In a surprising but most welcome decision Council has resolved NOT to sell its aged care facilities. Here is the relevant Media Release.

We can only speculate as to the reasons for this decision. Council would like to have us believe that the role of the Royal Commission is/was central. This was however pointed out in numerous submissions that were opposed to the sale. Residents were adamant that no sale should proceed until the findings of the Commission were made public. Yet these pleas fell on deaf ears and council(lors) voted to sell.

That leaves the question of PRICE. We are only speculating of course, but conclude that council simply did not get the offers it was seeking. Plus, potential buyers were not prepared to pay for the perhaps necessary upgrades to the facilities. It all boils down to money.

Neither does this media release provide any long term comfort for residents, carers, staff and their relatives in these aged care facilities. The Media Release states “there will not be a sale at this time“. Nothing precludes a sale down the track.

The resolution is obviously welcome but given the continual backtracking of this council on so many issues there remains the need for muted celebration.

Wynne’s letter to Council that features in the current agenda is interesting to say the least. It raises innumerable questions, the foremost being:

  • Why has council published only this letter? Could it possibly be that it fits in oh so nicely with the current mantra of ‘it’s not our fault. It’s all the Minister’s and/or Government’s fault? Perhaps residents would have far more faith if our council happened to be a little more transparent and published ALL DOCUMENTATION that surrounds the proposed amendment? For example: we now learn that there are two documents that council submitted to the Department that have never been made public. These were cited in the documentation for the East Village amendment. The documents are named as:

Urban Form Analysis – Carnegie (December 2018) prepared by Glen Eira City Council;
Urban Form Analysis – Bentleigh (December 2018) prepared by Glen Eira City Council

These documents would be essential to determine the rationale of why council first wanted only 6 and 7 storeys in Carnegie for the first iteration of the interim amendment, and then decided that 12 storeys was just as good to stop ‘inappropriate development’ in the second interim amendment.

  • Council claims that the proposed amendment was submitted in January 2019. Ten months have therefore elapsed and still no public exhibition. What has council been doing in those 10 months? What other meetings, discussions, emails, research have gone on throughout this period? Why haven’t residents been informed as to the true reasons for the delay? And why hasn’t council been screaming blue murder if all their recommendations are being rejected by the Minister or Department?
  • Wynne basically chastises Council for its failure to have any definitive Housing Strategy. We quote: …the amendment is not underpinned by an adopted municipal wide housing strategy. Wynne is correct. Council’s Amendment C25 which was gazetted in 2004 and established the Minimal Change/Housing Diversity split up of the municipality was based on data from the late nineties. It has not been touched since! This of course is another example of how out of step our council is when compared to all other metropolitan councils alone. Others such as Port Phillip have had such a policy since 2007; Maryibyrnong in 2011 and updated in 2015; Brimbank 2012 etc. We could go on and on with dates for the various councils. The point is that Glen Eira has again done nothing to provide a comprehensive and valid housing strategy across its entire municipality.
  • Hyams recently stated that Glen Eira has to meet housing growth expectations for the next 50 years! There is nothing in Wynne’s letter that even comes close to this number. If Plan Melbourne is the ‘guideline’ then that stretches out to 2051 and NOT 2069 as Hyams would have us believe.(see: https://gleneira.blog/2019/10/20/hyams-the-spin-maestro/)
  • Wynne’s letter is of course nothing more than mumbo jumbo as well. NO clear criteria is provided, no clear definitions, no inkling of set in concrete housing figures. If major urban renewal sites are not to be used in the arguments against developing the existing activity centres areas in Glen Eira, then all this reveals is that Glen Eira will well and truly be EXCEEDING by thousands the various prognostications for 2051. To ignore what’s on the cards such as East Village, Caulfield Village and Elsternwick, is ludicrous given, for example, that the documentation for East Village nominates a 15 to 20 year time span for completion. Well and truly within the time frame set by Plan Melbourne Refresh.
  • Wynne’s conflation of ‘density’ and ‘diversity’ is a joke. A joke that is swallowed whole by council.
  • One is left to wonder whether Wynne is really happy with council’s expansion of its activity centres. Such centres are supposed to incorporate the commercial/mixed use areas and the immediately surrounding residential areas. They are not supposed to double in size and incorporate countless NRZ streets. This is what council has done in its attempt to argue that reducing streets that are zoned RGZ (4 storeys) to now GRZ (3 storeys) and upgrading NRZ (2 storeys) to three storeys is the answer. In this respect council has not followed state government VPP that occurs in all planning schemes. The irony of course is that by doing this, council is admitting what an absolute failure the secret introduction of the residential zones in 2013 really were and that the doyen of planning (Akehurst) got it all wrong! Sadly, current and future residents will be paying for the incompetence and indifference of councillors in 2013.

