Planners call for car parking reform following shock Nightingale VCAT decision

The president of the Victorian Planning and Environment Law Association (VPELA) has rebuked media for their coverage of a VCAT ruling that blocked construction of the Nightingale development in Melbourne.

Melbourne architects Breathe Architecture designed the Nightingale to be a car-free housing development, but VCAT revoked the building’s planning permit on the basis that it had no car parking. The decision was branded variously by media as “crazy,” “out of touch,” and “disturbing.”

VPELA president Tamara Brezzi blamed the media for “heightening confusion or preexisting prejudice rather than explaining the debate” in its coverage of the ruling.

“Planning is not simple, it’s complex. But its complexity is not mitigated when, disappointingly, the reporting of planning matters is used as a mere facade to […] attack councils, VCAT, the government or the planning system in general,” said Brezzi. “What ensued was the loss of an opportunity for a genuine conversation about what we want for developments of the future.”

Brezzi made the remarks at a seminar held by VPELA, where planning and traffic engineering experts spoke of how the Nightingale decision highlighted a need for planning reform in the area of residential car parking.

“The case raises questions about […] the suitability of our planning and property restriction models to deal with proposals that want to restrict car ownership,” said Brezzi.

The planning scheme “essentially treats car parking demand as something of an inevitability,” said Stephen Rowley, lecturer in urban planning at RMIT University. “The Nightingale decision highlights the fundamental regulatory logic that is built into the planning scheme, which is more is better.”

Rowley argued that “minimum car parking regulations are a discredited planning mechanism.”

The Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) echoed the call for reform in a statement to the media. “We need to move to models of urban planning that encourage and facilitate non-car transport.” said James Larmour-Reid, Victorian president of the PIA. “Minimum car parking controls can increase the cost of housing, lead to poor design outcomes, and are a severe burden on new businesses in established retail areas.”

This view is shared by Rowley who argued, “I don’t know that we can think of a planning control that’s done as much harm to as many people for as undetectable a benefit as the application of minimum car parking controls in traditional strip shopping centres.”

Rowley said that if the planning scheme moves beyond this approach, then, “we can start thinking about how we can use built form controls to influence the choice to drive and hopefully reduce the amount of car parking.”

As Larmour-Reid also suggested, “The release of the Plan Melbourne Refresh Discussion Paper provides the perfect opportunity to open this debate.”

City of Moreland councillors, who unanimously approved the original Nightingale proposal, will call on the Victorian planning minister Richard Wynne to review the car parking regulations and address “the major flaw [in existing planning laws] for progressive and sustainable design in Victoria,” Councillor Meghan Hopper told the Herald Sun. “If people choose to go without a vehicle and to contribute to a more environmentally conscious world, they [should] not be forced by outdated policy to have a carpark.”

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