This is an exceedingly long post – so our apologies.

Item 9.8 of the current agenda concerns Environmental Sensitive Design in the broadest sense, and its application to residential and/or commercial developments. This isn’t a new issue or question that council has been asked to consider. On February 5th 2008 then councillors Robilliard and Whiteside requested a report “that clarifies the planning process in relation to Environmental Sensitive Design (ESD) principles.” On the 8th April, 2008 the officer’s response stated that despite various state government statements “encouraging ESD principles”, Glen Eira’s position was that  “If more is done preferably it should be driven as a State wide initiative rather than piecemeal by individual local Councils.” Four and a half years later nothing has changed. Once again this council revisits issues and proffers excuse after excuse for its reluctance to do a damn thing. Council’s position remains the same – “Council should not introduce more detailed Environmental Sustainable Design principles into Glen Eira Planning Scheme and instead advocate to the State Government for a state wide policy on the principles of Environmental Sustainable Design in order to ensure a consistent approach is applied by all Councils. For optimum effect, any changes should relate to building rather than town planning approval.”

The rationale that is supposed to justify this failure to move into the 21st Century is varied.

  • The requirements are onerous and insist on far too much detail. They are nothing but ‘overkill’.
  • Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) has not been approved by the Minister for integration into Planning Schemes despite the bids of various councils. As local council policies only, they are not mandatory.
  • That the issue is best handled by building laws rather than planning laws.

Glen Eira’s solution and sole contribution to the issue is to produce a ‘booklet’ (only available later next year) which ‘will encourage people to implement sustainable design features in their building’!!!

Much of the current Akehurst report resorts to quotations from Government funded investigations (Local Government for a Better Victoria: Inquiry into Streamlining Local Government Regulations) whose primary aim was to investigate planning processes and how to ‘stream line’ applications. Those interviewed were primarily builders, developers and councils. Nothing wrong with that, but surely it is not asking too much that when a report comes back to council that it is  accurate, especially when citing resources or alleging certain ‘facts’. Here’s an example:

  • Akehurst states: “There are a number of Councils within the metropolitan area that have local planning policies specifically related to STEPS/SDS and WSUD. These are ‘under the counter” policies (not in the planning scheme). These policies go above the minimum requirements of the Building Code of Australia (BCA)”. We certainly beg to differ. Whilst it is true that an extraordinary number of councils have ‘local’ policies, Bayside also has such policies accepted into its Planning Scheme. The latest is Amendment C99 entitled “Water Sensitive Urban Design’ for commercial/industrial sites and is dated May 2011.
  • In 2008 the arguments presented were that ESD is only used by a handful of councils. In 2012 that argument is no longer tenable since countless councils have introduced policies that include a variety of the STEPS, ESD and WSUD principles AND not just for council facilities but for all residential developments in their municipalities. We have not gone through all councils, but some of those located thus far (plus some websites) are:

Moreland

Port phillip – http://www.portphillip.vic.gov.au/sdapp.htm

Moonee Valley

Whitehorse – http://www.whitehorse.vic.gov.au/Sustainable-Design-Assessment.html

Nillumbik

Mornington Peninsula –

Brimbank –

Yarra City – http://www.yarracity.vic.gov.au/planning–building/Environmentally-Sustainable-Design/#launch

Ballarat

Darebin

Yarra Ranges

Banyule

Boroondara –

Greater Shepparton

Maribyrnong

Baw Baw

Hobson’s Bay – http://www.hobsonsbay.vic.gov.au/Planning_and_Building/Environmental_Sustainable_Design_ESD

Manningham

Casey

We note that in Glen Eira’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy all mention of WSUD, or ESD is confined to ‘council facilities’. Not a single word is directed to private housing/commercial/industrial areas and the myriad of environmental concerns associated with development. Glen Eira’s overall contribution remains the production of a ‘booklet’.

Next, there is also Akehurst’s assertion that the STEPS program is ‘overkill’. The Municipal Association of Victoria would tend to disagree. The oft quoted VCEC report also contains this analysis from the MAV –

“The MAV commenced preliminary work in process improvement in early 2009. Both the planning scheme amendment process and the planning permit process were examined in detail. From this work the MAV highlighted the following benefits to councils (page 341):

several times (3-7) return on investment for councils within 18 months – annual average savings to councils of $150 000

removal on average of 22 days from the current planning permit application process, resulting in savings of 1per cent of project costs. For a subdivision of 2 000 lots ($100 million) this is a $1 million saving. For a smaller project of $1 million the savings are $10 000 identifying key areas for improvement – such as quality of applications being accepted and referral processes (both external and internal)

low cost methodology

higher levels of stakeholder satisfaction

better allocation of staff and skills

integration of processes and e-planning improvements

better availability of data and internal benchmarks

a culture of continuous improvement

improved compliance and risk management.”(PAGE 342)

It is also worth pointing out that the report included Glen Eira as a ‘case study’ emphasising its pre-lodgement certification and other application processes. The conclusion drawn by the authors of the report is interesting: “It is difficult to determine the costs and benefits of the Glen Eira planning improvements. While the average number of days for a decision appear to be lower with a pre-lodgement certification process, there is more time spent at the front end of the process (before lodgement), so it is unclear how much time the applicant saves overall. That said, discussions with planning consultants that have used the Glen Eira processes have been positive about the overall savings.

Likewise, the Commission heard that there are benefits to business from providing greater clarity about the areas where more intensive forms of development are preferred, and areas where such proposed developments will generally be rejected. The location of new dwellings in Glen Eira since the development of the planning scheme suggests that this clarity has influenced investment and redevelopment. The Commission has not formed a view about whether the application of Glen Eira’s minimal change areas (which cover 80 per cent of the municipality) is an optimal outcome from a metropolitan- and state-wide perspective.”

We note that no comments are recorded from the other side of the fence – ie residents and/or objectors!

Finally, whilst the report and the State government response was to emphasise the role of the Building Council above Planning, there were still some important comments made in relation to councils’ and councillors’ roles in setting overall policy and in truly working with their communities. We quote some here:

VCEC PAGE 47 – “While regulations can impose costs on businesses, the adoption of good regulatory design principles can help to ensure that the expected benefits of the regulations outweigh these costs—and that there is no feasible alternative that could yield a higher net benefit while achieving the stated objectives.

PAGE 68 – parties will have different objectives for planning regulation, or prioritise objectives differently. Divergent objectives between State and local governments are not surprising. Councils have clear obligations under the Local Government Act 1989 (Vic) to reflect the views of their communities, and have a political imperative to represent the views of those who elect them,6 whereas the State Government’s role is to serve

PAGE 117 – councillors have the opportunity of shaping decisions in other ways. For example, councillors have the opportunity to shape local policy through their municipal strategic statement and council plans required under the Planning and Environment Act 1987 (Vic) and the Local Government Act 1989 (Vic) respectively. Encouraging amenity-based policy judgements to be made earlier, preferably through planning schemes, rather than on an ad hoc basis for individual permits, is consistent with better practice processes, and likely to reduce costs (chapter 4).”

In conclusion residents have to ask themselves why this council is so reluctant to undertake reforms which are now commonplace in countless other municipalities across the state. Why is it that Glen Eira is consistently the ‘odd man out’ when it comes to innovation, and accountability?

With two Greens on Council it will be fascinating to see what eventuates from the ‘debate’ on this item!