Councillor Performance


All councillors deserve an academy award for their performances last night. There was ‘passion’ with a capital P, so much in fact that at times it became cringe worthy. Residents really need to ask themselves – ‘what was actually achieved last night’ and did we witness anything other than another exercise in smoke and mirrors?

CLIMATE EMERGENCY

Davey did manage to get her most important motion up. This was to work on the Environmental Sustainable Policy (ESS) and to set a goal of cutting corporate emissions by 2025 and community emissions by 2030.

Sounds wonderful! But is it simply more of the same since nothing will happen for at least another 18 months given that there is no funding for anything new in the current budget! We are going to have to wait for the 2021/2 budget to see anything materialise and even then it could take months and months before any project is up and running. We did not get one single word about how much anything would cost nor which priority actions that will be pursued first down the track. It will all depend on the new ESS strategy and putting some money into the NEXT BUDGET!

Put simply, words and actions are miles apart. If we are indeed facing an ‘emergency’ then action is required NOW as it has been for years and years. We reiterate the following:

  • Why has it taken 4 years of doing nothing regarding a WSUD or ESD policy to emerge in our planning scheme?
  • Why haven’t the schedules to the zones been revamped so that permeability requirements are increased?
  • Why has nothing been done regarding basement sizes in our GRZ areas and the conditions for planting canopy trees?
  • Why are we still delaying any controls on tree removal on private land?

We also had the spectacle last night of Silver stating that he wasn’t happy with some of the wording of the recommendation(s) in the officer report. Fair enough! Then why didn’t he outline his misgivings and move a motion to amend the wording? Why pretend that abstaining (which was the flavour of last night) was not a vote against when the legislation clearly states: for the purpose of determining the result of a vote, a Councillor present at the meeting who does not vote is to be taken to have voted against the question [Local Government Act, 2020: Section 61:5(e)]

We also take issue with Sztrajt and his ‘passion’ on the importance of declaring a ‘climate emergency’. This will ‘send a message’ to all levels of government; it will inform the public, it will show how serious the community is and that Glen Eira is not the odd man out. Wonderful, except why isn’t this same passion applied to over-development and the ruin of our suburbs, especially the neighbourhood centres? Why can’t this same public statement be made on behalf of a community who don’t want our streets turned into high rise wind tunnels. Instead we get silence from the council lot!

The Budget

The spin doctors were really out in force on this item. Esakoff read out her version of the budget/SRP that contained no details whatsoever as to the plan to borrow $60 million. She merely used the term ‘borrowings’ once; nor did we get any summary of which services would be cut back. (For instance the massive reduction in library collection funding).

Not a single word from any councillor was directed to HOW MUCH our charges had increased. Yes, we were told 2% but that does not tally with what the actual numbers in the budget state – ie an average increase of between 12 and 15% on some major items.

And then there’s the rush to pass the budget, when councils have been given until August 31st to set their finances. How is it possible that council can state that it is currently unsure of the full financial impact of COVID and with the same breath draw up a budget that is so open to change? Or is this merely another tactic that council can later use when they delay project after project?

CONCLUSION

There is much, much more that needs to be said regarding last night’s meeting. What is very clear is that this council has no intention of changing its goals, its modus operandi, and its insistence on being as vague, and as uninformative as it possibly can be – both via the written and spoken word.

Yes, the legal requirements are met, but that is all that happens. Remember that this council has NEVER adopted any recommendations made by residents to its draft budgets. Once published everything is set in concrete unlike so many other councils who are now really seeking community responses to their planned projects and priorities.

For all the talk about ‘community’, Glen Eira councillors do not know the meaning of the word in our view. If they did, then the manner in which this council operates would be entirely different and far more transparent and accountable!

 

This post is not about whether councillors should declare a Climate Emergency or not. Rather it focuses on the officer’s report and asks readers to determine how objective such a report really is and whether this is merely another example of council’s attempt at public grandstanding whilst in reality doing nothing at all.

Once again we have a report that purports to present all the relevant information so that informed decision making by councillors may take place. This report is far from ‘informative’ or objective. The take home message from this report can only be MAINTAIN THE STATUS QUO!

