With every VCAT ruling, the disaster that is the Glen Eira Planning Scheme is becoming more and more apparent. In the attempt to bandaid the cracks, and ‘remedy’ some of the worst atrocities, council’s solution is to put conditions onto permits that generally have buckley’s and none of being accepted by VCAT – ie. increased upper storey setbacks, front, side, rear and basement setbacks. Thus we have the farcical situation where council is attempting to impose conditions that do not exist under its current Planning Scheme. All the member has to say is ‘sorry, these setbacks aren’t part of your planning scheme’ or, ‘there is no preferred character statement in the planning scheme for this site’, there are no structure plans, there are no Design and Development Overlays, there is no tree protection worthy of that name, and the development meets the ResCode ‘standards’ which council has codified in its new housing diversity zones. Our sympathies to council planners who have to front up to VCAT with one hand tied behind their backs and argue for conditions that don’t stand a chance without the developer’s concession(s).

Sadly, this situation is a case of too little, too late. Variations to ResCode should have been included in the Schedules to the new zones. They weren’t! Administration and councillors should have done their homework and ensured that every loophole that would disadvantage residents was eliminated and that safeguards were included that would make it exceedingly difficult for VCAT to exercise its discretionary powers. Of course, in their folly, none of this was done. It was far easier to rely on work done decades ago and hence totally out of date, rather than undertake a current and comprehensive housing strategy review that would then inform the introduction of the zones. Residents are now paying the price for this sloth, incompetence, and pro-development idealogy.

The best example of this comes in a recent VCAT decision in Carnegie (4 storey, 35 dwellings on Neerim Road/Belsize Avenue). Council wanted the basement car park setbacks increased so that there would be room for landscaping. In other words, avoiding a boundary to boundary underground carpark. Here are some extracts from the judgement –

Council put to me that in issuing a permit, they believed it appropriate to increase setbacks at the basement level and from the front, Belsize Avenue and the side and rear setbacks to achieve a better landscape setting and better transition in built form to the southern interface.

Council’s conditions seek to increase the width of the in-ground planting and a subsequent reduction in the size of the basement by requiring a three metre setback from the front and a 3 metre setback from the southern and eastern boundary.

Council put that a 3 metre setback is required from all boundaries to enable better in ground landscaping opportunities. It was Council’s concern that tree planting would be impossible to achieve along the two street frontages due to the narrow access to natural ground and there are no opportunities for tree planting other than the northwest and north east corners of the site.

Side Setbacks

  1. Council’s conditions also seek an increase in the side setbacks to Belsize Avenue to a 5.5 metre setback. Council acknowledged that the side setbacks from Belsize Avenue meet the prescriptive requirements of Standard B6 of ResCode but are seeking an increase in the setback to strike a balance in setting a standard for future development along Neerim Road and Belsize Avenue. I am not persuaded by this submission of Council that a setback beyond the requirement of Standard B6 is warranted. It is noted that whilst the setback to Belsize Avenue may be a minimum of 2.01 metres, it increases to 5.5 metres further south into the site into Belsize Avenue.
  2. The setbacks to both Neerim Road and Belsize Avenue acknowledge the policy direction of more intensive development but also provide for landscaping opportunities.
  3. Council imposed conditions 1(b) and 7 to ensure that parking for residents and visitors is commensurate with the table to Clause 52.06. Council put to me that they would prefer the parking is provided in compliance with clause 52.06 but the bigger issue is the need to reduce the basement foot print and thereby revise the layout to add a second level to improve in ground planting opportunities and to avoid disputes about parking allocation between residents at a later time.
  4. The proposal provides for 45 car parking spaces including two visitor spaces. A reduction in the visitor parking requirement of five spaces is sought. Council did not vigorously pursue this issue but focussed on the issue of the basement footprint which I have addressed above.

Council submitted that the calculation of the site coverage at 60.0% had been calculated in error and that it was greater. Council however did not provide their own calculation. The Permit Applicant put that the site coverage was 60.9%. For all of the reason above, I have concluded that the footprint of the building is acceptable. I therefore make no further comment on this matter.

By way of contrast, Stonnington has achieved what Glen Eira ignored. In their schedules to the Residential Growth Zone, they have inserted the clause that basements should not occupy more than 75% of the site! (see below). And yet, there is still no attempt by Glen Eira to amend its planning scheme, to introduce changes that will benefit residents, or even to undertake a full review of its failures and disregard for residential amenity.

Residents should also be aware that each time council goes to VCAT with such untenable conditions imposed that it is costing us money. It would be far cheaper, more productive and with better outcomes, if instead of applying useless bandaids, council addressed the major problem – it’s woeful planning scheme!