20 to 50 year bold vision for expanded CBD

5 March 2020

Minister for Planning


The Hon. Matthew Guy, MLC


Level 7, 1 Spring Street
Victoria, 3000

Dear Mr. Guy,


Now is probably one of the most critical times in Melbourne’s history with regard to planning. Unlike any decade in the last 100 years, we face an increasingly difficult future where our sustainability hangs in the balance. Unfortunately the “bold vision” seems to assume that the future will be very similar to the past, only bigger! Even if this were so, jamming more and more people into the inner suburbs of Melbourne will have a negative effect on residents.  Rather we should be seriously looking at the constraints we will face in coming decades and setting Melbourne on a course to manage these with the minimum of pain.

Local councils are facing the challenges and costs of population growth, and public transport is failing to keep abreast with growth.

Below are important factors which need to be taken into account and which many of your planning predecessors did not have to consider greatly.

1.Climate change

2.Oil depletion

3.Water resources


Climate change:

The federal government has introduced a carbon tax with the starting price on July 1st set at $23 per tonne of carbon emissions. At this point, hundreds of millions of dollars are likely to be passed on to electricity retailers and then consumers but we cannot reach any emissions reduction targets while our economy feeds from population growth and an increasing number of consumers.

In addition, studies have shown that high-rise housing increases per-capita greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30% due to a total reliance on power, switches and being unable to enjoy the natural cooling of shady trees and living sustainability. Department of Planning and EnergyAustralia study (NSW) and the ACF Consumption Atlas show high-rise buildings emit more greenhouse gases per dwelling and per person than smaller blocks of flats, townhouses or detached homes.

The urban heat island effect will add to the effect of climate change in cities particularly where density and hard (especially concrete surfaces) increase because of population growth at the expense of vegetation.

Any targets to reduce carbon emissions will be negated by more consumers, each with higher per capita output.


Oil depletion:

Inevitable oil depletion makes our continued rate of use of the motor vehicle in the coming decades very uncertain and this will herald a major change in lifestyle. Of even greater impact is that oil depletion will adversely affect agricultural yields. Australia’s declining ability to feed itself therefore will be a threat to city residents. At the same time, private and public open space per capita is diminishing with population growth while agricultural land on the city’s edges is being lost to housing development.

What we need is the opposite and a plan that will enable sufficient land per person to grow food for survival looking forward 50 years. Just as car dependant suburbs with large houses and little land on the far outskirts of the city have a distinct “use by date”, so do high rise buildings designed to accommodate people vertically without reference to any land. Planning for the real challenges of the future really does require vision, not just crisis management which defers to developers demands. Developers will not be thinking 50 years ahead but somebody has to.


Water Resources:

The Thomson Dam, (1984) was meant to “drought proof” Melbourne, but our population has blown out over its original capacity.  Climate uncertainty shows we can’t rely exclusively on dams the way we used to.

During Victoria’s drought 2006-9 it became apparent to even the truest believers that growth without end presented a major problem- that of supplying water to the residents of Melbourne. Water restrictions were strict, the parks and gardens of the city dried up. A fast growing population was exacerbating water shortages. The government took measures to drought proof Melbourne with the North South Pipeline taking water from the country to the bulging city and building a desalination plant near Wonthaggi. Both measures were extremely unpopular with the people living in the respective country areas outside thirsty Melbourne. Over the last year or so Melbourne and surrounds have had plenty of rain which temporarily makes us feel reassured that we will not run out of water, but planning is about looking at a worst case scenario. With ever rising population we will hit a brick wall of water availability again. Furthermore, making water a manufactured product as the previous government deemed necessary has commodified and increased the cost of this vital resource forever.


Immediate issues

Infrastructure costs:

Population growth places pressure on existing infrastructure and resources, with significant investment needed to maintain productivity, living standards and equitable access to community services. Growth continually outstrips funding, and deepens our debt.

Dr Jane O’Sullivan research fellow at the School of Land Crop and Food Sciences at The University of Queensland points out that infrastructure on average requires replacement every 50 years or at a rate of 2% per annum .If a population is growing at 2 percent, the entire stock of infrastructure must also be expanded at the same rate thus doubling the infrastructure costs. i

US MIT economist Lester Thurow estimated that it requires 12.5 % of GDP to expand capacity at 1 percent per year. For the developed world this was over $200,000 per person of net population growth. ii


Pollution and run-offs:

According to former Minister for Water, John Thwaites, “More needs to be done to manage the increasing stress being placed on the Yarra by our growing population, urban development, and intensification of agriculture”.

Growing out city means a massive increase in hard surfaces and concrete, denying the Yarra its water and pollution absorbing buffer zones. It assumes that “management” can mitigate the magnifying effects of population growth, and storm-water and sewerage surges.

Raw sewage was released into Melbourne’s creeks and rivers five times last year by

Melbourne Water as a “failsafe to reduce pressure and prevent sewage backing up through household drains” during major storms. What will it be like with many multi storey building full of people and plumbing in the coming years?