Three options are proffered to councillors (see below)

Option 1 is clearly the most proactive and given the fact that we are told that declaring a Climate Emergency requires ‘immediate’ action this would ostensibly be the option most appropriate. We even have Ms Krull’s response to Ahtanasopolous’ question of the 25 Feb council meeting where she said: Councils that declare a climate emergency must commit to strong and fast climate action and reduce their carbon emissions as fast as possible.

Yet sprinkled throughout this report we find statement after statement that debunks this ‘urgency’ and plays the cost card. For example: Increasing the Solar Savers program where council purchases the system and residents therefore have no up-front costs, we are told: This scheme will have a financial impact on Council’s budget as Council will need to fund the upfront cost for each household in the program.

And this approach goes on and on –

Committing to goals and initiatives in Options 1 and 2 will require significant additional staff resources and operating budget to fund new activities to reduce corporate and community carbon emissions.

Current operating and capital budgets do not include an allowance for activities that will need to be undertaken if Council determines to declare a climate emergency 

No provision has been made in Council’s long term SRP for the substantial costs of the initiatives in Options 1 and 2. If these initiatives are included, Council would need to consider re-prioritisation of other projects to ensure long term financial sustainability of the SRP. 

How ludicrous that within the same agenda we have the proposed 2020/21 budget and another item that would impact greatly on this budget but has not even been investigated and quantified. Surely the vote on any Climate Emergency declaration and its accompanying actions should precede any vote on the budget? Unless of course the objective is not to introduce anything new at this point in time and continue with the goal of achieving so very little by 2030 or 2050. A charade at its best we say! 

Much of the report focuses on council’s ‘achievements’ in this domain of climate change. One such ‘achievement’ is touted as the annual planting of 2000 trees to combat the heat island effect. What we are not told of course is that according to the 2018/19 annual report 940 trees were lost (page 13). Seen from this angle, 2000 plantings become 1000! And we are still waiting of course for an ESD policy, a WSUD policy into the planning scheme and that old perennial of tree controls over private land (ie tree register). Oh, and an Urban Forest in the Booran Road park that remains under lock and key but is still counted as ‘open space’!

Finally, here is a list of Victorian councils that have declared a Climate Emergency (up to Feb 2020). Many of the accompanying proposed actions in these policies put Glen Eira to shame.

Ballarat City Council

Banyule City Council

Bass Coast Shire Council

Bayside City Council

Brimbank City Council

Cardinia City Council

Darebin City Council

Frankston City Council

Greater Dandenong City Council

Hepburn Shire Council

Hobsons Bay City Council

ndigo Shire Council

Kingston City Council

Manningham City Council

Maribyrnong City Council

Melbourne City Council

Moonee Valley City Council

Mount Alexander Shire Council

Moreland City Council

Mornington Peninsula Shire Council

Moyne Shire Council

Port Phillip City Council

Queenscliffe Borough

Surf Coast Shire Council

Warrnambool City Council

Yarra City Council

Yarra Ranges Council

As stated at the outset, we are not debating the issue of climate change and how council should address the challenges. We are far more concerned with how decisions can be authentic and valid when the requisite information is not provided, and budgets are to be decided that don’t include any possibility of funding real action in the immediate future. If this is the objective, then let’s see that declared instead of the continued camouflaging that is council’s modus operandi.

Council has released its draft budget and Strategic Resource Plan (SRP) for the next ten years. We can only marvel at the audacity that goes into these documents whilst simultaneously wondering how much credence should be given to any of the figures produced year to year. We acknowledge up front that budgets can and do change; that unforseen circumstances (ie COVID) play a role. However, when prognostications are out by 100% then questions need to be asked and those responsible for the figures should be held to account and judgement. More importantly, there is not one single word that seeks to explain or justify the unbelievably divergent figures!

Here are some examples comparing the figures provided in the 2019/20 Strategic Resource Plan (SRP) and what we are now presented with.

Carnegie Pool Redevelopment: Capital costs of $47.6M from 2020/21 to 2023/4 (Capital costs of $39M in 2019/20!)

