Councillor Performance


Council has announced its ‘consultation’ start for the Urban Design Frameworks for Caulfield South, East Bentleigh and Caulfield North via the Have Your Say page. See: https://www.haveyoursaygleneira.com.au/caulfield-south-neighbourhood-activity-centre.

As we’ve repeatedly stated, there is much that is missing in order for residents to believe that this can in any way be a ‘genuine’ consultation rather than another exercise in fulfilling various pieces of legislation.

Here’s what is missing:

  • Any information as to whether these Urban Design Frameworks will also include Design and Development Overlays.
  • Whether there will be any discussion papers outlining the issues each centre faces
  • Whether there will be a Community Reference Group
  • Whether the maps included are the final borders
  • Whether abutting residential areas are likely to be rezoned

Once again, we are facing a ‘top-down’ approach to consultation. The draft will be created and then presented. Residents will only then be invited to provide feedback and then presumably, largely ignored. All of this when council’s adopted Engagement Strategy from last council meeting specifically stated that major strategic planning projects would increase from the ‘inform’, ‘consult’ categories to also include ‘involve’. Such short term memories from our administrators!

We keep asking the same questions with no satisfactory responses.

  • Why can so many other councils produce initial discussion papers?
  • Why can so many other councils implement community panels on major planning projects?

Until this council is fully committed to giving residents a voice that is listened to, we will continue along the same path. The result will be more disillusioned residents who feel like they have been totally disenfranchised.

A myriad of questions needs to be asked and answered in regard to Amendment C184. For starters, here are some:

  • When did council first learn that the submitted first draft was running into major difficulties with the Department?
  • How many meetings were held with Department officials seeking some ‘solutions’? What were the dates for these meetings? Were any councillors party to these ‘discussions’? Were councillors informed as to the outcomes of these meetings?
  • How many times in these discussions did the issue of a Housing Strategy come up and in what context and when?
  • At last week’s council meeting and in response to the Athanasopolous question of why council is only now considering a Housing Strategy, Torres responded by saying in part – ‘council chose to continue with the amendment and seek some definitive answer from the minister’. Who made this decision – officers or councillors? Where is this documented? And what were the grounds for forging ahead, when it was clear there were major difficulties?
  • Given that within the space of 3 or so months, there is now the recommendation to abandon the amendment, what has changed? How well did council consider the possibility of ‘success’ at a planning panel last year, especially since no new documentation was included in the proposed amendment?  If ‘failure’ is now a real possibility, why wasn’t this picked up prior to advertising of the amendment?
  • Who should be held accountable for the waste of ratepayers’ money?

Even more intriguing is the rationale presented in the last officer’s report. We are told that much has changed in government requirements, especially with the publication of Practice Notes 90 and 91. These were released in December 2019! Repeated numerous times in these documents is the role of a Housing Strategy. The chart below is clear on the significance of the role that a Housing Strategy needs to play together with a Neighbourhood Character Strategy for any framework plan, or even zoning. Glen Eira has neither a viable housing strategy and definitely no Neighbourhood Character Strategy worthy of that name! Yet it has taken 14 months for council to even get around to putting out a tender for a consultant to work on the Housing Strategy.

If we go back in time to the Aiden Mullen report contained in the agenda for 26th November 2019 (page 31) we find this statement:

Officers had understood that due to the various State time frame demands, the structure plan amendments could run separately to the planning scheme rewrite. However, as the Minister has now clearly expressed a view that the housing strategy needs to be incorporated into the scheme alongside the structure planning amendments, Officers will now review how best to achieve this, which will include bringing an updated Strategy to Council in the short term, to seek adoption. 

So even before the release of the relevant Practice Notes, this council was fully aware of the need for a Housing Strategy. 15 months later we are still waiting – so much for ‘short term’!!!!!

We are still waiting to get permission for the Planning Scheme Rewrite. We predict that given what was submitted, council will not get permission to advertise and we will face the same situation with the rewrite as we are now facing with Amendment C184.

All residents need to think carefully as to where the blame should be sheeted home. Does the fault lie with the Minister, the Department, or with our planning department and its failure to produce work that is up to the required standard? When other councils have invested their resources to produce some decent housing strategies that go as far back as 2005 and are continually updated, all Glen Eira has to show is a pathetic ‘city plan’ that is devoid of data, of detail, and instead features nothing more than glossy pictures and graphs that a ten year old could question the validity of. Torres, in our view has much to answer for!

