The Sustainable Urbanist: Is ‘Mr Skyscraper’ Single-Handedly Changing the Face of Melbourne?

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Planning Minister Matthew Guy has approved more than

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20 high-rise developments for inner Melbourne since heading the portfolio.

Critics have dubbed Guy ‘Mr Skycraper’, saying he has too much power and will destroy Melbourne’s livability.

Under Victorian law the planning minister is responsible for the approval of any structure above 25,000 square metres.

This has seen Mr Guy approve swathes of high-rise projects including the tallest building in the southern hemisphere, the Australia 108 project.

The Southbank building will be 91 metres taller than the Eureka Tower.

Guy’s commitment to what he labels ‘Melbourne, moving upward’, has caused a spat in the ranks of the state Liberal Party.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle is opposed to Australia 108 and wants to see a 100 metre height limit, with a 20 per cent discretionary cap, introduced in Southbank.

Melbourne City Councillor and Deputy Chair of the Planning Committee, Stephen Maine has told ABC Radio Mr Guy’s rapid-fire ministerial decisions are unjustifiable.

Maine believes planning governance does not have enough checks and balances and does not represent a transparent, well ordered system.

“We will have several pockets of Melbourne – if the minister keeps this up – more densely occupied than any part of New York … People haven’t quite realised the scale of what this incredibly powerful minister is letting fly with,” he said.

Maine believes Mr Guy does not have a long-term plan for the skyline of Melbourne and is engaging in insensible, undemocratic planning.

More recently Mr Guy has angered critics by changing planning laws to free the way for a new Collins Street skyscraper to apply for planning approval, despite casting a shadow over the Yarra River.

Critics fear this will lead to mass high-rise development along Flinders Street, blocking sunshine to the river precinct.

Shortly after coming to power, Guy scrapped a committee set up by Labor where the government and the City of Melbourne jointly assessed large-scale developments.

Despite promises, the Coalition has not introduced a central planning body responsible for all developments within the City of Melbourne that exceed 25,000 square meters.

This power is left to one politician, Matthew Guy.

Guy says making Melbourne city the tallest skyline in Australia is about taking the pressure off suburbs in the face of a population boom.

“Melbourne is not Zurich or Helsinki or Stockholm, we are a city which has tall buildings in its central city area, and the point of which, if we have tall buildings in our central city area, it means we can take the pressure off our existing suburbs so we don’t have to have seven or eight, nine story buildings sporadically peppered throughout our suburbs,” he said.

The planning minister has re-zoned land at Fishermans Bend, Footscray and North Melbourne for high-rise development.

He has also approved a range of 25 story apartment complexes at Monee Valley Racecourse.

RMIT University planning professor Michael Buxton told The Age Matthew Guy is single-handedly changing the skyline of Melbourne.

“Anything goes in Melbourne as far as high rise is concerned, there are no rules.

”Matthew Guy is sending the signal to the international development community that they can build anything they want,” he said.

Professor Buxton believes parts of the city will become “unliveable” because of wind, shade, traffic and the alienating scale

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that comes with towers.

”It’s a terrible legacy of mess he’s going to leave when he moves on as minister. He will have changed the shape of Melbourne forever.”

Matt O’Leary

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