Councillor Performance


Coalition promises to rein in development on Melbourne’s leafy streets

By Benjamin Preiss & Clay Lucas

18 June 2018 — 1:00pm

Zones that control medium-density property development in sensitive areas would be changed and tightened up, under a Coalition promise to “protect” Melbourne’s streets.

With five months until the next state election, Opposition Leader Matthew Guy went to leafy Glen Iris on Monday morning to announce he would bring back a two-dwelling limit on blocks in the city’s quietest residential areas.

Under Labor, developers on blocks bigger than 400 square metres have been allowed to build as many dwellings as they like – but they must provide a minimum “garden area” of 25 per cent of the block.

Mr Guy was planning minister under the previous Baillieu-Napthine governments, and brought in the two-dwelling rule – although he only applied it in Melbourne’s more exclusive areas.

He simultaneously opened up Melbourne’s inner-city Fishermans Bend area for high-density, high-rise development and approved an unprecedented number of high-rise towers in Melbourne’s CBD.

On Monday, Mr Guy said he would bring back his nine-metre height limit in the city’s general residential zones. Under current Planning Minister Richard Wynne, this zone had been expanded to 11 metres, with a mandatory three-storey height limit.

This was done because developers were squeezing in three levels in nine metres, leading to low-quality designs and apartments with very low-ceilings.

Mr Guy said Melbourne could not afford to become a city of more than 7 million people. “That’s not the kind of city we should be leaving our children,” he said.

Mr Guy promised to re-establish his rules for neighbourhood and general residential zones, in a move he said would protect them from overdevelopment.

“We’ve always said development is fine in defined areas,” he said.

Mr Guy faced widespread criticism for the roll-out of residential zones when the Coalition was in government, both because they favoured Melbourne’s richest areas and because of the messy process surrounding their introduction.

The Coalition has promised its policy would protect quiet streets from overdevelopment and place higher density housing in high activity zones, which would include areas surrounding railway stations.

Laura Murray, president of the Planning Institute in Victoria, said the proposed changes were “extremely concerning”.

“You will not find such limited density … in any other major city around the world,” she said. “We need to unlock the missing middle, not restrict development in these areas.”

Melbourne’s planning blueprint, Plan Melbourne, has bi-partisan support, and encourages increased density in Melbourne locations near existing infrastructure, jobs, services and public transport.

Ms Murray said Mr Guy’s plans was not in line with this policy because it severely limited development on large blocks that could accommodate far more than two dwellings.

Mr Wynne has been contacted for a response to the policy announcement.

Source: https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/coalition-promises-to-rein-in-development-on-melbourne-s-leafy-streets-20180618-p4zm4t.html

How much does it cost ratepayers to go through a practice day hearing, then a compulsory conference and then a 2 day full hearing (classified as ‘major case hearing’) at VCAT – only to lose? Could the loss have been avoided?

We believe it certainly could have if:

  • Council had not sat on its backside for 15 years and instead worked to amend its planning scheme
  • If representation at VCAT was based on sound argument and ‘evidence’
  • If council’s and especially councillors’ solution to every application was not to merely lop off a storey or two and reduce the number of dwellings
  • If there was ‘cohesion’ between the traffic department, the planning department and councillors

The case involved an application for a 5 storey development at 9 Royal Avenue, Glen Huntly. Councillors in their wisdom granted a permit for 4 storeys, 16 units and a reduction in both visitor and shop parking. At VCAT, following all the above ‘conferences’ between developer and council, the developer won. He got his 5 storeys and most of the conditions imposed by council were tossed out! This of course means that councillors’ record remains intact! Every single time that we know of, when councillors have reduced the height and the matter has ended up at VCAT, the developer has won. They simply do not learn! The solution has never been to reduce height. The answer has always been to amend the planning scheme – to introduce controls that have some punch. For this pro-development council, such actions are anathema. Residents then literally pay the cost in both monetary terms and in the destruction of residential amenity.

For those interested in reading the decision it is available at – http://www8.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/vic/VCAT//2018/891.html

Apart from the usual commentary such as no height limit constraints, no overlays, no structure plans, etc. the member also made these important comments that go to the heart of council’s ‘quality’ in defending its position at VCAT.

I understand the provision of one or two visitor parking spaces rather than three spaces was supported by the Council’s professional planning and traffic engineering officers…..I am satisfied the provision of one visitor parking space is acceptable

clause 52.06 does not specify the dimensions of car stacker spaces……If the Council considers that a width of 2.6 metres is necessary, it should present expert traffic evidence and examples to support this proposition;   The Hercules car stacker system has been on the market for a decade and if the dimensions are unworkable, it would be known in the industry and probably would have been remedied by this time;

There is no statutory basis for the Council’s insistence on the wider dimension

Glen Huntly is included in Plan Melbourne’s vision as a Major Activity Centre – despite the fact that council has always treated it as a ‘neighbourhood centre’. Yet, we are still waiting for any comment on council’s plans for this suburb. In the meantime, developers will continue to have a field day it seems!