In what can only be described as a $1 million plus cock-up by this planning department, the CEO, and all those councillors who voted in favour of exhibiting Amendment C184, we now have the recommendation to abandon the amendment! This represents not only a wastage of rate payer money, but a clear indication of the complete incompetence of this planning department. What has occurred over the past 5 years is a damning  indictment of this council.

The current officer report now recommends:

  1. receives and notes all written submissions received following the exhibition ofAmendment C184;
  1. extends its appreciation to all those who made written submissions;
  2. notes the officer responses and attachments in response to submissions;
  3. abandons Amendment C184 under Section 23(1)(c) of the Planning and EnvironmentAct 1987 to enable Council to pursue revised permanent planning controls in theBentleigh and Carnegie Activity Centres;
  1. endorses the commencement of a new process beginning with a Housing Strategy, a revised Carnegie Structure Plan, an updated Bentleigh Structure Plan and two newplanning scheme amendments based on the revised structure plans; and
  1. notes that there would be a separate and subsequent amendment to implement theHousing Strategy into the Planning Scheme

We are not opposed to the abandonment of this Amendment. It should never have been exhibited in the first place. As with most things done by this council, the cart is always put before the horse. How on earth structure plans can be adopted prior to any decent Housing Strategy is beyond belief. And when one considers that Wynne’s letter to council in November 2019 stated:

Whilst it is evident that the council has undertaken significant strategic work on housing capacity within the municipality, the amendment is not underpinned by an adopted municipal wide housing strategy that provides clear policy direction about where residential development should occur

Why then has it taken a year for council to even advertise a consultant to undertake the work on a Housing Strategy. This appeared in the Age on Jan 30th 2021.

The officer report is full of admissions as to the failings of the draft Amendment. Of course, the basic argument is that because there is so little strategic justification, the amendment would have little hope of being endorsed at a planning panel and going to a planning panel could cost upwards of $200,000. It’s a pity that what money has been spent thus far to no avail, does not receive much comment, except to say that it is still ‘useful’.  However, we then get told time and time again that what council needs to do now is:

  • Proper traffic analyses
  • Peer reviews of urban design
  • Change zonings that are in error
  • Test shadow controls – especially for winter solstice
  • Zoning inaccuracies that are not in alignment with structure plan
  • Open space needs and locations to be addressed upon creation of an ‘implementation plan’
  • Multi deck car park to be ‘revised’
  • Need to rewrite to consider cumulative impact of parking from developments
  • Heights and setbacks to be reviewed by ‘independent urban design advice’. Please note that this has already been done in October 2017 when a 6 metre setback was reviewed as okay, only to have council change this to 5 metre setbacks! No justification of course provided except that some developers ‘complained’!!!!!!!

We could go on and on, detailing what needs to be done and what wasn’t done.

Finally, a comment on how the information has been presented to residents. The tables and other comments lack quantification . For example what do such terms referring to submitters, actually mean – ie  ‘a few’, ‘some’, ‘several’? Are we talking about 5 submissions, 20 submissions, or even 50 submissions. Who are these submitters – developers or residents? Why isn’t this made clear? And why can’t council publish in full, all submissions that came in? And council is still publishing documents that cannot be highlighted. Simple PDF versions rather than scanned jpegs are necessary. Why has this been going on for nearly 2 years? Again, this goes to the heart of transparency and accountability in this council!

Our real concern however is with what this means for Bentleigh. Many of the officer responses indicate that Bentleigh in the new version will be accorded much higher heights than currently. 5 storeys is about to go out the window – and again without any strategic justification for these comments. The argument about accommodating ‘higher density development’ once again is made PRIOR to any housing strategy, or real analysis of what is happening throughout the municipality.

What we have here is a monumental stuff up that has cost at least a million in ratepayer funds at a time when councils as a result of COVID have had budgets and plans wrecked. We can only hope that what is about to be spent now is finally up to standard and councillors deliver proper oversight!

Readers will remember this application and the massive effort by residents to fight the proposed 10 and 14 storey towers Woolies wanted in round one. It is now round two – plus an upcoming VCAT hearing regarding 7 Selwyn Street and plans for a 9 storey building that in reality reaches the height of a 14 storey development. This latter application received a permit from council last year.

In terms of transparency and making things clearer for residents impacted by such applications, we can see no reason why the planning register and its category of ‘proposal’ is often so uninformative. Is it too much to ask that instead of the phrase ‘residential towers’, residents are provided with some specific details such as proposed height or number of storeys for these towers?

