It literally staggers belief how often public questions remain unanswered and unchallenged by our group of councillors. Last week’s council meeting was the perfect example of a council determined to deflect, dissemble, and refuse point blank to respond accurately and transparently to resident concerns. It remains one of the most shameful incidents of recent times.

There were quite a number of questions at this meeting. We will highlight only one of the responses  in this post – (they certainly do not merit being called  ‘answers’).

QUESTION: Can Council advise what is the number of additional dwellings that are possible under the current Planning Scheme and the total dwelling capacity of Glen Eira? 

RESPONSE: There is no prescribed limit to the number of dwellings that can be provided under the provisions of the Glen Eira Planning Scheme. The Victorian Planning System is performance based, which means that every application requires analysis of its context and the application of policies and established planning principles. The planning system is designed to enable development while protecting amenity. 

As such, the total dwelling capacity of the municipality is not fixed. 

Council however monitors the number of new dwellings that have been constructed against State Government housing targets identified in Victoria in Future. Council has previously informed you that Glen Eira is on track to meet the State Government housing targets. 

COMMENT: The question was very straight forward – ie asking for the number of ‘possible’ additional dwellings given the current Planning Scheme. The response was a deft deflection through the use of the word ‘prescribed’. Yes, nothing much is ‘prescribed’ in the Planning Scheme, and ‘yes’ it is “performance based’ where each application is evaluated individually. Having said all that, what council has refused to acknowledge is that every single version of its structure planning is based on a ‘capacity’ or ‘opportunity’ analysis of the municipality’s housing.

In 2017 we got 2 versions of such documents as the  Analysis of housing consumption and opportunities. On top of this we also have: Planning Strategy Impacts on Housing Opportunity. This latter document included the sentence: Council should seek to demonstrate adequate Housing Opportunity to ensure that expected housing targets will be met. Thus available land, population, and residents per dwellings are crunched to envisage some kind of ‘capacity’ under different zonings.

Even in the documentation accompanying  the draft C184 Amendment for Bentleigh & Carnegie we also have the 2020 version from SGS entitled: Addendum: Updated Housing Assessment for Bentleigh and Carnegie Activity Centres. In short, every application for interim heights and/or structure plans has included data on the potential number of additional dwellings that can be crammed into the municipality.

Here’s a breakdown of the published data:

In October 2017, we were told that housing ‘opportunity’ was – Using various methodologies outlined previously, this report has identified opportunities within the City of Glen Eira to provide a net gain of 25,970 dwellings. At 2011-2016 rates of development, this represents approximately 36 years of supply. This figure was repeated by the authors in the December 2017 version.

What needs to be remembered is that this data was the ‘backbone’ for the introduction of the interim height amendments C147 and C148 that had discretionary 6 and 7 storeys for Carnegie and 4 mandatory and 5 discretionary for Bentleigh. With Amendment C157 (August 2018) this suddenly became 12 storeys mandatory for Carnegie. And now through proposed Amendment C184, these mandatory heights are to become discretionary, plus the removal of the mandatory garden requirement for properties proposed to be zoned GRZ5. NRZ2 will revert to pre 2004 site coverage of 60%.

What’s important is that the so called experts were telling us that with the first versions of structure planning we would achieve the potential of 25,970 net new dwellings – nearly 8000 more than required by Victoria in Future 2019. Hence, why is council prepared to accept even more and more rezoning and greater heights that destroy our neighbourhoods?

And why can’t council quote these very figures in response to a public question? Is it because they do not want residents to suddenly put one and one together and start questioning the very basis of all planning in Glen Eira? If in 2017 we had capacity for over 25000 net new dwellings, then surely we don’t need structure plans that allow developers to reach for the sky? Or is this simply another example of council’s pro-development agenda?

The refusal to provide a straight forward response to a public question, when all the data has previously been published, is inexcusable.