Our apologies for this incredibly long post, but its importance we believe justifies the length since it goes to the heart of what constitutes full transparency and accountability and council’s unwillingness to be completely up front with its residents.

In keeping with its recent practice of refusing to publish the full feedback on its consultations, council has released its ‘summary’ on the draft Elsternwick Structure Plan. In the report we find little that would convince us that the presented analyses reveals an accurate and complete picture of what respondents wrote. So why is council insisting on mere ‘summaries’ rather than publishing the full data as it has done on numerous previous occasions. Why is council fighting tooth and nail to refuse FOI access on its bogus claims that requested documents are ‘voluminous’ and meeting the application would entail a severe imposition on council resources? The refusal to allow residents to come to their own conclusions as to the feedback can only lead to the perception that there is much to hide.

The summary report listed in the current agenda consists of 25 pages. Within these pages we find the following frequency of terminology used to report on the outcomes. Words such as ‘several’, ‘many’ and ‘some’ in relation to respondent answers are used without any clear indication of what was actually stated or the nuances and variations between respondent comments. The frequency in relation to respondent comments is:

Several – used 8 times

Many – used 21 times

Some – used 18 times

Another telling example of the inadequacy of the report comes from page 4 –

Many respondents supported protection of the centre’s heritage and were often concerned that increased built form would deteriorate the centre’s heritage value and village feel. Some participants considered the general lowering of permitted building heights to be the appropriate response.

What is the numerical difference between ‘many’ and ‘some’?  Does the differentiation between the ‘many’ and ‘some’ indicate that the ‘many’ were not supportive of a decrease in height limits or that this was simply not mentioned? Did any of the responses really affirm or agree that Elsternwick has a ‘village feel’ or is this simply terminology assigned by the authors of the report?  And how should ‘increased built form’ be interpreted anyway? Does it refer to the paltry set backs? The heights? Their discretionary nature instead of mandatory, or their overshadowing potential? Ultimately such statements are meaningless and certainly open to a multitude of interpretations. Without access to the actual comments, there is no way of telling and according credibility and value to the summary report.

We also have to take issue with the manner that the so called topics are presented and their accompanying tables purporting to reveal the ensuing ‘themes’.  The survey questions focused on topics predetermined by council such as: vision and objectives; heritage; traffic; etc. Accompanying each topic, respondents had the choice of downloading what one can only assume to be information that would provide greater understanding of the topic. We repeat some of the comments we made in an earlier post (See: https://gleneira.blog/2022/11/04/elsternwick-another-shonky-consultation/) –

  • The draft structure plan proposes to allow up to 6 storeys for heritage listed sites along Glen Huntly Road. Not once is this mentioned throughout the document that is supposed to provide respondents with information on this important aspect of the structure plan.
  • Jargon predominates. What on earth does ‘rich materiality’ mean and how would respondents interpret this?
  • Why aren’t we told that the heritage listed church is likely to be surrounded by 12 storey towers? And yet, given the above, we are still meant to believe that council  takes great care to ensure the heritage fabric of Elsternwick is protected

As for the accompanying table on the vision and objective question we find this:

The above table reveals absolutely nothing about the views for or against – ie how many were opposed to the proposed building heights and how many were arguing for increased building heights or perhaps that the proposed heights were appropriate? Simply providing the number of times something was mentioned does nothing to convey what the community thought and how this was expressed in the feedback.

The value of any survey is 100% dependent on the quality of the questions asked. Are the questions open-ended and objective, or written with a specific end in mind? Are they free of ambiguity? Are they mere motherhood statements that would be hard to disagree with? Are respondents provided with enough specific detail to respond meaningfully, or do they have to plough through hundreds upon hundreds of pages in order to glean what is really proposed? How many respondents have actually bothered to do this if details are buried and does this potential lack of knowledge invalidate their answers? Council’s approach has always been to proffer questions that are nothing more than feel good statements, or rhetorical flourishes that no-one would or could disagree with. For example: the significance of heritage and the need for protection.  Yes, residents would agree with the importance of protecting heritage, but does this then lead to the ‘support’ of what is proposed – especially when the mechanisms for achieving this aim are so vague and ill defined.

How many of these surveys are road tested prior to being inflicted on the community? Were there focus groups prior? Were their responses analysed? Did councillors have any say in the creation of these questions? What about the Community Consultation Committee? And who actually drafted the questions?  

And how well has council advertised its surveys and their significance and ramifications? What follow up has council undertaken to analyse what could be considered as poor response rates? Did council really attempt to engender a huge response or the reverse – ie downplay the significance of the consultation? For the Elsternwick Structure Plan we are told that there were articles in the Glen Eira News informing residents of the consultation. The claim is that information was present in the November and December editions. The first screen dump is what appeared in the November issue followed by the December insert that came in on page 9.

The above calls for participation leave a lot to be desired. Instead of ‘facts’ such as: proposed heights; rezoning of some properties; onsite car parking reductions and of course open space/environmental proposals, there is nothing in this first article that would provide residents with a clear vision of what the proposals entail. Nor does the December version elaborate on anything further. And is it sheer coincidence that the inserted photograph only features 2 storeys along Glen Huntly Road, instead of the monsters that are already in existence? Jargon, generalities, and platitudes epitomise the article instead of the transmission of real information. And when will council refrain from such nonsense as calling Elsternwick a ‘village’ when we already have 13 storey buildings going up!!!!

There are countless errors (falsehoods/deceptions?) in much of what council has presented in the accompanying ‘information’ sheets. For example the following image from the Buildings document showing the montage of what a 5 storey height might look like. Even if we accept the accuracy of this image (which we believe is highly suspect) it does not explain why council chose NOT TO DEPICT the opposite side of the street that has a 6 storey discretionary height limit as well as the neighbouring properties further up along this side of Glen Huntly Road that are also under heritage overlays.

Despite all this, council has been forced to reveal that on a ratio of close to 2:1 residents were opposed to most of what the draft structure plan envisioned. What happens now should be of utmost concern to all residents, especially in Elsternwick and Bentleigh. Will councillors insist that this draft goes back to the drawing board? Or will we merely have a minor tinkering around the edges and it is voted through? When something is so strongly opposed then the only solution should be that councillors listen and act in accordance with community sentiment!