GE Consultation/Communication


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As we wrote in our last post, we believe that it is incumbent on current councillors to owe their primary allegiance to their constituents and not to any state or federal political party. It was very clear last night on the multi-level car park issue, that most councillors chose the latter.  The community, and their wishes, was not the prime concern. Rather political point scoring definitely was.

Consistency has never been a hallmark of some councillors. Last night was no exception. On the Woolworths application, here is part of what occurred.

Cr Parasol in seconding the motion to refuse the Woolworths application said – ‘being on council you have to listen to the residents’…..I feel we need to support their claims’. Athanasopoulos in his response stated: ‘there will be some form of development and ….and just saying the community don’t want it and therefore you as a councillor have to vote that way, I don’t really appreciate that type of interaction’. …it’s not just for me to do a poll survey around an area and then land on a decision’. He needs ‘all information’ and a ‘prudent councillor would do that’ before he decides. He wants good ‘interaction’ ‘rather than dictating to me what I should do as a councillor’.

When the multi-car park item came up, Athanasopolous moved a complex motion that included ‘consultation’ on whether the community wanted to accept the grants, and the locations of the newly proposed builds. What’s important is that he also said that the consultation would provide council with a MANDATE!!!!! In other words, if the community says ‘yeah’ or ‘nay’ then this is the basis upon which he, as a councillor would vote. In our view, this totally contradicts what he stated in the Woolworths item! Isn’t this proposal nothing more than a ‘poll survey’ which was dismissed several items earlier? And if we consider the definition of ‘mandate’ then this also implies voting in accordance with community views.  Furthermore, readers would do well to remember Athanasopolous’ comment in September 2020 when he stated that councillors should not appear to be ‘in the pockets of residents’. Taking all this into account, we have to wonder whether any consultation result would deter certain councillors from voting on issues that they have already made up their minds about!

What last night so sadly showed was that ideology is the greatest criterion in many councillor’s decision making. Residents, and purported ‘genuine consultation’ is nothing more than a tick the box exercise to legitimise predetermined decision making. Indeed a very, very, concerning night for residents.

Item 8.5 on the current agenda features the multi-deck car park(s) issue. We are finally told several interesting things:

  • Council has secured $20.6M in grants
  • This amount means that council does not have to fork out any ratepayers’ money
  • The car park locations have changed in both Elsternwick and Bentleigh
  • The car parks will be ‘smaller’

Three options are then provided:

  • Proceed with a ‘feasibility’ study and community consultation on design
  • Proceed with ‘soft’ community consultation first
  • Return the money to the federal government and abandon the project

Whilst all this sounds wonderful, a myriad of questions remains and detail of course is missing. For example:

  • Multi-level car parks cost the earth. Council in its Strategic Resource Plans (SRP) for 2018/19 put the cost for the Stanley Street edifice at $18M and the Horsely Street versions at $14M – and that was three years ago! Admittedly, the later first drawings were for the equivalent of 5 and 4 storey constructions. We are now told that the proposals will be ‘smaller’, so supposedly cheaper!  What then needs to be stated is: if the car parks will be smaller then how many actual car parking spots will they contain? And how does this reduced number correlate to the previous studies that told us we need xxxx amount of car parking spots? Was this initial figure wrong and we are now supposed to accept a lesser required number?  Even more dramatic is the change in location. Whilst the new recommendations make sense, it again calls into question the first set of recommendations. How could planning have got it so wrong the first time around?
  • We are also concerned about council’s track record on major infrastructure projects. Each and every one has cost heaps more than first suggested. So, will $20M really be the final cost and if not, then how much will council need to put in to complete the projects? There is much in the officer’s report claiming that it will not cost council a cent. We remain unconvinced.

THE OPTIONS

Option 1 – Proceed with full feasibility and site due diligence, including development of concept designs. The problem with this option is that it basically pre-empts community input on the first question that needs asking – ie does the community support the development of multi-level car parks? If all the community is asked to respond to is the draft designs, then the first essential question is neatly side-stepped.

Option 2 – Proceed with a light-touch engagement phase to gauge community support for the commuter carparks prior to undertaking full feasibility and concept design. What on earth does ‘light touch engagement’ mean? Is this a euphemism for another half-baked consultation process? Even if the consultation is genuine, what happens if the Elsternwick proposal gets support and the Bentleigh one does not garner majority support? Will council still proceed? Return half the money?

Option 3 – Abandon the projects and return the funds to the Federal Government.

Our problem with these options is that there is no logical sequencing of process. Surely the first step must be whether a majority of the community even supports the idea of multi-level carparks. The next step would be to proceed with a business/feasibility study, etc. If there is no support, then ‘yes’, return the money – or if one site is shown to be acceptable to the community, then proceed with this alone. The drafting of the options does not provide this logical sequence. With the officer’s report recommending Option 1, the go ahead is taken for granted.

