Marika Dobbin and Jason DowlingDecember 20, 2010
VICTORIA’S reputation as the garden state is under threat due to its increasing population, the first ever inventory of public land and open space for metropolitan Melbourne has found.
The state government commissioned audit by the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council found an increasing population and limited opportunities for the creation of new parks and gardens would mean further declines in public open space per capita for all municipalities bar one – the south-eastern City of Knox.
It forecast that open space per capita would halve by 2026 for growth municipalities with rapid housing development, such as Cardinia in the east, Hume in the north-west and Whittlesea in the north-east.It warned that councils and government authorities must be vigilant in their planning processes to offset population growth with the creation of new regional parks.
”Otherwise levels of open space per capita in outer municipalities may decrease to lower levels than some inner municipalities,” it said.
The report identified hundreds of sites, totalling 1161 hectares, of disused land owned by the Crown and by more than 22 government departments and public authorities.
But it found there were limited opportunities to convert surplus public land such as decommissioned schools, old rail reserves and unused buildings into green open space, particularly in established areas, because most of the sites were small and fragmented.
It recommended a central listing of all surplus public land that would give notice of forthcoming sales, so that local councils would have better chances to buy land for the creation of new parks and gardens.
The audit also found that sales of surplus public land have reaped $600 million over the past 11 years to meet revenue targets set by the Department of Treasury and Finance.
Centre for Population and Urban Research director Bob Birrell said the report revealed that not only was there no money from government to create new open space, but that scarce space in established suburbs was being lost.
”We have continual claims from government and those in the planning fraternity that we can have it both ways – a denser city and a more liveable city,” he said. ”But I think that this report shows that’s not true.”
He said the report showed developers of apartment blocks and housing subdivisions were required to pay ”next to nothing” to help establish additional open space in their local areas to account for extra residents.
VicHealth chief executive Todd Harper said communities with access to green open space had a better quality of life, improved physical and mental health, and lower mortality rates. He said such space was particularly important for young children.
”It’s not just a mater of protecting green open space but enhancing what we’ve got so that it attracts people and is better used, whether that be with lighting, paths or play equipment,” Mr Harper said.
The report recommended that water production areas, such as those owned by Melbourne Water, be opened up for other activities such as nature observation, bushwalking and picnicking.
It found that 145,620 hectares or 26 per cent of land in metropolitan Melbourne had native vegetation, higher than previously thought. It found significant areas of native vegetation in the outer fringes of Melbourne.