GE Consultation/Communication


The agenda for Tuesday night’s council meeting again features Amendment C184 for Bentleigh and Carnegie. Once again the recommendation is to abandon the amendment and to start on a Housing Strategy, plus individual amendments for both of these major activity centres.

Whilst we support this recommendation, we still do not have any real answers as to why there has been this monumental stuff up and who is responsible. Nor are we told in this latest report what extra external ‘expert’ advice was relied on. Were they lawyers – if so, who, and how much did this cost? If planners, again who were they? But the real question remains – why weren’t all these drawbacks picked up years ago?

At last the current officer’s report goes some way to enunciating the significance of a housing strategy. Up until today, this has been entirely ignored. What is clear, is that housing strategies are vital not just for the resulting built form of major activity centres, but for any Municipal Strategic Strategy rewrite, and its purpose is not only to look at individual centres, but the entire municipality. What we have instead is a concocted City Plan that is anything but a housing strategy. We also have the residential zones that have now been acknowledged to be not up to standard in regards to heritage and other constraints.

THE ROLE OF A HOUSING STRATEGY & GLEN EIRA COUNCIL

In July 2014 there was introduced what is called a ‘ministerial directive’ number 16. It specified several important points that councils had to do, namely:

  • use a housing strategy to inform the balanced application of the three residentialzones
  • evaluate and monitor the implications of the application of any of the three residential zones within two years of their gazettal into the planning scheme 

Glen Eira introduced its zones in August 2013. There certainly has not been any ‘evaluation’ and monitoring of the efficacy of these zones and certainly not done in accordance with this directive at the time. In fact the MRDAC committee concluded that the manner in which Glen Eira introduced their zones (by stealth!) was far from acceptable. We quote:

The zones were implemented in Glen Eira without public consultation, and without an independent review process. The Reasons for Decision to Exercise Power of Intervention deemed that further consultation through the formal statutory process unnecessary, stating: Consultation has been conducted during the development of the Housing and Residential Development Strategy and in relation to Amendment C25.
The Committee notes the Council’s Housing and Residential Strategy was adopted in 2002, 11 years before the gazettal of Amendment C110. The Committee questions the currency of the policy itself as well as the currency of the community consultation in relation to this policy.
(page 176 of Advisory committee Report: Managing Residential Development Advisory Committee Residential Zone Review).

Thus as far back as 2014, Council were, or should have been aware of the need for an up-to-date Housing Strategy.To therefore imply, that this bit of news has only now come to council’s notice via the Minister’s letter of 2019 is pure bunkum. Interestingly, other councils took real notice of this directive. In Glen Eira it did not rate a mention!The following screen dump comes from Boroondara’s council meeting of 14/12/2015.

Whilst this directive was rescinded several years later, the demand for a housing strategy still exists. How any council can pretend to plan for the entire municipality without an up to date strategy beggars belief. In Glen Eira, such acknowledgement always comes years and years too late when many of our streets and suburbs are already beyond redemption.

For all readers’ information here is what other councils have been doing for years and years and which our lot have stubbornly refused to do. Again the perennial questions: why have all these councils got Housing Strategies and Glen Eira does not? How ‘genuine’ will the proposed community consultation on the upcoming strategy be? Or will it remain a simple tick the box sham as with the current City Plan?

Here is the work that other councils have done and the dates of their strategies:

Kingston – adopted in 2020a nd awaiting ministerial approval to advertise

Bayside 2012 and 2019

Hobson’s Bay – 2017

Maribyrnong – 2011 and updated 2018

Darebin – 2012 and is currently out for consultation review

Stonnington – 2020 revision of existing housing strategy

Boroondara – 2015

Casey – 2019

Banyule – 2009 and currently being updated

Bendigo – 2018 updated strategy

Frankston – 2018

Mornington 2020 is updated strategy

Darebin – 2013 and being updated

Brimbank – 2012 updated 2020

Yarra Ranges – 2009

Wodonga – 2018

Yarra – 2018

Latrobe – 2019

Knox 2015

Whitehorse 2014 and being reviewed in part

Surf Coast 2006

Nillumbik – 2020 and ongoing

Maroondah – 2016

Port Phillip – 2007 and updated for specific precincts regularly

Moorabool – 2016

Warnambool – 2013

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

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

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

Congratulations to Save Glen Eira for their terrific effort in collecting 1667 signatures in a very short time. We have also been told that there are even more with late signatures also coming in.