Elsternwick Community Hub & Park: $47M (majority of spend in 2024/5 to 2027/8) In 2019 – $31.8M

Selwyn Street Cultural Precinct: $5.6M to be completed in 2023/4 (2019; $5.5M)

Stanley Street Multi-deck Carpark: $22.32M completed in 2023/4 (In 2019 17.3M)

Koornang Road Streetscape & Upgrade: $6.5M (majority of spend in 2025/6 to 2028/9) (2019 – $6.15)

Eat Street rotunda: $5.1M to be completed in 2021/2)(in 2019 $1.8M)

Bentleigh Library Upgrade: $6.3M to be completed in 2022/3 (In 2019 $3.5M)

Bleazby Street Carpark: $15.7M completed in 2023/4 (not listed in 2019 but Horsely Street was listed at $1.6M with majority of spend in 2029/30!)

Fair enough that prices have increased over the year. However, no sensible person will accept the massive increases suggested in the above comparison. So what does this tell us about council plans and what they are not revealing.

All  of this can be summed up neatly with the following screen dumps from the 2019/20 version and the current draft SRP.

How and why on earth should forecast spending jump from $90 million to $160M or even from $140 million to $160M. Have residents really been consulted on whether this is what they want? Is it wise spending when so many people have lost their jobs and/or are in financial difficulties? Do we really need such massive infrastructure projects and borrowings that will keep us in hock for decades? Of course, this council never bothers to present a complete picture or to consult its residents. And as some residents have already asked – have any of our extremely well paid administrators and/or councillors taken a pay cut in the current COVID situation?

Adding more insult to injury, we find the following increases:

240L waste bin – $515 up from $441 last year

120L waste bin – $255 up from $220 last year

Child care

0-3 year olds: $140 per day up from $137 last year

3-5 year olds: $132 per day up from $129 last year

Pensioner rebate contribution – $29 last year was $36 and in 2016 was $59!!!!!

Staff EFT: FROM 860.19 TO 873.86 plus a 2.5% increase in wages!

We keep reading about council’s reduced income stream as a result of COVID, yet there is nothing in this budget or the SRP which indicates a tightening of the belt, a reduction in spending, and a reduction in grandiose contruction plans. Nor is there anything to indicate that council will increase the amount of open space so desperately lacking in this municipality.

The current agenda includes an item purporting to report on the results of planning applications that have ended up at VCAT over the past five years and council’s success rate in these hearings. These results are of course presented as extremely complimentary to council. The report recommends:

That Council notes:

  1. there has been a reduction in the number of planning decisions by Council being appealed to VCAT;
  1. the number of dwellings approved by VCAT, through ‘set aside’ decisions, have decreased substantially;
  1. the implementation of the interim Structure Plan controls for the Bentleigh, Carnegie and Elsternwick activity centres have contributed to these reductions; and,
  1. the changes implemented by the Urban Planning team in respect to improved processes and engagement with all parties have also contributed to these reductions.

Whilst it is undoubtedly true that there have been less VCAT hearings, council would like us to believe that this is the result of council’s approach to planning via its structure planning and delegations. What is never acknowledged at any stage in this report is:

  • The continued downturn of developments throughout the state in the past few years
  • The significantly increased costs of going to VCAT, especially for objectors
  • Council’s recent process change that now requires at least 15 or more objections to be decided by councillors rather than under delegation.
  • With less appeals, then logically this would involve a reduction in the number of ‘set aside’ decisions. It remains questionable of course whether the reduction in these types of decisions have anything whatsoever to do with council’s interim structure planning as claimed and more to do with the fact of general downturn, cost of land, and that our major activity centres are already built out compared to what is available in our neighbourhood centres.

Glen Eira Council is not alone in experiencing a major reduction in VCAT appeals. Below is the summary from the 2018/19 VCAT annual report which clearly shows how nearly all councils (apart from the growth suburbs) are in the same boat – ie a major reductions in appeals.

Throughout the council report we have some wonderful claims that do not stack up when analysed via third party data. For instance, the following council produced image maintains that in the 2019/20 financial year council has had 90% of its appeals to VCAT confirmed.

According to the State Government’s figures, nothing could be further from the truth. Below is a screen dump from the Planning Permit Activity website which provides data on how many VCAT appeals have been confirmed, set aside, or varied. Please note that what we are being shown is that for this time period Glen Eira was only successful in having its decisions confirmed a paltry 25%. Even if we amalgamate the ‘confirmed’ with ‘varied’ that still leaves us with only a 55% return and certainly not the 90% that is claimed!!!!