Plans, when they do finally make an appearance, all too quickly disappear into the ether. If all residents have in terms of the historical record, then we maintain that the planning register should provide sufficient detail so that the community knows exactly how many apartments, height, etc. were granted or refused a permit. Residents should also be told whether these decisions were made under delegation, by council, or by VCAT. Only then will we have full transparency and accountability.

On transparency, we still do not know how much council is spending in defending its decision to grant a permit for 7 Selwyn Street. Whilst we have no problem with council supporting residents at VCAT, we find it particularly galling when a permit has been granted and council still insists on calling up fancy lawyers and expert witnesses that could ultimately cost in the region of $100,000. Surely it is the role of the developer to argue his case rather than council – especially since council use  of ‘experts’ to defend a permit has only occurred on one previous occasion in the past 5 years that we know of and that was the Horne Street development where the VCAT member absolutely blasted council for its shoddy planning.

Last night’s planning conference on the Bentleigh/Carnegie Amendment C184 was illustrative of the divide between developers, their representatives, and residents. Predictably, every single developer not only supported the advertised amendment as it stood, but most wanted even more, such as:

  • Higher built form (especially in Bentleigh)
  • Diluting of overshadowing/sunlight guidelines
  • Discretionary setbacks
  • Some even wanted the draft rezoning from 4 to 2/3 storeys to be returned to the ‘original’ 4 storeys.

Residents, on the other hand spoke passionately about the myriad of negative impacts on their lives that this amendment would create, or exacerbate –

  • Overshadowing and loss of sunlight all year round
  • Lack of open space and adequate infrastructure
  • Parking and traffic mayhem
  • Lack of acknowledgement of COVID and what this does to outdated population targets
  • Heights that will dwarf surrounding properties
  • Loss of neighbourhood character
  • Lack of fairness and absence of strategic justification
  • No planning for environmental/sustainability issues

THE PROCESS

What occurred last night was, in our view, nothing more than another example of a council determined to restrict residents from having any meaningful, public dialogue with councillors and/or planners. It’s also worth pointing out that in one of our recent posts we highlighted how other councils will interact with residents on important structure planning decisions that will go much further than the basic inform’ and ‘consult’ hierarchy of ‘consultation that Glen Eira does. (See: https://gleneira.blog/2021/01/07/consultation-2-2/)

No questions were permitted. The objective was simply to repeat orally the written submissions. Given that this was an amendment, and not a specific planning application, we have to wonder why the format was designated as a ‘planning conference’, especially since council’s stated aim in holding ‘planning conferences’ was the opportunity for ‘negotiation’ and potential consensus between developers and objectors!  Last night had no scope for any ‘negotiation’ or consensus.

Readers should also be very aware of the fact that Amendment C184 did NOT undergo any community consultation whatsoever. Council’s original draft which was not cleared for exhibition, also did not undergo community consultation. In both instances, the drafts were included in council agendas and the resolution was passed to send these documents off to the Minister seeking permission to advertise. All residents could do, was to then plough through hundreds of pages of documents, and if they had the time, energy and inclination, they were allowed to submit a formal objection/support to the amendment. Hardly ‘consultation’ – especially when there is not a single word to justify what is proposed such as the hundreds upon hundreds of rezonings, discretionary heights instead of mandatory, removal of mandatory garden requirements, and loss of permeability requirements in NRZ2.

Even more suspect was Magee, who chaired the zoom meeting and his comment to one resident. We’ve uploaded what she said and Magee’s retort below. Make up your own mind as to the appropriateness of Magee’s comments.

 

For those residents who were unable to attend, we’ve uploaded the entire audio that you may listen to.

 

 

 

 

Tonight’s council meeting will feature an item that seeks an amendment for a permit that was granted in 2019 for a 5 storey development at 590-596 Glen Huntly Road, Elsternwick. The property was sold on in August 2020 and the new owner is now seeking an additional 2 storeys, plus 5 apartments. The officer’s recommendation is to grant a permit for a 7 storey building, and 25 apartments, plus a reduction in car parking requirements. The proposed height will now go from 17.2 metres to 23.6 metres.

Readers need to note the following:

  • The site is in a Local Centre and not a major activity centre or even a neighbourhood centre
  • Council’s City Plan posits 3 storey height limit in local centres
  • The abutting and surrounding buildings are all 2 storeys in height

Here’s what it will look like. Note the neighbours!

