In an extraordinary VCAT Watch report Councillors have been severely wrapped over the knuckles and by implication, from the unelected bureaucracy. In short, the message appears to be – DON’T VOTE AGAINST WHAT OFFICERS RECOMMEND!

The issue concerns the VCAT permit granted for a 6 storey development in McKinnon Road. We have repeatedly , and over several years, highlighted the fact that councillors consistently lop off a storey or two, plus some apartments from applications and in the end, VCAT always grants the developer exactly what he wants. Our criticism isn’t solely that councillors have been grandstanding to the gallery, or being ‘populist’. It’s that this tactic has never worked and that councillor energies should have been directed at ‘reforming’ the planning scheme. Not continually knocking off a floor or two only to have VCAT grant the permit. The ‘fault’ as always has been with the planning scheme and VCAT itself. Councillors of course ignored this fundamental aspect of their decision making or simply didn’t have the balls, or the will, to initiate major changes in the planning scheme.

Having said all that, in a democracy, which we’re supposed to be living in, councillors have a duty to represent their constituents. It is these 9 men and women who set policy, direction, expenditure, and who are supposed to listen and act in accordance with the majority of residents’ views. It is NOT FOR THE ADMINISTRATION TO determine how councillors should vote. Their role is to provide the information, make recommendations and then leave it to the good sense (hopefully) of councillors.

The officer report represents a new line in the sand, and a public one at that, between councillors and administration. The tone is uncompromising and in fact quite insulting in our view. Here are some examples and our interpretation of the ‘message’ –

The officer recommendation was to approve the development at six storeys, however the Council decision was to delete the upper two storeys

COMMENT – laying the blame!

In reaching the decision the VCAT member was quite critical of Council’s approach in seeking a development of 4 storeys……..The Member agreed with the position of the planning officer and the expert evidence of the application

COMMENT –  to the best of our knowledge, no report has ever contained this unequivocal support for the ‘planning officer’ and the explicit ‘criticism’ of Council – ie councillors!

The best bit however relates to car parking:

The decision places the onus on Council to fulfill its responsibility to undertake the required analysis of car parking requirements based on the planning scheme provisions and not apply a blanket approach in requiring the statutory provision of car parking. 

COMMENT- There’s a wonderful irony here. Council does NOT undertake its own ‘analysis’ of car parking. Most of the time it blithely accepts the developer’s data without blinking an eye. Secondly, the ‘planning scheme provisions’ are there for a purpose aren’t they? So how can we have in the same sentence a reference to the planning scheme and then dismissing its ‘standards’ by stating that a ‘blanket approach’ on the statutary requirements is not on? This is nothing more than another below the belt attack on those few councillors who repeatedly vote for the required number of visitor car parking in permits.

We definitely live in interesting times when the tail continues to wag the dog! Whether our councillors will now have the balls to assert their rightful authority is open to question. They haven’t thus far!