New home sales in Victoria have collapsed, compounding the State Government’s woes as it battles heavy job losses and a slowing stream of tax income. There are limits to growth, and to how much people can afford to pay for housing. The latest rental affordability data compiled by the Tenants Union of Victoria (TUV) shows that students, single parents, the unemployed and pensioners are paying well above 30 per cent of household income on rent, an amount considered an indicator of housing stress. The “lucky country” of affordable housing has been eroded by greed for growth.


Public transport:

Public transport spending will have to triple over the next decade to cope with expected growth, an Auditor General’s report has found. Population growth continually outstrips public transport and road networks due to the growing number of cars and public transport commuters.


Dis-economies of scale: declining housing affordability, traffic congestion, overcrowded concrete jungles.

The State will need a significant increase in taxation revenues to fund infrastructure shortcomings to make public transport sustainable for any further population growth and residential development

Melbourne City Council is reducing road capacities around the city and promoting a “policy” of reducing carbon emissions. Increases in population growth, however, result in increases in emissions and pollution from consumption and more motor vehicles

Melbourne currently ranks as one of he most highly congested cities in the world. Government and business lose many millions of dollars in lost productivity while commuters are forced to spend 2 hours or more each day traveling on highly congested roads.  Traffic congestion also imposes costs on the community and taxpayers from T.A.C. payments to the victims of motor vehicle accidents unable to work.  Neither the M.C.C. or the State government have strategies to deal with negative externalities at present, let alone from more growth and development.  Development brings more congestion to Melbourne as builders must further reduce road capacities while construction work is in place.  For example, see Docklands, Spencer Street, King Street and Collins Streets; traffic conga lines and long bottle-necks are caused by building and construction work zones, nothing else! Furthermore, the Federal government is promoting a policy of “regional” development; so plans to promote higher-density living across Melbourne undermine Commonwealth policy.

We don’t want our city of Melbourne to resemble Mexico City, Karachi, or Shanghai. Bigger is not necessarily better. As Melbourne grows it is inevitable (taking above factors into account) that livability will decline.

In the US today, infrastructure spending is widely seen as a key lifeline for a sinking economy.  According to economist Edwin Rubenstein (The Twin Crises – Infrastructure and immigration 2009) iii infrastructure is “crumbling” because population growth has over-whelmed the ability of government to productively spend the vast sums it already devotes to infrastructure.



Roy Morgan polling indicates unemployment is almost twice the rate which the ABS data suggests. This is contrary to the prevailing panic that skilled migration is urgently and continually needed.  Structural changes to the economy such as employing long term unemployed and underemployed people as public transport ticket sellers and station staff   ( fare evasion is around $80 million p.a.) would seem a good option to consider in the interests of citizens of Melbourne and of the state economy .

Victoria’s jobs crisis is set to worsen after ANZ sacked 600 workers from its Docklands headquarters. ANZ said it was cutting 1000 workers nationally – with hundreds of jobs expected to go to India or the Philippines – despite making $100 million profit every week. About 10,000 staff will be sacked from Australia’s financial sector within 18 months and thousands more from manufacturing, retail and hospitality. Official figures show a net 33,000 full-time jobs have been lost in Victoria since April, equivalent to one in every 60 full-time positions in the state. Cities should grow according to jobs, in a human-friendly way, not due to the pro growth lobby with vested interests.

Without job security and creation, increasing our population ahead of job creation and globalization is lacking common-sense and creates cruel human redundancy.


Concluding note:

The 20 to 50 year ‘‘bold vision for expanded Melbourne CBD” is a plan to justify imposing accelerated growth on “Marvelous Melbourne”.

Contrary to the repeated credo, Melbourne’s population growth is not inevitable, unavoidable, and something that must be accommodated but city planners have come to assume that growth is the only option,
In the light of current global trends and threats, city planners should be preparing contingency plans to adapt to higher temperatures, peak oil, declining food security, accumulating environmental fall-outs, rising costs of living, and water shortages.

Bearing all this in mind, it is hard to see how the state government’s focus on continued expansion of Melbourne both outward and upward benefits the incumbent population. It is in fact an imposition that the long suffering residents of Melbourne are lead to believe they have no choice in.  This is not true and should not be promulgated as though it were.

It is not news that Victoria’s population at present grows naturally as well as through interstate and overseas migration but net overseas migration over the last few years has virtually doubled our population growth.

Multi story buildings spreading out from the inner city to St Kilda Rd. and Parkville will provide accommodation mainly for people who do not live here now, but what else will it provide for these people and at what expense will it be to the people living n Melbourne now?

Melbourne needs a model, based on our available resources, which provides scientific data about our water, space, transport, and population and infrastructure. To date, public officials have taken a head-in-the-sand approach on this vital matter and are gambling with the future of next generation who will be burdened with an over-sized city and an uncertain future.



Jill Quirk

President: Sustainable Population Australia (Victorian branch)




Jane O’Sullivan – The downward spiral of hasty population growth


Energy Australia Energy efficient apartment buildings


Fiona Heinrichs – Sleepwalking to catastrophe chapter 2


Lester Thurow – The Twin Crises: Immigration and Infrastructure


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