The agenda for Tuesday night is truly remarkable. Not only will it be another marathon, but the officers’ reports largely distinguish themselves once again with contradictions galore, selective ‘editing’, and to put it bluntly, sheer, unadulterated nonsense. We urge all readers to refer to the full officer reports in order to assess for themselves the ‘quality’ of these various efforts.

Item 9.13 – Neighbourhood Character and Effectiveness of Existing Planning Tools

This item is a response to the Sounness initiated Request for a Report. It reads –

That a report be prepared on the effectiveness of existing planning scheme tools addressing neighbourhood character, and consider the merits of a fresh publicly advertised scheme amendment, local policy and/or design guidelines to establish the preferred emerging neighbourhood character.

We remind readers that:

  • Glen Eira has NO PREFERRED CHARACTER STATEMENTS for its housing diversity areas
  • Other councils (ie Bayside) have current amendments documenting preferred neighbourhood character awaiting approval which covers their entire municipality – ie equivalent of minimal change and housing diversity.
  • The Request for a Report SPECIFICALLY refers to ‘emerging neighbourhood character’. The focus of the Camera report is that this is answered because Council through its zones has designated certain areas for 2, 3, and 4 storey developments! In other words this equates to ‘preferred emerging neighbourhood character’. Height becomes the be all and end all of council’s definition of ‘neighbourhood character’ in housing diversity.
  • In line with so many other officer reports the recommendations are designed to maintain the status quo – ie. Glen Eira is ‘perfect’ so we don’t need to introduce or change anything – as evidenced by the following – Neighbourhood character is an important consideration for any multi-dwelling residential development. Glen Eira’s suite of policies and controls, together with ResCode ensures that neighbourhood character is considered throughout the municipality, even in commercial areas. This framework provides an effective and transparent approach to managing neighbourhood character throughout the entire municipality. Camera knows very well, or should know that ResCode does not apply to buildings of 5 storeys or more. There are no height limits in Commercial areas or Mixed Use Zones. Further, how many times has Council or VCAT ignored ResCode in relation to shop parking, visitor parking, setbacks, etc? Far from being ‘prescriptive’ as is now the current terminology applied by Council to ResCode, it is anything but ‘prescriptive’.
  • The State Government’s Practice Note on Neighbourhood Character is then cited – selectively of course! Camera then tells us that “neighbourhood character is not solely about dwelling density or the amenity of adjoining properties. It is the qualitative interplay between those characteristics that make a neighbourhood distinctive.” (page 247). Correct, but if ‘density’ and ‘amenity of adjoining properties’ aren’t that significant, then how can Council then claim – Glen Eira’s residential zones provide certainty about neighbourhood character through: Mandatory maximum heights. These ensure that future development has a consistent height and scale to the surrounding area.
  • Suddenly ‘height’ becomes the over-riding factor in safeguarding neighbourhood character. Utter nonsense – especially in light of the what else the Practice Note states and which Camera chooses not to cite – The key to understanding character is being able to describe how the features of an area come together to give that area its own particular character. Breaking up character into discrete features and characteristics misses out on the relationships between these features and characteristics.
  • More importantly Camera ignores the following paragraph entirely- 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.
  • Yet Camera blithely goes on to write of housing diversity areas – “In residential areas around train stations and shopping centres which are experiencing the greatest change, the emerging neighbourhood character is effectively managed through a combination of the residential zone, local policy, and ResCode.”
  • Returning to the previous comment about neighbourhood character having little to do with ‘the amenity of adjoining properties’ there is another bit of selective editing which Camera chooses not to reveal. The practice note specifically states (and this has been supported by numerous cases at VCAT) that neighbourhood character is determined as follows – In most cases, about five sites or buildings up and down the street, across the street and behind the site in question should be sufficient to identify the features of the neighbourhood that should influence the design. However, sometimes it may be necessary to look further than this, depending upon the individual circumstances of the site and the neighbourhood. Thus, neighbours current amenity should be pivotal in determining both current, emerging, and preferred neighbourhood character – which does not exist for housing diversity.
  • The most devious sleight of hand and unsupportable aspect of this report comes in the following paragraphs –

‘The concept of preferred neighbourhood character applies to Glen Eira’s change areas; our Housing Diversity Areas where the Residential Growth zone and General Residential zone apply.

In a Residential Growth Zone, it reasonable to expect that two, three and four storey apartment buildings will become the ‘future’ or ‘emerging’ neighbourhood character in these areas. This aligns with Council’s longstanding Urban Villages Policy. This is a change to the existing neighbourhood character which has historically been single houses and dual occupancies. These are locations around train stations and large shopping centres.

The General Residential Zones are considered areas for diversity and change as per Council Housing Diversity Area Policy but at a lower scale than the Residential Growth Zone. In the General Residential Zone it is reasonable to expect a variety of housing types such townhouses and apartment buildings ranging from 2- 3 storeys in height.

Once again this is a change to the existing neighbourhood which has traditionally comprised single houses and dual occupancies”

After repeatedly stating that HEIGHT is only one determinant of neighbourhood character, we now have the argument that 2,3, and 4 storeys is enough to justify a preferred character statement’.

The final bit of hoodwinking comes with this gem – However the extent of change and preferred neighbourhood character will be appropriately managed by the mandatory heights achieved in the new residential zones. In other words Council is quite prepared to have every site in housing diversity ‘change’ into a 3 and 4 storey dwelling.

There’s much more that we could say about this item but we will refrain. What will be compulsory viewing on Tuesday night is how councillors respond to this biased, inadequate, and deliberately one sided report. Will they cave in or will at least some of them push for far greater protection of neighbourhood character in housing diversity areas? Will any of them bother to point out the inconsistencies? Will anyone have the courage to send this back to the drawing board and demand a report of quality. That after all is what these people are paid to deliver!