Merri Creek Management Committee


SECTION 5 - Planning and Management Coordination

Chapter 5.1 Planning


Port Phillip and Western Port Regional Catchment Strategy
- relevant land management objectives

LO3   Ensure sensitively located and functional urban and urban-rural fringe areas with minimal impacts on the regions biodiversity, water resources and heritage values

LO4   Match rural land-use, development and management to land capability and minimise impacts on the regions biodiversity, water resources and heritage values

LO5   Provide a high-quality network of parks and open space across urban and rural areas managed for community and environmental benefit

Relevant land management targets

LT6    All new urban development kept within urban growth and township boundaries

LT7    Increase the area for which rural land use matches land capability

LT9    Increase the ratio of urban open space to total urban area and the connectivity between regional open space and habitat assets


The protection and sustainability of the Merri catchments waterway corridors depends on good planning.  Different types of planning overlap and serve slightly different purposes.

Planning Schemes

Development and land use are controlled by municipal planning schemes under the Victorian Planning & Environment Act 1987.  Each Council develops its planning scheme within a framework set down by the State Government.  Changes to a planning scheme are made by Planning Scheme Amendments which in most cases must be advertised and ultimately approved by the State Government.

Each Councils planning scheme includes State sections which set down the overall objectives for planning, purposes of the planning scheme, as well as the State Planning Policy Framework which sets more detailed objectives and implementation requirements.

The broadest level of planning developed by councils in their planning schemes forms the Local Planning Policy Framework section.  It includes the councils Municipal Strategic Statement (MSS), and Local Planning Policies.

The MSS provides the justification for applying zones and overlays which are also mapped and described under the planning scheme.  Zones control land use in areas, and overlays set out additional requirements for development.

A number of other sections of the planning scheme indicate further requirements for specific uses and developments, provide information on the administration of the planning scheme, define terms, and list Incorporated Documents reports which by their listing in this section form need to be read in conjunction with the scheme.

Urban Growth Planning

In 2002 the State Government set a interim Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) to set clear limits to Metropolitan Melbournes outward development [268].  It provided for two growth corridors either side of Merri Creek the Hume Growth Corridor (this used to be known as the Merri Creek Growth Corridor) and the Epping North Growth Corridor (in the headwaters of Edgars Creek).These two areas were to accommodate future urban growth anticipated for up until 2030.  Beyond the UGB the Hume Committee for Smart Growth Final Report[269] identified further areas in the Merri Corridor for potential longer term growth which resulted in extensions in 2006 to the UGB, which are documented in Growth Area Framework Plans[270]

The Growth Areas Authority was set up in 2006 as part of the Victorian Governments plan for outer urban development, A Plan for Melbournes Growth Areas. This plan sets out a vision for Melbournes growth areas over the next 25 years. It includes Growth Area Plans for the Hume and Whittlesea Growth Areas.  These outline the proposed development of these growth areas.

Precinct Structure Plans are in development for both growth areas.

Urban growth poses a major threat to the health of the Merri Creek and its tributaries.  Advocacy for the environmental and open space values of Merri Creek and its tributaries is necessary.  It will also be necessary to proactively identify and conserve natural heritage in the catchment and recreation opportunities associated with the waterways. 

Following comprehensive strategic planning, a secondary stage of strategic planning is required to ensure new urban development adequately provides for its drainage and other infrastructure needs.  Too often in the past, drainage has been considered as an after-thought in the development of Outline Development Plans. 

Instead, these plans need to consider and provide for:

  • adequate protection of remnant of revegetated areas;
  • adequate protection of natural streams and open channels including avoiding putting them into pipes;
  • the creation of wetland systems to treat stormwater (drainage schemes can assist - see Section 3.1);
  • the creation of drainage reserves along waterways so the floodplain is protected;
  • allocation of open space such that it complements, and even adds to, those areas provided for stormwater treatment and protection of the floodplain.

