Residents really need to ask what is the point of having a planning scheme when council planners repeatedly chose to ignore its provisions and recommend approval of permits. The latest example concerns Item 9.1 in the current agenda.

Whether it is sheer incompetence, deviousness or simply the desire to advance the pro-development agenda is debatable. What is not debatable is the repeated ignoring of what the planning scheme actually states.

The application under consideration is 300 Glen Eira Road, Elsternwick. The proposal is for a 2 storey building contained 6 two bedroom apartments. The site is zoned Neighbourhood Residential and following Wynne’s C110 amendment, the mandatory number of 2 dwellings per lot is now removed. The officer recommendation states, with its usual waffle and imprecision – …the proposal is considered on balance to be generally in accordance with requirements of the Glen Eira Planning Scheme”.

Of significance is the following:

Proposed site coverage is 63%. Council’s schedule to the Neighbourhood Residential Zone requires a site coverage of 50%

Proposed permeability is 16%. Again, council’s schedule demands 25% – but officers believe that 20% is okay!

Here is the ‘justification’ for this largesse –

Several council meetings ago, we had Esakoff espousing the importance of adhering to site coverage in an application that had 63% coverage as opposed to the ‘standard’ of 60% (in housing diversity area). Now we have the situation where 13% over the standard is deemed ‘acceptable’ and instead of demanding the 25% for permeability, officers regard 20% as ‘satisfactory’. Compounding the issue even further is this sentence – Whilst the proposal does not meet some of the ResCode standards, the variations to the standards can be justified based on the immediate character of the neighbourhood. Permeability and site coverage have nothing whatsoever to do with Rescode. They are part of the schedules and hence should be adhered to in any recommendation.

We also have to query why council officers do not really know whether or not the plans meet the required garden area component of the planning scheme. If they did know, as they should prior to making any recommendation, then there would be no need for this paragraph in the imposed conditions

A survey plan prepared by a suitable qualified land surveyor demonstrating that the site has a minimum of 35% garden area in accordance with the definition of garden area within the Glen Eira Planning Scheme 

The site is 890 square metres. According to the legislation this requires 311.5 square metres of ‘garden area’. Surely it is not too hard to look at the plans and determine straight off whether this mandatory requirement has been met from the outset? Of course, the recommendations overall make a mockery of what is currently in council’s planning scheme when we find the following clauses and then consider the recommendations.

Ensure that site coverage is low to reflect the garden character of Glen Eira’s residential areas

To ensure that site coverage reflects the differences in character between housing diversity areas and minimal change areas

To maintain the open landscaped front yard which is a strong characteristic of Glen Eira.

Consider developments of more than two dwellings provided it is clearly demonstrated that the standards for site coverage, rear setback and private open space in the Schedule to the Neighbourhood Residential Zone have been met.

There are plenty of other things that could be said about this officer’s report and the recommendations – ie child care centres do not operate under the NRZ schedules. They have their own far more ‘liberal’ policy. Neighbouring dwellings (ie Garden Street) date back to 1996 and are hardly a feasible benchmark given the changes to planning since then. All in all, this report reveals what a disastrous state planning is in Glen Eira!

Alarm bells should be ringing loud and clear following council’s report in the current agenda on results of the significant tree register consultation. Yes, there is acknowledgement that the vast majority of the feedback supports tree protection on both private and public land. The problem lies in what council proposes to do with this feedback and how it will be implemented, overseen, and what results are likely to emerge. Of course, the next question is WHEN will anything be done and will it be worth a cracker?

The recommendations read as follows:

That Council:

  1. notes that community consultation indicates support for tree protection on both public and private land.
  2. commits to developing controls to protect trees on private land.
  3. notes that officers have formed a set of objectives in response to community feedback to protect trees.
  4. requests officers to present a report with options for controls that best protect trees in line with the set of objectives.

All well and good (perhaps), until we get to the ‘objectives’ that have been set.

OBJECTIVE 1

Seek to strongly protect significant native trees on both public and private land as a matter of priority. 

