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In December 2016 the Minister for Planning announced the Activity Centre Pilot Program (the pilot program).

A key purpose of the pilot program was to identify how planning controls could be used to provide greater clarity and certainty about development heights in activity centres and to ensure the community and developers have a clearer understanding of the form of new development expected in activity centres.

In particular, the pilot was to investigate how planning controls could be improved to better reflect and support strategic work undertaken by councils, and lessen the instances of proposals far exceeding preferred maximum heights in place and being out of step with community expectations.

This approach to strengthening how building heights are dealt with in areas identified for change was reiterated through policies in Plan Melbourne 2017-2050 released by the Victorian Government in March 2017.

Three activity centres were identified for inclusion as part of the pilot program – Moonee Ponds in the City of Moonee Valley, Ivanhoe in the City of Banyule and Johnston Street in the City of Yarra. These centres were identified as they each offered characteristics and attributes considered helpful for the assessment of development in activity centres.

Findings of the Activity Centre pilot program

The pilot program has found that discretionary height controls, that is – preferred maximum height controls – are generally an effective tool for facilitating development and administering height in activity centres and should continue to be the preferred way in which height controls are applied in activity centres.

The pilot program has also found that, if set at appropriate levels that will deliver desired growth targets, mandatory controls do not necessarily inhibit development and can deliver clarity, certainty and consistency in outcomes regarding allowable building height.

Key findings that have emerged from the pilot program have been detailed in a Key Findings Report.

Changes to Planning Practice Notes

Planning Practice Note 60 Heights and Setback Controls in Activity Centres provides guidance on the preferred approach to the application of height and setback controls for activity centres.

Based on the findings from the pilot program, Planning Practice Note 60 has been revised to outline instances where mandatory building height controls can be considered in activity centres subject to the fulfillment of clear criteria.

Councils now have the ability to seek greater certainty through the application of mandatory building height controls if they fulfill certain criteria. This includes completing contemporary and robust strategic work that allows for growth and change consistent with state policy. Previously, mandatory building height controls could only be applied in strictly specified exceptional circumstances.

Planning Practice Note 60 continues to state that mandatory building height controls will also be considered in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

The ‘exceptional circumstances’ have been expanded to include reference to instances where significant physical features may exist, such as views to or from the activity centre or topography.

Minor changes have also been made to Planning Practice Note 58: Structure Planning for Activity Centres and Planning Practice Note 59: The Role of Mandatory Provision in Planning Schemes to align them with changes made to Planning Practice Note 60.

Research undertaken

In addition to focused investigations of each of the pilot centres, supplementary research and studies were undertaken to better understand the effectiveness and operation of preferred height controls in activity centres.

A review of Planning Panels Victoria (PPV) reports and Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) cases on planning scheme amendments and permits associated with activity centres was undertaken in order to gain an understanding of the commentary and discussion relating to the justification of preferred and mandatory height controls within activity centres.

A review and analysis of case studies of approved development applications, and the corresponding planning scheme controls was undertaken to identify and test potential responses to the issue of controlling heights that exceed discretionary limits.

A study in relation to the viability of residential development in activity centres was completed to better understand development viability within activity centres, particular having regard to land prices, shifting demographics in activity centres, preferences regarding apartment living, and potential improvements to construction technology.

A study was also undertaken to assess the local economic impacts of increased residential development in Activity Centres.

These supplementary studies are provided below.

Page last updated: 19/07/23