GE Consultation/Communication


Well over 120 residents came out last night to partake in the Housing Strategy forum at the town hall. Our over-riding impressions of the evening are:

  • Spin remains the modus operandi of officers
  • Resident dissatisfaction and anger was palpable

On the first bullet point above, the audience was again assailed with the sheer nonsense of some of the statements made by the planners – the same individuals who featured in the previous disastrous zoom session.  We were, for example, told that the aim of the housing strategy was NOT to encourage more development! How such a statement tallies with the fact that the proposals include new zoning for street after street to go from 2 storeys, to three or four storeys is laughable. And how more development won’t be the outcome of aiming for 3 or more dwellings on sites currently carrying  2 dwellings is even more laughable.

Slides were shown, and once again the ‘explanation’ of what was being proposed was through a very selective rose coloured glasses view. For example: much was made of the fact that the sites selected for increased dwellings per site were primarily along main roads. No mention of all those areas that would now have to cope with 3 or 4 storeys instead of their current zoning allowing only 2 storey heights. Nor at any stage was there any precise detail provided as to what might change. We were told that there was consideration to revert to RESCODE standards, but explaining precisely what this would mean was not done.  

Arguably, the most revealing admission of the evening was the announcement that the officers’ presentations would be audio taped and presumably published on council’s website, but that the ‘audience participation’ would not be taped and made public. One resident responded to this by stating that such a decision goes against all tenets of transparency. We agree and as a result we  invite all residents to listen to what the community had to say via the audio presented below.

In the May edition of the Glen Eira News  we find the following announcement on page 4 –

CLICK TO ENLARGE

For the first time, there is a vague mention of proposed changes. Without real detail of course and still requiring residents to plough through voluminous amounts of verbage in order to have an idea as to the actual proposals and how these might impact on them individually. Simply not good enough. We have repeatedly stated that if council is genuine in its attempts to hear from residents then what is required is:

  • a short one page list of proposed changes
  • a survey that includes open ended questions and asks for direct feedback on these proposed changes

Nothing like this has been provided to residents. Even the letters sent out to allegedly impacted homes contained no specific information that residents could really understand and refer back to their individual situations.

We also take strong issue with the Magee comments.  He states in the above screen dump:

While most properties will retain their current zoning, for some, changes could include a change of zone, a change of controls, or replacement of garden area requirements to deliver improved tree planting and landscaping’.

COMMENTS

  • Most properties might retain their current zoning, but this doesn’t prevent council from actually reviewing what was introduced in 2013 and assessing whether these zones are still appropriate. Furthermore, council has admitted that 10,699 properties will be affected. That is 20% of current numbers.
  • The comments also assume that most residents actually know what zone they live in. Our guess would be that only a minority are familiar with council’s zoning and the accompanying schedules.
  • Nor would most residents know what the ‘controls’ currently state, or what the housing strategy intends to alter and what this means in reality.
  • Last, but certainly not least, there will NOT BE A REPLACEMENT of the garden area requirement. It will simply be REMOVED! How on earth this can then be equated with improved ‘tree planting and landscaping’ is beyond belief.

We maintain that it is unconscionable for this kind of spin to be put out to residents. It is surely time for some honest consultation processes in Glen Eira!

After a huge outcry from residents, and we presume from councillors as well, the following has been announced on the Housing Strategy consultation – time extension to 15 May and…..

We certainly welcome the extended time period. And given the webinar fiasco of last month, a face-to-face meeting in the auditorium is also most welcome. Whilst there is definitely ‘improvement’, much more could have been achieved we believe. For example:

  • There is no change proposed for the inadequate survey questions.
  • No short online summary of the proposed changes has been added to the website – and we don’t mean the waffle and verbage that the 9 page ‘information document’ currently contains. What is required is something along the lines of: GRZ will have mandatory garden area removed; new zone of NRZ2 will have increased site coverage, less permeability, etc. etc.
  • Do we really need another Q & A in the form of ‘one on one’ with officers? Fair enough that some residents may not be fully au fait with the detail, but surely the ‘presentation’ should precede any Q & A and not after?
  • Why has only 35 minutes been assigned for residents to state their views where everyone can listen?
  • And what do the final 10 minutes really mean? How is this different from the preceding 35 minutes?
  • If a Q and A, we wonder how much of the allotted time will be taken up by officers ostensibly responding to these questions?

