The VCAT decision for the 9 storey (reduced to 7 storeys) at 377 Hawthorn Road, has finally been handed down. A permit was refused. Not because of council’s planning scheme, but primarily because of the developer’s ‘urban design’ in regard to the configuration of the towers and its impact on neighbouring homes. Needless to say, the lack of controls in council’s planning scheme was noted several times (see extracts below).

It is simply a tragedy that residents have to expend all this time, money and energy to fight what they consider to be inappropriate development, largely because of this council’s refusal and failure to undertake some decent strategic planning. We remind readers that our neighbourhood centres remain unprotected and that nothing will happen until at least 2022 and then will take years to finalise and gazette. In the meantime, there are more developments to fight in close proximity to this application (ie Godfreys and the indoor bowling club). We also expect the current applicants to come back with a revised plan.

Residents need some answers from this council, namely:

  • How much did this VCAT case cost ratepayers?
  • Why is council spending a fortune on consultation after consultation on projects that won’t start for eons, and refuse to assign funding for proper planning in our neighbourhood centres?
  • Why when countless other councils have ‘preferred neighbourhood character’ statements for their entire municipality, has Glen Eira done nothing since 2004 for its housing diversity areas?
  • How many more times must VCAT point out the deficiencies in council’s planning scheme before something is addressed?

The VCAT extracts are presented below:

The most difficult aspect of this proposal and the key reason why we have decided to refuse this proposal is the design of the upper levels. There is an absence of any guidance in the planning scheme about how this neighbourhood centre, including this site, should change. Hence, it is necessary to consider the existing physical and strategic planning policy contexts and the design of this proposal relative to other recent developments in this and other activity centres. The applicant’s urban design witness, Mr Blades, has utilised the urban design approach taken in the City of Yarra to Bridge Road and Johnston Street. Having considered all of these matters together with the concerns raised about the amenity impacts on the residential area to the east, we have decided the design of the upper levels is not acceptable.

The neighbours acknowledge that ‘to earmark an area for change but then insist that the prevailing scale remain the same is nonsensical’. We agree, but the question then arises as to what change, including what building scale is acceptably sensitive and respectful. This is where the key issue in this case about the upper levels comes to the fore. Mr Glossop and Mr Blades agree there is no specific guidance in the planning scheme about the envisaged or preferred extent of change in the neighbourhood centres

the planning scheme provides no guidance as to the extent of change envisaged in its neighbourhood centres, including in this centre. The other approved or constructed developments in Glen Huntly Road and in other neighbourhood centres referred to during the hearing provide for building heights of five to seven storeys. However, their existence does not persuade us that that means such a height is automatically acceptable on this site.