The agenda for next Tuesday night’s council meeting is now up on council’s website. Readers will remember that at the last council meeting the decision regarding the proposed Built Form Frameworks for Bentleigh East, Caulfield South and Caulfield North, was deferred. The argument was that councillors needed more time to discuss and that further detail was required. Residents therefore have every right to expect that what is now published fulfills these requirements. So what have we got? Nothing more than a repeat of what was in the last agenda.

Even if this is the result of a simple ‘technological’ error and that an updated version was somehow not included in the agenda papers, it does not excuse what has occurred. Doesn’t someone double check what goes out to the public? Don’t we have spell checks that are employed? Who is responsible? How diligently did they proof read the documents?

In the end, incompetence reigns supreme!

PS: Council has now uploaded the correct Built Form Frameworks. What they have NOT as yet done is to include the latest officer report. Surely residents should have timely access to the rationale behind whatever changes have been made.

Whilst council plods on with its long awaited structure plans, urban design frameworks and god knows what else it hasn’t achieved as yet, the most crucial element in both council’s and we presume the state’s planning is what COVID has produced in terms of migration slow down, oversupply of apartments, businesses closing, and rising house prices for detached dwellings. In short, the boom period for many individuals is well and truly over.

Given these factors, it becomes even more important that council’s strategic planning is fully cognisant of what lies ahead and what has been happening in the past 3 to 5 years. The oversupply of apartments is not something new – it was already evident in 2017. The rising costs of houses means that less and less can afford them, despite mortgage rates being at an all time low. Renters are also leaving in droves – often returning to stay with parents. And given the absence of overseas students, and migration figures to rival our lowest numbers since 1946, any strategic planning simply has to factor all this in.

We have had Victoria in Future 2019 predicting population growth that is now in tatters. The impact on housing supply and demand therefore must be reassessed and planned for accordingly.  Council continues to argue that things will return to ‘normal’. But when? In 3 years time, in five years, or never? Besides, structure plans are not meant to be created and then left hanging in the wind for decades. They are supposed to be ‘live’ documents that are continuously reviewed and reworked. So given all the above negatives, why is council still demanding 12 storey apartment complexes in Carnegie? Or even higher along Nepean Highway? Do we really need all this high rise when apartments are what is suffering the most?

All of the above makes it absolutely crucial that any Housing Strategy does not ignore these events. Simply looking at ‘capacity’ as we were told with the first version of the Built Form Frameworks for Bentleigh East, Caulfield North and Caulfield South, is in our view a meaningless exercise. Capacity does not equate with need. It simply says, ‘yes, a 20 storey building can go here’. It doesn’t answer the crucial question of whether or not we need 20 storey buildings to cater for population growth over the next 15 years. Nor does it tell us whether existing infrastructure can cope, nor how much it will cost to introduce the required infrastructure.

We have extracted two pages from a 2020 report from the National Housing Finance & Investment Company  which is worth a read. The full document is found at: https://www.nhfic.gov.au/media/1621/nhfic_state-of-the-nations-housing-report_accessible-updated.pdf

Please take a close look at their projections and the arguments upon which these are built.

CLICK TO ENLARGE

Source: https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/caulfield-racecourse-unveils-570m-sports-entertainment-precinct-plan-20210413-p57iu8.html

Whilst this is undoubtedly a step forward in the long drawn out ‘problem’ of the racecourse, much remains unknown and certainly contentious. Given the Melbourne Racing Club’s history of dealings with council, and overwhelming government support from both sides, answers to the following are essential:

  1. How much of this $570M will come out of ratepayers’ pockets?
  2. Will we have high rise and only a sprinkling of social housing along Neerim Road?
  3. If council is working with the MRC on a business plan, will this be made public?
  4. How many events will the MRC be permitted to hold each year – 100? 200? etc
  5. What will be the impact (noise, traffic, etc) on local residents?
  6. What are the parking arrangements? Will the second lake disappear?

