In a recent decision, VCAT has granted a permit for a 7 storey building at 388-94 Hawthorn Road, Caulfield South. This is a repeat appeal after it was again rejected by council. The new plans provided increased setbacks and a few other concessions.

In the past few years Caulfield South has been the recipient of plenty of high rise applications. The following sites have been granted permits:

  • Permit for 6 storeys at 679-683 Glen Huntly Road, Caulfield South.
  • Permit for 5 storeys at 380 Hawthorn Road, Caulfield South (abutting the review site and referred to above).
  • Permit for 8 storeys at 348-354 Hawthorn Road, Caulfield South.
  • Permit for 6 storeys at 371- 377 Hawthorn Road and 3 Olive Street, Caulfield South.

The original application for the 388-94 Hawthorn Road site occurred in February 2017. That is four years ago! This is significant given that VCAT applies council’s existing planning scheme and the context surrounding the sites to inform its decision making. Thus for the past four years council has not changed one single thing in its planning scheme relating to our Neighbourhood Centres to ensure that such applications have less chance of being successful at VCAT.

The same old arguments were trotted out by the VCAT member in this case. We quote from this source:

We were also referred to the Council’s City Plan which was adopted by the Council in February 2020. By virtue of having been adopted by the Council, this is a document to which we may have regard as appropriate, but it is not part of the planning scheme. City Plan continues to include the review site in the CSNC and a substantial change area in which development up to 5 storeys is contemplated. Structure plans for activity centres are to be prepared.

This document is intended to support the key strategic directions to form part of the new Municipal Planning Strategy in the Glen Eira Planning Scheme. The Council advised that the preparation of a structure plan for the CSNC is in its infancy. We have had regard to the provisions of City Plan while acknowledging that it is a document that sits outside the planning scheme and cannot be accorded the same weight as the policies and zone controls contained in the planning scheme.

The quotes above raise some important questions. Why is council stating that a structure plan will be implemented for Caulfield South, when they have categorically stated that no such thing will happen? All that Caulfield South has been ‘promised’ is an Urban Design Framework and maybe, just maybe, a Design and Development Overlay. Hence, is VCAT being told furphies by Council?

There is also the following comments from the member:

The Council’s submission that the proposal’s scale and height is excessive in a neighbourhood centre is not persuasive in the absence of specific planning scheme height controls. This was an issue addressed by the Tribunal in its decision on the previous application when it stated that:

While higher order centres have adopted council policies nominating particular heights, it does not necessarily follow that all development in other, lower order centres, must be lower. A more considered urban design assessment is required. Given there is no specific policy restricting this centre, analysis needs to address the specific opportunities and constraints of each site, based on first principles of planning and general policy in the planning scheme

In the Tribunal’s previous decision, it appropriately expressed some uncertainty about the future development of sites in the CSNC. Subsequently however permits have been issued for developments of up to eight storeys in the centre. The form and scale of future development is becoming clearer. A building of seven storeys is unlikely to be an anomaly in the CSNC.

So what is the end result of all this? How on earth can the so called City Plan be relevant now with its stated 5 storey height limit, when so many applications are already above this height? Sitting back and doing nothing for 4 years is the reason why such applications get through. It is definitely time that all of council’s priorities be re-assessed and changed. Halting overdevelopment must be at the top of the list.