The unanimous decision by the council late on Wednesday evening to support amendments to Ballarat’s Planning Scheme and define three new Urban Growth Zones is perhaps the most significant decision this current council will make. Mayor Daniel Moloney noted the decision will “affect every resident in Ballarat – how we live, where we live and how we move around”. He is right.
This decision is about Ballarat’s future growth and the numbers tell the story. The official forecast for growth used by the state government is contained in a document called Victoria in Future (ViF). It projects Ballarat’s population growth at 1.7 percent or 160,000 by 2040. This is not an accurate measure of our city’s current growth.
Our growth rate is more like 2.5 percent or 3.0 percent, given what we have experienced in the past few years. That puts our 2040 population estimate somewhere between 185,000 – 200,000. This will require new land provision of around 40,000 new lots.
For some, these numbers will be confronting. However, we need to seize the opportunity growth provides and plan now to ensure growth does not come at the expense of our liveability. We can continue to be recognised as one of Australia’s most desirable regional communities and have a growing population.
To achieve the outcomes that enhance our liveability will require our city planners to work with our community, including our Ballarat businesses, who are at the forefront of growth. It will require an almighty collaboration to ensure growth is a driver of prosperity for all – socially, environmentally, and economically.
Our growth must be planned and staged in such a way that the long-term sustainability of our city is enhanced and our city remains connected and well serviced.
Growth is not just about housing. Growth that sustains communities long-term includes the provision of schools, health care, commercial and retail centers, open space, parklands, transport links, including walking and bike paths, trees canopy and bio-diversity, access to power and water and of course, diversity and affordability of housing stock.
This type of growth is what we see in Lucas, where the evidence of a complete masterplan for a suburb has resulted in housing and fully integrated amenities for a community to live, shop work and play.
Lucas is the result of thorough planning that takes many years and delivers a community, not just houses.
The significance of the unanimous decision this week in the council chamber gives the green light to our planners to prepare detailed plans for the development of our Urban Growth Zones, firstly on the north, then to the west and to the north-west. Each is important, and each has its unique challenges and opportunities. Above all, each must be part of our community and provide services accordingly.
Greenfield development in the new Urban Growth Zones is not the silver bullet. Rather, development of our fringe must be supplemented with in-fill development and urban renewal. Projects such as Nightingale in Davey Street and the new Lyons Street apartment project, Baker Hill and opportunities of opening a new Bridge Street will create are just some examples of activation of our city centre that will help cater for our growing population.
The opportunities for inner-city living are enormous and we must balance this in ways that protect the incredible heritage value of our city. Planning that encapsulates the unique aspects of our city, whilst preparing its legacy for the next 100 years is achievable and it is when we work together and call on the amazing skills and passion we have in this city.
Sustainable development also includes design, and as we build and renew our urban environments, we must lift the bar on Environmental Sustainable Design (ESD) of our houses and buildings. The City of Ballarat is one of a number of Victorian LGAs who have joined forces to advocate for elevated ESD in planning policy. Part of this work is to recognise and promote the improved sustainability of our buildings, including enhancing energy efficiency, reducing costs and carbon emissions.
Our sense of place, of positivity, of our people and our planet, can all come together, if as a collective, we work together to plan for our city’s growth.
Council’s recognition of the new Urban Growth Zones is a critical step. Likewise, council’s recognition of urban renewal and inner city in-fill is critical. This is not about one over the other; it is about diversity and the provision for growth that cannot be achieved with one solution.
We know great planning takes time, in many cases years. If we are to be well prepared and design a liveable city that caters for 185,000 plus residents within the next 20 years, we must plan now in a holistic, systematic and staged approach.
Embracing collaboration in planning that sees local and state government, business, service providers, industry and the community working together, will delivery the outcomes we all seek. A thriving, vibrant regional community known for its liveability, vibrancy, sustainability and inclusion.
Council’s decisions to look to the future and work together will ensure we have every opportunity to achieve sustainable and desirable growth in a city we care for and love.
Michael Poulton, CEO, Committee for Ballarat.