Protecting the ‘sensitivity and importance of the Merri Creek corridor’
27th April 2023
By Ann McGregor
View from back fence of 38 Harrison Street, Brunswick East.
Planning permit refusal upheld
VCAT has upheld Merri-bek Council’s refusal of a planning permit for a townhouse development on a heritage property at 38 Harrison Street, Brunswick East.
The proposal involves construction of seven townhouses around a heritage-listed cottage. A block of six of the townhouses, three storeys high, plus structures on the roof decks, was arrayed across the rear of the property, adjoining (and looming over) the Merri Creek parklands.
In July 2021, Friends of Merri Creek and others lodged objections to the application. Some minor improvements were made by the applicants, after a meeting with FoMC, including adding a narrow landscaping strip along the rear fence.
Moreland (now Merri-bek) Council refused the permit application, contrary to the Council officer recommendation. The Council’s grounds of refusal raised concerns in relation to the extent of tree removal proposed, the landscape outcomes to be achieved on site, the impact on the habitat values of the site and the built form impacts on the adjacent Merri Creek corridor. Subsequently, the applicants appealed to VCAT for a review of the refusal.
Several residents, Merri Creek Management Committee and a representative of the neighbouring Holy Protection Cathedral appeared at the VCAT hearing. Friends of Merri Creek did not appear, but lodged a statement supporting Council's determination to refuse the application, because we considered the proposal to be contrary to the Planning Scheme provisions and associated Development Guidelines for Merri Creek.
Impacts on the Merri corridor
VCAT decided that the application should not be granted a permit. This is unlike the vast majority of VCAT decisions, which are mostly in favour of applicants.
The impacts on the Merri Creek corridor were the main reasons for the decision. In the words of the Tribunal member:
I find that the proposed development fails to achieve a number of the policy outcomes that are strongly encouraged in this location. In particular, the proposed development fails to ensure that the scenic qualities and visual character of the Merri Creek corridor are not compromised by the siting and scale of buildings, fails to minimise the visual intrusion of the development on the Merri Creek corridor including the adjacent public open space, and fails to contribute to a low density, open and landscaped character, as is encouraged in this Minimal change area.
The proposal will not have an appropriate interface with Merri Creek, but rather will present an interface where the built form is unreasonably prominent, and the proposed landscaping contained within the rear setback of the review site is sparse.… This proposal fails to recognise the sensitivity and importance of the Merri Creek corridor, and does not propose an appropriate balance between built form and landscaping in this sensitive location along the Merri Creek corridor.
The full VCAT decision is available online on Austlii.
Many thanks to all the people who put in objections through the process, (some were in response to FOMC publicity), and to Merri-bek Councillors who backed the community views.