Our concerns remain about consultation in Glen Eira and the willingness of this administration to fully engage with its residents – to provide them with relevant and accurate information at the outset, and to ensure that there is ample opportunity for residents to record their views and not merely ask questions. Thus far, the emphases has been on ‘asking questions’ and not ‘what do you think’ about our proposals’? In order to arrive at this second stage, residents need information and not weasel words and spin. That is the challenge for councillors. To mandate genuine, open consultation that is driven by the desire to listen to the community and incorporate their views as fully as possible into all strategic planning. If this cannot be totally achieved, then full explanations as to why not. That is what council has signed up for with its pledge to also ‘involve’ rather than merely ‘consult’. Thus far we have had nothing more than ‘consult’. This has to change.

The Melbourne Racing Club (and their development arm) are at it again with the latest development plan for Stage 9 of the Caulfield Village. As in all the previous applications, the Incorporated Plan of 2014 is a completely worthless piece of paper that should be shredded and assigned to the dust bin. At every step of this process, we have had council caving in time and again – on heights, on borders of precincts, on the need for social housing, on open space, on parking requirements. Now we have another application and have to wonder why for such a major development:

  • Why this wasn’t prominently displayed on council’s home page?
  • How many letters were sent out to nearby residents?
  • How long was the advertising period? (which has now closed).

In summary, this application is for:

  • 354 apartments – of which 245 are single bedroom making that 69.2% of proposed units. There will be only 3 three bedroom apartments and the rest are either 2 bedroom or miniscule ‘studio apartments’.
  • Parking spots total 250 and only 8 for ‘retail parking’ – hence a huge shortfall in what is required.
  • Heights will be 14 storeys over two towers
  • Trees will be removed along Station Street
  • Open Space will be in shadow most of the day as will the Boulevard.

THE IMPORTANT POINTS

  • The Incorporated Plan envisaged the maximum height for this precinct at 12 storeys. The recently released Caulfield Station Structure Plan, also had this site as 12 storeys. This increase in height is similar to what has happened with all the other precincts and allowed by this council without any fight whatsoever.
  • We still have Stage 9 and 10 to go – which will be a minimum of 20 storeys and likely much higher!

Of greatest significance to residents is council’s private dealings with the developer and their reactions to the initial plans. The developer’s responses to council’s ‘requests for further information’ luckily include council’s original views in the advertised documents.

When council has previously agreed to documents that establish a projected development of approximately 1100 dwellings, and clearly defined height limits (admittedly discretionary), why do we get double the number of apartments and heights well above what was agreed? Why doesn’t this council fight tooth and nail so that the developer has to comply with the original agreement?

Here is our planning department’s response to the issue of height and parking waivers –

….there are a number of variations sought to the indicative built form shown in the approved development plan and associated controls.

Whilst the Urban Planning Department has no issue in principle with a number of variations, such as the increased height and the reduction in car parking sought, additional justification and supporting documentation should be provided to support all other variations, such as podium setbacks, podium height, etc.

The above says it all we believe!

We’ve received an email from a resident containing the letter which council claims to have sent out to thousands of ratepayers about the Housing Strategy consultation. Incredibly, not one word in this ‘invitation’ provides a clue as to what is being proposed in the strategy, nor how the recipients of the letter may be impacted. In other words, a whole lot of verbage with no relevant or vital detail.

If council was really serious in eliciting feedback, then surely a summary of proposals was essential? Even if those receiving the letter followed up and investigated the Have Your Say webpage they would be confronted with the same waffle and the lack of pertinent information – unless of course, they were prepared to wade through 589 pages!

This is not consultation! It is a ‘tick the box’ exercise designed to comply with legal requirements rather then finding out exactly what residents think or want!

Council’s current agenda includes the Design & Development Overlay (DDO) for Caulfield North. This follows the previous ‘consultation’ on the Built Form Frameworks for Caulfield North, Caulfield South and Bentleigh East. We have previously commented on the value of the ‘consultation’ and its drawbacks.  (See: https://gleneira.blog/2021/05/12/is-this-fair-dinkum-consultation/)

There are very few changes from the originally advertised documents. So much for ‘listening’ to residents. Worth noting that the officer’s report, as is typical, fails to even make mention of the feedback, and how this has ‘influenced’ or not, council’s current version.

