Rezoning at McKenzie Hill?

Hearings have opened over the Mount Alexander Shire’s proposal to rezone land at McKenzie Hill, to the west of the town, from Rural Living to General Residential Zone. The effect of the zone change would be to allow denser development to take place.

More details on the zone amendment [coded C76] can be found here.

FOBIF has opposed the amendment on two grounds: first, that significant parts of the area are at medium or high risk of bushfire; and second, that the rezoning is not urgent, as there is sufficient undeveloped residential land in the town of Castlemaine to cope with projected population growth for the next 20 years.

The amendment is linked to a proposal for adjoining land, the Diamond Gully Structure Plan, which will come before a hearing later in the year.

FOBIF’s submission to the panel reads as follows:


Friends of the Box/Ironbark Forests group (FOBIF) believes this Amendment [C 76] has not responded correctly to the critical change in strategic planning policy for bushfire protection that resulted from the Royal Commission into the Black Saturday Bushfires.  The land involved in this Amendment was identified for possible rezoning to residential use well before the Black Saturday catastrophe and hence has not had the benefit of being assessed against the new strategic requirements for bushfire protection.

FOBIF has always argued that the best place for new housing estates is on already cleared land well away from the forested areas.  Some of the land involved in this Amendment, which is well away from the forest, may be such land.

The reasons for this approach are two-fold:

  • Whenever there is a new housing estate established next to forested areas, there is consequent deterioration of the biodiversity of the forest due to increased feral pets, escaped garden plants, trail bike riding, dumping of rubbish, etc.
  • The other effect is that when these new residents realize the dangerous situation they have been put in, from bushfires – they will exert pressure to have vegetation cleared in the forests in the hope that it will lessen their danger. This effect will become more pronounced as the bushfire seasons become worse due to climate change.

These issues were widely discussed at the C24 Panel Hearing (refer p43-54) and on this issue, this Amendment is a continuation from the C24 Amendment.

There were two broad areas that dominated a lot of what happened at C24 and which we think are highly relevant to this Amendment:

  • The Urban Forest Interface.
  • A Housing Strategy.

The Urban Forest Interface 

The key recommendation on the Urban Forest Interface coming out of the C24 process was:

Rezoning of the land for residential use adjacent to the proposed Castlemaine Urban Forest Interface Study area be deferred until the Study is completed (refer p122 of the C24 Panel Report).

This Urban Forest Interface Area was designated on the Framework Plan 3 of Clause 21.03.  The McKenzie Hill area (the land in question in this Amendment) had a note saying it was subject to structure planning and the urban forest interface study and to an Incorporated Plan Overlay.  None of these have occurred!  The Urban Forest Interface Study was started but has never progressed past a draft form.

These Panel recommendations were accepted by the Minister and the Council and were inserted in the Planning Scheme.

The problem with the Urban Forest Interface Study (UFIS) was that the catastrophic Black Saturday Bushfires occurred towards the end of the Study.  The ensuing Royal Commission and its key finding that in land use planning, priority has to be given to protecting human life, resulted in the change to the SPPF at Clause 13.05 (VC83 of 18 Nov. 2011).

13.05  Bushfires

We believe the response of the Council to this drastic change in planning policy (as detailed at Clause 13.05) was in error.  We believe the UFIS should have been re-formulated so it took on the precautionary principle and prioritized the protection of human life by looking for areas of low bushfire risk, for rezoning to residential use.  We support the planned new Residential Strategy as outlined in Amendment C61 which includes looking for residential growth in low bushfire risk areas (this will be covered in the next section of our submission).

The Draft UFIS has not responded to the new strategic planning policy on bushfires, post Royal Commission.  Instead it has just looked at what was required to satisfy the statutory planning requirements of Clause 52.47 and added a bit and called it precautionary strategic planning.

A precautionary strategic planning approach to an UFIS would look for areas of low bushfire risk and mark them for possible rezoning to residential use.

The New Bushfire Planning Provisions, VC109 (July 2014) 

The result of these provisions is that there is now a heightened need for a careful precautionary strategic approach to locating new residential areas in bushfire risk areas.

With VC109 the statutory bushfire provisions in Clause 52.47 have been severely downgraded:

Large subdivisions (greater than 10 lots) no longer have to have greater defendable space provided than smaller subdivisions.

  • The CFA is no longer a Determining Authority, it is only a Referencing Authority.
  • The defendable space requirements have been severely reduced.

For example, with woodland on a 0 to 5 degree downslope and a BAL19 building construction standard, the defendable space required is 29m.

Prior to VC109 the defendable space required was 45m.

The technical basis for the defendable space requirements used prior to VC109 is in Advisory Note 44 Defendable space in the Bushfire Management Overlay (Feb 2012).  Here the CFA note that the bushfire situation in Victoria is amongst the worst in the world and hence the worst case scenario has to be used.  The CFA have used in their analysis the conditions present on Ash Wednesday i.e. a Fire Danger Index (FDI) of 120 and a Flame Temperature of 1200K.