The outcome of all this will undoubtedly be more high rise and more RGZ in Bentleigh and Carnegie and probably elsewhere. The most disappointing aspect is that this council has not offered a single, prolonged public outcry. It continues to ignore resident views. It continues to operate in secrecy. It continues to plan abysmally, without justification and without concern for its residents.

Here’s the Wynne letter in full. There’s much, much more that could be said about this letter. We will return to it in a later post.

The VCAT decision for the 9 storey (reduced to 7 storeys) at 377 Hawthorn Road, has finally been handed down. A permit was refused. Not because of council’s planning scheme, but primarily because of the developer’s ‘urban design’ in regard to the configuration of the towers and its impact on neighbouring homes. Needless to say, the lack of controls in council’s planning scheme was noted several times (see extracts below).

It is simply a tragedy that residents have to expend all this time, money and energy to fight what they consider to be inappropriate development, largely because of this council’s refusal and failure to undertake some decent strategic planning. We remind readers that our neighbourhood centres remain unprotected and that nothing will happen until at least 2022 and then will take years to finalise and gazette. In the meantime, there are more developments to fight in close proximity to this application (ie Godfreys and the indoor bowling club). We also expect the current applicants to come back with a revised plan.

Residents need some answers from this council, namely:

  • How much did this VCAT case cost ratepayers?
  • Why is council spending a fortune on consultation after consultation on projects that won’t start for eons, and refuse to assign funding for proper planning in our neighbourhood centres?
  • Why when countless other councils have ‘preferred neighbourhood character’ statements for their entire municipality, has Glen Eira done nothing since 2004 for its housing diversity areas?
  • How many more times must VCAT point out the deficiencies in council’s planning scheme before something is addressed?

The VCAT extracts are presented below:

The most difficult aspect of this proposal and the key reason why we have decided to refuse this proposal is the design of the upper levels. There is an absence of any guidance in the planning scheme about how this neighbourhood centre, including this site, should change. Hence, it is necessary to consider the existing physical and strategic planning policy contexts and the design of this proposal relative to other recent developments in this and other activity centres. The applicant’s urban design witness, Mr Blades, has utilised the urban design approach taken in the City of Yarra to Bridge Road and Johnston Street. Having considered all of these matters together with the concerns raised about the amenity impacts on the residential area to the east, we have decided the design of the upper levels is not acceptable.

The neighbours acknowledge that ‘to earmark an area for change but then insist that the prevailing scale remain the same is nonsensical’. We agree, but the question then arises as to what change, including what building scale is acceptably sensitive and respectful. This is where the key issue in this case about the upper levels comes to the fore. Mr Glossop and Mr Blades agree there is no specific guidance in the planning scheme about the envisaged or preferred extent of change in the neighbourhood centres

the planning scheme provides no guidance as to the extent of change envisaged in its neighbourhood centres, including in this centre. The other approved or constructed developments in Glen Huntly Road and in other neighbourhood centres referred to during the hearing provide for building heights of five to seven storeys. However, their existence does not persuade us that that means such a height is automatically acceptable on this site.

Source: https://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/vic/VCAT//2019/1819.html

From today’s Age newspaper:

Developer paid millions into the accounts of local councillors: corruption probe

Companies linked to Ferrari-driving property developer John Woodman paid two councillors at Casey $1.2 million in what a lawyer for the Victorian anti-corruption commission said was an attempt to win favourable planning decisions worth up to $100 million in one case.

The payments were revealed as public hearings got under way in IBAC’s Operation Sandon, the most significant probe into alleged planning-related corruption in Victoria in decades.

On Monday morning, counsel assisting the hearing, Michael Tovey, QC, outlined the focus of Operation Sandon into matters that he said may amount to serious corruption of planning. Key issues of interest were central to stories in The Sunday Age in October and November last year, including the proposed rezoning of land in Cranbourne West owned by construction giant Leighton, and council decisions favourable to Woodman-linked company Wolfdene, including the Pavilion housing development and the construction of an intersection at Hall’s Road in Cranbourne.

Mr Tovey said the attempted rezoning of the Cranbourne West precinct from industrial to residential uses would have “increased its value by well over $100 million”.

Mr Tovey explained how IBAC had found payments of $900,000 by Mr Woodman’s company, Watsons Pty Ltd, into bank accounts linked to former mayor and Liberal Party activist councillor Sam Aziz, who had repeatedly argued and voted for planning decisions favouring Watsons-linked projects.

Former mayor and one-time aspiring Liberal MP Geoff Ablett received payments into his bank account of $300,000. He had also received tens of thousands of dollars from Watsons when he unsuccessfully contested the state election in 2014.

