Taking a proactive approach to planning & urban design

Everyone is familiar with the three r’s of local government – roads, rates and rubbish. What is less well known are the sophisticated ways in which councils are doing positive things to achieve important social, economic and environmental goals.

When planning for the future, councils will examine where and how we currently live;  residential amenity, neighbourhood character and the environment; how close we live to jobs, schools, shops, parks and other facilities; how easy it is to get around; and how we need to plan
for future changes. 

Town planning is both a forward-looking activity and a decision making process. It plays an important role in managing the growth of cities and townships by allocating land for future uses and controlling the pace and type of development.


The aim of town planning is to manage change to achieve a preferred future. This often  involves a balance between enabling development to take place and conserving and protecting what is valued about the existing built environment. It tries to ensure that activities associated with urban settlement happen in the right place, at the right time, and in the right relationship with one another and with the environment. 

The work town planners do is becoming more important as society places greater emphasis on ecological sustainability, liveability, high quality urban design and managing urban growth effectively. 

Local government is in a unique position to influence positive change in the built environment because of its wide range of roles and in-house expertise. Unlike a private property owner, whose interests are often very site-specific, Councils have powers and responsibilities that involve entire communities. 

Councils can use their planning, urban design and property management expertise to achieve results on the ground. This is best achieved when a whole-of-Council approach is adopted. 

Under the traditional “three r’s” model, councils tended to develop and maintain assets for a single purpose, without much thought about whether an asset could have more than one use or support a variety of objectives. Under this model there was little incentive for Council departments to work together and community engagement was a patchy affair. 

A good example of this change in thinking is the emergence of Community Hubs. The new Hurstbridge Community Hub is a dynamic and versatile facility that supports a wide range of activities for people at all stages of their lives. This single facility is able to provide for activities as diverse as maternal and child health services, playgroups, yoga, U3A, youth programs, cooking, fitness, choirs and community meeting places. 

The benefits of this type of approach are fairly obvious. Council, working with community and other levels of government, is able to provide for a wide range of needs in a state-of-the-art building.

This is an effective use of Council assets and staff resources and encourages community
interaction, involvement and pride. This type of strategic, community focussed thinking is also being applied in the Eltham Town Square and the former Hurstbridge High School site projects.

Proposal for the Eltham Town Square

Although these two projects are very different to a community hub, they do illustrate a very contemporary approach to planning and design. This approach avoids the potential for well-intentioned strategic plans to gather dust by targeting Council’s energies where they will have greatest impact. Often this enables outcomes to be achieved that would not occur if left to the private sector alone.

This article was written for the Nillumbik News which this month, featured a range of other planning and urban articles in its Spring edition
Posted on August 14, 2015 .