In March 2008 an announcement was made that a new blanket zone Urban Growth Zone would be applied to all broad acre areas inside the Urban Growth Boundary across the growth areas to assist the Growth Areas Authority and Councils to bring forward enough land for 90,000 new residential blocks.  This rezoning was in place by the end of 2008. The new zone merges the strategic planning (Precinct Structure Plan) and land rezoning approval processes into one step.

Once the Precinct Structure Plan is in place, planning permits that are consistent with the strategic intent of the PSP will be able to be issued by the Council without further advertising. This new zone has the potential to reduce protection for remnant vegetation and waterways if it is not designed and managed carefully.


Map 18 - Proposed and potential urban development 
in the catchment

Apart from growth outward from Melbourne, Wallan is planned to grow considerably in the next few decades.  Mitchell Shire Councils Wallan Structure Plan[271] identifies a new urban growth boundary around Wallan shown on Map 18 above.

Melbourne@5 million

In December 2008 the State Government announced an investigation area for urban growth covering most of the remaining rural catchment of Merri Creek (see Map 18 above)[272].  This potential massive expansion of the urban area highlights the urgency of habitat network planning beyond Craigieburn Road.

For the Merri catchment the designated Investigation Area is the "Hume-Mitchell-Whittlesea Growth Area".  In Whittlesea, the focus will be on areas to the north of Epping North. In Hume a major focus of investigation "..will be on areas in northern Hume and southern Mitchell Shire to take advantage of the existing road and rail corridors and major opportunities for new employment and freight/logistics functions". The inter and intra state rail lines and the Hume Highway run north-south through the Investigation Area and the State Government's freight and logistics strategy "Freight Futures"[273] proposes the development of an interstate rail terminal in the area Donnybrook/Beveridge area.

In January 2009 Friends of Merri Creek proposed a Merri Creek Conservation Network[274] which considers the whole Merri Creek catchment, and connects with conservation areas outside the catchment. A strategic approach like this if adopted by MCMC and Councils would go a long way to communicating desirable outcomes in the investigation process.

Green Wedge Plans

Melbourne 2030 identifies a green wedge in the cities of Hume and Whittlesea (not Mitchell) which wraps around the Hume Growth Corridor.  Green Wedge Management Plans are to be produced to develop a vision and role for the green wedge, identify the values and features within the green wedge that are to be protected and enhanced, establish a strategic direction for land use and development within the green wedge, articulate this through the planning scheme, establish a framework to encourage sustainable land management, and identify the needs of green wedge landowners and the wider community.[275] 

Catchment Planning

The Port Phillip and Western Port Regional Catchment Strategy is the catchment planning strategy which overarches this document.  Where relevant and possible its objectives and actions have been incorporated into this document, which is aimed more at municipalities in the catchment, MCMC and Friends of Merri Creek.  The Regional Catchment Strategy is identified in the State Planning Policy Framework as a document planning authorities must have regard to.[276]

Industrial Development

A key background study for the preparation of the 1994 Concept Plan Final Draft was the two volume report by Context Pty. Ltd. on Land Use Planning and Interim Policies and Guidelines for Development Near the Merri Creek (Context Pty. Ltd., 1993).  The thirty-eight recommendations contained in the report involved actions to address a number of strategic planning issues.  Amongst them was one to prepare a Local Structure Plan for the area between the Hume Highway and Merri Creek from Craigieburn to Campbellfield.  The intention was to provide a framework for development of this major industrial area.  It was recommended that such a plan examine the road and open space systems, urban design standards and detailed landscape guidelines. 

Industry has had a strong presence along Merri Creek and at certain points it provides a significant visual intrusion (see section 1.3).  While there are already many factories in Craigieburn-Campbellfield vicinity, the development of either a Local Structure Plan or Developer Guidelines is likely to provide benefits for both the development of industry and the waterway and open space corridor. 

The Cooper Street Precinct Strategy for Whittlesea and Hume Councils[277] did not specifically address issues associated with the Craigieburn to Campbellfield industrial area and the Merri Creek.  The Precinct Strategy provided little certainty for accommodation of biologically significant sites within its study area.  It has been partly superseded by the Cooper Street Development Plan which does provide for open space along the Merri Creek, and Whittlesea Council is preparing a new strategy for the land between the Craigieburn Bypass and the Merri Creek Parklands, to be known as Cooper Street West.

