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    The Secret Agent Report - Planning

    October 2013


    The planning process has an impact on every construction idea, and it is important understand any changes to the zones and rules. We chat to Glossop Town Planning to go a little deeper into what the 2013 changes mean to Inner Melbourne real estate, deciphering the new zones; General Residential, Residential Growth and Neighbourhood Residential. Since 1997, Glossop has specialised in residential and commercial development projects, including medium and high rise housing projects.

    Planning Changes

    New planning reforms were announced by the state planning minister Matthew Guy on the 1st of July this year. They are significant changes that will affect where and how development is managed in the city. It’s going to take a while for a clear picture to emerge on how the changes will affect investment, but in the meantime here is a quick wrap-up.

    Three new residential zones have been created, Neighbourhood Residential, General Residential and Growth Residential. They aim to make it clear in the planning framework where higher density development such as townhouses and units can be located. The new Neighbourhood residential zone will bring the biggest changes, with only dual occupancy development being permitted (not encouraged). This change will likely bring to a end the 4-5 unit/townhouse developments we have seen in suburbs such as Preston and Reservoir.

    The scheme will curtail the growth in established areas, restricting any development to mixed use and growth residential zones – mainly located on busier roads near public transport. It’s a bid to protect ‘neighbourhood character’ in many areas that have been overrun with medium density housing stock in predominately single dwelling subdivisions.

    This type of low density townhouse/unit has proven to be popular in the market as a affordable entry point for accommodation in the inner city.

    There have also been one commercial zone and a revamp of the mixed use zone announced as part of the reforms. The commercial zoning frees up the use of land allowing for smaller supermarkets and the like where only big box retail may have been permitted previously. The mixed use zoning is also encouraging higher density residential growth. Expect to see it in parts of Brunswick, Footscray and similar ex industrial locations.

    As the new residential and commercial zones have been incorporated into the planning scheme, councils now have until July next year to decide how to distribute the zoning across their municipalities.

    Secret Agent spoke to planning firm Glossop Town Planning to see a different perspective on the new changes. John Glossop’s detailed comments provide further insight.

    What You Need to Know About Victoria’s Planning Changes
    By John Glossop

    The recently approved amendments to Victoria’s residential, commercial, industrial and rural zones are listed below.

    Planning Changes

    The development of the reformed zones followed recommendations from a Ministerial appointed advisory committee and from submissions to the process from interested stakeholders.

    The implementation process commenced with the release and immediate introduction of the new commercial and industrial zones on 15 July 2013. The new rural zones were introduced into Victorian planning schemes in September 2013.


    The most controversial aspect of the reformed zones process is the development, application and timing of the new residential zones. The existing Residential 1 Zone, Residential 2 Zone and Residential 3 Zone are to be replaced by three new residential zones:

    • The Residential Growth Zone;
    • The General Residential Zone; and
    • The Neighbourhood Residential Zone.

    Councils will have 12 months from 1 July 2013 to introduce the new residential zones into their local planning schemes. Where councils have not finalised an amendment to implement the new residential zones by 1 July 2014, the General Residential Zone will be implemented to replace all land zoned Residential 1, 2 and 3.

    The following section describes the key changes to three of the residential zones (namely the Residential Growth Zone, the General Residential Zone and the Neighbourhood Residential Zone).

    Residential Growth Zone
    The key features of this zone are as follows:

    • The zone purpose encourages diverse housing types and increased densities up to and including four storeys. This zone will work as a transitionary zone between areas of more and less intensive development.
    • Sets a discretionary height limit of 13.5 metres for dwellings and residential buildings with the ability for a council to specify a mandatory height limit through the schedule to the zone.
    • Allows complementary uses including Shop, Food and drink premises, Medical centre and Place of worship without a permit if conditions limiting their location and scale are met.