For the second time, councillors through their voting have sent a clear message to officers,  that the latter’s work is clearly not up to community expectations or standards. Last night’s motion on the Urban Design Frameworks was deferred until next month – the rationale being that councillors needed additional time to discuss and to be provided with far more detail and justification. This resolution follows the abandonment of Amendment C184 on the Bentleigh & Carnegie structure plans.

What does this mean and what are the ramifications long term? We can only speculate, but it is becoming apparent that the planning department is being put under increasing pressure and that many of these new councillors will not automatically be rubber stamping whatever is put in front of them. That is all to the good for residents.

The only ‘negative’ from the debate on this issue was provided by Magee and his vote against deferment. His comments were insulting – ie claiming that as an old councillor he understood perfectly what the Urban Design Frameworks were all about and that there was heaps of ‘detail’. Given that this is the first time that UDF’s have been introduced in well over a decade, we can only wonder as to Magee’s ‘familiarity’ with this planning tool. Secondly, his comments came directly after Zyngier stated that he had received a letter from council and that he had difficulty in comprehending what was proposed. His argument was that when council decides to communicate with residents they need to ensure that the ‘message’ is clear, and in everyday language. This followed on from Zmood’s points that Urban Design Frameworks should not be seen in isolation but that they are the result of looking at the municipality as a whole – ie via a Housing Strategy and that data must constitute the first step.

Magee also covered himself in glory with his views on Heritage. Suddenly he has become the saviour of properties with a heritage overlay on them – or so he would like us to believe. Put simply, he stated there is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Could he then perhaps explain to residents if heritage is that important, why he seconded and voted in favour of the demolition of a contributory building and the erection of a 12 storey monstrosity on top of the heritage building next door in Derby Road, Caulfield East? For those interested we invite you to listen to his diametrically opposed comments below –

Item 8.1 last night –

AND

From November 2018 –

Consistency has never been Magee’s strong point on development and other issues. What residents must by now realise is that every ‘speech’ must be taken with a huge dollop of salt when Magee opens his mouth!

Council never fails to disappoint with its latest planning effort – the release of the Urban Design Frameworks/Guidelines for Caulfield Park, Caulfield South, and Bentleigh East.

Once again we have 3 documents short on detail, statistics, and images that are barely legible or comprehensible.

As per usual, we find adopted policies such as the City Plan being completely ignored when it comes to the latest recommendations. The City Plan specified a 5 storey height limit for its neighbourhood centres. The latest documents recommend a discretionary maximum height of 6 storeys for vast stretches within all of these centres. Why the inconsistency and how is this height increase justified when not one single piece of data is presented to account for this divergence?

Even more disappointing is the inclusion of currently designated ‘local centres’ into some of these frameworks and the recommendation that they can also reach for the skies.

We have already commented on the consistent failure of this council to conduct its consultations in an appropriate and meaningful manner. We ask:

  • Why is there no mention of this ‘consultation’ in the April edition of the Glen Eira News?
  • Why is there no Discussion Paper listing all the relevant concerns, and the potential pros and cons?
  • Why is there this insistence on a top-down approach to consultation instead of first asking residents what they want and then producing the draft documents?
  • Why is the consultation period a short 4 weeks, in contrast to some other councils that instituted an 8 week period?
  • We have not as yet seen the ‘Have Your Say’ version of the consultation, but aren’t holding our breath that the questions will elicit too many decent responses.

For all those residents living in, or near, these neighbourhood centres, we invite you to peruse these maps so that you know what this council is planning for your area and its likely impact on your neighbourhood. Needless to say, there is barely a single word about how this council will deal with: open space, infrastructure, parking, traffic congestion, etc. In conclusion, another set of documents that do nothing to instill any confidence in this planning department and an administration that is not prepared to listen and genuinely consult with its residents.

We will comment in greater detail in the days ahead.