As part of the ‘community participation’ section of last night’s council meeting there was a question from an Elsternwick resident regarding a recent Age article ( https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/sunlight-fight-city-council-asks-minister-to-stop-park-overshadowing-20180601-p4zixh.html). The article featured Melbourne City council’s concerns about development overshadowing parkland and their letter to the Minister for Planning urging legislation amendments so that the winter solstice period could be extended to 6 hours of sunlight instead of the current 3 hours. The resident basically asked 3 questions – cited verbatim:

  1. Will council also join Melbourne City Council in demanding updated legislation that preserves our parklands and residential amenity in terms of overshadowing and make public any council actions?
  2. Has council had any communication with Bayside Council regarding the winter shadowing given the reach of the proposed 12 storey height limits? What is Bayside’s view of the proposed heights?
  3. If Melbourne City council is concerned about heights above 10 storeys surrounding their open space areas, then would you agree that 12 storeys would be equally detrimental to Elsternwick and its neighbouring councils?

Here is the Ron Torres response.

Please note:

  1. Torres fails to answer any of the questions!
  2. Melbourne City Council HAS produced a formal amendment (C278). They are currently awaiting the Minister’s approval for exhibition. All Torres had to do to confirm this was refer to Melbourne’s website – as we have! See: http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/building-and-development/urban-planning/melbourne-planning-scheme/planning-scheme-amendments/pages/amendment-c278-sunlight-to-parks.aspx 
  1. “There is an extensive section on shadowing of existing open space” Torres claims. NO THERE ISN’T!!!! The document is 389 pages. The term ‘overshadowing’ does NOT appear once in this tome. What does occur a fabulous THREE (3) times is the following –

Development should not create adverse conditions in open space such as undue shadowing, increased wind effects, intrusion of unwanted light and noise, use of car parking or traffic access for private uses, interference with vegetation and dispersal of weeds, and loss of visibility. (page 91)  

Factors that could degrade open space amenity, function and use include excessive built form, creating a sense of enclosure, noise, light spill, traffic movements, car parking demand, wind effects or shadowing……Applicants may be required to supply studies demonstrating whether there will be positive or adverse effects on open space.(page 92) 

The open space must receive a minimum of 3 hours of direct sunlight between 9am and 3pm during mid-winter and at least 5 hours of direct sunlight between 9am and 3pm on September 22. Where this minimum is not currently met, the development must not create additional shadowing of the open space. (page 92) 

What Torres fails to inform the gallery and anyone listening is that the Open Space Strategy is nothing more than a reference document in the Glen Eira Planning Scheme. It therefore has no binding power as has been stated time and time again by VCAT. Even Clause 21.13, which is supposed to be council’s local ‘policy’ on open space, does not even mention overshadowing. What we are told is – Ensur(e) siting and design of new development maximises community safety and provides opportunities for surveillance of public open space.

What does all this mean? Council can ‘review’ its open space strategy until the cows come home. It will be meaningless unless firm and clearly stated policies are incorporated into the planning scheme itself. Melbourne City Council’s proposed amendment is how it should be done! (see below).

When residents ask questions, they deserve to have them answered. If officers don’t know the answers, then admit the fact. And since this resident has sent off the questions prior to the meeting why hasn’t any councillor responded accordingly with their view? Why is it utter silence from our elected representatives? In the end, is it really so hard for councillors to say –‘ yes’ we will support Melbourne City Council and write a letter?

What readers must also keep in mind is the failure to act and what this means not only for Elsternwick and Carnegie, but for East Village. Please remember that according to the first draft structure plan, we had 8 storeys surrounding a supposedly central plaza? How great a shadow will such buildings cast and what is council doing about it?

 

The agenda for tonight’s council meeting features an item on council delegations. We are told that the reason this item was withdrawn from the previous council meeting was because there was the need to resolve an administrative error in the attachment. One can hardly call major changes to what appeared in last month’s agenda as merely ‘administrative’. The reasons for these changes are not explained. Could it simply be that councillors have again been put in their place and the power of officers retained and enforced?

Some background is important here. Scores of other councils in their delegations set hard and fast rules for when applications are to go to a full council decision, or will be determined by officers alone. Whitehorse for instance states clearly that officers can only decide an application if there are 5 or less objections. Otherwise it goes to a full council meeting. Hobson’s Bay specifies 7 objections. Boroondara cites between 1 and 5 objections plus this significant clause –

3-storey or 3+ storey dwelling/s or 3-storey or 3+ storey residential buildings within the General Residential Zone (excluding residentially-zoned land located within the boundaries of an activity centre);  

Buildings that exceed the applicable preferred maximum overall building height described in Design and Development Overlay Schedule 17 (DDO17);

In last month’s agenda the withdrawn item included such specifications. This latest version has reverted to what has always been council’s position – ie no quantitative clarification of when an application goes to a full council meeting for decision. Why the change? And can residents ever hope to receive a full and honest explanation?

