"The motion is carried," said City of Ballarat mayor Daniel Moloney.
On any view, it was a profound moment. After all, dealing with environmental concerns, including climate change, is - and always has been - about the balance of power.
One-by-one, in a vote underpinned by uncharacteristic unanimity, councillors endorsed a move to continue with a push spearheaded by the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) to embed tighter environmental controls or oversight into local planning laws.
And they did so, it bears emphasising, against the backdrop of an approved executive report - attached to the council agenda - which cited the vital importance of ensuring the vast, city-defining development planned to the north and west of Ballarat results in "high quality, sustainable homes and workplaces".
A form of development, in other words, more befitting of the state's second largest regional city, and one which guards against the subpar social and environmental outcomes commonly realised under the city's planning scheme.
Viewed from that perspective, it was, to all appearances, a vote heralding a fundamental shift in the usual balance of power that stamps relations between property developers and local planning authorities.
But appearances are almost always deceptive.
Merely four weeks later, at council's ordinary meeting in June, all nine councillors gave voice to the urgency, as they saw it, to expedite the City of Ballarat's recent application to fast-track further housing zones to the north, north-west and far west of the city.
This - much like council's stated desire to adopt new environmental oversights - requires an amendment to the city's planning scheme, which in turn is a decision that ultimately lies with the state government.
Acknowledging so much, Cr Ben Taylor urged councillors and the executive alike to bring pressure to bear on the Victorian government, noting the opportune timing of the looming state election in November.
"Every day [this issue] becomes more pressing from a growth point of view," Cr Taylor said.
"The work has been done, it's been submitted; it'd be great to get on with it and get this done, so we can actually meet the growth [pressures] across the city."
It was a sentiment shared by councillors Peter Eddy and Mark Harris, the latter of whom told the council chamber that "developers and other extraneous voices [are] cognisant of what our community wants".
Without elaborating, Cr Harris reiterated the need to "hold state government to account on this".
"In reality, as the [local planning] authority, we do all the hard work, [even] while the local media tend to look at us as corrupt and stupid," he said.
His finishing flourish - or cri de coeur, if you're feeling charitable - is of course as specious as it is irrelevant and distracting.
The unvarnished significance of the two positions unanimously assumed by council - to adopt new standards of environmental oversight on the one hand, and to expedite the process of unlocking the growth corridors for housing, on the other - lies in their timing.
In recent days, it's emerged the City of Ballarat was alive to the distinct probability, if not inevitability, that council's application to fast-track the rezoning process would all but guarantee the rezoning of the growth corridors before the tighter environmental controls find reflection in the planning scheme.
Noting council's most recent briefing in May, Cr Belinda Coates told The Courier this week the proposed environmental amendment "won't be adopted in time".
She added that, at least to her understanding, the amendment was yet to be drafted under the guidance of MAV.
In practical terms, the force of this concession, coupled with council's push to fast-track the rezoning of the city's growth corridors, deprives council's environmental rhetoric around urban planning of much of its significance, sense of ambition and revolutionary élan.
Far from redefining the power imbalance which ordinarily characterises relations between developers and local planners - enabling, for instance, a situation in which council could expressly reject planning applications which fail to prioritise renewable energy, recycling and green infrastructure - council is speeding in a direction that promises little more than the same urban sprawl with which we're all familiar.
This, of course, is just one perspective. In answer, the City of Ballarat has pointed out that the logic behind fast-tracking the rezoning of the northern north-west growth corridors is, in fact, grounded in securing sound urban planning outcomes.
"It really is about planning how the west and north grow moving forward and in what order," said its chief executive, Evan King, noting the application to fast-track the rezoning would, if approved, lend much-needed clarity to council's precinct structure plans.
"We want to make sure the new growth areas are coming on board in a sequenced manner, so the investment into infrastructure can be done in a sequential manner and in the most efficient manner."
Similarly, the City of Ballarat director for development and growth, Natalie Robertson, added that environmentally sustainable design principles must - by virtue of state government planning guidelines - already be "considered" in the development of precinct structure plans.
"Importantly," she said, "it is the preparation of the precinct structure plans and ultimately the planning permit applications for subdivisions that will enforce environmentally sustainable design principles."
"The precinct structure plan guidelines seek to create better outcomes for new communities through climate resilience and adaptation, including urban greening and bushfire management.
"The City of Ballarat is committed to elevating standards of environmentally sustainable design across our city."
For the blithely unfamiliar, a precinct structure plan is just a fancy term for a high-level neighbourhood master plan. It maps out the location of future roads, housing estates, schools, open green space, commercial centres and key transport connections, all with a view to guiding council's infrastructure planning.
Though important, it has little to no bearing on individual planning applications for commercial or residential dwellings, to which the MAV-led environmental amendment is directed.
Indeed, at council's ordinary meeting in May, the officer's report clearly stated that stricter environmental sustainability controls would not be possible absent an amendment to the city's planning scheme.
"There [is] an established need to introduce improved and clear sustainable design standards and objectives into the Ballarat planning scheme," the report said. "To do so will require a planning scheme amendment."
This, incidentally, is a position which corresponds with Mr King's understanding of the planning scheme.
"Unless it's in the planning scheme," he recently said, "then technically it has no legal standing and we have very little capability to drive environmentally sustainable design in infrastructure or housing around Ballarat."
It is at this point that the debate inevitably and necessarily devolves into the usual vexed questions around the extent or absence of community consultation.
Though residents were afforded an opportunity to provide feedback on the city's future growth zones in late 2020, fewer than 60 responses were received, with none of the three growth areas receiving more than 20 submissions.
What's more, the community was not consulted on council's decision to fast-track the rezoning of the identified growth areas, nor directly informed of its predictable environmental consequences.
In a recent interview with this masthead, Cr Moloney said he was "personally staggered" at the minimal community engagement which ultimately guided council's decision to tilt the city's growth towards the north and west.
"We spent more time [as council] debating singular development applications than we spent debating the opening up of entire new suburbs - I was really surprised at that," he said.
"It was almost as if no one particularly cared - as if it was more a question between developers as to who gets their land opened up before the next one.
"And maybe there is an acceptance that it's okay to keep growing out, but what's missing is a discussion around the implications of that."
Change, of course, has long been no stranger to Ballarat. In the past 15 years, the city has welcomed more than 25,000 new residents, and is expected to accommodate a further 70,000 by 2041.
On current trends, most of that growth is destined for greenfield development to the north and west of the city and beyond.
It's true, as Cr Moloney has previously pointed out, that local government has little sway over its ongoing obligation to provide for at least 10 years' housing supply.
But what it has or potentially has - in the form of stronger environmental controls - is considerably more influence over the shape and liveability of the city for decades, if not centuries, to come.
Why it would squander that opportunity and risk creating the conditions for a future city plagued by uncontrolled urban sprawl, over-crowding, urban heating and congestion, on any view, defies easy comprehension.
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