The ’varied’ results can also be entirely misleading when we consider certain examples where councillors granted permits that lopped off a couple of storeys and a number of apartments only to have VCAT ‘varying’ the permit to what the developer wanted. Perfect examples of this include: 240-50 McKinnon Road, McKinnon where council decided on 4 storeys and VCAT awarded the developer his 6 storeys and 33 apartments. Another recent example is Royal Avenue, Glen Huntly, where 4 storeys became 5 storeys at VCAT. Such decisions are not seen as ‘set aside’, they are simply labelled ‘varied’ since a permit was issued by council.

There are countless other dubious and suspect figures provided throughout this report. More importantly, what is entirely missing in this report is any mention of what is happening in our neighbourhood centres and how these appeals fair at VCAT. A perusal of VCAT decisions over the past few years reveals that the majority of appeals have involved these centres and NOT the major activity centres which have largely already been built out with the introduction of the zones in 2013. The reasoning for the development rush in our neighbourhood centres is quite simple: no real controls, no preferred character statements, and land that is cheaper. If council was really willing to provide an objective and honest analysis of what is happening in our municipality, then including a detailed assessment of what is happening outside the major activity centres is essential. This has not been done. Instead we are provided with figures that are not clearly defined.

For example: Council presents another table that is supposedly listing the number of apartments that have been approved in the Bentleigh, Carnegie and Elsternwick over the years.

In fine print and as a footnote we get this sentence alluding to the table: Based on land within the Commercial 1 Zone and Residential Growth Zone. Why, especially since these activity centres also include sites zoned as MUZ and GRZ both before and after the introduction of the interim height amendments. So what do these numbers really tell us and how comprehensive and valid are they?

Earlier in the report council admits that the 2017/18 financial year was the most ‘productive’ in terms of permits granted for apartments. We are told that 2217 apartments were granted permits in that year. In the above table the total number of permits granted in the 3 major activity centres for that year totals a mere 390! Hence 1,827 apartments were erected OUTSIDE these centres!

We do not believe that council’s belated structure planning for the major activity centres is responsible for this shift. To assume such is to ignore the real data and the prevailing economics of development and a council refusing to prioritise our neighbourhood centres.

All in all, what we have before us is a report that is simply not good enough in terms of detail, comprehensiveness and basic truth telling!

 

Included below is council’s latest attempt at so called ‘consultation’ methodology. Readers should carefully note the sentence regarding the delay on introducing the long awaited tree register.

Once again we find council putting off any real action which could have some major impact on development in our municipality. No reason is provided for this delay! Nor are we told which projects will push on and which others may have been delayed. As for the excuse that this is the result of COVID 19 we simply don’t buy that ridiculous claim. Here’s why:

  • An amendment is required to incorporate this into the Local Law. The protocol for this is straight forward. We would be presented with an officer’s report, councillors would vote, and the documentation would then be placed on public exhibition for 28 days.
  • The form of ‘exhibition’ would remain as it always has – ie public notice via the website, (admittedly not in the local paper since these have been stopped).
  • Community responses would be via written submissions (email, letters).
  • A council meeting would then consider the submissions and people could, if they wished, speak to their submission (available via tele-conferencing, Zoom, etc.) The number of people addressing council has historically been minimal (ie average of 5)
  • The next council meeting would then vote on the draft amendment.
  • It would then be submitted to the department/minister and gazetted very quickly.

Given this process we do not see how COVID has impacted in any significant way on this issue and hence why it has been put on the back burner. Please remember that ‘consultation’ for this occurred between November and December 2017. Two and a half years later nothing has happened except to delay this even further.

We can only speculate as to why this issue has been shelved in comparison to the other multi million dollar projects that council seems intent on pushing through at a time where finances for councils and residents have taken a huge hit!

As an example here are the tenders from last Saturday’s Age newspaper. Questions that could be asked:

  • Do we really need ‘catering’ for councillors and ‘guests’ when we have social distancing and no community events?
  • Do we really need to push ahead with the Elsternwick community hub when we don’t even have a firm structure plan in place and this is mooted to cost $32 million according to the last budget papers?

