For at least the past decade the two main issues that have occupied residents’ minds has been (over)development and traffic management (including parking). Each successive council plan has noted this. The planning scheme since time immemorial has promised to introduce parking precinct plans. Such plans have never materialised.

Over the past year council has, without consultation, created havoc in local streets by changing existing parking restrictions. First there was Phillip Street in East Bentleigh (see: Next came the streets around the town hall and the Caulfield Hospital – again without consultation. Council’s response back in June last year was that the new restrictions will be ‘reviewed’. Item 9.7 constituted this ‘review’. The ‘recommendation’ based on the so called ‘surveys’ was that there was ample parking available so nothing much needed to be done except to work with the hospital and to close their pedestrian gates so people won’t be able to get through and therefore not park in these side streets.

The ‘debate’ that ensued on Item 9.7 is fascinating for several reasons –

  • Silver with his statement that ‘it’s a numbers game’ confirms what we all already know. Decisions are not made in council chambers, but behind the scenes at assemblies. If it were any different, his motion to delay further would not have occurred.
  • Since practically every single councillor who spoke confirmed that there was a major problem with parking and safety, then how can these councillors accept the officer report which concluded that there is now a reasonable on-street parking supply that balances the diverse parking needs of the community
  • If it is a ‘numbers game’ then it is incumbent, according to the councillor code of conduct, for councillors to be accountable for their decisions in the council chamber. Davey and Taylor failed to utter a word to justify their vote and Athanasopoulos’ comments were largely irrelevant to the issue!
  • If councillors weren’t happy with the fact of no consultation, then why wasn’t there any resolution to either update the archaic 2002 ‘policy’, or rescind the appropriate delegation, or simply move a resolution which mandated public consultation? Apologies in our view only go so far unless there is action to implement the change desired!

Residents attended in force on Tuesday night. Their anger and frustration was palpable. Here is some of what they said.

RESIDENT #1 – named all the streets that are affected by parking changes around the Caulfield Hospital site and ‘your responsibility is to us, not the public hospital’.  Whilst applauding the government’s investment in health care it shouldn’t be at the expense of the local community. He also accused council of not adhering to its own policy on carbon reduction by increasing traffic, and pollution in the area. Claimed that it made no sense to have restricted parking on main roads like Hawthorn and Kooyong but all day parking in narrow side streets! Asked ‘who thinks like that?’.

RESIDENT #2 – said that staff parking at the hospital is $2.50 but she can’t get out of her driveway and didn’t realise that the hospital could take over her land. Stated that no other hospital such as Cabrini or the Epworth does this.  Reiterated that council’s major responsibility should be to its residents and not to the hospital. Complained about merely getting a letter with no consultation, telling them that this would be done without warning. Wondered if council had any idea how many people lived in these streets, how many cars they had, how many kids, etc.

At this point Delahunty apologised for the lack of consultation but also said that it wasn’t a decision made by councillors!

RESIDENT #3 – started by saying ‘I am mystified’ on what ‘grounds’ the decisions on parking were made. Said that as soon as one side of Sylverly Grove was made all day parking  the street is jammed with traffic. ‘It amazes me. Doesn’t this council have traffic engineers?’ Wondered about council’s transparency. The website contains all the appropriate ‘touchy feely’ words about consultation he just wanted to know ‘on what grounds, the basis, of the decision to change parking restrictions’. Ended by saying ‘I haven’t seen them and I would be amazed if they exist’.

There was also a question as to whether council could provide any parking fine figures for those cars parked in the 2 hour spots. Delahunty responded with ‘probably not’ without notice and she ‘acknowledged’ that ‘monitoring needs to step up’.

Another resident queried the methodology used in the officer’s report since about a dozen streets were listed and the number of vacant spots were noted on an hourly basis. Therefore, did the surveyors have 20 people walking the streets every hour and counting? Council were asked to also include an explanation of methodology in all their reports. Delahunty admitted she had no idea as to methodology. Torres responded by saying that there are ‘staff on the streets’ who do the counts. One resident chimed in and said that he had never seen anyone counting in the street at 7am

There was then a motion to have Item 9.7 dealt with at this point in time instead of later. Passed unanimously.

Silver moved motion to accept recommendations plus that a ‘further report’ be presented in April and that the community plan include as a ‘priority’ traffic management. Sztrajt seconded.

SILVER: started off by saying that he would ‘prefer to stand up and say’ return 2 hour parking ‘right now’ but ‘unfortunately this is a numbers game’ but the main problem is the ‘gate’ at the hospital. His proposal is that ‘we’re not changing right now’ but to tell the hospital to close the pedestrian gates. Said that ‘people should not feel marginalised’ ‘simply because they are not happy with changes to parking restrictions’. Claimed he saw the problems in Sylverly and the bottlenecks created and ‘risks’ that happen on turning into intersections. ‘Ideally we would be changing the restrictions back now’ but ‘it’s best not to take a street by street approach’. The report and motion offers a ‘consistent, thorough approach’  and ‘puts the ball squarely in the hospital’s court’ and once the gate is ‘closed’ will this ‘settle things down’. ‘Ideally I would like to restore them (conditions) now’ but ‘it is a numbers game unfortunately’ and he assures residents that if this doesn’t work then they he will favour restoration. ‘I would like to be announcing a different motion but it is a numbers game’.

