In February 2020, council adopted its City Plan. Now 9 months later we are still waiting for an amendment to be produced which would allow this policy to be included in the planning scheme. But this delay is only part of the problem which is facing many of our neighbourhood centres – in particular what is happening around Caulfield South and Caulfield itself.

Two recent VCAT decisions illustrate how this council is failing its residents. Both applications received their permits from VCAT. They are:

  • 348-354 Hawthorn Road, Caulfield South which was granted a permit for 8 storeys, a supermarket, and reduction in retail car parking requirements.
  • The second permit was 679-683 Glen Huntly Road, Caulfield which will become a 6 storey building with 50 apartments and car parking reductions for its retail component.

Both judgements of course made mention of the fact that for commercially zoned land in these neighbourhood centres, Glen Eira does not have anything in its planning scheme to control building height, setbacks, or podium heights. The Glen Huntly application elicited this comment from the member: The land is in an area where there is design and built form policy to guide decision-making but without specific development controls in the scheme articulating, guiding or capping heights and setbacks.

What is intriguing about these two decisions is the divergent and misleading role that council’s representative took at these hearings.

For the 8 storey proposal we find that council argued as follows –

City Plan is key to the Council’s position. Its position to support the proposal subject to deleting Level 05 is underpinned by City Plan.

The Council relies on City Plan in support of its position.

City Plan is intended to form the basis of a planning scheme amendment/s to implement aspects of the plan, including local policy. But amendments have yet to progress with respect to the CSNC. While City Plan is relevant and provides a clear statement of the strategic direction currently being articulated and to be pursued by the Council, the expected built form outcomes  cannot be used as if they are controls or policies in the scheme.

When the above is compared to the Hawthorn Road application we find the following member comments:

Since our decision of Bewhite in 2018 the council has adopted the Glen Eira City Plan in February 2020. This sets a broad framework for planning of activity centres and nominates a preferred building height across the SCAC of five storeys. The plan does not identify how this height was derived or its relevance to the specific circumstances of the SCAC. Rather it appears to be drawn from a hierarchy of activity centres across the municipality, with the SCAC sitting in a ‘substantial change 3 area’ along with a number of other neighbourhood activity centres.

The council acknowledged in its submission that it is only in the very early stages of developing a structure plan for the SCAC and consequentially it does not place any weight on the City Plan for the purposes of the proceeding before us. It submits that the City Plan ‘simply provides useful context on Council’s current thinking’ for the SCAC. We accept the City Plan may be the council’s current broad thinking about activity centres in general, but we give it no weight as a tool to assess building height, relative to the urban design tests of the planning scheme as set by both the State and local policy frameworks

So what is the truth? Why do we have council’s rep in the first case placing such emphases on the City Plan, and in the second case an acknowledgement that ‘consequentially it (council) does not place any weight on the City Plan’?

What is even more fascinating is the statement that council is in the ‘very early stages of developing a structure plan’ for South Caulfield. Really? Is this representative totally ignorant of council’s stated position for South Caulfield, or is he simply and deliberately misleading the tribunal? Numerous public question responses and the 2018 work plan published by council make it clear that our neighbourhood centres will NOT HAVE STRUCTURE PLANS. They will eventually be ‘controlled’ via Urban Design Frameworks and maybe, just maybe, Design and Development Overlays.

These two decisions raise innumerable questions about the state of planning in Glen Eira and how well objectors are represented at VCAT hearings.

The City Plan is not a bona fide housing strategy which council was told to undertake. It represents the lowest common denominator in strategic planning – ie a ‘one size fits all’ approach where every single neighbourhood centre or local centre is viewed as identical. Council has had 5 years to come up with a decent housing strategy and has failed miserably. We can only hope that our new council sees these policies for what they really are – useless and totally ignoring what the community has stated it wants.

The above decisions can be found at: