Interim planning rules: A good start, but the Yarra River Act will need to go further

New Yarra River protection rules created in January by the Victorian state government have been an important contribution to long-term protection of the Yarra River.

The interim provisions apply both generally and also in local planning schemes. For example, the City of Yarra’s planning scheme has adopted a design and development overlay for development near the Yarra.

These interim controls were created in anticipation of the Yarra River Protection Act.

Key provisions include controls on:
– Building heights
– Setbacks (eg how far away from the river development must stop)
– clearing of vegetation
– The appearance and character of the local River landscape

There are some things that local controls applying to urban areas are going to have to examine and deal more closely, such as controls on impervious surfaces. Hard surfaces, such as asphalt and concrete, which accompany urban development create particular types of runoff – fast flowing, high volume, concentrated and usually full of sediment and contaminants. When it rains, high volumes of polluted water washes into the river. More intense rain events make these effects more of a problem.

This shows why planning, especially in the long-term, needs to take into account not just sites immediately adjacent to the river but in surrounding streets and neighbourhoods. This is why a Yarra River Protection Act, if it to achieve the best long-term outcomes for the River, is going to have to deal areas beyond the River corridor in a reasonable sophisticated way.

The interim protections are useful and necessary, the Yarra River Protection Act will have to go further. It will need to deal with land use and development controls not just in targeted sections of the wider catchment, such as on floodplains, nearby suburbs and stormwater systems, as well as tributaries of the Yarra.

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