Amendment c155 (East Village) has now been gazetted. The result is another slap in the face for residents and highlights once again council’s pathetic ‘advocacy’. Readers will remember that the main areas of contention were:

  • Whether the number of proposed dwellings be a mandatory 3000, or whether they would be regarded as a ‘soft cap’ meaning that the developer can exceed this number
  • Whether the 8 storey height limit for the majority of dwellings be mandatory or discretionary
  • Whether there would be the removal (entirely) of third party objection rights

Each of the above has been decided in favour of the developer by the Department and/or the Minister. So, there will be more than 3000 dwellings and there will be buildings that are higher than 8 storeys and all without the possibility that residents can object to any development plan that comes in for the various sectors.

In what has too often become the typical council grandstanding, in July 2020 we had Hyams and Cade moving a motion that included accepting the Panel report but asking for mandatory heights and dwelling numbers, plus 3rd party objection rights. Too little too late we say and again, what a convenient scape goat to blame government now. Readers must remember that it was council who introduced a structure plan that allowed 8 storeys and 3000 dwellings. Why was this structure plan accepted in the first place after plenty of community opposition? Why was there the decision to send off to a panel, knowing full well that panels tend to support developers? Why didn’t council fight tooth and nail for the above 3 factors when the Comprehensive Development Plan was first mooted? Pretending that council cares after all of these processes have been gone through is not advocacy. It amounts to pulling the wool over residents’ eyes in our view! And adding further salt to the wounds is that this entire structure planning process cost ratepayers over $400,000!

In our view, the amendment should never have gone to a panel and should have been abandoned as happened with the Bentleigh & Carnegie structure plans. Yes, the developer would have gone to the Minister and he might have intervened. At the very least, council would have emerged with some integrity and the perception that it does indeed care about its neighbourhoods and residents.

For years now, council has been losing millions of dollars annually on its aged care provision. Ratepayers have therefore been subsidising this program. There is nothing wrong with this. Even if council is the only municipality to still provide aged care, that is no reason to get rid of the facilities or the various programs. And besides, ratepayers have been subsidising developers for eons now because this council does not have a development contributions levy, or a community infrastructure levy which countless other councils have.

Before any decision is made regarding the future of aged care in Glen Eira, we believe that there simply has to be a full, comprehensive and genuine consultation with the entire community. This is not a decision solely for bureaucrats or 9 elected councillors. The community has got every right to determine where and how their money is spent. If the majority of residents are opposed to council run facilities, then so be it. If the majority prefer that the $3m or so each year is spent elsewhere, then again, so be it. But if the majority still want council to continue to care for our frail and elderly, then that is a decision that must be respected. That is democracy!

As for the consultation itself, and before any decision is made, residents need to know the full facts, such as:

  • What is the full cost to council (including staff, upgrade of facilities, cleaning, etc?)
  • What is the likely current and future demand for beds based on demographics?
  • Are there waiting lists?
  • Are the current facilities in the right areas, given demographic change?
  • What areas are deficient in aged care?
  • How many jobs are currently associated with aged care? What is the future job projection(s)?
  • How many (if any) Spurway residents were moved against their will or their families wishes?
  • How many private facilities are currently in the municipality and where?
  • What is the entry and weekly costs for residents associated with each of these private facilities?
  • What are the potential financial impacts of the recommendations likely to be made by the Royal Commission?

Once all of these facts are presented in a clear and concise manner to residents, the consultation should be straight forward, and include such questions as:

  • Should Glen Eira City council continue to provide aged care facilities?
  • Do you believe that private aged care can provide a better service? Why?
  • Is anyone in your family likely to require aged care in the next 10 years?

The other ramifications if council does decide to close Spurway, and potentially the others in time, is what happens to the land, the buildings, the staff? Additional questions that residents must have a say on, would focus on these areas:

  • Are you in favour of council land being sold off for private development?
  • How would you like the Spurway 2500 square metres of land used in the future?
  • Would you support the Spurway facilities being turned into social housing? Open Space?

Until this council learns to be upfront and honest with its ratepayers, we will continue to have the turmoil of 2019. In camera decisions are the antithesis of open, transparent government on issues such as this and what happened previously.