At no stage throughout this consultation was there any mention of protection FOR NATIVE TREES ONLY! Glen Eira abounds with a multiplicity of ‘foreign’, introduced species. Does this mean that they will be ignored? That any ensuing tree register will only accept ‘natives’? If this isn’t the intent, then why is this word so deftly and innocuously placed in this objective?

OBJECTIVE 2

Seek to provide a review mechanism for removal of large trees on private land which takes into consideration both value of tree and reason of removal. 

Does this objective only apply to ‘large’ trees? And what is a ‘large’ tree anyway? And who decides? Strange indeed, especially since we are told that there were 18 ‘tree attributes’ that might be considered for the register. This is now reduced to the one criterion of ‘large’!

Given other comments in the officer’s report, the language of ‘review mechanism’ is also cause for concern. On the potential appeal process we get this:

The second round of consultation signals strong support for some type of limited appeals process. However, careful reading of Community Voice survey questions and responses indicates the community feel strongly about having an opportunity to speak publicly about the removal of significant trees, particularly those on public land. This may be able to be achieved through an alternative to an appeals process. 

Other councils (Bayside, Stonnington, etc) have no problem with a straight forward appeal process. Yes, it would cost the owner and council some money. These councils work on the basis that (1) a permit is required to remove or lop a tree on private land. If refused by council an arborist’s report accompanies the refusal. The developer/owner can then appeal and provide his own arborist’s report. Council then makes the final decision in an open and transparent way at a full council meeting! Hardly rocket science!

OBJECTIVE 4

This objective is the acme of gobbledygook plus inserting all those necessary loopholes that would actually limit consultation. Further, the question needs to be asked – why do we even need community consultation on separate, individual tree issues? If the process is in place (as outlined above for appeal matters) then there should be no need for any more ‘consultation’!

Explore the possibility of a mechanism for the community to voice opinions about proposed tree removal, including who, when and why feedback can occur, noting certain controls may have limitations regarding community input.

OBJECTIVE 6

Define the relationship between tree protection and land development  

Readers are free to read as much, or little, into this sentence as they like. It is a catch all, meaningless statement – especially since the report confirms that the majority of responses deemed trees more important than (over)development! It also ignores the fact that once again other councils such as Monash, Whitehorse have as part of their Planning Scheme a Tree Conservation Policy that establishes clear parameters for when trees may be removed from development sites.

There are many other points that could be made about this report and what it suggests about council’s overall intent. Here are some further comments to consider:

  • The report states that 93% of respondents were in favour of a tree register and that “no alternatives to a tree register were suggested”. Since residents weren’t informed about possible alternatives, then it is not surprising that this is the result. You get what you ask for! If the consultation was intended to be ‘comprehensive’ and open-ended, then why weren’t residents informed that:
  1. Tree registers generally only include between 100-250 trees
  2. That tree registers can be included in the planning scheme itself, rather than remain as part of the less powerful Local Law.
  3. Will residents be given the opportunity to nominate those trees they wish to see on any list or will this be the exclusive domain of officers?

The report concludes with – The next step is to pursue options for tree protection controls in Glen Eira that meet the objectives. But if the objectives are so limiting and vague, then we can only conclude that tree protection in this municipality still has a million miles to go before residents get what they’ve been asking for since at least 2003!!!!!!!!

Households win right to fight for sunlight on their solar panels

By Adam Carey & Benjamin Preiss

11 September 2018 — 6:34pm

Homeowners with rooftop solar systems will be protected from neighbouring property developments overshadowing their roofs under changes to planning rules the Andrews government has introduced.

The new residential planning rules, to be brought in later this month, will mean that overshadowing of existing solar panels and hot water systems will have to be considered in residential planning decisions.

While the new planning regulations will not give homeowners any automatic veto over high-density developments next door, it will increase protections for the solar panels just as the Victorian government promises large subsidies for uptake of the technology.