It is truly time that this council was forthcoming on all projects citing specifically which ones are on hold, which should proceed and why! That is what good governance demands and what Glen Eira City Council continually fails to provide!

The above screen dump comes from council’s proposed actions to support the community during the current COVID pandemic. As with countless other municipalities, Glen Eira recognises that residents, businesses and sporting clubs need assistance. This is to be commended. What is not to be commended however is the lack of financial detail and communication that is clear and unambiguous.

For instance, we are told that there will be: ‘rent relief for Council Community and some Commercial tenants…….’. Exactly what does this mean? Will there be zero rent for 3 months, 6 months for community groups renting council facilities? Will they instead have a 50% reduction, a 25% reduction? And what does ‘some Commercial tenants’ really mean?– which ones and on what basis will they be eligible? Nor are we given any indication as to how much any of this will cost? The only clear statement from this paragraph relates to sporting groups and even here we don’t know the eventual cost to council.

Compare this shadowy report with what Kingston has provided. Admittedly these are only ‘guesstimates’ but at least Kingston’s ratepayers have some idea of how the sums have been calculated. Also worth noting is that they are willing to defer rents for all of their community rentals unlike Glen Eira.  Here’s one page from their report and we’ve uploaded the full report HERE

Our objective is not to quibble or argue against what is proposed. Our concern rests entirely with the lack of substance and hence transparency that permeates this report. We are told that cost to council will ultimately be $7.4 million, but the only figure that is provided in both item 8.3 and item 8.4 states that council will lose $500,000 in late fee interest for payment of rates. How we get from $500,000 to $7.4 million is thus anyone’s guess! Compounding this even further we do not know how many staff, especially casuals, have been stood down and what ‘saving’ this represents to Council, nor how it will affect essential operations.

We appreciate that projections may be difficult. But the nature of these reports continues the tradition in Glen Eira of vague, unsubstantiated claims, lack of detail, and councillors voting something in without enough information to arrive at real informed decision making! This has happened far too often in Glen Eira for it to be anything but deliberate!

PPS: We have perused what other councils are doing in terms of increased funds to the CEOs under delegation. Surprise, surprise, there is not one single council that comes close to what Glen Eira is proposing! The following quotes all come from the March minutes of these councils:

HOBSONS BAYawarding a contract or the expenditure of council funds exceeding the value of $3,500,000(inclusive of GST), with the exception of insurance premiums, Workcover premiums andemployee superannuation payments;

DAREBIN: Temporarily increase the financial delegation of the Chief Executive Officer from $500,000 to $1M including awarding a contract for the purchase of goods and services or for the carrying out of works not exceeding the value of $1M (including GST) to be used only in the event that Council is unable to meet because of circumstances related to the COVID19 pandemic subject to;

  • The expenditure being included in budget.
  • Compliance with the provisions of the Local Government Act and Council procurement policy and practices.
  • Receive a report at the next available Council meeting on the use of the temporary delegations.

FRANKSTON: It is proposed that during a state or national emergency, the expenditure limit for the Chief Executive Officer will increase from $500K to $2M, exclusive of GST. This will enable the Chief Executive (CEO) to enter into contracts during these periods. The expenditure limits for the Directors, Managers, Coordinators, Team Leaders and staff will remain unchanged

MORNINGTON: $1 M

The agenda for next Tuesday night’s council meeting contains several items that make us wonder whether the proposed initiatives are nothing more than bureaucratic opportunism which would result in the increased power of unelected officers and the further sidelining of residents and councillors.

We acknowledge fully the ongoing COVID crisis and the impact it is having on all sectors of the community  – including councils themselves. What is proposed in several items is the following:

  • Changes to CEO delegation empowering her to grant contracts/tenders of up to $20 million
  • The abolition of Delegated Planning Committee hearings and Planning Consultation Meetings for all planning applications
  • If no quorum at council meetings then CEO and/or delegated officers have power to grant, refuse, amend permits.
  • The cessation of public participation at council meetings. All public questions will be recorded in the minutes.

We will deal with these sequentially.