See: https://www.facebook.com/savegleneira/

Hopefully this kind of response will once and for all put a stop to the myths that residents are ‘satisfied’ with planning, open space, environmental sustainability, and consultation by this council. Residents have spoken and we can only assume that they desire major change and a council that does listen and act in accordance with residents’ wishes.

Over the past few years there have been numerous issues which have raised the ire of many residents, evincing passions that have hitherto been unknown in this community. We are referring to the various draft structure plans, the proposed Inkerman bike path, as well as the Carnegie Pool redevelopment for the current projected cost of $51 million. Why this has and is happening relates directly to council’s overall approach to ‘consultation’ and the methodology for disseminating vital information.

A few overarching comments and questions to begin with:

  • How reasonable is it to release hundreds upon hundreds of pages of documents and expect residents to fully understand, or have the time, to read, digest, analyse, and then comment on any proposal?
  • How reasonable is it to present ‘designs’ that provide no essential data such as cost, or vital information on current traffic data, the percentage of green open space, versus concrete; the potential for overshadowing of open space; the number of proposed tree plantings versus removal of existing trees, etc.?
  • Is the ‘top down’ approach really providing residents with clear options based on the above?
  • Is the timing of forums the best approach for those who work, or for families with children – ie during the day, or smack in the middle of dinner time or bed time for young kids?
  • Are the questions asked in surveys truly designed to elicit informed choices?
  • Are the resulting officer or consultant reports a true reflection of the feedback provided?
  • How can the goals of transparency and accountability be integrated fully into all consultation methods?

We believe that residents and councillors deserve a lot better if the goal is truly ‘evidence based’ decision making as has been stated again and again. What is asked, and how it is asked and analysed validly, remains the cornerstone of sound consultation. How this is then reported becomes crucial.

Below we highlight our reservations plus providing recommendations to improve the process and to address the above bullet points.

STRUCTURE PLANNING

Council’s first step in the process of developing structure plans came in 2017 with its surveys on ‘activity centres’.  Fair enough! But did the actual questions provide residents with a realistic insight into what they were actually commenting upon? When the phrase ‘shopping strip’ is used again and again, how many respondents had any inkling that this could, and did, lead to the rezoning of surrounding residential streets? How many respondents had any inkling that the size of their activity centre was to be expanded when the terminology used was consistently ‘study area’? And how on earth could the resulting reports be so out of kilter with the data actually provided? (See: https://gleneira.blog/2017/03/21/structure-planning-consultation-2/

Here is an image of what was asked. Please note the continued and slanted emphases on ‘shopping strip’. Not one single question was designed to elicit responses to the matters that had clearly concerned residents for eons – namely building heights, open space, and parking.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ACTIVITY CENTRE STRUCTURE PLANNING CONSULTATIONS

  • Provide residents with a short, informative Discussion Paper that emphasises in a succinct manner all the pros and cons of what is proposed.
  • Ensure that council resolutions are carried through. For example, it was resolved on the 23rd May 2017 that council: endorses the creation of the Activity Centre Community Advisory Committee and request the expression of interest for community members. This never eventuated!!!!!!
  • When the Glen Eira News provides articles on the issue, then it must include all the relevant details being considered.. This was not done in either the April, June, July, November, 2017 editions. Unless residents were prepared to plough through reams of documents, they would not have had any inkling that 12 storeys was being considered for Elsternwick and Carnegie. Even with the final announcement of April 2018 (see below) those residents who had not followed the issue closely would not know what had been passed. Instead we have the usual jargon of ‘right buildings’ in the ‘right locations’, or the import of the word ‘guidelines’ (ie prescriptive or discretionary) without any real information being communicated. All is made to sound wonderful in what can only be interpreted as nothing more than another public relations exercise rather than information provision!

  • Ensure that questions included in surveys are not nebulous and vague – that they direct residents to the crux of issues. For example, would it have been too hard to include questions along these lines –
  • What do you consider to be an appropriate height for Centre Road buildings?
  • Are you in favour of any council sell off of public land to consolidate car parking in one spot?
  • Where would you like to see extra open space created and why?
  • What parking restrictions should council consider for this activity centre?

Council did not come close to asking questions of this ilk!

Finally, why shouldn’t the Community Engagement Committee vet proposed questionnaires and surveys? Why must everything be a top-down approach? And why shouldn’t residents be directly involved in the analyses of any responses? Unless of course, council’s main objective has been to push through its agendas regardless of what residents say they want. And there is plenty of evidence to support this notion, sadly!!!

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