About two weeks ago, VCAT held a compulsory conference for the proposed development at 7 Selwyn Street, Elsternwick. Readers should remember the following:

  • The proposed height of 9 storeys is the equivalent of the 14 storeys that the Woolies application (directly opposite 7 Selwyn Street) stipulated. The Woolworth’s application was refused by both council and VCAT.
  • Council last year granted a permit for the 9 storeys with a vote of 6 to 3 in the face of stern opposition from residents.

Apparently at the compulsory conference the applicant made no concessions in terms of reducing the proposed height. What did come out at this conference however was that council is quite prepared to spend tens of thousands of ratepayer funds to ‘defend’ its decision to grant a permit.

So the stage is set for a major hearing lasting at least 8 days. Interestingly, the developer will be requiring 3 days to present evidence and expert witnesses, whilst council is asking for 4 days to present their 2 lawyers and 4 expert witnesses! So we have the ludicrous situation where council is actively fighting its own residents, spending their/our money, and doing more than the applicant himself in attempting to justify his application!

As far as money goes, we can only speculate how much this will end up costing ratepayers. Most expert witnesses charge at least (conservatively) $4000-$5000 per day. Barristers can charge around $6000 per day and some charge even more. Lawyers are another cost. Our reckoning comes out to at least $60-$70,000 that council is prepared to spend on defending its decision to grant a permit!

Whilst it is reasonable to argue that councils have every right to defend their decisions, and to use ratepayer funds in undertaking this defence, we maintain that it is NOT okay when a permit has already been granted, and certainly not to the extent of 4 expert witnesses plus a bevy of lawyers. Councils do front up at VCAT and argue their case, but this is when they have refused a permit and not when one has already been granted as is the case here.

We also need to take a look at what Glen Eira has been doing at VCAT in the past. The following list of hearings and attendances clearly shows that what council is about to do has NOT occurred previously – especially when permits have been granted. Most of the time a council planner attends and that is the end of the story. Where urban designers have been called, these are the selected consultants on contracts to council.

There are however two cases listed below where lawyers and one expert witness was called when council had granted a permit. Both cases represent different circumstances. In the Horne Street development readers will remember that the application was for 14 storeys and council granted a permit for 8 storeys. The VCAT member severely criticised council for its decision making and lack of strategic justification. The other case involved 411-415 Glen Huntly Road, and this was an appeal against council’s failure to issue a secondary consent within the prescribed time limits regarding amending the planning permit for 8 storeys and demolition of heritage buildings. Much of the hearing centred around what is called ‘accrued rights’ and the introduction of the DDO10. Hence it became an important question of ‘law’.

We have not found any other case at VCAT, where council has gone to the lengths it is doing here to defend a decision to grant a permit. So why is this happening now? What pressures are being applied and by whom? How on earth can council justify spending all this money in fighting its own residents?

In order to support our claims, we present the following list of VCAT hearings for the past few years and those who attended on behalf of council (as listed in the respective decisions). They are under two headings – council refusals of permits, and council’s granting of permits.

DECISIONS WHERE COUNCIL REFUSED PERMIT

348-354 Hawthorn Road, = Mr Kristian Cook, town planner (council).

679-683 Glen Huntly Road, = Mr P O’Leary, town planner, Polplan.

6-8 Bevis Street, Bentleigh East = Mr P O’Leary, Town Planner of PolPlan Pty Ltd

51 Hawthorn Road, = Mr Michael Dowel, town planner (council)

39 Lilac Street, Bentleigh East = Mr Stuart Taylor, town planner.(council)

6-8 Bevis Street, Bentleigh East = Mr P O’Leary, Town Planner of PolPlan Pty Ltd (1ST HEARING)

103 Gardenvale Road,GARDENVALE = Mr M Dowel (Day 1) and Mr K Cook, Coordinator Urban Planning (Practice Day Hearing).(council)

31 Weeroona Road, MURRUMBEENA = Mr P O’Leary, PolPlan Pty Ltd.

371-377 Hawthorn Road and 3 Olive Street, Caulfield South = Ms K Piskuric, solicitor of Harwood Andrews

9A and 9B Muntz Street, = Mr Stuart Taylor, planner of  Glen Eira  City Council.