Humes 2006 Urban Development Program shows proposed industrial development lining Merri Creek south of Beveridge, but open space planning lags behind, with Parks Victorias planning for the Merri Creek Park (Marran baba) only going as far north as Craigieburn East Road[278].

Major redevelopments

Within the developed urban area occasional strategic planning opportunities arise with redevelopment of sites subject to a change of land use.  One such site with implications for Merri Creek has been Pentridge Prison in Coburg.  Opportunities for major gains in open space and to have development address Merri Creek on its northern and eastern frontages were ignored and are now lost.

A current opportunity is the redevelopment of the Kodak site in Coburg North.

Planning for future redevelopments should aim to realize improvements to open space provision along Creeks, to stormwater treatment, and implement other objectives identified in this document.

Merri Creek Environmental Significance Overlay

In the early 1990s the Merri Creek Interim Controls were introduced.  These consisted of a planning scheme overlay for the creek environs and adjacent private land within the municipalities abutting the creek downstream of Craigieburn Road East.  These controls were intended to last until the adoption of the Merri Creek Concept Plan when that document would become a referral document of Council Planning Schemes.  However, the Controls lapsed after the Draft Merri Creek Concept Plan remained unendorsed by the State Government.

The 1993 Strategic and Statutory Planning report[279] sought to have amendments to the Interim Controls introduced so that they might act as permanent overlay controls.  Its recommendations also provided a legislative and policy framework for protection of the Merri Creek valley, its natural attributes and open space.

In the late 1990s, a state-wide review of Planning Schemes took place which finally provided the opportunity to get planning controls along the Merri Creek in place.  MCMC and its then member Councils developed the Environmental Significance Overlay for the Merri Creek corridor and adjacent lands with flora, fauna, archaeological, open space or other values. 

The overlay has a number of objectives related to:

  • protection of the natural systems of the creek corridor; and
  • preservation of recreational uses, landscape character and heritage characteristics and values.

The overlay also sets out decision guidelines for the responsible authority to consider in dealing with an application.  It also sets out the circumstances where exemptions apply to provisions of the overlay.  These mainly apply to works by a public authority or waterway management agency for works associated with the watercourse and its riparian zone or open space.

As the hearings for the revised planning schemes for each municipality were separate there was not a completely uniform application of the overlay as was proposed by MCMC. However, the overlay much as proposed applies along the main stem of Merri Creek in Yarra, Darebin, and Moreland.  A similar overlay applies in Hume and Whittlesea, although its extent is generally limited to a buffer width of 100-150m.

The City of Whittlesea Planning Scheme Amendment C23 further amended the ESO along Merri Creek to include the area within the Cooper Street to Craigieburn area which was listed on the Register of the National Estate.

The Merri Creek ESO needs to be revised and updated to:

  • incorporate Merri Creek and tributaries in the Mitchell Shire, 
  • cover major tributaries,
  • incorporate adjacent areas of significance in rural areas,
  • be consistent across all local government areas.

To achieve these changes a strategic justification document needs to be prepared.

In 2004 and 2005 the Waterways Policy Review Group convened by the Department of Sustainability and Environment looked into incorporating the Development Guidelines for the Merri Creek (see below) into the schedule for the ESO, thereby strengthening the Guidelines as well as the ESO.  In late 2008 the project was reactivated by the Department of Planning and Community Development.  The project currently only involves Moreland, Darebin and Yarra Councils.  A separate review is needed for waterways north of Mahoneys Road.

A weakness of the ESO is that minor works as defined in the planning scheme are exempt from requiring a permit, and this includes storm or floodwater drains or retarding basins.  Construction of stormwater drains can be quite destructive, and permit applicants often assume that there is a suitable stormwater disposal solution.  Works may require a permit to clear native vegetation, and along waterways are likely to require assessment under the Aboriginal Heritage Act, but it would be preferable if stormwater disposal works were subject to a permit. 

