Residents on Ballarat's outskirts began receiving letters this week, as the accelerated growth on the city's fringes enters a new stage.
Months after the City of Ballarat confirmed two new growth zones should be investigated - one further west of the Lucas zone, and one north of the Western Freeway near Mount Rowan - community consultation has begun to draw exact borders.
Housing growth in the city's greenfield areas has continued ferociously, and anecdotally, has accelerated further during the coronavirus pandemic.
The letters were sent to residents inside, adjacent to, and just outside the planned zones, calling for submissions about the "extent and location of boundaries".
Council is looking for information about "natural constraints" like watercourses and forests, "built environment" like roads and other infrastructure, "ownership patterns", planning constraints, and "logical inclusions"
Online submissions close December 15, with an online information session at 5.30pm on Tuesday, December 1.
Even if 500 extra people want to move out of Melbourne in a quarter, there's no impact on Melbourne, but there is a big impact on somewhere like BallaratCity of Ballarat acting strategic planning manager Terry Natt
Not everyone is impressed, particularly those further away from the newer suburbs who moved there for the rural amenity.
The city is required by the state government to have land banked up for 15 years of growth, and the latest areas are filling rapidly.
The Courier spoke to strategic planning manager Terry Natt about the letters, and how council is dealing with this growth.
He said the consultation process is an early stage - there will be more rounds of consultation before any shovels hit the ground.
"When we approach the Minister for Planning, and say we want to rezone and prepare Precinct Structure Plans for these areas - roads, residential, commercial, open space, infrastructure - we have to define exactly where that is, so that's from this side of the fence to that side of the fence, or this side of the street to that side of the street," he said.
"What we've got is a commitment from council around this direction, so we're going through a process of consultation to work out exactly where the boundaries are."
WHAT DO YOU THINK? HAVE YOUR SAY BELOW
The feedback from residents is key to shaping the final report back to council, he added.
"What I want the outcome here to be is a community coming to me with sensible suggestions around the appropriate level of growth, how big we should be through this process, where should the boundaries be that will inform how big we should be," he said.
"One of the delights of consultation exercises like this is that I'll get everything - that's the full gamut of people saying 'I don't want growth' to people saying 'I live here in Beaufort and want residential rezoning as well'."
Land in established Urban Growth Zones is selling "at a rate of knots", triggering the need to explore further out.
Mr Natt said it was "fast approaching" time that existing land would "run out".
"It will reach a point where it will be practically exhausted by, we estimate, 2024 or '25, and what that means is that the larger parcels of land will be occupied, and we'll get down to fragmented land," he said.
"Ballarat has been booming for a little while - a lot of our plans were in place to release land prior to the pandemic - we were already planning for a lot of the growth expected.
READ MORE: Statistics show exodus out of Melbourne
"At the moment we haven't got actual numbers around the impact of COVID, that fleeing from Melbourne, but we do have some evidence that take-up and sales of land in existing growth areas have continued to accelerate and I think, talking anecdotally to developers, builders, providers in Ballarat West, and in Geelong and Bendigo, within the industry some of them are recording some of their best quarters ever in terms of sales, and that's incredible.
"What that does say to me is we are getting the numbers from cities, but even if 500 extra people want to move out of Melbourne in a quarter, there's no impact on Melbourne, but there is a big impact on somewhere like Ballarat."
The land is one aspect - the other is the infrastructure that makes a place actually liveable, which includes basics like roads and sewerage, but also schools, hospitals, and other facilities, as well as green space.
That's a hard balancing act, with multiple stakeholders and needs, and messing it up has long-term consequences.
Having "multiple fronts" of development "creates pressure on the provision of infrastructure", Mr Natt added.
"If you're going to grow, you need significant infrastructure to support that growth," he said.
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"The other thing you really need to do is provide not just services but access to jobs as well - we're not going to be a satellite city to Melbourne, we're not Geelong, we're not going to be like Werribee or Melton, we're not going to be dependent.
"The other thing we want to do is look after existing areas of Ballarat we want to protect - we live in Ballarat, yes it's a fantastic city with beautiful streets, beautiful trees, beautiful assets, the housing stock is some of the best in Australia, and there's the obvious things like heritage - so whilst we're growing, we want to protect and manage that as well, so it's a balance."
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