31 Weeroona Road, MURRUMBEENA (1st hearing) = Mr P O’Leary, PolPlan Pty Ltd.

9 Marlborough Street, Bentleigh East = Ms Alison Orwin, Senior Urban Planner

12 Wheeler Street, ORMOND = Mr Peter O’Leary, town planner of Polplan Pty Ltd

2 Pearce Street, Caulfield South = Peter English, town planner.

342-346 Centre Road, (time extension) = Ms M Marcus, Solicitor, Maddocks, Mr R McGauran, Urban Design

11 Caleb Street, BENTLEIGH EAST = Mr Andrew Crack, town planner of Crack & Assoc.

45 Hoddle Street, = Mr A Crack, Andrew Crack & Associates Pty Ltd.

81 Dalny Road, Murrumbeena = Mr Andrew Crack, town planner of Andrew Crack

2 Wattle Grove, McKinnon = Mr Andrew Crack, town planning consultant.

24-26 Vickery Street, (time extension) = Ms Sarah Porrit, Barrister, instructed by Ms Jacqueline Simpkin, Solicitor, of Maddocks.

277-279 Centre Road, Bentleigh (time extension) = Ms Mimi Marcus of Maddocks Lawyers

43-45 Kokaribb Road, Carnegie = Mr P O’Leary, Polplan Pty Ltd.

4 Clarinda Street = lucy Bond (council)

430-434 Neerim Road – Ms Mimi Marcus, Solicitor, Marcus Lane

388-394 Hawthorn Road – Mr Zac Van Grondelle, town planner (council)

64-68 Lumeah Road, Caulfield North – Mr Anthony Adams, Principal Urban Planner (council)

42 George Street – Mr Michael Dowel, town planner, from Glen Eira  City Council

679-683 Glen Huntly Road – Mr P O’Leary, town planner, Polplan.

348-354 Hawthorn Road – Mr Kristian Cook, town planner.(council)

6-8 Bevis Street, – Mr P O’Leary, Town Planner of PolPlan Pty Ltd

10-16 Selwyn Street – Ms Susan Brennan SC and Ms Jane Sharp, both of Counsel, instructed by Marcus Lane lawyers; Ms Anita Brady (heritage); Mr Tim Biles (urban design);Ms Leanne Hodyl (urban design);Mr Jim Antonopoulos (acoustic);Mr Damien Iles (planning);Valentine Gnanakone (traffic).

51 Hawthorn Road – Mr Michael Dowel, town planner (council)

103 Gardenvale Road = Mr M Dowel (Day 1) and Mr K Cook, Coordinator Urban Planning (Practice Day Hearing). (council)

 

DECISIONS WHERE COUNCIL GRANTED A PERMIT

 

9 Faulkner Street, BENTLEIGH = Mr Julian Berzins, Town Planner (council)

Lot S4, PS448063B, 441 Inkerman Road, = Mr K Cook, Coordinator Urban Planning.(council)

10 Quinns Road, = Mr P O’Leary, town planner (council)

335 Chesterville Road, Bentleigh East = Mimi Nuciforo, town planner (council)

1 Portland Street, = Ms Alison Orwin, town planner of Council.

7-15 Horne Street, Elsternwick = Terry Montebello, Solicitor of Maddocks, Robert McGauran (architect) of MGS Architects

506 Hawthorn Road CAULFIELD SOUTH = Mr Alistair Dunlop, development planner (council)

122 Grange Road, Carnegie = Michael Dowel, town planner City of  Glen Eira

285-287 Neerim Road, = Mr A Dunlop, Town Planner (council)

51 College Street,  = Mr Alistair Dunlop, Town Planner (council)

1207 Glen Huntly Road, = Mr Peter O’Leary, town planner of PolPlan Pty Ltd.

38 Eddys Grove Bentleigh = Ms Mimi Nuciforo, town planner (council)

679 South Road, = Phoebe Hanna, town planner (council)

3 Ripon Grove, = Alistair Dunlop, town planner (council)

411-415 Glen Huntly Road, Elsternwick = Ms Mimi Marcus, Maddocks Lawyers (December 2018)

9 Faulkner Street = Mr Julian Berzins, Town Planner (council)

441 Inkerman Road – Mr K Cook, Coordinator Urban Planning. (council)

39 Lilac Street, – Mr Stuart Taylor, town planner. (Council)

Two decisions from last night’s council meeting, should provide some hope that perhaps, just perhaps, things might be changing at council.