  1. Delegations

We are informed that according to the legislation, councillors have to be present in order to cast their votes. Hence, if some councillors may have to self isolate, there is the possibility that no quorum will be available and hence, no council decisions can be made. The argument is that in order for council to continue functioning, that more power be delegated to officers and the CEO since there is no legal avenue for online communication and participation when it comes to formal council meetings. The agenda cites the ‘advice’ provided by Local Government Victoria:

“Present” means being physically present at the meeting. This requirement mirrors Parliamentary practice in which a Member must be present at a Division to vote. While there can be advantages for remotely located councillors to be able to participate in meetings without being physically present, this must be balanced against other considerations including the public transparency requirements on decision making by a publicly elected body.

What is not revealed in the agenda is that this ‘advice’ is dated the 18th March 2020. Since then there have been several more restrictions placed on meetings due to COVID. Furthermore, the Municipal Association of Victoria, plus plenty of other councils, have come out urging the Premier/Ministers to ‘fast track’ changes so that councillors can complete council business via electronic means. Currently, both NSW and South Australia permit council meetings without having councillors physically present in the chamber. See the following especially the quote from a government official that makes specific mention of meetings :

https://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-01/councils-worry-local-democracy-being-compromised-by-coronavirus/12111270?pfm=sm

We’re working with councils to consider the implications of coronavirus on their operations, including the welfare of staff, compliance with the Act, elections and their meetings.

MAV MEDIA RELEASE:

“With streaming and virtual meetings now widely available, we call on the Minister for Local Government Adem Somyurek and the State Government to make this common sense decision and enable one of these options to be implemented as as alternative to meeting face to face.”

Lord Mayor Sally Capp is also calling on the State to fast-track changes.

“The community relies on councils to make decisions that impact their daily lives, but in the current climate we are handcuffed by the restrictions in the Local Government Act.

“We need to prioritise the health and safety of our communities while also continuing to deliver results,” she said.

South Australian Decision (https://www.lga.sa.gov.au/page.aspx?c=87606)

The Electronic Participation in Council Meetings Notice (No 1) 2020 (Notice 1) was made by the Minister on 31 March 2020 and provides variations to the Local Government Act 1999 (LG Act) and the Local Government (Procedures at Meetings) Regulations 2013 (Regulations) to enable some or all council members to participate in a council meeting by electronic means. Further information, including a link to the Notice and an explanatory paper prepared by the LGA, is available in Circular 14.1.

It is our view that allowing an unelected individual to have control over $20m is not in the best interest of this community – regardless of the current situation. It also begs the question of why Moreland City Council can decide to grant its CEO only $2 million in the exact same circumstances. Here is what Moreland decided on the 25th March 2020

Notes the delegation temporarily increases the financial limit of the Chief Executive Officer from $700,000(excludingGST)to $2million (excludingGST),including awarding a contract for the purchase of goods and services or for the carrying out of works, with the increased delegation to be used only in the event that Council is unable to meet because of circumstances related to the COVID19pandemic and subject to:

i.The expenditure being included in budget; and

ii.Compliance with the provisions of the Local Government Act in force at the time and Council’s Procurement Policy.

The only ‘safeguard’ in terms of transparency and accountability that is provided to Glen Eira residents comes with the following:

  • Council will make available (where practicable) on its website, a list of decisionsthat would have been dealt with by Council, but were made under delegation dueto Council being unable to form a quorum due to illness of Councillors or the needto self-isolate by Councillors;
  • the CEO will (where practicable) consider and take into account the views ofCouncillors in making the decisions that would have been dealt with by Council atan ordinary council meeting or special council meeting, but for the coming intooperation of Schedule B of the Instrument of Delegation; and
  • the Instrument of Delegation, when in force, will be reviewed at least once everythree months and that Council at an ordinary council meeting or special councilmeeting will resolve whether to vary, revoke it or leave it in place.

Why do we have such phrases as ‘where practicable’ included? Who decides what is ‘practicable’? What does the term mean anyway given that publishing up to date items on council’s website should be simple given the millions that this council has spent on its IT and website upgrades!!!