Land Subject to Inundation and Urban Floodway zones

These zones are used in planning schemes to keep development out of areas subject to 1 in100 year flooding. 

Guidelines for Development

A further significant element of the 1993 Strategic and Statutory Planning report, was the Volume 2, Interim Policies and Guidelines for Development Near the Merri Creek. 

This document sought to develop a means by which Council Planning Departments could be provided with additional information which could assist them with determining applications concerning Merri Creek.  The Policies and Guidelines document was also developed to assist proponents in the preparation of plans for subdivisions, redevelopments, new urban and other development, and public works.  The document was not intended to be part of the Concept Plan, but would be part of a suite of documents (including the Concept Plan and Overlay Controls) for use by Councils and others.  It would be supplementary to relevant Planning Schemes and in no way replace their provisions.

The document was looked upon as an interim measure which would be subject to further revision and replacement by a more detailed document in the near future.  MCMC commissioned preparation of such guidelines, and approved them in 1999.  A revised version, the Development Guidelines for the Merri Creek was adopted by MCMC in 2004[280].

VCAT hearings where the guidelines have been tested suggest ways the guidelines could be made more powerful.  One way is to incorporate them into the Merri Creek ESO which would work for those areas covered by an ESO (there isnt a specific ESO covering Merri Creek and tributaries in Mitchell for example).  The guidelines could also cover a number of other issues (see Chapter 1.3 targets relating to visual character).

Open Space Management Planning

The first attempt to introduce a classification of open space areas along the waterway corridor came with the development of the Merri Creek Plan by the MMBW in 1987.  This plan included a proposal for three management areas within the urban reaches of the stream - Active Parkland, Passive Parkland and Bushland Conservation.  These areas had a set of aims and policies developed for them and were intended to provide a broad guide to Councils and other land managers about management directions of open space areas.  The purpose was to seek to establish a corridor of community open space along Merri Creek .

While this classification system for open space was used by some land managers, it was by no means intended to be obligatory.  It did however guide the development of some areas of open space and discourage uses which may have been incompatible with provision of a predominantly passive recreation function.

The 1993 Strategic and Statutory Planning report recommended a refinement of the 1987 Merri Creek Plan classification categories.  The refinement derived from work undertaken for the Northcote Open Space Strategy[281].  The report indicated that Public Open Space zones in planning schemes had a variety of uses, intensities and types of development, ranging from major stadia for spectator sports, to natural bushland reserves with no recreation facilities. 

The classification of open space types can become a useful guide to land managers about development of open space.  It has the potential to achieve a more uniform approach to open space development across municipal areas along the stream.  In the past, problems have arisen through inconsistencies of approach to revegetation, though these have tended to diminish since Council amalgamations.

Whittlesea, Moreland and Darebin have recently applied such a classification system to all open space, including along waterway frontages, through their preparation of Open Space Strategies (Moreland City Council in 1996, revised in 2004[282]; Whittlesea City Council in 1997[283]; Darebin City Council 2000, revised in 2008[284]). 

Hume City Councils Open Space Strategy[285] uses a much more complex classification.  The City of Yarra published a revised Open Space Strategy in 2006.[286]  Mitchell Shires Recreation and Open Space Strategy 2005[287] looks at open space needs and opportunities in the townships of Wallan and Beveridge as well as others outside the Merri catchment.

At a state level, in 2002 Parks Victoria published Linking People and Spaces a strategy for Melbournes open space network which specifically identifies the Merri Creek for:

  • The protection, enhancement and where possible linkage of the significant riparian vegetation in order to establish a regional wildlife corridor. 
  • Definition and development of a new regional recreational and conservation park in order to meet the recreational needs of Craigieburn, Thomastown and Epping North.
  • Extending the shared trail northwards initially to Barry Road, but in the longer term as far as Craigieburn Township and Malcolm Creek, as well as closing the gaps in the existing Merri Creek Trail south of the Metropolitan Ring Road.

In 2006 Parks Victoria published a draft concept plan for the proposed new Merri Creek Park.

