Structure Planning – what it is and its importance

A structure plan is a highly regarded and long established planning tool that sets out a vision for the future development of a municipality or locality over the next 10-20 years. Structure plans incorporate the planning and management  framework required to guide development and land-use changes (ie. rezoning) that will achieve sustainable environmental, social and economic objectives (visions).  Structure planning also takes into account the views of the community and various stakeholders, as well as the diversity, historical fabric and special character of a place.

Based on a detailed analysis of past and future growth projections, structure plans are particularly relevant for areas targeted for growth (i.e. Glen Eira’s Housing Diversity/High Density areas) as structure planning requires the identification of, and subsequent planning for, the ramifications/impacts, both within the targeted area and “non-targeted” surrounding minimal change areas, arising from that growth.  Such ramifications/impacts include (but are not limited to)

  • retail, commercial and industrial activities/usages
  • housing demand (no. of dwellings, dwelling sizes (1,2 or 3 bedrooms) and types (apartments, townhouses)
  • open space network
  • heritage and neighbourhood character
  • public transport
  • traffic (vehicular, cyclist and pedestrian) and parking requirements
  • public realm (streetscapes, encroachment of balconies)
  • building design and height guidelines (built form)
  • provision of social services (libraries, infant welfare)
  • land configuration and ownership, and
  • municipal and service infrastructure (eg. drainage).

The need for the inclusion of the above ramifications/impacts results in Structure Plans often being described as “umbrellas” – the detailed analysis substantiates projected growth levels within targeted areas and hence the subsequent planning requirements for each ramification/impact.

It is widely accepted that there is “no one size fits all” structure plan applicable to a municipality – each housing diversity area (be it an Activity, Neighbourhood or Local centre) has distinct characteristics.  Consequently, structure planning should be prepared for each housing diversity area.

As is to be expected, structure planning is not static – it requires regular updating of analytical data and hence review of both the “umbrella” and subsequent plans to ensure that planning is updated in accordance with the rate of development (ie. the cumulative impact of development is recognised).  In addition, Overlays can be applied to specified “sub-areas” of a designated Housing Diversity/High Density area, if that “sub-area” merits higher level planning controls than are applicable to the broader Housing Diversity/Higher Density area.  Overlays may relate to heritage, neighbourhood character, built form, open space acquisition or parking provisions.

Without municipal and/or specific area structure plans, Professor Michael Buxton*,  in his address to the GERA Annual General Meeting, sees the following issues arising

  • planning will not be strategically driven and will be without clarity and rules
    1. building heights will become incremental (10 storeys was approved why not now try for 14)
    2. ad hoc subdivision developments permitted in minimal change areas and encroachment of high density dwellings in minimal change areas (as they are around the corner from a “diversity” area).
  • no thinking of the future or the broader picture and no awareness of the cumulative or flow-on impacts (traffic, parking, public transport etc) as each development is viewed in isolation
  • unforseen social issues due to crowding and high demand on open space and a community exhausted from constantly lodging futile objections to planning permit applications
  • heritage will not be protected

Needless to say residents need only walk around their activity centres to test the veracity of Professor Buxton’s predictions – unlike other Metropolitan Councils, Glen Eira has consistently refused to adopt structure planning (costs and resources).   In fact Council returned the $40,000.00 DPCD grant received to develop a structure plan for the Glen Huntly Road Housing Diversity/High Density area.   The Independent Planning Panel Report re Glen Eira’s 2003 Housing Diversity (High Density)/Minimal Change Area implementation (Planning Scheme Amendment C25) was emphatic in it’s recommendation that Glen Eira include Structure Planning and the introduction of overlays in the Planning Scheme..

GERA strongly advocates that Council adopts structure planning and overlays, and encourages community participation/consultation when developing structure plans/overlays.  In doing so Council should avail itself of the resources the DPCD freely offers (grants, expert advice and suggested structure plan outlines).


* Dr. Michael Buxton  (Professor of Environment and Planning at RMIT University) has contributed extensively to government policy and maintains strong industry and professional connections. He is former chairperson Premier’s Green Wedge Working Party which advised the Victorian government on the introduction of a legislated urban growth boundary and revised green wedge zones for Melbourne’s green belt; former member of the Melbourne 2030 Implementation Reference Group; and has been a member of many government committees.

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