The question then becomes – how on earth could this application have received a permit for 5 storeys in the first place and now an officer recommendation for a seven storey permit?

The accompanying officer’s report literally beggars belief in some of the statements made. Here are some examples:

Council’s Urban Designer states: A five storey building would be more consistent with current Council policy. Yet the final officer report basically ignores this and instead we get: The scale of the building at seven storeys is considered to be appropriate given the site’s proximity to multi-storey buildings that are in neighbouring sections of the Glen Huntly Road streetscape to the west within the Elsternwick Urban Village and to the east within the Caulfield South Neighbourhood Centre. Accordingly, it is considered that the density embodied in the additional five dwellings (creating a total of 25) will complement the built form character and the role of this centre.

So here we have the ludicrous situation where an area is designated as a local centre, but is being compared to what is happening in our Major Activity Centres and our larger Neighbourhood Centres. Adding insult to injury we also have this comment: Whilst it is acknowledged that a lower height limit would be appropriate in some Local Centres that are located within a pure residential hinterland, this site has unique locational qualities and is suitable for a taller building that departs from this aspect of the Housing Diversity Area Policy. Council’s planning scheme and its policies make no differentiation between Local Centres as this statement implies. Thus again, we have an officer departing from what adopted council policy says!

And we continue to go from the sublime to the ridiculous with this sentence: The proposal to increase the height of the building from the approved five storeys to seven storeys will match the height of a seven storey building at 485 Glen Huntly Road, located 500 metres to the west of the site.  Are planning decisions therefore to be based on what is up to 500 metres away, rather than what council’s own policies state? If the answer is ‘yes’, then we do not need any structure plans, or zonings whatsoever, since these can be so easily rejected. All we have to do is say ‘Yes, there’s a 12 storey 500 metres down the road, so it is appropriate here too’!!!!!!

Finally, as to the competence of this planning department, we’ve uploaded a page from council’s City Plan, which is supposed to indicate ALL local centres in the municipality. This local centre is NOT included in the diagram, yet the City Plan is supposed to be the be all and end all for the MSS rewrite, and other strategic plans. It does appear on another page. The point however, is why aren’t such errors picked up? (The small circles are ‘local centres’)

In just over a week (February 3rd), council will be holding their Planning Conference via Zoom for the advertised Bentleigh & Carnegie amendment – C184. Readers will remember that this amendment flies in the face of repeated community feedback, and is even worse than the current interim amendment.

To jog people’s memory, here is a summary:

  • Mandatory heights for many sites will now be discretionary in both Bentleigh & Carnegie
  • Hundreds of properties are now ‘upgraded’ to allow higher built form when they are currently zoned Neighbourhood Residential (ie 2 storeys)
  • There is a new zone (GRZ5) which covers hundreds of new sites but has had the mandatory garden requirement removed.
  • Sites now re-zoned NRZ2 revert back to the 2004 C25 amendment so that permeability requirement is now 20% instead of 25%. This again equates to hundreds of properties.
  • Another newly created zone in Carnegie is to have 90% site coverage and a staggering 5% permeability.

Council will undoubtedly argue that:

  • It is not their fault but the Minister’s/Department’s insistence
  • They have protected heritage by rezoning sites/streets from 4 storeys to 2 storeys. This of course does not take into account how many permits have already been granted in these streets for 4 storeys! Now does the reduction of height for some streets, equal the number of sites that have been earmarked for higher development. The reduction of heights in heritage areas is simply an unapologetic admission as to how incompetent the 2013 secret introduction of the Residential Zones were!

Even more galling than any of the above is the refusal of this council to stand up for residents. There has been no public statement opposing these ‘mandated’ changes. No public criticism of government. No publication of documents to reveal the rationale behind these changes. No justification whatsoever based on projected population figures and associated housing needs – especially now in our COVID era. Basically, we’ve had a council that has simply kow-towed to whatever has been suggested that would allow more and more development.

So now we will be having a so called ‘planning conference’ when the horse has already bolted. Council’s options are severely limited. They can abandon the amendment, but the argument will be that the interim amendment will expire and there will be no protection. (Of course, we do not know whether council has even applied for an extension!) Given this won’t happen, they can send the proposals off to a planning panel and we all know how planning panels invariably assist developers. Since there were plenty of objections, the latter is the most likely and legally required result.