It has been a long term project for MCMC to revise the 1987 Merri Creek Plan, to coordinate open space planning between municipalities along the Merri Creek and its tributaries.  The plan would need to pull together these diverse open space planning threads.

Statutory Planning

When developments are planned, or proposals are considered by Council staff, Council and the community it is important that all relevant environmental information is available.  MCMC has a role in collecting and circulating this information, and Councils have a role in ensuring planning officers have it available also. 

Councils should also ensure that planning applications within the ESO, or which are likely to result in impacts on the ESO through construction of drainage or other infrastructure, are referred to MCMC for comment, as MCMC does have a large store of knowledge and information and can advocate for environmental protection.

Sometimes old planning decisions which would not be taken now, but are reflected in the planning scheme or approved development plans, can lead to inappropriate development, or expectations of development years later.  One example of this is southeast of Wallan, where a development plan was submitted and approved, then when development actually started it was realised that parts of the development were within Hernes Swamp and potentially flood-prone.

Planning enforcement

Planning schemes are only effective if their requirements are enforced.  Local Councils are responsible for enforcing compliance.  In some cases there is a community perception that councils lack the resources and/or the commitment to undertake effective enforcement.

In 2008 the Victorian Auditor-General undertook an audit of two Councils (Ballarat and Hume) to assess how effectively these Councils managed the enforcement function regarding compliance with the requirements of planning permits.[288]

The report has 10 recommendations that aim to improve how planning enforcement priorities are determined and resources allocated. These recommendations apply to all Councils, and could be considered by all Councils in the catchment.

Key References

Context Pty Ltd, EDGe Environmental Design Group and Merri Creek Management Committee (2000). Darebin Open Space Strategy, Report to Darebin City Council, Melbourne.

City of Darebin, Sykes Humphreys Consulting & EDAW (2008) Darebin Open Space Strategy 2007-2017, City of Darebin July 2008.

Context Pty. Ltd., Merri Creek Management Committee, Robin Crocker & Associates and EDGe Environmental Design Group (1997). City of Whittlesea, Open Space Strategy, Melbourne.

Department of Infrastructure (2002) Melbourne 2030 Planning for Sustainable Growth, October 2002.

Department of Planning and Community Development (2008) Melbourne 2030: a planning update Melbourne @ 5 Million.

Department of Sustainability and Environment (2005b) Preparing a Green Wedge Management Plan,  General Practice Note August 2005.

Department of Sustainability and Environment (2006b) Growth Area Framework Plans

Hume Committee for Smart Growth (2005) Hume Growth Area, Towards Melbourne 2030: Final Report. Department of Sustainability and Environment, Melbourne (CD)

Jeavons and Jeavons Ply. Ltd. (1999). Hume Open Space Strategy, report prepared for Hume City Council, Melbourne.

Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (1987) Merri Creek Plan

MCMC (2004) Understanding planning issues along the Merri Creek and Policy: Development Guidelines for the Merri Creek, Adopted MCMC 20 May 2004.

Mitchell Shire Council and @leisure (2005) Recreation and Open Space Strategy

Moreland City Council (2004). Moreland Open Space Strategy.

Parks Victoria (2006) The proposed new Merri Creek Park Draft Concept Plan February 2006

Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority (2004) Port Phillip and Western Port Regional Catchment Strategy..

State of Victoria (2009) Freight Futures: Victorian Freight Network Strategy.

Thompson Berrill Landscape Design Pty Ltd in association with Environment & Land Management Pty Ltd (2006) Yarra Open Space Strategy

Victorian Auditor-General (2008) Victorian Auditor-Generals Report: Enforcement of Planning Permits, Victorian Government Printer November 2008


1.   Growth of Melbournes fringe, and of rural centres potentially has serious detrimental impacts on the Merri Creek and environs.

2.   Comprehensive strategic planning is required to effectively plan for future urban development in the Merri catchment so that the waterway and open space corridors can be protected and managed in a sustainable fashion.  Urgent consideration of Friends of Merri Creeks Merri Creek Conservation Network proposal is needed.