There are plenty of other issues with these delegations and they are not new. Some councils have the equivalent of Glen Eira’s Delegated Planning Committee where councillors sit on these panels. In Glen Eira, the DCP consists entirely of officers and no minutes are ever published. Councillors are effectively side-lined. Considering that officers make approximately 95-98% of all planning decisions, this endows them with enormous power but without the necessary transparency and accountability.

We have for years bemoaned the fact that in Glen Eira there is no ‘councillor call-in’. In other councils, any councillor may determine (some with other councillor endorsements) for an application to be brought to council. This simply does not exist in Glen Eira. Again a very useful omission to safeguard officer’s autonomy and power. For the record, here is a list of a few councils who do provide for councillor call in via their delegations –

Ballarat

Bayside

Boroondara

Darebin

Kingston

Manningham

Melbourne

Melton

Moorabool

Monash

Yarra

We do not expect councillors to determine every single application. That would be unworkable. What we do expect is that when councillors see the need, for whatever reason, that they be granted the legal right to determine the outcome and for there to be a record of their decision making which is published. The way things stand in Glen Eira, councillors are nothing more than an inconvenient impediment to bureaucratic rule and must be kept in their place. This approach, plus all the other processes employed by this council, is the antithesis of what good governance and transparency demands.

Month after month the constant refrain from council in regard to its open space levy is –

All multi-unit developers pay a uniform 5.7 per cent of the value of the land (or give Council 5.7 per cent of the area of the land).

Apparently this is NOT the case as revealed in the minutes of the Audit Committee. We quote:

Clearly, not ‘ALL MULTI-UNIT DEVELOPERS’ pay their fair share, or in fact may pay anything at all! Questions thus abound:

  • Why aren’t all levies collected?
  • On what grounds were levies waived?
  • Who made these decisions and were they empowered to do so?
  • How many thousands (if not tens of thousands) has council lost since the introduction of the 5.7% levy?
  • How many developers did not pay and who were they?
  • Does the open space fund really have $11m in the kitty as claimed or is this more ‘creative accounting’?

For all the talk of a down turn in the construction industry, Glen Eira is well and truly maintaining its record rate of development. The table below is compiled from today’s ABS released figures on building approvals for the current financial year – up to and including May. That means 11 months worth of approvals. Again we note:

  • Glen Eira leading the pack
  • Victoria in Future predictions well and truly outstripped – ie 13,000 by 2031. At this rate, this figure will be reached by 2020/21
  • None of these figures take into account the additional 4,500 (‘preliminary’ numbers) set for Caulfield Village and Virginia Estate

There is absolutely no strategic justification for council’s current plans to double the size of activity centres and to impose 12 storey height limits, plus rezoning hundreds upon hundreds of sites that will be earmarked for higher height limits.

We’ve uploaded the latest ABS figures HERE

The roll out of legislation after legislation that purports to achieve major reforms in planning continues with Wynne’s latest effort on affordable/social housing. As with the Objector’s Act, the Garden requirements, and the Local Government Review, this latest effort is laughable. Here’s the hyped up media release –

Nothing is mandatory. Nothing forces the developer into any private arrangement with councils. If voluntary, then it will all depend on the dollars the developer sees as coming his way. For example: 12 storeys in Elsternwick and Carnegie is council’s ‘gift’ to the developer in exchange for 20 or perhaps 30 apartments set aside for social housing?

All Wynne has done with this latest legislation is to spell out the income levels that would classify individuals as ‘low’ or ‘average’ income earners and hence make them eligible for ‘affordable/social housing’. It goes nowhere in forcing councils and developers to set aside a reasonable percentage of land within developments to ensure that such housing becomes available.

By way of contrast, this extract from a recent article by ‘The Conversation’ shows what is being done overseas. There is much that could have been achieved if the will was really there.

There are now more than 500 inclusionary planning schemes operating in municipalities across the US. Some require developers to include affordable housing as part of development in a particular zone (usually a fixed percentage of units or floor space).

For example inclusionary planning programs in the city of San Francisco, California (population of around 830,000) generate around 150–250 affordable units per year (around 12% of the city’s total supply).

Other schemes allow variations to planning rules in return for affordable housing. These variations might permit additional density in certain areas or waive certain requirements that would normally apply or expedite the development assessment process.

Other schemes require financial contributions from developers to offset the impact of a project on affordable housing demand or supply.

These programs provide a way for governments to ensure affordable housing for lower income residents even in rapidly gentrifying neighbourhoods.

(source: https://theconversation.com/england-expects-40-of-new-housing-developments-will-be-affordable-why-cant-australia-94581)

For those interested in reading the actual legislation and what it states, we’ve uploaded the relevant documents HERE and HERE

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