In summary, the DDO will:

  • NOT have mandatory height limits except for the sites in a heritage overlay. The majority of the precinct will have 6 storeys discretionary. The City Plan has 5 storeys. No explanation provided in anything we’ve seen as to why these Neighbourhood Centres should be 6 AND NOT THE 5 STOREYS recommended in the City Plan.
  • Overshadowing to the public domain relies only on the summer solstice – no consideration given for the winter solstice. Plus, overshadowing is said to be avoided for the most ‘active’ parts of the day. For one area this is equated to 10am to 12 pm!!!!!
  • Rear laneways of 3m are deemed appropriate for egress and ingress! This means that two cars travelling in opposite directions cannot pass each other.

We’ve highlighted some of the paragraphs from the officer’s report and ask readers to consider them carefully – as this, presumably, is supposed to be the rationale and justification for the proposed DDO.

Proposed DDO12 will apply to all commercially zoned land within the centre. The introduction of these planning controls will ensure Council can regulate growth and change at an appropriate rate and manage the competing priorities of the community, and the development industry. The proposed controls are not seeking to increase the rate of development within the centre, rather they introduce standards to manage development when it does occur.

COMMENT: What does ‘appropriate rate’ mean? 100 new apartments per annum? Or 200 per annum? The use of the word ‘rate’ is a neat sleight of hand designed to avoid the conclusion that once you raise the allowable height of a building, then it becomes more tempting and profitable for a developer. It has very little to do with the ‘rate’ or presumably ‘speed’ of development which council has no control over anyway.

Mandatory controls are not considered necessary for street walls along this section of Balaclava Road and may even be to the detriment of good development outcomes (for example, preventing on-site outdoor dining terrace areas at the front of cafés). No heritage or character overlay controls affect this section of Balaclava Road and the mandatory requirement has therefore been changed to a preferred setback requirement. This will make it consistent with the Caulfield South Activity Centre DDO.

COMMENT: Since when does a mandatory street wall height prevent ‘outdoor dining terrace areas’? and how will a discretionary height which could allow a four storey wall height contribute to ‘good development outcomes’? Here are some quotes from the original Urban Design doc:

A two to three storey building height at the street is recommended for the Caulfield Park NAC, which will maintain a scale that is both compatible with existing heritage and non heritage shopfronts, and does not overwhelm the streetscape. This has been evidenced with recent developments in the NAC that provide a three storey street wall.

As for the proposition that this is fine given it is ‘consistent’ with what has already been approved for Caulfield South is not a justification. Each Neighbourhood Centre is unique, as admitted even by council. There is no demand for ‘consistency’. Instead each area should be evaluated for what it is, rather than how it can fit into the ‘one size fits all’ model so preferred by this council.

The proposed planning controls only focus on the commercial zones within the centre, a key growth area which places less pressure on our residential areas where tree retention/planting and maintaining site permeability is important.

COMMENT:  if the objective is to protect the surrounding residential environment as claimed above, then perhaps council needs to explain why the Housing Strategy is advocating the removal of the mandatory garden requirement, reducing permeability, and doing nothing specific about tree retention.  The entire area surrounding the commercial land is zoned GRZ, where all of the above changes will impact directly on these properties. Coupled with the impacts of these changes, we will now have a minimum of 6 storeys abutting a mandatory 3 storey zone. And that’s okay for this council.

Here’s a map of the current zoning. Please note the extent of GRZ (3 storeys) and their connection to the commercial sites.

CONCLUSION

Once again we find that council has failed to live up to its so called ‘engagement strategy’. We do not know:

  • How and where community feedback influenced the final decision
  • Why the heights are increased despite the approved council City Plan
  • And finally, ‘consultation’ in name only given the pathetic survey questions

Readers should find the following cut and paste from the council website both laughable and illuminating.  Laughable, because this is an example of the emptiness of all council promises. Illuminating since it illustrates again and again that what goes into the public domain is nothing more than an exercise in public relations spin. In Glen Eira, the chasm between words and actions would challenge the Grand Canyon!

We quote verbatim from the second half  of the webpage found here: https://www.gleneira.vic.gov.au/services/planning-and-building/planning-scheme-and-amendments/glen-eira-planning-scheme-review-2018

During this wide ranging program of consultation a number of issues and opportunities were raised which have been grouped into themes below. These issues and opportunities are generally the same as those identified in the 2016 Review. Our ongoing engagement with the community has reinforced initial community feedback rather than revealed anything new. In light of this, it was not considered necessary to consult the community again for the specific purpose of this 2018 Review.

