or infill sites will also grow. For a city that does not want to simply be an ever growing sprawl or worse, suffer the dreaded doughnut effect of so many cities before it; infill offers more than just developer profits; it offers a chance to reshape a city. This kind of housing has the major advantage of having closer proximity and amenity and in turn require less new infrastructure. In Ballarat they also pose the opportunity of utilising many of its wasted vacant inner city sites that have sat derelict for decades.
But it can also change its look and feel and nowhere is the dread of change more heated than with the prospect of medium density housing;.the spacious suburbs become the canyons of masonry, the tree canopy becomes a sea of roofs and towers. If the dilemma of change is a delicate balancing act to avoid these extremes, no where is it more starkly felt than when it in turn clashes with heritage. While not necessarily mutually exclusive, the key is how this balancing act is achieved and by whom.
The problem seen by many people is this change is almost entirely in the hands of council. In many cases recently, due to the specifications not demanding it, the decisions have not come before the councillors for review or approval but are made by council officers, not in public forums. For those who feel they are losing control of their streets and suburbs this lack of transparency and justification is infuriating. Each development may have merits and objections but people want to see how this process evolves and is conclude. Have confidence, even if decisions are unfavourable, there is a greater design or principle shaping the end. The alternative, to then challenge these decisions at VCAT is costly and time consuming for all parties. The overburdening of the tribunal on planning matters appears to indicate how little confidence there is. This is a debate we need to have but this is not the way to have it.