A number of rulings from the state planning tribunal have called for a Victoria-wide law for overshadowing of panels, as up until now access to solar power has been largely decided on an ad hoc basis.

There will also be new guidelines for solar panels installed in heritage listed neighbourhoods, specifying appropriate colours, positioning and design.

Source: https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/households-win-right-to-fight-for-sunlight-on-their-solar-panels-20180911-p50355.html

The latest ABS building approvals show Glen Eira still well ahead of all dwelling projections. These figures simply make a mockery of council’s claims that there is the need for doubling the size of activity centres and the newly introduced height limits of 12 storeys in Carnegie and preferred 12 storey height limits in Elsternwick.

We remind readers that Plan Melbourne Refresh includes projections from 2015 to 2051.

Council insists on using figures that ignore the 2015 projections and start from 2016. Even granted this sleight of hand, Glen Eira is well and truly meeting its obligations . Plan Melbourne Refresh sets an aspirational figure of 125,000 net new dwellings in the 4 municipalities (Bayside, Boroondara, Stonnington & Glen Eira). Even if Glen Eira is supposed to accommodate 30% (rather than 25%) of these new dwellings, that means 37,500 dwellings by 2051. Thus 2015 to 2051 equals 36 years and produces a requirement of 1041 net new dwellings per year.

The ABS building approvals reveal that Glen Eira is tracking on average at close to double those figures. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of these permits will have been enacted well before 2051!

For the last 3 years alone (ie 2015-July 2018) Glen Eira has had 6424 building permits issued. When we remove the ‘houses’ numbers (ie no net increase) then the figure for this period is 5430. That’s an average of roughly 1750 for this entire period and Plan Melbourne Refresh data requires only a tad over 1000 net new dwellings per year.

We’ve uploaded the ABS data HERE and ask that residents pay careful attention to the following tables that capture the long-term dwelling increases.

The figures that council produces simply don’t add up. And, as we have repeatedly stated, if the figures are awry, then all that follows is also awry. Council is yet to produce one single scrap of hard evidence that supports 12 storeys nor the doubling of activity centre sizes.

We’ve received the following email from a resident –

There is very little transparency or accountability in Glen Eira. Most decisions are made by Council officers, possibly under delegated authority, but with little public evidence about who made what decision, why they made it, or what relevant considerations were actually considered.

14-22 Woorayl St is a case in point. I was an objector to a permit amendment request. There was no record in the Planning Application Register of a permit extension, so I went along to the Planning Conference to find out why the original permit hadn’t elapsed after some years. It was only at the conference that I was told, verbally, that an extension had been granted.

I asked whether the extension request had been assessed against the Kantor principles. Council claimed it had. That was extremely unlikely given the circumstances so I asked for a copy of the report that should have been written documenting the assessment. The council officer refused, but the Mayor in his role as chair said it would be made available to me.

Also at the meeting a lady asked why it was acceptable for her elderly parents to be in permanent shade on an abutting property. Council couldn’t explain why but the applicant expressed the pious hope that “it would have been carefully considered at VCAT”. The published VCAT decision makes it clear it wasn’t carefully considered.

Eight minutes before the Council meeting to consider the amendment request I received an email from the Mayor making a half-hearted attempt to explain the decision to grant an extension. There was an attached document, written only a few hours earlier. No officer was identified as making the decision, there was no date on the document, but there was metadata in the PDF identifying the author and creation date.

Critically the document didn’t mention Kantor principles, nor the “seriously entertained planning proposal” principle. It argued that policy hadn’t changed and therefore the outcome was likely be the same if a fresh application was lodged. That was far from truthful. Council had resolved to request Amendment C148 5 months earlier. It was a seriously entertained planning proposal, it was public knowledge, it changed planning policy, and as we now know, it did become part of the planning scheme. It introduced height controls to the Scheme that 14-22 Woorayl didn’t comply with.

