FOR the best part of two decades, the state’s number plates bore the simple but evocative slogan, ”Victoria – the garden state”. In 1994, Liberal premier Jeff Kennett characteristically made his mark by changing the slogan to ”on the move”, while the Bracks government spent $90,000 to come up with ”the place to be”. The use of number plates as a political sloganeering tool has obvious drawbacks, and the two latter variations have failed to match that first confident proclamation that we were, indeed, a state of gardens.
Beyond the magnificent public gardens of inner Melbourne, a critical part of Victoria’s green landscape has been the green wedges, 12 expanses of open space in greater Melbourne that have rightly been described as the city’s lungs. The green wedge vision was conceived by Liberal premier Sir Rupert Hamer in the 1970s and expanded by Labor as part of its Melbourne 2030 planning strategy.
Since the election of the Baillieu government, there is growing evidence this important green heritage may be threatened. In June, The Age reported the government was considering expanding development in the wedges as part of a big overhaul of the planning system as it looks to develop a new ”metropolitan planning strategy”. The Saturday Age has also revealed that Planning Minister Matthew Guy is writing to councils asking for their wish lists of the changes they would like to see in their green wedge areas. The move has been welcomed by the landholders in the green wedges and developers. But it has caused understandable alarm among environmentalists and planning activists.
Mr Guy has stressed there are no plans for an expansion of residential development in the wedges, and this must be both the fundamental starting and finishing point in this debate. There is no question that Melbourne needs a new planning strategy, one that seeks to halt the endless expansion of the urban growth boundary. Mr Guy has been early in identifying the potential of using former industrial sites for housing, including 200 hectares at Fishermen’s Bend.
That approach is to be encouraged, rather than compromising one of Melbourne’s greatest assets to satisfy developers’ demands. The Age has recently reported on the activities of Business First, a Liberal fund-raising group operating in the southern suburbs, also green wedge territory. Mr Guy needs to ensure the review is open and accountable, and that the green wedge legacy of Sir Rupert Hamer is enhanced.