Consultations are literally coming out of our ears over the past few years. Council’s repeated mantra is that they want to hear from residents. That residents should provide meaningful comments so that their views may be taken into account in any subsequent decision making. Sounds wonderful. But the reality is vastly different.

Time and again we are presented with surveys that deliberately avoid the central issues or are framed in such a way as to elicit the desired response(s). This approach is anything but genuine consultation!

The latest example is the Have Your Say survey on the draft Built Form Frameworks for Bentleigh East, Caulfield South and Caulfield North. Each centre has its own survey, but the questions are identical.

Here are some examples of what is presented and why this cannot be viewed as a fair, unbiased, and revealing ‘consultation’ designed to elicit real community feedback.


The question asked was: Thinking about the Centre as a ‘vibrant’ place, how important are the following to you? Readers were then provided with the following:

We allege that not only are these options meaningless but that they have no relevance whatsoever to what is actually proposed in the draft document. Nor do any of these objectives come close to justifying what the actual recommendations are! For the above options, clearly 99% of respondents would say that buildings should be ‘visually interesting’ and ‘attractive’. And not too many people would object to catering to the wide range of housing needed for the elderly or the young. Nor would many be opposed to supporting local businesses.  Thus we get a series of questions that literally lead most respondents to answer  in the ‘very important’ to ‘important’ range.

But how are these questions related to what is recommended in the drafts, or even within council’s current planning scheme? Will the implementation of a 5 metre setback from the street be of great assistance in encouraging ‘attractive and visually interesting buildings’? Will a discretionary 6 storey height limit, also assist in this objective? Or is this nothing more than gobbledy-gook parading as if any of these objectives can be achieved with what is currently in the planning scheme and what is proposed.

More importantly there remains the question of how council will choose to ‘interpret’ the results of this survey. Will we get statements such as 95% of respondents answered ‘very important’ and thus they are endorsing the draft BFFs?


The focus then turns to ‘design objectives’ with the following options:

It should be pointed out that council’s definition of ‘mid-rise’ for Caulfield South is stated to be: A mid-rise character is about building height (between 4 and 7 storeys). This idea reflects the role of Caulfield South as a Neighbourhood Activity Centre, with a moderate role to play in meeting future housing needs as well as employment, transport and services. Unless readers have bothered to plough through all the verbage prior to this point, then they would have no idea of what is proposed for this centre. Furthermore, the language used here is questionable at best and at worst deliberately evasive. What does ‘cohesive’ really mean – especially since the order of the survey has not as yet clearly depicted the proposed height limits along the various streets. Do readers really have a grasp on the fact that according to the recommendations hundreds and hundreds of metres of buildings could all be at this maximum height – and that is called ‘cohesive’?   

Also amiss is that unless readers have gone through the full documents, they would have no idea that council is proposing that sunlight only matters on the most ‘active’ part of the day. This is then defined as 10-12pm for certain streets and 12-2pm for some other streets. The above image does not relay this information. Of course, residents would respond that sunlight is vital. But this certainly doesn’t mean that they are ‘happy’ with a meagre 2 hours of sunlight because of the proposed building heights!


The following example if the best of the lot –

Of course height, setbacks, street walls and public realm areas are ‘important’ and should be the most important element in any planning document of this nature. But does selecting ‘very important’ indicate that residents are accepting of the recommendations in the draft document? Do residents really believe that a 6 storey discretionary height limit is what they want? Or that 2 hours of sunlight is sufficient?


There is much more that could be said about this style of ‘consultation’ and in particular, this survey. Until council is prepared to ask the questions that must be asked; to provide succinct and accurate summaries; to justify every single planning recommendation, then we are engaging in another sham consultation. All that is happening is that council is fulfilling its legislative requirement to undertake ‘consultation’, but nothing more. Until such a time that genuine evaluation of such processes is undertaken and reported upon we will continue to waste tens of thousands of dollars on consultations that are reverse engineered and designed to achieve predetermined outcomes.