QUESTIONS

  • Why is there no mention of this pressure for change in the officer report?
  • How was the figure of $20m derived and why?
  • Why does one council consider that $2m is sufficient for the continued smooth operation of a council and Glen Eira feels that ten times this amount is necessary?
  • Why the rush to push this through when change is undoubtedly imminent given the outcry and the existence of this in at least 2 other states?

 

2.Abolition of DCP & Community Planning Consultations

Ceasing the operation of the above does ostensibly make sense given the requirement for social distancing, etc. at this time. What does not make sense is council’s failure to even consider the possibility that these important avenues for community involvement could be done via the multitude of different phone and online conferencing tools.

Instead, the only time that this possibility is even mentioned in the officer’s report, and then totally ignored comes with this paragraph:

Council is presently working towards instituting online platforms which will allow a Delegated Planning Forum and a Planning Conference to be conducted without having to physically meet. Given the nature of these meetings and the diversity of stakeholders in the planning process, it is important to ensure that any on-line platform is stable, reliable and facilitates accessibility, inclusiveness and transparency in the planning process.

What on earth does ‘presently working towards’ really mean? What is the proposed time line?

Surely there would be no cost or very little cost in implementing such tools immediately. Here’s what Corangamite was able to do in the space of less than a week for its first live streamed council meeting:

The Shire’s first live stream, hastily put together in response to the coronavirus pandemic social distancing requirements, used existing equipment and the free Facebook platform, incurring no cost to ratepayers. (https://www.corangamite.vic.gov.au/Council/News-and-Media/Latest-News/Online-Council-meeting-call)

 

CONCLUSIONS

We can find no sound reasoning that would condone:

  • Granting one individual the power to spend $20m
  • The continued sidelining of residents and councillors when technology can be used to continue meetings
  • The real potential for the further erosion of accountability and transparency

 

PS: By way of contrast to how other councils have handled the current situation and CEO delegations, we’ve taken 2 screen shots of the recent March minutes from Monash and Port Phillip. Please note the requirement for complete and open transparency. The question then becomes: why isn’t this part of the Glen Eira Council approach? What’s to be gained (or hidden?) in the way Glen Eira has determined things will run?

 

Gazetted today:

Question after question has sought answers to what is really going on with our neighbourhood areas (activity centres) that do not have any controls on height in the commercial and mixed use zoned shopping strips.  Council’s response has been consistent: not enough ‘resources’ (presumably this means staff), plus not enough money. That they are flat out on the structure plans for Bentleigh, Carnegie, Elsternwick, East village, Caulfield  and recently added, Glen Huntly. Well, Bentleigh and Carnegie are now on the desk of the Minister awaiting permission to advertise. East Village is done and dusted as far as rezoning is concerned, and Caulfield is largely work being done by the Victorian Planning Authority. Yet, residents are still being told that controls for South Caulfield in particular are at least another 2 years away.

Nor have residents been able to get any clear response from council as to their ultimate objective. Language has varied considerably over the past 18 months. We have been told that ‘structure plans’ are in the vision. Next this becomes mere Urban Design Guidelines or a Design & Development Overlay. There is absolutely no guarantee forthcoming that our neighbourhood centres will have structure plans.

As for the delay in introducing even the most minimal controls, we do not for one second buy council’s excuses. Our theory is:

  • Council has always envisaged Glen Huntly Road from Kooyong to Hawthorn as being one single precinct – ie the expansion of the South Caulfield activity centre. Only stern opposition in 2002 prevented this from occurring.
  • Delaying controls facilitates the pro development agenda. We now have at least 5 applications in for Caulfield South (including one in Caulfield) that sit between 7 and 9 storeys and literally hundreds of apartments. Once these get their permits, probably within the next 8 months, it will be almost impossible for council to argue that the building heights under even a structure plan should be 5 storeys! We speculate that this is totally deliberate on the part of council.

The other question of course is WHY? What is the real reason that council is so gung ho on more and more development – especially when Glen Eira is well and truly above its housing needs to cater for population growth? Why have they caved in so easily on removing the mandatory height limits in Bentleigh & Carnegie and substituting ‘discretionary’ height limits? Yes, it is very easy and convenient to have Wynne as the scapegoat and put the onus on government rather than themselves. When other councils can fight tooth and nail for their residents in terms of pushing for greater land use control, knocking back panel reports, or sending out thousands of mail to their residents, our council distinguishes itself by either total silence, or complete acquiescence. The tragedy is that our councillors have all been complicit in this agenda.