3.   Many problems with inappropriate development near the waterways, and lack of provision for drainage and stormwater treatment, stem from insufficient consideration of drainage issues and waterway impacts at the Outline Development Plan stage.

4.   The Environmental Significance Overlay does not cover most tributaries and the upper Merri Creek, and as a result protection of these areas is weakened.

5.   The effectiveness of the ESO needs to be reviewed and improved.

6.   Statutory planning conducted without the guidance of a consistent and agreed approach to treatment of the stream corridor can unintentionally result in incremental degradation through a collection of inadequately informed decisions.

7.   The Merri Creek Plan is dated, however a new plan, or something similar could be developed to provide the basis for a contiguous open space corridor.

8.   Environmental information is not always considered at planning permit application stage because planners are unaware of the information and because applications are not always referred to MCMC.

9.   Stormwater drains and wetlands are exempt from needing planning permits even if they are within the Environmental Significance Overlay, however they can be very destructive.


1.   Ensure sensitively located and functional urban and urban-rural fringe areas with minimal impacts on the catchments biodiversity, water resources and heritage values. (See Regional Catchment Strategy objective LO3).

2.   Match rural land-use, development and management to land capability and minimise impacts on the catchments biodiversity, water resources and heritage values. (See Regional Catchment Strategy objective LO4).

3.   Provide a high quality network of parks and open space across urban and rural areas managed for community and environmental benefit. (See Regional Catchment Strategy objective LO5).


1.   Increase the ratio of urban open space to total urban area and the connectivity between regional open space and habitat assets (Regional Catchment Strategy LT9).

2.   Increase the environmental quality of parks and other public land and community satisfaction with these features (Regional Catchment Strategy LT10).

3.   Strategic growth corridor planning takes into account the protection of the stream corridor and its values.

4.   Outline Development Plans include consideration of drainage, stormwater treatment, waterway protection and open space provision.

5.   Strategic planning for redevelopment associated with changed land use takes advantage of opportunities to have new development better address the stream corridor and acts as a catalyst for development of open space nodes.

6.   Incorporation of the revised Merri Creek and Environs Strategy as a reference document in the local section of each planning scheme to which it applies.

7.   Published guidelines are available to assist proponents and planners in dealing with specific site proposals, and are used and respected.

8.   Councils seek the views of MCMC in consideration of planning applications adjacent to the Creek parklands, or where resulting infrastructure construction will impact on the Creek parklands.

9.   Consistent Environmental Significance Overlay controls protect the entire Merri Creek corridor as well as the corridors of main tributaries, and their values.

10.  Develop a new Merri Creek Waterways Plan to inform strategic growth corridor planning.

11.  Development of Green Wedge Management Plans by 2010 by Hume and Whittlesea.



See Section E page 210.

[268]  Department of Infrastructure 2002

[269] Hume Committee for Smart Growth, 2005

[270] Department of Sustainability and Environment (2006b)

[271] Mitchell Shire Council (2007)

[272] Melbourne 2030: a planning update Melbourne @ 5 million, DPCD (2008)

[273] State of Victoria (2009) Freight Futures: Victorian Freight Network Strategy.

[274] conservation_corridor.pdf accessed 8/1/09

[275] DSE (2005b) Preparing a Green Wedge Management Plan

[276] SPPF Section 15.01-2 accessed 25/5/07.

[277] Tract Consultants, et. al., 1996

[278] Parks Victoria 2006

[279] Context Pty Ltd 1993

[280] MCMC (2004)

[281] City of Northcote, 1992

[282] Moreland City Council, 2004

[283] Context Pty. Ltd., Merri Creek Management Committee, Robin Crocker & Associates and EDGe Environmental Design Group,1997

[284] City of Darebin, Sykes Humphreys Consulting & EDAW (2008)

[285] Jeavons and Jeavons, 1999

[286] Thompson Berrill Landscape Design Pty Ltd in association with Environment & Land Management Pty Ltd, 2006

[287] Mitchell Shire Council and @ Leisure Pty Ltd 2005

[288] Victorian Auditor-Generals Report Enforcement of Planning Permits  November 2008