Much has been made of ‘neighbourhood character’ at recent council meetings when considering planning applications. Neighbourhood character is defined by the State Government as:

Neighbourhood character is essentially the combination of the public and private realms. Every property, public place or piece of infrastructure makes a contribution, whether great or small. It is the cumulative impact of all these contributions that establishes neighbourhood character.

We draw readers’ attention to some further statements from this document that highlight the shortcomings within Glen Eira –

The character of all areas is to be respected (even areas that planners or designers might not think to be attractive). If, for a broader range of considerations, a change in the character of an area is sought, then this must be achieved by setting out a preferred future character statement in the planning scheme

Describing the character of an area will also depend on the extent of neighbourhood character analysis already undertaken by the relevant council and the particular characteristics of the neighbourhood in question


Why this is so relevant to Glen Eira is that there is no preferred character statements for any area designated as housing diversity. This has been made clear in numerous VCAT decisions and has played a major role in the member’s final conclusions. For example – A recent VCAT decision on 10-12 Cromwell Street, North Caulfield contained the following comments in the decision to grant a permit for 8 townhouses –

There is no local planning policy that addresses neighbourhood character within the  housing diversity  areas. While regard must be given to the existing character of these areas, any assessment needs to balance this against the change that is anticipated in these areas.

Thus we have the ludicrous situation where on the one hand change is forecast and expected, but the nature of that change (ie preferred neighbourhood character) is never defined, illustrated, or circumscribed. With no future vision clearly laid out, then most developments are possible – especially if council has already granted a permit for a large development in the street. Change without statements on preferred neighbourhood character are Glen Eira Council’s further presents to developers.

Not all councils take this approach. Whitehorse, Stonnington, Bayside, and plenty of others, have as part of their planning schemes specific ‘preferred neighbourhood character’ statements for all of their residential areas – including the equivalent of Residential Growth Zones, and General Residential Zones. They also have structure plans, development overlays, etc – all of those ‘planning tools’ which Glen Eira has steadfastly refused to consider and implement.

The result is that councillors can talk until the cows come home about neighbourhood character. But unless the planning scheme includes some direct and explicit mention of these tools, then developers will continue to have a field day in our municipality.

PS: Below is an example from Bayside. Please note that every square inch of land designated as ‘residential’ has been allocated a ‘preferred neighbourhood character’ statement regardless of whether or not that site is in the so called ‘housing diversity’ areas.

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