Logic would suggest that there must be some ‘pay back’ or ‘benefit’ in adhering without question with government that is given greater priority than residential amenity, sustainability, and general welfare of constituents. We can only hypothesize, but suggest:

  • More dwellings, with miniscule restrictions on development, amounts to more incoming revenue.
  • More revenue is required for the grandiose schemes of at least $52 million to ‘redevelop’ Carnegie swimming pool; $5 million for a library that was ‘redeveloped’ less than 3 years ago; and the list of projects goes on and on. Please also keep in mind that residents have not been privy to any business plan (that is, if they even exist!!!!)
  • A quid pro quid with government so that grants increase? (ie the nonsense of the Inkerman Road safe bicycle track)
  • Also on the cards is the flogging off of council land to developers in order to proceed with high rise/multi level car parks. Envisaged by Monash to cost around $18 or so million for one. And all the while pathetic little done about procuring more and more desperately needed open space.

We certainly are not privy to the discussions that have occurred behind closed doors with state authorities, and even between councillors. What we do know is that strategic planning in Glen Eira continues to be a disaster. Residents can no longer accept excuse after excuse about the lack of money and resources that council claims is behind its ‘do nothing’ agenda. This excuse must be seen for the furphy  it is, especially when planning applications are down, and council’s staff numbers continue to climb, plus rates and charges also continue to climb. Residents need a council that will put ratepayers before large developers!

Last night’s council meeting showed the first public sign that maybe things aren’t as hunky dory within this councillor group as they would like us to believe. The feathers were definitely flying with Delahunty, Davey and then Athanasopolous getting up on their high horses to implicitly criticise and condemn Esakoff.

All of this related to the ‘debate’ on the Parking Strategy. Esakoff, as is her right, spoke against the strategy. Mind you, she spoke for just on 10 minutes without getting a time extension. So much for the meeting procedures, eh? The bone of contention related to her use of the term ‘social engineering’ (twice in this 10 minute speech).

Here is the full audio of what she said:

Delahunty then rose to object to the terminology. This was followed up by Athanasopolous’s Right of Reply (see below).

Social engineering originates from social science and the term was first used in the 1890’s. In this context of social and/or political science, dictionaries provide the following definitions:

Wikepedia: means of influencing particular attitudes and social behaviors on a large scale

Oxford: the use of centralized planning in an attempt to manage social change and regulate the future development and behaviour of a society.

Webster: management of human beings in accordance with their place and function in society

Collins: is the use of planned measures, for example, measures that affect people’s social or economic position, in order to create a desirable society.

One could quite reasonably ask: Does Glen Eira Council practice social engineering? When we look at recent policies and strategies developed by this council, then the answer is clear. Yes, council does engage in ‘social engineering’!

Here are some recent examples:

  • Waste reduction and food scrap containers.
  • Parking strategies
  • Bicycle strategy

The stated objective(s) of all of the above endeavours are to bring about behavioural change. To basically introduce programs, policies, and laws that will ‘encourage’ people to moderate their behaviours. That’s the purpose of the current Parking strategy – to get more people to use public transport and the Inkerman Road fiasco is supposedly to get more people riding bikes. Providing food scrap containers and changing what can go into green bins is another example of trying to influence behaviour.

We are not discussing the value or efficacy of these programs. What we would like to know is how on earth Delahunty, Davey and especially Athanasopolous can get up on their high horse and protest vehemently about the ‘language’ that Esakoff used. This strikes us as hypocrisy of the highest order. More to the point, it raises the question of WHY this outrage and why now?

For Athanasopolous to bring up Pol Pot, Stalin, and presumably Hitler in what amounts to a personal attack on Esakoff is quite unbelievable. We are not in the business of defending Esakoff. However in this instance, the response to her use of the term Social Engineering is way beyond the pale, especially when council is the supreme agent of its own social engineering which is often accomplished in the face of stern opposition from residents. May we even suggest that by ignoring community opposition, such actions would resonate beautifully with Stalin and his aberrant version of ‘social engineering’.

« Previous PageNext Page »