I don’t support the officer recommendation to give officers unlimited freedom to undermine Council policy. There’s a lot of things that need to change about the culture first. The Planning Application Register should contain details of all decisions, including permit extensions. It should contain the date when each Permit expires, and be updated when extensions are granted. There should be a publicly accessible record of reasons for decisions made under delegated authority. There should be checklists of all matters that must and should be considered when making planning decisions, and those checklists used to verify compliance. Delegated authority should be constrained or limited to implementing Council policy. If there are inconsistent policies, get Council to resolve them.

For more information about Kantor principles and the role of seriously entertained planning proposals:
http://blog.vgso.vic.gov.au/2015/01/running-short-on-time-seven-key.html
http://clause1.com.au/seriously-entertained/
http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/vic/VicSC/1997/167.pdf
http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/vic/VCAT/2003/448.html
http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/vic/VCAT/2014/993.html

+++++++++++++++

Council’s planning register is the perfect example of the lack of transparency. It fails to:

  • pinpoint who made any decision (ie delegate, council or VCAT)
  • provide details of amendments
  • collate all information pertaining to the site in one record
  • and certainly no indication as to any payments made

By way of contrast and what can and should go into a planning register, we present one example from Bayside. Readers should note the final permit is available; reasons for refusal are available; dates and times for every single action are provided.

Even more interesting is the following example from Stonnington where the amount paid in the Open Space Levy is there for all to see. Given that Glen Eira council has admitted that not all levies are paid (as they should be) such information becomes essential –

In Glen Eira the philosophy is to make it as difficult as possible for residents to have any idea as to what is going on – particularly when it comes to planning and finances!

The agenda set down for tonight’s council meeting illustrates once again how little has been achieved in a decade and how governance continues to fail miserably.

First off, we have the recommendation to create a heritage overlay on the former ABC studio site in Elsternwick. It currently has no heritage coverage. Originally zoned Neighbourhood Residential council decided to rezone it as Residential Growth Zone in 2013 and according to its draft structure plan, this became 8 storeys. Wynne’s recent intervention will make it 10 storeys.

Given all of the above, and considering that council knew in 2013 that the site was being sold, why has it taken 5 years at least to even start considering a heritage overlay? The property has now been sold and plans are surely on the drawing board for major residential development. This is made absolutely clear by council’s archaic planning scheme itself and their report into the studios in 2013 where it was stated – Given the size of the land (8000m2) and Residential zoning, it is likely that the site will be sold to developers for residential purposes.(Minutes of July 23rd, 2013). Why couldn’t council get off its backside in 2013 and initiate some positive action?

For more info, see our past posts –

https://gleneira.blog/2013/06/18/abc-studios/

https://gleneira.blog/2016/11/14/is-this-why-no-structure-plan-for-elsternwick/

The second issue, concerns the use of school grounds. Nothing new here since the minutes of 26th February, 2008 contained this resolution –

Crs Esakoff/Whiteside

That a report be prepared into any opportunities that may exist for Council in the provision of additional/improved areas of open space that could be used for both passive and active recreation within Glen Eira’s existing school network.

The resulting officer’s report was tabled on 20th May, 2008 and basically concentrated on all the ‘problems’ associated with sharing school grounds. The councillor resolution was watered down to ‘let’s write a letter’ – 

Crs Esakoff/Spaulding

That Council write to all primary and secondary schools in Glen Eira along the lines of Attachment A and send a copy to the Victoria Department of Education The MOTION was put and CARRIED unanimously.

The issue popped up again 8 years later when there was another Request for A Report –

CRS HYAMS/MAGEE 

That Officers prepare a report into the potential for Council to collaborate with schools in Glen Eira to utilise their open space and grounds for use by sporting clubs and the wider community.

The MOTION was put and CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY. (Minutes of 19th July, 2016) 

Thus history repeats itself. Motion after motion and nothing is done or reported back on. In fact this 2016 request for a report WAS NEVER TABLED AT ANY COUNCIL MEETING. The ghost of Newton is well and truly still alive in Glen Eira it would seem!

