A fairly good turnout of residents (approx. 45) at tonight’s Bentleigh Forum on the structure planning process. Introduced again by the facilitator Jane Nathan, who then handed over to Aiden Mullen – the officer in charge of all the current activity centre work.  Mullen summarised the results council had obtained thus far. Significantly missing from the presentation was resident concern with overdevelopment. This morphed into the somewhat simplistic categorisation as concern over heights!

Residents were asked to sit at the various tables and a planning officer was assigned to each table. One person from each table was asked to take notes and report back to the entire gathering. More disconcerting was that each officer had a prepared list of specific questions to ask – ie how many people in your household? How many bedrooms? How many onsite car parking spots? Where would you like to live in 15 years? etc. Basic demographics which in our view are both meaningless (given the sample available) and secondly far more precise figures are available from various sources.

A ‘vision statement’ was then put up as an overhead and residents asked to comment on whether or not they agreed with the statement. It basically went along the lines that Bentleigh needs to retain its ‘village’ feel as well as provide for a safe, diverse, and inclusive community. The majority of feedback indicated that people were in disagreement with calling Bentleigh a ‘village’ given the amount of high rise development and the promise of more intense development. Several residents were highly critical of council, claiming that they simply are not listening to what residents are saying and that council needs to inform people prior to asking Dorothy Dix type questions.

It would be fair to say that most residents wanted:

  • Adequate parking
  • More open space
  • Mandatory height controls
  • Protection of heritage
  • More safe bicycle and pedestrian paths
  • More community facilities

Our view is that council desperately needs to alter its approach to these events. Otherwise they are nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of motherhood statements that can hide a multitude of sins, residents need to be provided with real information as a starting point. For example: council writes that it is investigating the borders of the activity centres, yet many residents believed that the exercise involved only the commercial centres. Secondly, Mullen kept praising the interim height guidelines without informing residents that they included 5 storeys as ‘discretionary heights’. Thus we have the near oxymoron of in the one breath talking about the ‘village feel’ of Bentleigh, without all residents being aware that 5, 6 or 7 storeys is now a possibility in Bentleigh. This height certainly does not gel with the idea of a ‘village’.

We simply ask:

  • Why can other councils produce reams of information that is posted to all residents explaining exactly what a ‘structure plan’ is? What it can do and what it can’t do? And what are the overall planning constraints, or advantages?
  • Why can other councils produce structure plans that contain data that goes beyond the 2011 census and Glen Eira City Council can’t do the same?
  • Why can’t Glen Eira City Council simply ask a direct question such as – what do you think is the appropriate height limit for Bentleigh, Carnegie, McKinnon, Ormond, etc etc etc

If the aim is to produce work that is truly based on community views, then the community must be given all relevant information up front. It must also stop resorting to language that is far from appropriate and present findings that are indeed an accurate record of what residents say they want, need, and aspire to. Thus far, this has not happened in our view.

PS: As illustrations of how other councils go about conducting their structure planning consultation, we’ve uploaded part of the first survey conducted by Stonnington (late 2016 and another one from late 2015). Compare and contrast this with the kind of questions asked of Glen Eira residents and the information provided in both instances.

Below is another extract from an initial ‘survey’ done by Stonnington –