    General Residential Zone
    The key features of this zone are as follows:

    • The zone purpose provides for a diversity of housing types and moderate housing growth, and requires development to respect neighbourhood character and implement neighbourhood character policy guidelines.
    • A discretionary height limit of 9 metres (‘ResCode’ standard) with the ability for a council to specify a mandatory height limit through the schedule to the zone.
    • Allows complementary uses including Medical centre and place of worship without a permit if conditions limiting their location and scale are met.

    Neighbourhood Residential Zone 
    The key features of this zone are as follows:

    • The zone purpose manages areas where there are limited opportunities to increase residential development and requires development to respect identified neighbourhood character.
    • A maximum of two dwellings allowed on a lot with the ability for a council to specify a different number in a schedule to the zone.
    • A mandatory height limit of 8 metres for dwellings and residential buildings with the ability for a council to specify a mandatory height limit in a schedule to the zone to take account of existing built form.
    • Allows complementary uses including Medical centre and Place of worship without a permit if conditions limiting their location and scale are met. This includes a maximum floor area of 250 square metres and a requirement to adjoin a major road for both of these uses.


    At present, town planning professionals are struggling to advise clients on how these changes will affect their land.

    The following table has been prepared by the State government, setting out locational criteria for councils to consider when applying these new zones to land in their municipality.

    Even though this information has been released, many councils have yet to complete the level of strategic work necessary to provide the justification to apply the reformed zones to their municipality.

    We expect that metropolitan councils will complete this process this year (or at least by early next year). Many regional and rural councils, however, may not have the resources to do so in time.

    It is also unclear whether councils will be required to go through a public process to apply these new zones (giving landowners and others a say in the application of the zones) or whether the Minister will simply approve the zones at his sole discretion.

    The following table elaborates on the principals for applying the new zones.

    Planning Changes

    (Full document accessible here:


    The City of Glen Eira was the first Victorian council to adopt the reformed residential zones into its planning scheme.

    On August 5, 2013, the Minister for Planning Matthew Guy approved an amendment to implement the reformed Residential planning zones. The Premier of Victoria’s website said that this provided ‘a significant leap forward in clarity and protection for local residents’.

    The Minister for Planning said:

    “Today marks a historic day for Victoria and for residents across the City of Glen Eira who can now breathe easier in the knowledge that housing densification will be clearly directed to defined areas.

    The days of unclear rules around residential growth are over. Homeowners in suburbs such as Bentleigh, McKinnon, Ormond, Carnegie and Glenhuntly will now understand where development will be directed and what areas will be clearly protected. 

    The reforms to Victoria’s residential planning zones in Glen Eira will also make life easier for Council planners and other decision makers including VCAT which has struggled to interpret the one size fits all approach of Labour’s Melbourne 2030.” 


    Relevantly, the Neighbourhood Residential Zone was applied to nearly 80% of all residentially zoned land in the City of Glen Eira. This means that these areas will be protected from apartment and unit style development with a maximum of only two homes permitted per lot with a two storey (eight metre) height limit.

    It was interesting to note that this change occurred without public consultation and landowners in Glen Eira were not given the ability to comment on, let alone object to the proposed changes.


    The most significant change to Victorian planning schemes is arguably the application of the Neighbourhood Residential Zone (‘NRZ’). This zone will apply a mandatory 8 metre height limit and limit dwelling density to 2 dwellings per lot.

    Many landowners and developers are fearful that the application of this zone to their land will effectively prevent it from being developed with most forms of medium density housing.

    Other councils are likely to try to emulate the approach taken by Glen Eira and prospective purchasers interested in developing land for townhouses or apartments should take this into account as part of their pre-purchase due diligence.

    On the other hand, zones such as the Residential Growth Zone and the new Commercial and Industrial Zones will provide greater flexibility for landowners to apply for planning permits.

    Now more than ever, it is critical for landowners to obtain expert pre-purchase advice on the implications of these reforms on their investment decisions.

    John Glossop, Glossop Town Planning