Work plan

The work plan adopted by Council includes projects that will cover:

  • Loss of neighbourhood character, more specifically:
    • The need for additional design guidelines within zones
    • More landscaping opportunities and vegetation
    • Better transition between developments
    • Curb the rate of growth
    • Reduce basement encroachments
    • Improve garden character
    • Protect backyards
    • Reduce hard surfaces in private open space areas
    • Front fencing
    • Streetscape integration
    • Better quality architecture
    • Greater front setbacks
    • Reduce building heights
  • Overdevelopment in Activity Centres
  • Development transition between zones
  • Protection of heritage
  • Traffic and parking
  • Lack of open space
  • Developer contribution to infrastructure
  • MSS and Local Policy framework
  • Loss of trees
  • Environmentally Sustainable Design

The Planning Scheme Review report and work plan has been submitted to the Minister for Planning, with work commencing immediately.

COMMENTS

The above quotes relate to the 2018 so called Review Of the Planning Scheme which, as stated, did not involve any community consultation. It is now 4 years since the updated work plan from 2016. We were promised another update for this year. We are still waiting. Nor have we heard anything about another Planning Scheme Review which is also required – unless of course, officers have applied for another extension!

But what is particularly frustrating is the stated ‘commitment’ of this council to undertake all of the things so important to residents – ie height controls, tree protection; open space, traffic, etc. We have bolded and underlined all of council’s promises which relate to these issues in the above. So, how is it possible that the current draft Housing Strategy flies in the face of all these promises?

How on earth can you:

  • ‘Curb growth’ and at the same time rezone at least 10,699 properties for more development when you already admit to a capacity for 50,000 net new dwellings and only need 13,000 out to 2036?
  • ‘improve garden character’ by removing the mandatory garden requirement in over 7000 sites?
  • ‘protect backyards’ when rear setbacks are mooted to be removed in GRZ2 and reduced in NRZ?
  • ‘reduce hard surfaces’ when you intend to decrease permeability requirements in several zones?
  • Have ‘developer contribution’ still absent after 6 years?

What the Housing Strategy proposes is completely at odds with resident views and council promises. Add to this the fact that so little has been achieved in six and a half years and the results are shameful and incompetent.

How much longer will council officers be allowed to fudge the facts and get away with it? Statement after statement made by these officers at Thursday night’s webinar was not only incorrect, but it was selective, misleading, and failed to provide participants with the full picture. Either these planners are not acquainted with the relevant legislation, or they are misrepresenting what is written in order to support the decisions they have already made. Either way, they need to be called out and held to account. This is the purpose of this post.

Two officers claimed that the Planning Practice Notes only require councils to ‘consider’ neighbourhood character in the General Residential Zone. The major quote was:

The General Residential Zone is a zone that allows up to three storey development and the Practice Note associated with the Residential zone says that the purpose of the zone is that it is to consider neighbourhood character as opposed to the Neighbourhood Residential Zone which is to respect existing neighbourhood character….

COMMENTS

The Planning Practice Notes are basically there to ‘explain’ and expand on the Victorian Planning Provisions that are in every single planning scheme.

The word ‘consider’ does not feature anywhere in the Practice Notes in relation to the General Residential Zone. What is stated is this (from Planning Practice Note 91):

While the purpose of the GRZ includes ‘To encourage development that respects the neighbourhood character of the area’, it is unlikely that neighbourhood character can be respected if existing development is single and double storey. However, the GRZ may be the appropriate zone to apply to areas with existing three-storey development.

Council should then have to explain why they have ear marked countless streets that contain only single and double storey buildings to now become 3 and 4 storey given the above paragraph. Clearly, the intent is for increased density and nothing else as explained in another quote from this practice note:

…. it may be appropriate to exempt the minimum garden area requirement in the GRZ where a planning authority is seeking to recognise existing development conditions or to promote a denser urban form of housing than currently exists to achieve other housing objectives

From the following image taken from the Housing Strategy, it appears that Council would have us believe that removing the garden requirement is primarily so that the Urban Forest Strategy and sustainability can be ‘improved’.

The Housing Capacity document is far more forthcoming when it states: Garden area requirements appear to be a constraint on development take-up and density in both the GRZ and NRZ (page ix)

And then from the very same document we also find: The GRZ zones have relatively high average development densities, as most developments in this zone are three storey apartment buildings rather than townhouses or villa developments. (page 48)

And from page 68: With the proposed changes …..the current extent of the general residential zone limits the take-up rate, and so applying this zone to more land will provide a greater supply of potential sites to developers and increase the development rate.

