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September 18, 2008
The outcome of the Surf Coast Shires recent Design by Enquiry workshop series, a week-long forum investigating the issues around the planned expansion of Torquay township along Spring Creek, while setting out a range of excellent principles, proposes a level of development far beyond the expectations of the community, the council and even the consultants involved.
The Draft Framework Plan that summarises the deliberations of the event, attended by a cross-section of landowners, consultants, developer representatives and some community members, proposes urban development across the whole of the study area.
Most tellingly, it does not propose any rural land-use buffer zone defining the individual character and identity of the hamlet of Bellbrae.
It is proposed that the interface between Bellbrae and more conventional urban density development will be provided by low density residential lots of 0.4-1.0ha, while admitting that “this is more of an urban than rural landuse” and proposing that guidelines be imposed to ensure that it has a well-vegetated character.
Given that the introduction to the background reports distributed prior to the workshops reassured readers that “It is not Council’s intention that the whole of the study area will be identified for urban development or that urban growth will extend to Bellbrae”, it would seem that the Preliminary Framework Plan has been well and truly overcooked.
There can be no doubt as to the need for provision for urban growth, however. The presentation in Torquay by Jeremy Reynolds from the Dept of Planning and Community Development at the recent Coastal Forum showed that population growth in the Surf Coast is likely to exceed rate of 3.2%, the 4th highest growth rate in Victoria. Most of this is in Melbourne, but the regional cities off Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo are slated for continued rapid growth also. The driver behind the growth is low unemployment and a healthy economy, which has led to both a baby boom and record immigration.
It is clear that population growth is unavoidable either here or elsewhere, and that planning for urban growth is essential if we are to create communities that are more sustainable than ever before, and are affordable for young families.
It would seem however that the Design by Enquiry consultation format has provided a forum for landowners and developers rather than ordinary community members to have an input. Perhaps it is time that a group be formed to facilitate greater public input into the planning process and ensure that the outcome is a best fit for the whole community.
Rather than low-density residential development, the identity of Bellbrae would be better protected by a green wedge of land like the rural buffer between Geelong and Torquay, zoned for rural or urban agriculture or horticulture.
This would also bolster the sustainability of the area by encouraging locally-grown food production, a hitherto overlooked aspect that could greatly reduce the future community’s carbon footprint.
This is a great opportunity to frame the future of Torquay, but my feeling is that to date the consultation process has not got it right.
This article first appeared in the Geelong Advertiser September 2008