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Why protect the Yarra River?

The Yarra River’s natural landscape character and environment change along its course. A variety of development, access, land use and management pressures impact different parts of the river.

Previously in planning schemes, there were a patchwork of planning controls for the Yarra River. This over time led to:

  • Inconsistent outcomes from one side of the river to the other.
  • Limited or no development setbacks.
  • Building heights above the existing tree canopy.
  • Disrupted views from public viewing points.
  • Bold, striking colours on new buildings.
  • Vegetation removal degrading the environment.
  • Overpowering bulk and visual mass of buildings.

Inappropriate development threatens the environmental health of the river. It also compromises the natural landscape character and community enjoyment.

Since 2017, stronger planning controls have been in place to prevent inappropriate development. Amendment VC197 makes these permanent. Permanent controls will ensure ongoing consistent planning decision making for the Yarra River corridor between Richmond and Warrandyte.

Amendment VC197

The Minister for Planning approved amendment VC197 in April 2021.

Amendment VC197 delivered permanent planning protections for the Yarra River between Richmond and Warrandyte. These controls implement strategic planning studies and provide a consistent, strengthened planning policy and control framework to protect the Yarra River from inappropriate development.

Amendment VC197 updates and makes permanent interim planning controls introduced by amendment GC48 in 2017. The updated controls followed consultation with councils and Melbourne Water.

The controls implemented by Amendment VC197 are very similar to those which have been in effect since 2017.

Policy neutral updates make the controls clearer and more user friendly. Resources released in 2017, including the Planning Advisory Note 65 and the Municipal Toolkit documents, remain relevant for purposes of understanding the strategic policy basis of the controls.

These resources explain the landscape assessment approach which has informed the design and application of mandatory and discretionary height, setback and overshadowing requirements.

Opportunities for new and expanded planning controls for the Yarra River up reach of Warrandyte are being explored through the forthcoming Yarra Strategic Plan and subsequent processes.

What are the Yarra River planning controls?

The controls comprise schedules to the:

  • Design and Development Overlay (DDO)
  • Significant Landscape Overlay (SLO)

The controls are implemented in the following planning schemes:

  • Banyule
  • Boroondara
  • Manningham
  • Nillumbik
  • Stonnington
  • Yarra

Design and Development Overlay

The DDO applies to areas of private land near the Yarra River. The DDO manages the siting and design of development. It also includes mandatory, site specific height and setback requirements. Melbourne Water is also established as a referral authority for applications within 100 metres of the banks of the river.

Significant Landscape Overlay

The SLO applies to public and private land within the river’s broader landscape setting. The SLO manages the location of buildings, removal of vegetation and earthworks.

Minor changes to other parts of planning schemes support the application of controls, including:

  • regional policy at Clause 12.0-3-1R, and
  • referral requirements at Clause 66.04

Where do the controls apply?

The controls apply to the Yarra River corridor between Richmond and Warrandyte, affecting land in:

  • City of Banyule
  • City of Boroondara
  • City of Manningham
  • Shire of Nillumbik
  • City of Stonnington
  • City of Yarra

The SLO applies to both public and private land within approximately 100 to 400 meters of the Yarra River (on both sides).

The DDO applies only to specific areas of private land next to, or within proximity of, the Yarra River.

The SLO and DDO are informed by a landscape assessment approach, accounting for local topographic conditions and landscape features.

The requirement to refer applications to Melbourne Water (Clause 66.04) applies to applications subject to the DDO within 100 metres of Yarra River.

DDO referrals to Melbourne Water

Previously, a requirement to refer applications within 100 metres of the Yarra River to Melbourne Water was included directly in the schedule to the DDO. This requirement has moved to Clause 66.04. It is still linked to land subject to the DDO. A new decision guideline in the schedule to the DDO also now alerts practitioners and proponents to the referral requirement.

Applications subject to the DDO within 100 metres of the banks of the Yarra River must be referred to Melbourne Water. As a Recommending Referral Authority, Melbourne Water makes recommendations on potential impacts of development on the environmental and waterway values.

This could include assessment of the:

  • removal of riparian, or other vegetation
  • impacts on bank stability or erosion
  • impacts of direct or indirect run off on the riverine environment
  • impacts of excavation or other earthworks.

Additional referral requirements may also apply. These are found at Clause 66.04 of planning schemes.

Changes to the DDO and SLO

Changes made to the controls include:

Note that Amendment VC197 does not make any changes to the mandatory height and setback controls in the DDO schedules.