SZTRAJT: started by saying that the community ‘has spoken’ on this and he doesn’t think ‘that there are councillors here who want’ the situation to ‘continue’. Claimed that the ‘reality’ is that the hospital charging its staff for parking has ‘ultimately created the circumstance’. So ‘if we are going to offer free parking right outside the hospital’ via the 2 hour parking spots, but this won’t be the ‘ultimate’ fix. The ‘ideal fix’ is to have hospital staff ‘parking at the hospital’ and for residents to be able to park for longer than 2 hours. The ‘way to do that’ is to ‘close’ the gate so ‘council needs to implore the hospital’ to do so. If this happens then the hospital could even get more money in because more staff would be parking there. The hard part is that ‘council needs to have a view beyond’  one street. So the motion is ‘let’s look at the immediate solution of closing the gate’ and then have traffic management investigate the impact ‘in the entire area’. Solving parking in ‘one street is going to move to next street’. Closing the gate is ‘going to make residents happy’ and help solve ‘what is a growing issue for residents’.

ESAKOFF: was against the motion because she thought ‘this needs immediate action’. Thought that the ‘reversal’ of restrictions was ‘very unfair’. Said she said she’s driven down all the streets and ‘found them very heavily parked’ and ‘generally speaking they were all appalling’.  There was also the worry that driving through these streets there was the ‘fear that you wouldn’t get out the end of them in one piece’. ‘They were atrocious’. Thought that what should happen is to ask the hospital to close the gate but also ‘not wait til April’ and ‘see if this fixed the problem’ in all these streets affected by the hospital. Said that people are ‘inherently lazy’ so once the gate is closed the problem should ‘sort itself out’. Stated that ‘parking is required’ for every development application that comes to council and ‘wasn’t sure’ if hospitals were exempt from this requirement. Torres responded that they ‘don’t need’ planning approval on this. ‘We cannot impose a parking scheme on the hospital’.

MAGEE: said he will ‘support the motion but I don’t like it at all’. Believes that ‘every councillor’ gets at least 3 or 4 parking enquiries from residents. The same issues occur around schools and railway stations. ‘To be constantly tweaking and changing’ for this area, then that area’ isn’t effective. Said that council has done ‘traffic studies before’ but things ‘change so quickly’. The hospital ‘knows very well the issues’ and the problems with parking. No-one likes their streets having strange cars parked there but ‘to simply keep reacting’ and changing things, when ‘really what is needed is a holistic approach’ that goes forward into ‘the next decade, the next 2 decades’ on parking and traffic. Council needs to ‘fix’ these issues but ‘it has to be science based’ and looking at ‘who’s coming in, who’s leaving’ and the ‘demographics for the future’. He would ‘hate to push the traffic out of these five streets into the next five streets’ and then ‘in 6 months time doing exactly the same thing again’.

ATHANASOPOULOS: said the first thing he asked was ‘was there consultation done?’ and that he is ‘really a firm believer’ that as ‘this collective group’ ‘we go out to the community first’ before making any decision. He ‘believes’ that ‘our council is also supportive of that outcome’.

HYAMS: said that as a council they have residents who want to be able to park in their streets and ‘exit their driveways’ and on the ‘other hand’ the ‘streets are public assets’ so the ‘question is getting the mix right’. Said that ‘we have a policy’ that prior to any imposition of parking restrictions ‘we always consult with the residents’ and ‘we’ve learnt that we also need to extend this policy for when we change parking restrictions’. Claimed that ‘we didn’t cause this problem, the hospital caused this problem’ by starting to charge fees. (at this point residents called out ‘you are talking rubbish’. Another resident said ‘I am disappointed at the standard of this local government’). The surveys found that ‘the streets were underparked – on the whole’. He acknowledged the frustration in ‘driving around’ all streets ‘looking for a parking spot near a facility’ and the streets happen to be empty but they are all 2 hour parking. Thought that ‘this motion at the moment strikes the right balance’.

SILVER: said he understood that residents ‘aren’t happy with this decision’ and admitted that ‘there should be consultation in the first place’. Thought that the mayor’s apology was ‘very appropriate’. Continued that council ‘would take the steps to ensure there is less traffic in the streets’ but ‘restoring the restrictions’ is not the way to go. Residents ‘should have been consulted. We are consulting now, belatedly, we are going through the process’. ‘we are going to get less traffic either way’ – that is closing the gate or greater monitoring.