An extensive review of the residential zoning implemented across the suburbs of Melbourne has confirmed what many had expected; the inner north region is designated for far more development than the inner east suburbs. The Managing Residential Development Taskforce (the Taskforce) is an independent expert group which have prepared the Residential Zones State of Play reports.

Approximately 23% of land in Metropolitan Melbourne is within a zone which limits significant change, with only 5% within a zone that supports a large increase in density.

The zoning map extract below identifies clearly the disparity between different Council’s. The ‘Pink’ coloured land represents the Neighbourhood Residential Zone (NRZ), while the ‘Red’ coloured land represents the General Residential Zone (GRZ). In a nutshell, NRZ, in most cases, locks down land to very minimal change while GRZ allows for a somewhat greater increase in density, generally in the form of multi-unit 2 – 3 storey developments.

The purple Residential Growth Zone (RGZ) is extremely limited, with selective implementation adjacent to transport infrastructure.

Residential Zones State of Play Overarching Report, Pg. 33

Residential Zones State of Play Overarching Report, Pg. 25

The Eastern Subregion has the highest proportion of lands that limit residential change, with approximately 13,000 hectares of land zoned NRZ or Low Density Residential.

Boroondara Council, located in the Eastern Subregion, has applied a growth zone to a mere 1% of its municipality while 76% of the land is now restricted for housing growth. A similar outcome has emerged in the adjacent Council of Glen Eira, where 80% of land is restricted for further growth.

In an interview with The Age Newspaper, Professor Roz Hansen, who is chairing the ministerial advisory committee on Melbourne’s 40-year plan, indicated that a rethink was needed for certain land which has been restricted without strong planning justification. She is quoted as stating:

“I think there are a number of situations where the neighbourhood residential zone has been applied where in fact there is strong evidence that those areas are more suitable for medium-density housing [of three to six storeys],” she said.

The Minister for Planning has responded to the release of the reports, commenting:

We need a planning system which the community has confidence in, we need to maintain our neighbourhoods but also need to encourage new development in the right locations so housing supply keeps up with population growth.”

The Taskforce, in addition to preparing the reports, have provided a list of suggested improvements to the residential zones totaling 74 suggestions. These suggestions are, at this stage, provided for comment only but may form the basis of an change that may occur in the future.

In this authors opinion the review is welcomed, providing a factual analysis of the zoning that has occurred across the city. There is no place for the Councils and decision-makers to hide. Previous ill-judged decisions regarding limiting residential growth should be re-evaluated.

Land zoning is a very sensitive subject and one close to people’s hearts as it can impact their day-to-day life, significantly altering their immediate surroundings but also can have a significant impact on the value of land.

Planners should be given greater influence over the ‘planning’ of land. The tough decisions whereby certain areas are designated for increased housing, versus other areas which are retained for lower density, should be made by professionals who have practiced in the discipline and can make impartial and strategic decisions. Politics should play a back seat in any significant re-zoning changes that occur in the future.