We’re highlighting one particular decision from last night’s council meeting because we believe it exemplifies practically everything that is amiss in planning decisions by this council and especially the role that councillors should play.

To state the obvious, applications are meant to be judged according to the standards prescribed by the Planning Scheme. It is Council’s responsibility to enforce those standards. Full stop! The granting of a permit should never be decided on the basis of what councillors think might happen at VCAT if objections crop up and the case is taken to this body. Time and time again the arguments that issue from certain councillors is that VCAT is ‘arbitrary’, ‘inconsistent’ and that it all boils down to the individual member. So, if this is indeed the case, then how can Lipshutz state, as he did last night, that ‘I know VCAT will approve’ and hence the permit was granted. It is even worse when Sounness, who moved the motion to grant the permit, also argued on these same lines – ie. that he couldn’t see how Council could mount a ‘defence’ in VCAT and the best option is to ‘apply conditions’. Hence, a permit was granted. Whether or not some of the ‘fault’ lies with the Planning Scheme itself, has never of course been broached by any councillor. Nor has the question of how well Council actually defends its decisions at VCAT.

As for the regular VCAT Decisions report, Hyams together with Lipshutz again implied that resident objectors would be better off if they refrained from objecting. According to Hyams, one decision handed down was a ‘salutary lesson’ for objectors since they were now ‘worse off’ in going to VCAT because the developer got more than Council had granted in their original permit. In other words, DON’T OBJECT and leave everything to us, the ‘experts’.

We’ve know of no other Council, where such disdain for the rights of citizens is so frequently featured. Nor do we know of any other Council where arrogance is so prevalent. If Council’s record at VCAT is so wonderful due to this ‘expertise’ then they need to explain why the vast majority of their decisions in the past year have either been overturned completely or the conditions varied considerably. And scattered throughout the hearings there are occasions when resident objectors (that ignorant lot) were successful in completely overturning Council’s decision to grant a permit.