News / Planning

Green light for 11-storey building in Albert Street

Campaigners fear Mirvac decision will set a precedent for other high-rise developments near parks

Community campaigners show their anger at the VCAT decision and Planning Minister Richard Wynne at Clifton Park on Saturday.

Mark Phillips
Updated: Wednesday, March 30, 2022

COMMUNITY campaigners have lost the first of two battles to prevent high-rise development around Brunswick’s central parklands after a tribunal approved an 11-storey project in Albert Street.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has granted a planning permit to Mirvac BTR Developments Pty Ltd to go ahead with the construction of three buildings combining residential and retail use at 395-411 Albert Street, adjacent to the southern part of Clifton Park.

Mirvac took the project directly to VCAT last year after Moreland Council failed to issue a permit. During the VCAT process, the development’s height was increased from 10 storeys to 11.

The decision, which was handed down on March 22 and followed nine days of hearings in December, is a serious blow to the Scale It Down – Protect Brunswick’s Parks community campaign against overdevelopment near Gilpin and Clifton parks.

The group is awaiting a VCAT decision for another nine-storey apartment project by Stockland property group to the immediate west of Clifton Park at 429 Albert Street, but fears a precedent has been set.

In its decision, VCAT rejected most of the grounds of objection by both Scale It Down and Moreland Council, granting a permit for the construction of a total of three buildings subject to some design changes and several dozen other conditions.

Mirvac, which is planning a “build to rent” model for the project, with 501 apartments in total, welcomed the approval.

Scale It Down spokesman Rodney Spark said the decision to allow the project to go ahead was “astonishing” as VCAT had approved a building height of three storeys more than the recommended height in the planning scheme.

“We were a bit shocked because Mirvac first went to the Moreland planning scheme and VCAT with an application for 10 storeys, which was already two above what was permitted in the design overlay, and have come away with 11 storeys being allowed,” he said.

The Scale It Down campaign was launched in the middle of last year to oppose both high-rise developments in Albert Street. In a short time, it gathered about 1400 supporters and raised enough funds to hire a planning expert for the VCAT hearings.

But the campaign has been hampered from the beginning by the planning scheme for the formerly industrial Albert Street area which was amended by the state government in 2017 and allows for residential buildings of up to eight storeys or higher if they have an exemplary design.

Mr Spark said the decision for 395 Albert Street had set a precedent which would encourage more high-rise development around parklands in Brunswick.

Apart from the Stockland development in Albert Street, Mirvac is also preparing to lodge new plans for up to 200 apartments on a prominent site opposite Princes Park on the corner of Sydney Road and Park Street.

“Now the precedent has been set, Stockland can come back and say how can you deny us nine storeys when you’ve allowed 11 for Mirvac?” he said.

“This is a process that favours the developers.”

Angela Buckley, General Manager, Build to Rent at Mirvac, said the developer was delighted that VCAT had approved its plans.

“The proposal received overwhelming support from the VCAT panel who recognised the proposal as an ‘exemplary design response’ which will foster a healthy community environment, our genuine commitment to sustainability, diversity and longevity, and the potential to make a positive contribution to the future of Brunswick,” she said in a statement.

“This is the first step in a long journey, and we look forward to continuing to work closely with all stakeholders, including the local community.”

An artist’s view of how the development would look from Clifton Park.

An impromptu community meeting in Clifton Park on Saturday afternoon resolved to make a last ditch bid to lobby Planning Minister Richard Wynne to “call in” the Mirvac development and over-rule the grant of a planning permit by VCAT.

The meeting was attended by about 30 people, including the state MP for Brunswick, Tim Read, and Moreland councillors James Conlan and Sue Bolton.

“This decision is a pretty big slap in the face for all of you people who have been working on this for six months now,” Cr Conlan told the meeting.

“It’s an example of how broken the planning system is. No matter how hard you work, this is a system written by developers for developers.”

Dr Read said there was an acceptance that Brunswick would have more medium-density development, but the scale of the Mirvac and Stockland developments were too large and would impact too greatly on scarce parklands.

“The small number of parks we have in Brunswick need to be looked after as best as they can,” he said.

“They should not be the front gardens for tower blocks or be hemmed in and overshadowed by tower blocks. The minister can still call it in.”

The State Government has clarified that the Planning Minister does not have the power to over-rule VCAT decisions and Moreland Council would first have to apply to amend the planning scheme to change height controls.

Those at the meeting did not rule out campaigning on the issue of high-rise development at the state election later this year and targeting Mr Wynne to put pressure on him to review the VCAT decision.

Mr Spark said there was also potential to link the Scale It Down campaign with another group, Protect Park Street Precinct, which successfully prevented a previous attempt to build a 10-storey apartment tower opposite Princes Park.

“There’s enough anger that while we have to take into account that we’ve lost this one, it doesn’t mean we’re going to walk away,” he said.

“What’s grown out of the process is that we’ve built a community alliance that wasn’t there before and have brought stronger community attention to what’s going on in Moreland, so we’re not going to get caught out like were in this case.”

A Victorian Government spokesperson provided the following statement: “We’re striking the right balance between ensuring there is enough housing for Victorians, hearing council and community voices in decision making and protecting the environment and heritage that we all cherish. Victoria is leading the world in creating communities where people want to live, work and play.

“The Victorian Government has brought in design and building rules that make sure new apartments are better, more liveable and deliver more green space, more amenities and world class design into Melbourne suburbs.”

This story was originally published on Monday, March 28 and has been updated with additional comments and information from a Victorian Government spokesperson.