With VC109 the milder bushfire conditions of a FDI of 100 and a Flame Temperature of 1090K are used with the Australian Standard AS3959 to give the greatly reduced defendable space requirements.  This is in no way a precautionary approach to bushfire protection.  VC109 was presumably done to priorities development in areas already zoned residential.  If priority is to be given to the protection of human life over other policy considerations in planning then there must be a thorough strategic planning effort to find areas of low bushfire risk for rezoning to residential use.   This was not done with previous Castlemaine Residential Strategies but could be done with the proposed Residential Strategy.

Housing Strategy 

The argument that this land needs to be rezoned now for residential use is flawed as it relies on a report The Castlemaine Residential Strategy, 2005 that was found by the C24 Panel to have serious flaws in it.  The C24 Panel said (p 28):

The Panel strongly disagrees with the adopted method of population projection using an historical average of lots created in subdivisions and projected household size as the indicator of future housing demand and population levels.

And the Panel recommendations were (p 122):

And the Panel recommendation on the population estimates on Plan 2, Clause 21.03 was:

The Council never removed the faulty figures from Plan 2.

A Residential Land Demand and Supply Analysis, 2010 has been done, but it uses much of the methodology used in the 2005 study.

The 2010 study, using the Victoria In Future 2008 population estimates (1.3% growth rate) found that 173 new dwellings per year were required over 20 years (2006 to 2026) in Mount Alexander Shire.

Whereas the Victoria in Future 2014 population estimates (where the more realistic 0.8% growth rate is used) give 80 new dwellings per year being required over 20 years (2011 to 2031).

The attached table shows the population and household estimates in Clause 21.03 of the Planning Scheme, the Residential Land Demand and Supply Analysis (2010) and estimates from Victoria in Future (2014).

Is the drastic cut in the growth rate projections a realization of the changed job situation in the Shire due to the closure of the Woollen Mill, the near total closure of the FlowServe Pump Factory and the rationalizations at the Bacon Factory?

The 2010 Study assumes (p28):

The Castlemaine market accounts for around two thirds of all developments in the Shire.

Two thirds of the 1600 lots that Victoria in Future (2014) indicate is needed over the 20 years, is 1067 lots.

The 2010 Study also identified (p28) – 90ha of already zoned RES1 and TZ land serving the Castlemaine market, giving a possible 1350 lots.  This is well in excess of the 1067 lots that the more recent Victoria in Future (2014) indicates is needed.

The 2010 Study also identified (p18) that about 69% of subdivision applications are 2 lot subdivisions which are generally urban infill and wouldn’t be part of the 90ha referred to above (the 90ha is made up of land greater than 1ha – refer p27).  These urban infill lots would lift the lots available well over 1350 lots.

In summary there is well over 10 (or 15) year’s supply of lots on already zoned residential land and the proposed new Residential Strategy would give an accurate figure.

The greatly reduced number of new dwellings per year required, mean there is no great hurry to find new areas for residential rezoning and there is time to do a proper strategic planning exercise to find areas of low bushfire risk for new housing.  For this reason we support the Council’s intention to do a new Residential Strategy that will include looking for areas of low bushfire risk for new housing estates (refer Amendment C61).

We believe this Amendment must be put on hold until the new Residential Strategy has been completed.

Structure Planning and Incorporated Plan Overlay 

The Structure Planning for the McKenzie Hill area that the C24 Panel wrote into the Planning Scheme has never been done.

The Structure Plan process will allow the McKenzie Hill community to have input into how their community is planned w.r.t. open spaces, traffic management, etc.  With the proposed Development Plan Overlay the community will be frozen out of future planning.

There are large areas of forest in the McKenzie Hill area and FOBIF believes the only way the biodiversity of the forest can be protected is if the forest and adjoining cleared land is considered together in a Structure Plan.

It was found with the Structure Planning of the Diamond Gully area that the forests were actively used for foraging by the threatened Brush-tailed Phascogale, leading to these forests being classified as of high conservation significance.  We would expect a similar outcome for these forests.  Refer to the Biosis Research, Ecological Assessment of the Diamond Gully Structure Plan Area (June 2008).


We believe this Amendment should not proceed until the proposed Residential Strategy (with the correct population estimates) has been completed.  The new Strategy should look for areas of low bushfire risk for rezoning to residential use.






Population and Household Estimates

Mount Alexander Shire


Population estimates Household estimates
Date From Plan 2 Clause 21.03 Planning Scheme Residential Land Demand and Supply Analysis Sept 2010 Victoria In Future 2014 From Plan 2 Clause 21.03 Planning Scheme Residential Land Demand and Supply Analysis Sept 2010 Victoria In Future 2014
2001 16170 6545
2006 17656 (A)  8434
2011 18690 18914 17900 8125 9222 (B)  7800
2016 20172 10100
2021 21930 21468 19300 9720 10997 8500
2026 22806 (A)  11897
2031 21100 (B)  9400
Growth rate Ave. 1.54% 1.3% 0.8%


  1. In 20 years (2006–2026), 3463 new dwellings are needed. That is about 173 new dwellings each year (page 16 of 2010 report).


  1. In comparison, the more up-to-date estimates give in 20 years (2011–2031), 1600 new dwellings are needed. That is about 80 new dwellings each year (Victoria In Future 2014).


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