Finally this statement from page 69 – A further increase in development rates in areas formerly zoned GRZ2 of 50% will occur reflecting the reduction or removal of rear setback requirements to facilitate development.

If the argument as presented by council is that what is required is townhouses and ‘medium density’, then the above quotes illustrate completely, that the real objective is to cram as many new apartment blocks as possible into our suburbs. How on earth this council even has the gall to argue that removing the garden requirement in the GRZ will facilitate better ‘sustainability’ and landscaping outcomes is simply mind boggling, or that what will eventuate are townhouses!

There is absolutely no way that last night’s webinar could be construed as ‘consultation’. It was nothing more than an officer talk fest, carefully designed to limit community participation and for this administration to fully control every aspect. We elaborate:

  1. The only voices (and faces) that were seen and heard, were those of the four officers in attendance and the facilitator
  2. The number of participants was not revealed and nor could they read out their questions.
  3. Questions contributed during the evening only went to the officers and were not revealed to participants. We have no idea how many questions were submitted.
  4. Many of the questions were paraphrased by Torres, rather than read out verbatim
  5. Responses were general and more than half did not specifically answer the question. For example, the rationale for height increases was simply put down to ‘urban design’ recommendations. Responses on ‘sustainability’ were frankly abysmal.
  6. Specifics were totally absent – ie no mention of the removal of the garden requirement; no mention of the proposed new nrz which would increase site coverage, reduce setbacks, etc.
  7. Responses to questions submitted prior to the evening lasted precisely 13 minutes. We then had another 13 minutes of ward ‘explanations’ that again refused to mention the most important aspects of the proposed changes.

More disappointing is that only four councillors were announced as being present – Esakoff, Magee, Szmood and Zyngier – although they could not be seen and nor were they given the opportunity to say anything.

What happened last night is nothing short of disgraceful. We would even go as far as stating that there has literally been NO CONSULTATION whatsoever on the housing strategy. When residents are denied the opportunity to speak, to hear/or read what other residents think, and to be continually fobbed off with double speak and weasel words, this is the opposite of ‘consultation’. At best, this was nothing more than another ‘information’ evening – and even that failed to reveal the full facts to participants. Providing skewed and misleading information is NOT consultation. At no point in anything that has happened thus far have residents been asked the most important question that genuinely seeks their views – namely:

  • What do you think of our proposed changes to zones, garden requirements, sustainability, etc?

For those readers who wish to hear what occurred last night we have uploaded the full audio. The audio starts after about 40 seconds. Apologies for the quality of the sound. Council couldn’t even get this right it seems!

Also worth mentioning that the evening finished 10 minutes early.  Does this mean that all questions were dealt with, or it was simply decided to cut the evening short?

PS: BY WAY OF CONTRAST HERE IS WHAT KINGSTON COUNCIL DID IN TERMS OF CONSULTATION WITH THEIR COMMUNITY.

Source: https://www.kingston.vic.gov.au/Property-and-Development/Planning-for-our-future/Housing-Strategy-and-Neighbourhood-Character-Study

Council has now provided the Zoom link for tomorrow nights Housing Strategy Webinar. They have also included an agenda, presented below.

Judging by the published agenda, ‘presentations’ by officers will dominate most of the 90 minute scheduled meeting. Unacceptable!!!!!!!

Furthermore, why is the program divided into wards? Does this mean that comments made by Tucker Ward residents will not be admissable if the program is at the Rosstown ward section? Again, unacceptable!!!!!!

Furthermore, a Housing Strategy, is NOT about wards. It is about the entire municipality, and the principles embedded in the strategy that will shape land use. For example: the general residential zoning exists in all wards. What if some residents wish to comment on the proposed removal of the mandatory garden requirement, as a concept, and not necessarily how it relates to either Rosstown, Tucker, or Camden? Will they be told ‘this isn’t a question’ as stated in the agenda?

All in all, the deliberate and calculated machinations of this council to avoid anything resembling genuine consultation is quite literally unbelievable. Either those in charge have no idea of what consultation means, or they are simply doing everything possible to negate and undermine the expected flood of negative responses. But, and a big but, the URL is now available. We again urge all residents to log on and to tell this council administration, planners, and some councillors, exactly what they think of their strategic planning and continued failure to represent community views.

Next Page »