The entire process of structure planning in Glen Eira has been nothing short of farcical. So on February 3rd, we urge all objectors, and those interested to sign up for the Zoom meeting and tell our new council exactly why this state of affairs is unacceptable. It may not change much, but at least our new councillors, will get to hear what residents have to say, and maybe, just maybe, listen and act on our suggestions.

To sign up for the zoom meeting, simply email: CityFutures@gleneira.vic.gov.au

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: https://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/vic/VCAT//2021/31.html

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.

Councils throughout Victoria are obligated under the revised Local Government Act, 2020 to introduce a Community Engagement policy by June. The Act also stipulates various principles that must be adhered to by each council. Yet there is still plenty of ‘wriggle room’ within the legislation for councils to introduce what they want. In our view, Glen Eira Council has taken full advantage of this ‘wriggle room’ and basically produced a document which says very little that is a departure from the current state of affairs. What we have is another document short on detail and big on vague ‘promises’.

To illustrate the drawbacks with the proposed policy, we’ve taken a quick look at the work that other councils have done with their policies – what they actually reveal to their residents and how consultation will be implemented, monitored, and most importantly, evaluated. The differences are quite revealing.

For starters, below is the table which represents the level of consultation that council will commit to for various projects. The categories listed (ie ‘inform’, ‘consult’, involve’ etc.) are based on the International Association of Public Participation standards. All councils have included these standards. The difference between Glen Eira and other councils is the level of consultation each council assigns to its various projects.

Here is the Glen Eira version:

Compare the above with what Moreland proposes:

AND Kingston:

Moreland and Kingston see no problem in going to the higher level of engagement (ie involve to collaborate) when it will be introducing structure plans, major infrastructure works, etc. In contrast, all Glen Eira promises is the lowest level of participation – ‘inform’ and ‘consult’ and maybe, just maybe, we might get to the ‘involve’ stage! Moreland and Kingston both start from ‘involve’ and also incorporate ‘collaborate’. Why this distinction is important is made clear by the following screen dump from the Bayside policy which enunciates clearly the level of decision making that these two categories (‘inform’ and ‘consult’) represent – basically nothing more than ‘give us your opinion’. Resident views have practically no influence on the final decision making!

On another issue, there is nothing in the Glen Eira ‘promises’ that comes close to the important components of ‘evaluation’ and constant improvement. Council is quite happy with statements that are nothing more than generalities – again in contrast to how other councils have viewed the topics.

Bayside for example tells its residents:

We will provide timely access to factual and transparent information on the project or matter, including:

  • A summary of known impacts, risks and benefits including social, natural and built environment,and financial
  • Relevant background information, technical and research reports,related policies, budget estimate and funding source

All Glen Eira can muster in its promises is to repeat the standards: We will ensure that participants in community engagement have access to objective, relevant and timely information to inform their participation in engagement activities.

Furthermore, there is barely a single word in the Glen Eira document that mentions evaluation per se. Without analysing how well a consultation process has been done, how can council ever hope to improve? Equally important is how any consultation will be assessed – what areas will be investigated? What questions will be asked? And what processes will be introduced to ensure that progress is made and that residents come away feeling that they have partaken in a program where their input at whatever level has had some impact on decision making or process?

Other councils are not so silent on this important aspect of consultation.

Manningham Council – We measure our engagement performance in order to test that we are delivering public value to our community. We measure the level of engagement or number of interactions, submissions made, surveys completed, participants in a workshop, letters distributed, calls taken and more. We also measure participation outcomes. How were the decisions that we made influenced by community inputs? When we listened and consulted, did we act on what we heard and understood?

Warnambool – Evaluation is important to the ongoing development of Community Engagement. Evaluation should focus on the impact and process of engagement and should include views of participants.

Cardinia: undertaking informal and formal consultation to receive feedback from the community about the communication and engagement approaches undertaken by council to assist in implementing continual improvement.

These are just a few of the commitments that other councils have made regarding monitoring and evaluation. We have not had the time to go through every councils drafts.

What is apparent however, is that the draft Glen Eira policy is nothing more than a continuation of its current processes. Simply not good enough!

The most oft used phrase by council when it comes to justifying its decisions is that the issue has undergone ‘extensive community consultation’. Yes, there is Community Voice, and yes, there is Have Your Say, and yes, notices are up on council’s website and at times letters are posted to residents. But is this enough, or is it merely fulfilling the legal obligations and/or setting the groundwork so that the claim that ‘extensive community consultation’ has occurred is more tenable?

