The Influencers: Minister For Planning Richard Wynne

Market Insights
8 years ago
9 minutes

Elected in December 2014 as Victoria's Minister for Planning, MP Richard Wynne has remained strongly engaged with Melbourne's development community. Providing a platform for discussion, most notably through the Better Apartments paper and forum, the Minister for Planning has been a strong force in the promotion of providing affordable housing and protecting heritage, by building up, rather than out. 

ApartmentDevelopments.com.au had the chance to sit-down with the Minister for Planning and talk Melbourne, apartments, and what the future brings.

Hi Richard, Thank you for taking the time to chat to us!

Hi Jordan, no problems - I'm glad that there is an interest - Melbourne is a very important place.

In terms of apartment acceptability, history and living, Melbourne is decades behind the likes of 'mega-cities' like London and New York, is that something you are trying to change?

Obviously there has been a massive sea-change in the last 10-15 years in both interest and appetite from both developers and purchasers for apartment style living. If we go back to the early 1990s, I was down at the Melbourne Town Hall then, when we talked about people living in the CBD, there was no one living in the city - there was maybe 100 people who resided there. The most recent building starts speak to the enormous demand for apartment style living. So 35% of all starts, are apartments - it really is amazing. We are blessed here in Melbourne to have an extraordinary number of sites literally right in the heart of the city, Fishermans bend, docklands, e-gate, of developable land, where approvals are already going through very significant changes to apartment style living.

So there is no diminishing in demand, it is in fact, the exact opposite, people are seeing apartment style living from many different angles, there are down-sizers, a lot of young people are seeing apartment style living as a first step on the home-ownership ladder, obviously students, and overseas buyers as well. It is a very very strong demand here in Melbourne. But are we catching up with London and New York? Well, i mean there has been a history of apartment style living and much higher density living in New York, but certainly, I think the other aspect of that, is that we are going ot have to house another 100,000 people every year, and apartment living is going to have to be apart of it -and not just in the city, might I add. Right all throughout metropolitan Melbourne, we’ve visited some very high quality residential housing in, what people call, the established suburbs. So we think there are terrific opportunities. 

On the topic of density, it is believed that the sheer density in the CBD attracts purchasers to buy in it, however, it is also the reason why people choose not to buy in the CBD; who is the priority, Melburnians or overseas buyers, and how does one balance it all out?

My focus isn’t necessarily on who buys what, whether that is for local buyers, or overseas investors - for me it is about good design and quality outcome, and we speak for the public realm, they are the key drivers for me. We look in developments for things like; setbacks from buildings around them, that there is good ventilation throughout the building, that there is no borrowed light into the apartments, that if a development is being considered in the Hoddle grid that it is not overwhelming common space, that the building isn’t overshadowing other landmarks or areas, and of course, that the look of the building is activated at Melbourne’s street landscape, and that when you walk past it, you’re not going to get blown off your feet with wind-sheer - all of those sort of amenity issues are really important in my thinking and in that context, that kind of shapes how I think about apartment living.

So your goal, itself, is rather to make sure that everything can be as best it can be?

Yes, as best as they can be, but also that these developments are making a NET contribution; that is how I would summarise it.

Does something like Sepp 65 have a place in Melbourne?

I’m not here to prejudge the outcome of the consultation - it is a fair dinkum consultation, and there are people who will argue on both sides - some will argue that we need Sepp65 type controls, others will and are, are staunchly against it. 

Im not wedded to any particular outcome at this stage, I want to hear the conversation and debate. I met with one of Melbourne’s largest apartment constructors, they don't produce an apartment below mid 50sqm (52-53). It is not just about size either - I went to some beautiful apartments in Kew last week which were around about 44-45sqm with wonderful balconies, great outlook, good ceiling heights, cross ventilation, good floor plan - perfect. We ought not to get trapped in this one-size fits all, it is affordability (and quality) that needs to be foremost in our minds. So there is quite an interesting balancing act that has to take place.

Melbourne is a large city, even comparatively to other nations, should there be an emphasis on inner-city type infrastructure seeing as we are building up, and not out?

We have an urban growth boundary - and that is very important that we don't breach that boundary so we don't have an endless sprawl that is unsustainable economically, socially and environmentally. We have designated growth corridors, designated green wedges that have to be protected - it is striking the balance between insuring that we have a good land supply, and we do have almost a decade supply of land already re-zoned in the growth corridors for development, then it is looking at the middle suburbs, and looking at what opportunities do we have there for some medium density level housing in brownfield sites, that we are looking to identify - and then you have the inner city, where we have Fishermans Bend, which is a massive area, let alone Docklands which is probably only half-finished - it still has probably around 10 years worth of development, then E-Gate, then Arden McCauley, which is just South of the North Melbourne football ground.

That area will open up as we are going to put a train station there - it will be apart of Melbourne Metro. So a train station at Arden-McCauley, a train station at Melbourne University, out down with two stations in Swanston St, then out to the Domain interchange - so it really is a massive opportunity, and is a real game-changer for Melbourne in that the way the city is going to operate.

The Australian dream of the ‘quarter-acre block’ home, is that gone?

No, I mean people have aspirations to live in all different styles of housing - but certainly apartment style living is a very well understood and well developed option for people who are different stages of their life cycle - and it is self-evident that the market is strong and people are taking up this opportunity. It is fantastic in terms of the vitality for the city!

Like 25 years ago, when I was working in the town hall, there was 100 people living in the city - there were a few people living in warehouses - we actually did a survey.

In a relatively short period, it has grown to a level we wouldn’t have even comprehended in the early 1990s.

Using 85 Spring St as a springboard to this question, is protecting heritage, as well as keeping a close eye on the sustainability (and environmentally friendly aspect) of a potential development, a priority for you?

85 Spring St was a building that the Melbourne City Council originally had huge problems with, which we eventually resolved, and now it is a fantastic development in a great area. Particularly in terms of its then overwhelming of the public realm - and they were right. Is that a heritage consideration? Yes it is because you have Alcaston House on the corner, Anzac House just around the bend, and of course the Windsor Hotel just next door - they are three very significant heritage listed buildings, and we wanted to protect them. The area is a very important precinct, but that doesn't mean you cant have new developments going up -we have approved some quite large apartment buildings - the biggest one is probably the approval of the Savoy, which is a twisted Beyonce-styled apartment, which is now on the doorstep of transport interchange. There are huge opportunities for well-located, well-designed apartment dwellings.

And on the sustainability and environmentally conscious front, apartments are on the forefront of this with such a low carbon-footprint, is that something that is strongly considered in Melbourne?

Oh yes, people look towards the location, the quality of the finished product and towards what other amenities are attached to the apartment. For example there is one apartment on the corner of Swanston and Queensberry Streets which won an architectural award only recently, called Picollo, which are smaller one-bedroom 44sqm apartments, which are beautifully designed. On the seventh level, there is a floor that is completely dedicated to open space, be it gardens, entertainment areas with barbecues, it is really clever design, and it works.