Decision 1 – abandoning Amendment C184. This was an unanimous decision from all 8 councillors present (Cade being absent). Esakoff very ‘reluctantly’ voted for the motion, declaring that her wish would have been to send the amendment to a panel and have council adopt an advocacy position! There were some mea culpas, especially from Athanasopolous, who declared that he should have insisted on a housing strategy years before! Szmood pointed out that the need for a housing strategy should have been known since at least 2015 and together with other councillors hoped that the resulting strategy would be strategically and soundly based and looked at the entire municipality and not just the major activity centres.

Decision 2 – concerned the consultation approach to the Council Plan and the Health & Wellbeing strategy. The officer’s recommendation stated that the latter would undergo far more comprehensive consultation compared to the Council Plan. Szmood moved an alternate motion (seconded by Zhang) that the Council Plan be subject to a 500 phone survey, plus wider public consultation that was not limited to the Community Voice or the deliberative panel membership alone.

Both of these resolutions represent a positive change. What remains to be seen of course is whether the proposals are carried out in the spirit of the resolution. All will depend on:

  • The questions that are asked. For example: will any of the questions ask residents for feedback on specific heights, setbacks, permeability requirements, rezonings? Or will we be presented with another set of predetermined ‘options’ that ignore these fundamental concerns?
  • Will residents (ie the community consultation committee) have any say in the drafting of questions, or the analysis of feedback?
  • Will the housing strategy provide sufficient data to be justified or will we again have a 60 or 70 page document of which half is filled with pretty pictures and the rest is full of generalities, and clichés?

These are the issues and questions which remain to be resolved. If there is to be light at the end of the tunnel, then it is incumbent on these councillors to ensure that the agendas and mistakes of the past are not repeated!

PS: There’s one other item deserving of comment – agenda item 11.1. This was considered in camera and the subject was ‘Aged Care. Council’s are required to provide some detail as to why an item should be considered as confidential. In this case, the council blurb stated:

Aged Care
This agenda item is confidential information for the purposes of section 3(1)
of the Local Government Act 2020:
– because it is Council business information, being information that would prejudice the Council’s position in commercial negotiations if prematurely released (section 3(1)(a)); and

The information contained in this paper is confidential under the definition of confidential information as defined in section 3(1) of the Local Government Act 2020 (the Act) being Council business information that would prejudice the Council’s position in commercial negotiations if prematurely released and information concerned with land use that if prematurely released is likely to encourage speculation in land values.

Several questions spring to mind, especially since this was NOT specified as a normal tender. Hence:
  • are we back to square one with the possibility of the sale of our aged care once again?
  • is council possibly considering sale of some of the land?

The fact that 2 sections of the Local Government Act are cited, (ie commercial and land use) does not fill us with confidence that this administration is not having second thoughts regarding the future of aged care.

Item 8.9 in the current agenda papers, recommends that seven trees be included in the Significant Tree Register. Whilst this is admittedly only the start, we have to wonder why after 6 months, we only get seven nominated trees – of which only two are listed as being on private property.

The report states that between 4th September 2020 and 18th February 2021, 105 nominations were received. There is no information as to:

  • How many of these 105 were on private property as opposed to council land?
  • How many of these 105 have potentially been rejected?
  • How many assessments have actually been carried out or do we assume that in the space of nearly 6 months council has managed to assess a paltry 7 trees?

At this rate we will still be assessing these 105 trees in 2050!

Could we just once, please, have an officer’s report that provides all the relevant information.