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What if you had to get your neighbours’ permission to wear a burgundy tie?

Let’s imagine a street where all of the households are traditional families. You know what I mean; Mum, Dad, two children and Max the dog. And letʼs say all the Dads are business executives. And letʼs say that all these men favour dark suits and blue ties for their office attire. Now, hereʼs a question. If the man at number 10 wishes to wear a burgundy tie to work, should he first have to get the permission of all his neighbours?

Yes of course my example is ridiculous. But concepts are being floated around right now in the Planning environment that would have been dismissed as ridiculous only a few short years ago. We are reportedly—at the time of writing—close to a situation where permission will have to be sought from neighbours before a permit can be granted for a single-storey house to be built on land you own. I am not talking of a multi-unit development next door. I am not talking of a block of flats next door. I am not even talking of a two-storey house, with shading and overlooking issues at stake, being built next door. I am talking of the rights of the owners of an everyday home site, in an everyday street, in a Melbourne suburb, to choose—without interference—the kind of home they will build. That right is under threat.

Now, I am as offended as the next person by those absurd suburban castles shown in the media. They should never have been designed, let alone built. Secondly, I believe that the distinctiveness of a number of truly remarkable suburban streetscapes around our city (several in Surrey Hills come to mind) is utterly worthy of preservation. But surely it is not beyond the wit and resolve of planning authorities to find a way to achieve these goals, without having to resort to rules so restrictive that individual choice for a single-storey home comes under threat. A set of rules that will make home-site owners dependent upon the narrow interpretations of town planners and the arbitrary whims and tastes of neighbours. A set of rules that allows someone to say, in effect, you may not wear a burgundy tie because I prefer blue.