Cr Aziz will not appear before the hearing. He left the country on extended leave weeks ago, as Operation Sandon stepped up and homes and offices were raided. Mr Tovey told the hearing that shortly after IBAC raided his house, Cr Aziz sold his home and left Australia for Egypt. IBAC subsequently froze the proceeds of the sale.

On Sunday, Cr Aziz told The Age he was in Dubai. It’s unclear when or if he plans to return to Melbourne. Mr Tovey also detailed the repeated failure by Cr Aziz to declare conflicts of interest at council meetings.

In his opening statement, Mr Tovey detailed how Woodman and related companies used financial payments into councillors’ bank accounts, political donations and other gifts to “curry favour” with councillors in an attempt to win favourable planning decisions.

Included were payments to $25,000 a month to Cr Aziz for supposed consultancy work on a grand scheme for a satellite city at Little River west of Melbourne. Cr Aziz was to be paid $600,000 for the consultancy work. Under questioning, Mr Woodman confirmed that Cr Aziz had not delivered the work he been commissioned to do.

Watsons Pty Ltd has long prided itself on winning unlikely planning approvals, especially rezonings in farming and green-wedge areas. Donations and in-kind support to councillors and MPs is an important part of the Watsons strategy for planning success.

Mr Woodman’s client list or business partners have included, or include, the Fox, Ansett and Baillieu-Myer clans, as well as Tony Madafferi, the man police have alleged to be Melbourne’s mafia boss.

The public hearing comes weeks after IBAC raided the homes and offices of Mr Woodman and other key figures of interest including councillors, lobbyists and former Liberal MPs. While the hearings will focus on Casey, IBAC’s public comments make it clear Operation Sandon is far wider in scope and will look at systemic problems in planning decisions statewide.

Casey, which takes in swelling suburbs such as Cranbourne, Berwick, Clyde and Hallam, is one of the fastest-growing municipalities in Australia.

In a written statement earlier this month, Mr Woodman said: “Having worked in the City of Casey for more than 30 years, I have become really attached to the communities that I have helped build … relationships have been developed with many councillors.

“I am a trusting and caring person, and I have trusted that each councillor I worked with would make the right decisions.”

Source: https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/developer-paid-millions-into-the-accounts-of-local-councillors-corruption-probe-20191118-p53bkb.html

Politics in Victoria has today reached its nadir.

Events of today have proved really disheartening. Looking back we can no longer distinguish between Labor and Liberal governments and each of their approaches to planning and real democracy. It’s impossible to answer which planning minister has been worse, Wynne or Guy, or which party has been more open and transparent in its dealings with developers. Or for that matter, which government really gives a stuff about local communities.

What has happened today tops it all off. Clifford Hayes’ attempts to get his bill up in the upper house failed along party lines by four votes. We listened in disbelief to some of what was said from both sides of politics.

The Age is now reporting that Labor is not going to do anything about developer contributions at council elections and that it will push ahead with single councillor wards. All of this in the face of stern opposition from most reasonable people and organisations. (See: https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/local-councillors-candidates-free-to-solicit-big-donations-20191112-p539yr.html)

Is it therefore any wonder that there is anger, disillusionment and/or apathy? We are so poorly governed at every level from Federal, State to Council. The name of the game is simply:

  • stay in power
  • operate in secrecy
  • undertake bogus ‘consultations’
  • fill every document and speech with nothing more than motherhood statements, and
  • Ignore all reasonable feedback if it opposes the predetermined decision

We can only hope that the upcoming IBAC investigation into Casey council will at the very least shed some light on alleged council(lor)/developer corruption and force the necessary changes to our woeful legislation!

Another terrific turnout for the Save Glen Eira lobby group. Yesterday’s rally at Elsternwick Plaza showed that opposition to Council’s inept and autocratic planning processes were well and truly on the nose.

Tellingly, all councillors were invited to attend. The organisers reported that only two had responded with their apologies: Silver and Hyams. The other 7 councillors didn’t even bother.

Several residents addressed the gathering and highlighted what we all know about this council:

  • A ‘tsunami’ of overdevelopment
  • A failure to adequately plan for sustainable growth
  • A critical lack of open space
  • Consultation that simply endorses decisions already made

Several MPs closed the meeting:

  • Clifford Hayes spoke about his private members bill which will be up for debate this week in parliament. He is advocating limiting the Minister’s and VCAT’s power and ensuring that planning is truly ‘democratic’ and that residents are at the centre of all planning.
  • David Southwick was joined by Georgie Crozier and Tim Smith. Each spoke about the need to ‘maintain the rage’ as well as rescinding some of the Labor Government’s recent moves on planning.