Changes to Clause 12.03-1R

An additional strategy to protect, conserve and enhance areas of Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultural and archaeological significance is now included in the regional policy. This has moved from the schedule to the overlay to regional policy as it is relevant for the entire river corridor.

Why have transitional requirements been removed?

Amendment GC48 included transitional arrangements. Anyone with a planning permit or building permit obtained prior to 24 February 2017 did not need to comply with the new controls. The planning controls implemented by Amendment GC48 have been in effect for 4 years. Building permits and planning permits generally expire within 2 years.

The extension of a planning permit requires the Responsible Authority to consider the current planning policy framework in deciding on whether to extend a permit. In this context, there is no ongoing need for transitional requirements to be included in permanent controls.

Why was the expiration date of the interim controls changed?

Amendment GC48 implemented planning controls for the Yarra River on an interim basis. The purpose of introducing interim controls was to enable monitoring and review to occur before the controls becoming permanent. The schedules to the SLO and DDO were due to expire on 31 January 2021.

In January 2021, Amendment GC177 changed the expiry to 30 April 2021. This was required to allow sufficient time to develop the permanent controls, following consultation with councils and Melbourne Water. This ensured the protection provided by the controls did not lapse prior to the permanent controls being implemented.

Why have expiration dates in the schedules to the DDO and SLO been removed?

Amendment VC197 implements permanent planning controls for the Yarra River. This fulfills the commitment made by the Planning Minister in June 2020 to ensure ongoing protection for the Yarra corridor from Richmond to Warrandyte without expiration.

Middle Yarra River and Lower Yarra River Corridor Studies

In 2015-16, we undertook studies of the Yarra River corridor. These assessed the need for new or amended planning controls and design guidelines for land in proximity to the Yarra River between Burke Road and Warrandyte.

Middle Yarra River Corridor Study

The Middle Yarra River Corridor Study was prepared in partnership with:

  • Banyule City Council
  • Manningham City Council
  • Shire of Nillumbik
  • Melbourne Water

The study area was the Yarra River corridor between Burke Road (Ivanhoe) and Warrandyte

Lower Yarra River Corridor Study

The Lower Yarra River Corridor Study was prepared in partnership with:

  • Yarra City Council
  • Stonnington City Council
  • Boroondara City Council
  • Melbourne Water

The study area is the Yarra River corridor between Punt Road and Burke Road.

These studies include detailed landscape assessments of the river corridor setting. They identify threats, opportunities and constraints towards ensuring that further development does not detrimentally impact the Yarra River’s landscape, environmental, aesthetic, cultural and recreational values.

The Lower and Middle Yarra River Corridor Studies provide the strategic basis for the stronger planning controls implemented by Amendments GC48 and VC197.

Municipal toolkits

The Municipal toolkits were published in 2017. There is one for each council subject to Amendment GC48.

The Municipal toolkits implement the findings and outcomes of the 2015-16 Lower and Middle Yarra River Corridor Studies. The detail in these reports informed the application of the strengthened planning controls implemented through Amendment GC48.

Each municipal toolkit contains the specific recommended changes to each planning scheme. The toolkits also include the local and site-specific analysis which has informed the application of height and setback controls.

Recommendations are based on:

  • Detailed assessment of landscape values and character of the river corridor.
  • Identification of potential development pressures for the Yarra River.
  • Analysis of how the current suite of statutory provisions works to manage these threats.

The Municipal toolkits remain relevant in explaining the strategic work underpinning the Yarra River planning controls in the Boroondara, Stonnington, Yarra, Banyule, Manningham, and Yarra Ranges planning schemes.

How do the controls relate to the Yarra Strategic Plan?

Melbourne Water is leading the development of the Yarra Strategic Plan (YSP). This is a requirement of the Yarra River Protection (Willip-gin Birrarung Murron) Act 2017. The Act establishes the river as a single living, integrated natural entity for protection. The YSP aims to give effect to a long-term community vision for the Yarra River. As an integrated river corridor plan the YSP will enable the collaborative management of the river and its parklands across public agencies.

What's in the Yarra Strategic Plan?

As a strategic framework, the YSP addresses a broad range of issues including:

  • river governance
  • stormwater management
  • water quality
  • riparian landscape health
  • biodiversity
  • community access and amenity
  • cultural values
  • land use and development.

