Cranbourne East: A Case Study

Six years after Cranbourne East first started to be developed, it is growing at a rapid pace. VPA chief executive Peter Seamer reflects on the suburb’s successes and areas for improvement. 

Our Precinct Structure Plans (PSPs) paint vivid pictures of future communities: replete with town centres, schools, parks, community facilities and public transport routes. However, while town planners are well versed at casting their minds into the future to imagine an area’s potential, all some people see is a big patch of grass. Therefore, to shed a little light on Greenfields planning, I thought it would be useful to reflect on one of our former PSPs, to analyse whether the area is developing in the way we had conceived.

Cranbourne East was one of the first PSPs our organisation (then called the Growth Areas Authority) completed. We turned our attention to this south-eastern hinterland in 2007, at the request of the Minister for Planning. The government of the day, and the City of Casey, had a vision for a thriving new suburb that would provide affordable housing to Melbourne families, in an area previously used for farming. It was our job to realise this aspiration. While it is true that some Melbourne suburbs have been developed incrementally, without an overarching plan, Precinct Structure Plans ensure land is reserved for vital community infrastructure.

To inform our plan for Cranbourne East, for two years we conducted detailed studies into the region’s history and topography. After much public consultation, in May 2010 our Cranbourne East Precinct Structure Plan was formally adopted. This plan stated that the area would eventually have 6600 dwellings, with a density of at least 16 dwellings per net developable hectare. It reserved land for two primary schools, two retirement villages and three town centres, all within proximity of a future train station.

Furthermore, Cranbourne East was one of the first Melbourne suburbs to apply the Victorian Government’s PSP Guidelines, created by the VPA in 2009. These guidelines placed a particular emphasis on delivery of accessible, quality open space, stating that most residences should be within 400m (or a five-minute walk) of parkland.  Additionally, unlike many suburbs created in the 1980s and ’90s, designed with winding ‘spaghetti’ roads that are difficult to traverse, the guidelines state that new suburbs should be designed with a grid-like structure, making it easy for future residents to get around.

So, six years after our Cranbourne East plan was endorsed, has the suburb lived up to expectations? I am pleased to report that, for the most part, it has. Indeed, Cranbourne East is now the fastest-growing suburb in all of Melbourne, with the population increasing by 88 people per week last financial year.

There are now over 3800 approved lots in Cranbourne East, making it around 60 per cent developed, and this continues to rise. It has two retirement villages; a Catholic primary school and Catholic secondary school; a terrific athletics complex; and two town centres with shopping arcades. Construction of the government ‘Heather Grove’ primary school has also recently commenced and is expected to open in 2017. Roads are well-connected grids, and there are regular bus services from the north of the suburb to Cranbourne central, introduced three years after the first residents moved in.

Furthermore, Cranbourne East is meeting its affordability ambitions, with the median Cranbourne East house costing around $439,000 – much lower than the Melbourne median house price of $725,000. We have also been seeing a variety of residences being built, particularly near the town centres, providing people with greater options about the type of house they choose to live in, and contributing to the suburb’s affordability.

Indeed, a recent study by RMIT University and VicHealth (in which the VPA was a key partner) revealed that residents living in the Selandra Rise housing estate in Cranbourne East were largely satisfied with their community. Residents reported that they appreciated the “ease and pleasance of walking” in the area – perhaps a result of the PSP Guidelines on open space and green areas – and were satisfied with community facilities, which provided them with opportunities to meet new people. One resident told researchers: “I think [Selandra Community Place] and the events that happen there regularly is one of the best things … it was really helpful in knowing the neighbours.”

However, I am by no means suggesting the VPA can take full credit for Cranbourne East’s success. Much of the reason the suburb has proved so popular is due to the inspired work of the City of Casey, which has implemented many great community amenities in the area, such as the Casey Fields outdoor sporting complex. Much of the infrastructure in the area has been funded through development levies, which are given to the City of Casey to help pay for community facilities.

Also, Cranbourne East still has a way to go to reach its full potential. The suburb does not yet have a train station or a bus service from the south, and would benefit from a third town centre. Additionally, residents in the Selandra Rise study revealed they were largely dissatisfied with the amount of time it took them to travel to work, with more than a third of residents travelling for an hour or longer each way. There are also challenges in completing the bus network and pedestrian and cycle connections, as different parts of the suburb have been developing at different rates.

Long commutes have been shown to have negative impacts on people’s health, as time spent travelling in cars affects time that could otherwise be spent exercising. The VPA realises that long commutes are an issue for many people living in Melbourne’s Greenfield areas, and this is something we are trying to address through our plans for suburban job hubs in areas connected to growth regions, such as Monash, Sunshine and Latrobe.

We are not claiming that Cranbourne East is the perfect Melbourne suburb. However, when we consider how far Cranbourne East has come in six short years, we can’t help but feel pride about what has been achieved. Cranbourne East demonstrates that in a short amount of time, an area can be transformed into a great place for people.

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