At last week’s council meeting there was plenty of implied criticism of how strategic planning in Glen Eira was arguably negligent and inept and had not achieved what was possible in protecting residential amenity. The most damning comments came from Sounness in relation to the Glen Huntly Road application (Item 9.2).

SOUNNESS: ‘I recognise the building is kind of ugly’ and ‘if we wanted to have a particular form for built form outcome’ then council would be saying ‘this is the character we want’ but ‘Glen Eira hasn’t gone down that particular path’ (apart from Neighbourhood Character Overlays). This means that ‘not having said what we want’ this application then becomes what is ‘acceptable‘. Believed that a ‘refusal’ would ‘be hard to substantiate’ given the zoning and potential future development of the area. Said he would ‘love to see good tools’ but ‘we don’t seem to have them’.

The ‘tools’ that Sounness is referring to, and which other councils have worked on and included in their planning scheme – some, a decade ago – include such things as:

  • Structure Plans – especially for Activity Centres
  • Design and Development Overlays
  • Urban Design policies
  • Parking Precinct Plans

It should also be noted that councils which have had Structure Plans in place for eons have also had interim height limits for commercial buildings. Many, such as Bayside, now want these ‘interim’ height limits on a permanent basis and as part of their overall strategic planning for Activity Centres. In Glen Eira, because of the failure to implement any structure plans, or to even seek height limits on commercial properties, the sky is literally the limit. Now there are applications for 12 and even 16 storeys. But do the planning department and councillors really care?

As for Design and Development Overlays, Glen Eira has 5 in its planning scheme. Are they there to protect against ‘inappropriate development’? Definitely NOT. Two of these 5 are designed to permit (and we quote) higher density and higher scale development. The remaining three concern themselves with the height of fences in specific areas.

Here’s how many of these overlays other neighbouring councils have in their planning schemes. All vary in their intent and the ‘limits’ on development. Most however take a proactive approach in attempting to describe what they want, and to list what kind of development should be excluded. Not in Glen Eira though! Here are the tallies –

Bayside – 12

Boroondara – 31

Kingston – 24

Manningham – 12

Monash – 11

Moonee Valley – 12

Moreland – 23

Port Phillip – 21

Stonnington – 13

Whitehorse – 8

Yarra – 13

Glen Eira of course has its Neighbourhood Character Overlays. The ‘problem’ with this is that all of these together basically cover a bare 1500 properties and a few score number of streets throughout Glen Eira. It is no use therefore complaining, as Hyams and others have, about the lack of pitched roof applications, especially in housing diversity areas, when no attempt has been made, as Sounness says, to introduce the ‘tools’ that would help achieve such an outcome.

Sounness’ comments are warranted. Okotel’s previous claims about having to ‘watch’ the number of applications in Neerim Road and the car parking situation is also warranted. But what then? Apart from stating the obvious, what has council done in the past ten years to even come close to addressing such issues?

Ultimately the hand wringing of Lobo, Sounness, Okotel, and Hyams with his pitched roof pitch, does not excuse the inaction of this current crop of councillors, and those before them. When the problem is so obvious, and when countless streets are being destroyed, it is incumbent on councillors to ensure that all means are introduced to protect the local amenity, and neighbourhood character. It does not mean wringing one’s hands and saying ‘we do not have the tools’! The tools are available – if wanted. They have been available for years! Yet under this administration and its compliant councillor group, none of these tools have ever been openly discussed, much less implemented. In our view this represents a clear failure of planning prowess or, the deliberate decision to place as few obstacles in front of developers as legally possible. Either way, it is the community who pays the ultimate cost.