The YSP includes:

  • a 50-year community vision
  • 10-year performance objectives
  • collaborative actions
  • priority projects
  • a land-use framework with whole-of-river and reach-by-reach specific actions and directions for future use and development.

Permanent planning controls from Richmond to Warrandyte will make a significant contribution to the delivery of the YSP, especially in terms of:

  • harmonising protections across municipal boundaries
  • delivering on the plan’s performance object to protecting the natural beauty of the Yarra River corridor
  • delivering on a whole-of-river action in the YSP’s land use framework

Due for finalisation and endorsement in 2021, the YSP further identifies opportunities for new and revised planning controls to be developed, including for areas upstream of Warrandyte.

How do the controls relate to Plan Melbourne?

Plan Melbourne 2017 – 2050 is Melbourne’s metropolitan planning strategy to guide the growth of our city for the next 35 years. The planning controls deliver Plan Melbourne Action 62 to “Protect the natural landscape settings of Melbourne’s major waterways by finalising stronger planning controls along the Yarra River corridor.”

How do the controls relate to the Yarra River Action Plan?

The Victorian Government’s Yarra River Action Plan (2017) contains 30 integrated actions which work to ensure that the Yarra River is managed as a living integrated entity, centred by Traditional Owner values and perspectives and underpinned by a coordinated planning framework.

The action plan includes measures for the long-term protection of the river and its parklands, developed in response to recommendations of the Yarra River Protection Ministerial Advisory Committee (Yarra MAC) in its final report.

Actions include the establishment of the Yarra River Protection (Wilip-gin Birrarung murron) Act 2017, the development of a 50-year Community Vision and a Yarra Strategic Plan and stronger planning controls for other reaches of the Yarra River, based on the same landscape assessment approach informing the controls implemented by Amendments GC48 and VC197.


VC197 guidance material

Amendment VC197 implements policy neutral updates to the interim controls introduced by Amendment GC48. The following document provides a summary of changes to assist you in understanding how the interim controls have been changed.

Given Amendment VC197 implements only minor, policy-neutral and consequential changes to the interim planning controls which have been in effect for four years, new guidance material has not been developed. The guidance material and strategic studies which accompanied Amendment GC48 in 2017 remain relevant in explaining the strategic basis of the controls.

GC48 guidance material

Amendment GC48 was informed by a range of strategic studies and accompanied by detailed guidance material to support implementation of the controls. The following documents may help councils and proponents to interpret, understand and apply the current controls.

Information has not been updated subsequent to Amendment VC197, meaning some information may be superseded or out of date. Contact your local council for the most up to date information.

Advisory Note 65 – Amendment GC48 Yarra River Planning Controls

Recommendation reports

Recommendation reports have been prepared for the ‘lower’ (Richmond to Fairfield) and ‘middle’ (Ivanhoe to Warrandyte) segments of the broader study area.

The Recommendation reports form part a suite of products that have informed the implementation of Amendment GC48. Collectively both reports provide a consistent approach managing development along the Yarra River by:

  • Documenting the values and define a series of river interface character types and important views throughout both river segments;
  • Providing an overarching analysis of gaps and opportunities through review of past studies and existing planning controls; and
  • Presenting local area recommendations regarding potential height, setback, overshadowing and other issues that are then further analysed in detail within council level reports (municipal toolkits).

Previous reports

Previous policies and plans published by the department.

Review of policies and controls for the Yarra River Corridor: Punt Road to Burke Road (June 2005)

This report outlines the landscape and environmental character of the Yarra River from Punt Road Richmond to Burke Road Ivanhoe. It provides a review of policies and planning controls as related to the Yarra River and recommendations for their improvement.

Middle Yarra Concept Plan, Burke Road to Watsons Creek (1991/1993)

These documents outline how the Yarra River between Watsons Creek and Burke Road should be planned to utilise its values and potential, considering both development and use of public and private land.

Middle Yarra Concept Plan: Dights Falls to Burke Road, State Government of Victoria (1990)

This concept plan provides recommendations regarding:

  • river course
  • wetlands
  • bushland
  • open space
  • private residential and industrial development and public facilities
  • the Eastern freeway,
  • Yarra Boulevard and the trail network
  • as well as means to action the plan
Statement of Planning Policy No 4. River Yarra (1971)

This is a broad policy directive for the planning and development of the Yarra River and its immediate environs as an open space system for nature conservation and recreation.

Page last updated: 04/01/24