A planning experiment gone wrong

ROBERT PRIDE is a former journalist with the ABC’s flagship current affairs program Four Corners and an Applecross resident. In this week’s Speaking Allowed, he pulls apart the Canning Bridge Activity Centre Plan and points out that what the community was promised is a far cry from the “soul-less canyon” of high rise they’ve been left with.

WHAT a let-down the much-vaunted Canning Bridge Precinct redevelopment is turning out to be. 

Many in the community feel betrayed by what has been allowed to happen. 

Promised a showpiece makeover producing a busy, leafy hub, it has been left instead – more than a decade on – with an underdone development hotchpotch stood over by a pair of lifeless high-rise condominiums.

There is a growing consensus, even at some official levels, that it is a planning experiment gone wrong.

With two review reports now open for comment, some strong public feedback to the City of Melville is desperately needed to get the Canning Bridge Activity Centre Plan (CBACP) back on track. 

Launched with considerable fanfare in 2010, the vision for Canning Bridge was spruiked as providing the framework for the creation of – to quote – a unique, vibrant, pedestrian-friendly enclave amidst a pleasing skyline of height sensitive, sustainable buildings zoned for a mix of residential, commercial and retail uses. 

It foresaw a bustling micro-city offering job opportunities away from the CBD and housing for a permanent community of apartment and penthouse dwellers no longer in need of cars. The drive (and the justification) for the project was the state’s urban densification strategy aimed to stem metropolitan sprawl and lift the use of public transport. 

The launch material anticipated leafy terraces lined with cafes, restaurants and shops, and even a city square. It promised an attractive and welcoming gateway to the City of Melville, worthy of the location’s riverfront setting and strategic position. 

Buildings were depicted mostly as four or five storeys. But sensitive to the controversial history of the 17-floor Raffles development, the text made only broad references to the possible inclusion of “taller buildings.” However design excellence, innovation and integration with surrounding neighbourhoods were clearly seen as imperatives. 

In 2015, Melville Council endorsed a formal but non-statutory plan to guide development of the precinct. Another seven years on, what do we have? Well, virtually none of the above, and little prospect as things stand of the vision ever being realised. 

What we have instead at Canning Bridge is a soul-less canyon totally lacking in character or vibrancy. There is a sense in the streets that this is a project in limbo. Developments have been haphazard and, in some notable cases, way beyond the original planning parameters. Rather than contributing to a sense of place, they detract from it. 


The ‘precinct’ is dominated by giant apartment blocks towering 21 and 30 floors – way above what anyone expected. Now another is under construction. The apartments they contain have largely been sold, however empty pavements and vacant shop frontages below tell their own story. The towers are the result of planners being allowed too much discretion in granting bonus floors in exchange for so-called community trade-offs of questionable value. 

Supporting infrastructure is also an issue, as is the lack of greenery and public open space. So too is traffic. Canning Bridge is a major traffic bottleneck and the chances are pretty slim of the precinct ever attaining a village-like atmosphere as long as a five-lane arterial highway runs right through 

the middle. Perhaps it’s time to consider a tunnel from Reynolds Road to the bridge, to carry the through traffic, rather than the open trench presently proposed by Main Roads. 

Melville Council has commissioned consultants Hatch RobertsDay to conduct a review of the CBACP. The findings and recommendations in HRD’s report are sound in some respects but are flawed or fall short in others. 

The Council sensibly established a community Council Reference Group (CRG) to review the consultants’ report. The CRG has suggested changes to the HRD report and argues for: 

• Making the CBACP a statutory document to remove the exercise of discretion and require its provisions to be strictly followed; 

• The removal of bonus height allowances and adherence to the 10-storey and 15-storey maximums applying in the M10 and M15 locations; 

• More diversity in building design by introducing plot ratios, proper setbacks, minimum lot sizes and maximum floor sizes; 

• More rigorous application of design standards in keeping with the benchmarks for outcomes set out in the State Planning Policy; 

• The creation of more green spaces, pocket parks and playgrounds, including the development of Council-owned land holdings in Moreau Mews, Kishorn Road and The Esplanade as public open space; and,

• Immediate discussions with Main Roads regarding the future of Canning Highway and ways to ameliorate the impacts of increased densification. 

The CBACP, as implemented to date, has failed to meet the needs and expectations of the community to the extent there is a serious lack of trust in the planning process. 

Both the consultants’ review report and the CRG’s assessment have been released by the City of Melville for public comment and citizens are urged to review them and respond in the strongest possible terms. 

To find out more about the Canning Bridge Activity Centre Plan and have your say, log onto https://www.melvillecity.com.au/our-city/connect-with-us/melville-talks/engagements/canning-bridge-activity-centre-plan-review

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