We therefore have 2 issues that have been on the cards for at least 5 and 10 years respectively and council has been satisfied to sit back, be reactive and achieve a big fat zero during this time.

Finally, we turn to planning and ask readers to consider the following officer’s comments for the planning application for Pearce St., South Caulfield. Is it really too much to ask that when plans come in, that council insists that they are accurate, and if it is impossible to ascertain whether they are, that they be referred back to the developer?

The plans will be required to demonstrate that the proposal provides at least 20% permeability across the site, as this is unclear when looking at the provided landscape plans. 

In regards to site coverage, the proposal appears to come in above the required maximum percentage. To further assist the development to integrate better with the neighbourhood character it is recommended that the proposal does not exceed this maximum percentage of site coverage.

Incompetence, laziness, indifference? You make up your mind!

The issue of granting permit time extensions is important, especially when planning schemes and their controls have changed. The officer’s report for this item included this paragraph –

From 1 January to 30 July 2018 there have been 102 requests for an extension of time. In the 2017 calendar year 157 requests were received. This represents a relatively high volume of work and indicates that such requests are common. 

This is literally a staggering amount of applications. Yet the community has no idea how many of these requests for time extensions were granted, or refused. Most importantly we have no idea as to the reasons why they were either granted or denied.

The issue of time extensions is important and has already been shown to have a decided impact on land use in this municipality. The most blatant example concerns an approved permit for 7 storeys in Centre Road Bentleigh. When the permit was granted by VCAT, there were no interim heights. In November 2017, after the amendment was introduced a council planner granted a time extension. Had the time extension not been granted then the developer would have had to put in a new application where the height restrictions applied – ie lower. Council thus provided the developer with a free pass to build his 7 storeys despite the fact that it is council ‘policy’ to NOT GRANT TIME EXTENSIONS IF PLANNING CONTROLS HAVE CHANGED. Below is an extract from a 2012 officer report which makes this abundantly clear. So why was this permit granted and if this is council’s policy then what were the reasons for the approval?

Since the approval was granted under delegation, the question of how council handles its delegations becomes vital. More importantly, it raised questions of transparency and accountability. In March 2018, there was a request for a report to consider the issue. It’s only taken 5 months for this report to make it into the agenda! Excuses have been that council is reviewing its delegations! Please remember that it only took 3 weeks for council to change its delegations from one council meeting to the next (ie 1st May proposed delegations were deferred until 22nd May, when some major changes were added!). There is nothing (legally) to stop councils changing their delegations at any time. Thus why are we still waiting until the ‘near future’ as stated in the officer’s report? And what does ‘near future’ actually mean – 3 months, 6 months, another year?

The officer’s report provides councillors with 4 options. They are:

  • Do nothing
  • Make it a ‘manager decision’ plus the ability of councillors to ‘call-in’ the application
  • Make it a formal council resolution
  • All decisions be via council resolution

The report recommends option 2.

Whilst this is a marked improvement, it still fails to address residents’ major concerns. Here is option 2 & 3 as presented in the officer’s report –

The wording of the recommended option 2 is far from satisfactory. (1) It limits applications to those which were the result of council resolutions alone or which fall under the category of ‘significant community interest’. Very few decisions are made by councillors in planning – less than 5% of applications. Plus, who is to decide what constitutes ‘significant community interest’. Are we talking 10 objections, 15 objections or must the magic number approach more than 50? The final sticking point is that there will be no public disclosure of which applications have been lodged since this will only go to the councillor briefings. The online planning register does not detail this information – or certainly not on a regular basis.  

Option 3 is slightly better in that it calls for councillor resolution and takes it out of the hands of ‘managers’. There is however the repetition of what was stated in Option 2.

If council is genuine in its attempts to improve transparency and accountability then these 4 options will not do the job. The public has a right to know:

  • Which developments are seeking time extensions and what the outcomes are
  • The reasons for any decisions
  • An online register that is comprehensive, up-to-date and accurate
  • Delegations which work in the community’s interests, not the developers!