Tonight’s meeting drew a big crowd. Over 100 people in attendance. Missing in action were – Lipshutz, Esakoff, Ho, Delahunty. Ms McKenzie (CEO) was present as were Lobo, Hyams, Magee, Pilling and Sounness.

The evening started with the facilitator introducing the format and then Ms McKenzie providing the ‘context’. Acknowledgement was given as to the criticism levelled at council and the amount of work that was required. This was followed by Torres providing feedback on the results of the community consultation and then Russell Smith (acting manager Strategic Planning) providing a synopsis of the planning tools available which could address the issues raised by residents. Residents were then invited to ask questions of planners.

The Positives

Despite years and years of refusing to undertake various initiatives, tonight possibly, maybe, perhaps, signalled a change in direction. Here is a brief list of what council proposes to do according to their stated ‘draft work plan’.

  • Structure planning
  • Water Sensitive Urban Design
  • Vegetation Protection
  • Environmental Sustainable Design
  • Preferred Neighbourhood Character Statements
  • Heritage Review
  • Development Contributions Levy for drainage
  • SBO – overlays to mitigate flooding
  • Update the Municipal Strategic Statement and Local Policies

Without unduly blowing our own trumpet, we wish to point out that these initiatives are what we, and countless residents, have been demanding for years and years and which council has steadfastly refused to implement! Whether this represents a real change in culture, attitude, and listening to residents remains to be seen.

The Negatives

Council’s ‘draft work plan’ was stated as:

3 structure plans to be carried out over first 5 years with a view to continue developing structure plans or Urban Design Frameworks over all activity centres after this period of 10 years……

Residents were also asked to ‘prioritise’ the list provided at the start of this post. Torres explained in response to a question that the 3 structure plans does not automatically mean that this will be the 3 major activity centres of Bentleigh, Elsternwick and Carnegie. People were free to suggest that the initial structure plans should involve such neighbourhood centres as Glen Huntly for example.

We do not deny the amount of work involved in preparing sound and competent structure plans. Nor do we deny the costs involved. Our concerns are as follows:

  • If only 3 are to be completed within 5 years and the rest subject to council’s budgets/finances and a time span of ten or more years, then the reality is that of the 10 neighbourhood centres, most will remain untouched for the next decade.
  • No ‘official’ reference was made to reviewing the zones, or the associated schedules. What this means is that if structure plans are developed for the major activity centres, then the neighbourhood centres and their surrounding residential areas, will continue to allow three and four storey overdevelopments for the next decade. Only at question time from the audience was the completely lame response given that the neighbourhood character policy review would safeguard these centres. We beg to differ! If the mandatory height limit remains at 3 and 4 storeys for large swathes of McKinnon, Ormond, Glen Huntly, Murrumbeena, Bentleigh East, Caulfield North, then no local policy will prevent this overdevelopment of local residential streets. Without reviewing the extent of the zones, then structure plans alone will not safeguard residents from overdevelopment!

Our next post will focus on the questions asked by residents and the often unsatisfactory responses received. Overall, whilst this planning scheme review has seen changes that are positive, and explicitly acknowledged by the new CEO of council’s failure to address planning issues over the past decade, there is still room for major scepticism as the answers to the questions revealed. More on this in the days ahead.