All of the above sounds great. Council admittedly has no control on how many residents decide to respond to the surveys, questionnaires, or even read the associated information. Which begs the question of why residents are generally so reticent to become involved. Our response to this query is:

  • Residents do not believe that their views will carry much weight in the final decision
  • Residents are not provided with enough information to assist in forming a view
  • Questions asked are often nothing more than Dorothy Dixers, or simply ambiguous so that valid interpretations become impossible
  • Council’s reporting of their ‘consultations’ is skewed, methodologically unsound and far from objective

We will go through some of the above providing examples that clearly illustrate our concerns with the way in which this council conducts its ‘consultations’ and how poorly the results are reported.

A perfect example is the recent Community Voice survey on the planning department. Council states that its objective in running this survey was:

In November 2018, we asked Community Voice members these same questions to identify aspects of Urban Planning that could be improved for the residents of Glen Eira.  

We wanted to know how far we’d come since implementing some changes following the last survey and improve our services to the community by determining where we could offer additional information or clarify processes. We have included results from 2018 in our graphs for comparison.

So this is largely supposed to be a comparative analysis of ‘progress’ and improvement of process over the past two years by the Urban Planning Department. Yet of the stated 193 responses we have no idea how many of the respondents were the same ones who filled in the 2018 survey, or are these 193 responses from entirely different residents? If improvement is to be accurately gauged, then having a clear and statistical overview of this component is essential. It would also be necessary to provide data that compares the number of applicant versus objector responses in 2018 compared to 2020. None of this has been done yet council is quite willing to conclude:

More than 32% of participants who had engaged with the Urban Planning team as an objector or supporter of a planning application indicated:

– They were ‘very satisfied’ or ‘satisfied by the availability of information on the application they objected to or supported (58%, a jump of 12% from 2018).

– They were ‘very dissatisfied’ or ‘dissatisfied’ with the support provided by Council when submitting an objection or support (38%, down by 4% from 2018).

– They were ‘very satisfied’ or ‘satisfied’ with the overall outcome of the application they objected to or supported (50%, down by 5% from 2018).

We’ve highlighted the above in order to point out how poorly questions and the definitions have been concocted, which must inevitably call into question the validity of the results.

Fair enough that the survey includes separate questions for applicants and objectors. Yet the full definition for the latter was:

if ‘yes, as an objector or supporter of a planning permit application’) Could you tell us how satisfied you were/are with the following elements of the objection process? If you have made a number of objections or supports, please consider your most recent objection/support when answering this question

Not only is this definition potentially contradictory, but ultimately very confusing. Yes, objectors can support a final decision on a planning application. But that’s only after the decision has been made – either by officers or councillors. They remain objectors to the application first off.  Yet the above phrasing does not make this clear and hence could also be answered by developers in favour of an application.

Other questions are equally ambiguous and hence their value needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt. For example here’s a screen dump of one question:

The question includes the word ‘expects’. How this was interpreted by respondents is anyone’s guess. Some objectors may ‘expect’ council to grant a permit given the rate of overdevelopment that has occurred in Glen Eira and council’s track record in recommending permits. But it may not be what they want! Furthermore, we have no idea as to the split of responses. How many were from objectors and how many from applicants?  In the end, does this question tell us anything useful about the Planning Department and how it might be improved?

Interestingly, the vast majority of responses to many of the questions simply clicked the ‘Don’t know’ box. What conclusions can and should be drawn from this? Considering that the stated results of ‘Don’t know’ were also very high in 2018, then how well has council addressed the issue with its purported but unnamed ‘changes’?

Finally, we note that publishing percentages alone as question responses is useless and misleading. 80% of 100 responses is certainly far more than 99% of 50 responses.

If council is sincere in wanting to improve its communication/consultation processes, especially in planning, then it needs to address the following:

  • Create questions that are clear and not open to various interpretations
  • Provide reports that include both percentages and numerics
  • Provide sufficient information so that respondents/residents have a clear idea of all pros and cons (including cost)
  • Call on community expertise to vet questions and to ensure their legitimacy

We’ve uploaded the full Community Voice report HERE. Council is currently also ‘consulting’ on its Community Engagement strategy. You may submit your thoughts via this link: https://www.haveyoursaygleneira.com.au/engaging-glen-eira

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