All in all, the take home message was clear. Glen Eira City Council via its elected representatives are not doing their jobs. They are demonstrably failing their residents.

Please listen very carefully to the following audio. It concerns the recent VCAT decision for a 14 storey application in Horne Street, Elsternwick where the members were far from complimentary about council’s planning approach. At a recent council meeting a resident stated that this decision represents an ‘indictment’ of council’s strategies and processes.

Hyams of course resorts to his usual tactics. Blame the ‘messenger’; accuse him of ‘cherry picking’ and providing ‘misleading information’. These very same allegations can be made against Hyams too!

Hyams neglects to mention the following:

  • The planning officer recommendation was for a permit of 12 storeys instead of the proposed 14 storeys that reached a height of 59 metres (equivalent to a 16 or 17 storey building). The structure plan and the DDO provides a maximum height of only 43 metres!) The officer recommended a height of 46.3 metres and a ‘overrun’ of up to 50 metres. Thus both the structure plan and the DDO are being ignored by council’s own planning department!
  • The structure plan and the DDO do not regard the surrounding residential areas as deserving of ‘transition’ protection. So council is now willing to have 12 storeys next to dwellings that are zoned as RGZ meaning 4 storeys.
  • Hyams faith in the ‘doyen’ of planning (Akehurst) is now on very shaky ground given that all of council’s current documentation explicitly admits to the failure of this ‘doyen’s’ vision in the current structure planning for Bentleigh, Carnegie and Elsternwick. Here is one example quoted verbatim: There is currently a conflict in planning controls with the Heritage Overlay located within the Residential Growth Zone — an area that encourages high density development. and The residential areas to the north of Glenhuntly Road are largely protected by a Heritage Overlay and those to the south by a Neighbourhood Character Overlay zoned for growth, allowing 4 storey apartment buildings. This presents a significant conflict in policy which seeks to achieve two opposite objectives. What geniuses couldn’t see back in 2013 that the ‘conflict’ was fundamental and made a mockery of the planning scheme. Yet it was allowed to go through and linger until the present day.
  • We also have the admission that creating 3 separate zonings in the same street is planning chaos: In certain areas such as the residential land south of Centre Road (ie. Mavho, Loranne, Mitchell and Robert streets) transitional issues are caused by irregular ‘radial’ zone boundaries and multiple zones within a single streetscape. This creates inconsistency with four storey apartment buildings and low-scale detached housing in the same street
  • Hyams’ claim that VCAT has changed its interpretations is nothing more than bunkum. Time after time VCAT addressed the failures contained within council’s planning scheme: its lack of height controls; its lack of any urban design or built form guidelines; its lack of preferred character statements for the housing diversity areas. We have previously cited countless VCAT decisions which point out these failings. Please see: https://gleneira.blog/2015/10/07/statistics-glen-eira-style/
  • Hyams is also guilty of ‘misleading’ statements when he sees the Horne Street decision as setting a precedent that DDOs are vulnerable or, that if neighbourhood character/context was taken into account then there would be no need for structure plans and DDO’s. Here are some quotes from recent VCAT decisions which show the exact opposite:
  • In any DDO  a relevant consideration is whether the bulk, location or appearance of any proposed building or works will be in keeping with the character and appearance of adjacent buildings, the streetscape or the area. (Vodafone Hutchinson Australia Pty Ltd v Greater Geelong CC [2019] VCAT 1729 (4 November 2019).
  • there is no basis to justify the recommended 9 metre setback in the DDO  design objectives.(Burrows v Port Phillip CC [2019] VCAT 1431 (18 September 2019)

Finally, we go to the Horne Street decision itself and cite the following comment:

We appreciate that different typologies of building heights and setbacks are found at various interfaces between commercial and residential properties in activity centres. Different approaches are often adopted depending on a variety of factors, including whether the residential properties are within the boundaries of the activity centre, the nature of the residential zone that applies, the existing character of the residential area and the extent of change to that character that is encouraged, and the position of the activity centre within its hierarchy. Despite this acknowledgement that a number of different approaches occur across metropolitan Melbourne, we have struggled to identify another location where a building of this scale, would be setback at such a distance from the rear boundary of residential properties.

The last sentence in the above says it all. Glen Eira is indeed unique for its woeful planning that sees nothing wrong in placing 12 storeys next to 4 or determining setbacks that are so minimal that they might as well not exist. Hyams can denigrate residents and accuse them of ‘cherry picking’ and providing ‘misleading’ information. What he cannot do is justify council’s planning decisions that are devoid of all strategic justification and plain old common sense!

PS: In order for readers to appreciate all the information we have reposted below what the resident said at the previous council meeting.