Looking back, residents have never been asked the crucial question – do you want multi level car parks? That should and must be the starting point. Residents also require far more specifics in order to come up with any informed opinion. Given that council as far back as 2018/19 was able to come up with some base-line costings, then they should be able to do this now as well. They should also be capable of telling residents what is the difference between ‘commuter parking’ and shoppers’ parking. Will certain levels be set aside for train commuters alone? How will this be monitored and enforced? Will there be any parking costs? This is information that should inform any consultation process. What we have in this report fails miserable on all these counts.

Finally, the recent publicity regarding the alleged pork barrelling by the Liberals in the grant process, should not have any impact on what decisions will be made by councillors. Federal Labor is of course using this as a great opportunity to lambast the Libs. It is therefore incumbent on our councillors to focus on their roles – ie the Glen Eira community and not to play politics! They are councillors first and last and owe allegiance to their constituents – not some political party!

Council has produced what it calls an ‘issues and opportunities’ paper on its upcoming housing strategy. One should therefore reasonably expect that residents be provided with:

  • An overview of the current situation,the various ‘issues’ confronting the municipality, and
  • How these ‘issues’ might be addressed via planning controls

In order to achieve the above, any decent discussion paper should provide readers with a detailed explanation of the issues, the problems, the potential solutions, and then insert specific questions that seek responses. Sadly, in the 13 page document, we find that only one single question has been included. It reads: How will we provide for the housing needs of an evolving community while continuing to support the sustainability, attractiveness and liveability of our City?

We are told nothing about our ‘evolving community’ (whatever that means!), nor anything about the controls that council has at its disposal in order to ensure ‘sustainability’ and ‘liveability’. Unless readers are aware of what is possible, their ability to respond meaningfully to such a question remains limited. For example: council introduced its residential zones in 2013 (without consultation). Nothing in the accompanying schedules to these zones has been reviewed, amended, or questioned. Whilst other councils have up to 40% permeability requirements even in their General Residential Zones, Glen Eira is content with maintaining its 20% requirement. This also applies to size of underground basements, open space requirements, etc. If sustainability is the objective, then residents need to know that council can and should be amending its schedules, and even reviewing the placement of the various zones. None of this has been communicated.

As for our ‘evolving community’, nothing in the issues paper identifies what this actually means or what the implications are and how they relate to a housing strategy. We are provided with a breakdown of detached housing figures, percentages of lone person households, and families with children (page 9). All we get are generalised comments such as ‘Housing diversity is important. There is support for housing diversity’. None of this has been explained, examined, and defined.

We also find statement after statement that deserves to be challenged. For example: ‘There is a need for student accommodation close to Monash University……’ We are not told how many student accommodation places currently exist and given COVID, how many might be required over the next 15 years. And if over a third of our current households are families with children, then surely, ‘housing diversity’ should pertain to the size of apartments built, the number of 3 and 4 bedroom homes, or the size of available open space? We are not provided with any data that reveals what is currently being built in Glen Eira or how council can introduce policies and standards that impact what is being built.

Page 12 of the paper exemplifies everything that is amiss with council’s consultation methodology. Under the banner of ‘Sustainability’, we are informed about 867km of footpaths (!), and the number of solar households in Glen Eira. Surely there is more to ‘sustainability’ than the length of our footpaths and even the number of homes with solar energy? We then also find the sneaky inclusion of this sentence: Higher densities in established areas can help contain urban sprawl on the edges of Melbourne. Is this simply setting the scene for more and more development and what does it have to do with ‘sustainability’ in Glen Eira itself? Not a single word is included on exactly what ‘higher density’ might entail and most significantly, what tools council has available to ensure that our streets, our open spaces, and our amenity is protected.

We started off this post by noting council’s refusal to provide questions that address and seek informed feedback on the central issues that any housing strategy should encompass. By way of comparison, here are some questions that other councils thought necessary to include in their respective discussion papers on their housing strategies – BUT ONLY AFTER SOME POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS WERE LISTED! –

KINGSTON

Thinking about new housing which has been built in Kingston over the last 10 years: a) Which specific developments or which types of development do you think have been successful? Which have been less successful?

BENDIGO

How important is the issue of housing affordability and to what extent should the Council and the private sector be involved?

Is this assessment accurate and is there additional land within the UGB (Urban Growth Boundary) that should be made available for housing or are there sites where development is not feasible or appropriate?

Council has identified a major future long term growth front to the north west of Maiden Gully –how appropriate is this area to accommodate residential growth in the future?

DANDENONG

What considerations should be taken into account when identifying locations for medium to higher density development?

How can Council improve the quality and location of medium and higher density housing?

There are several other councils which are currently reviewing and updating their housing strategies. We urge readers to have a look at what Bayside and Stonnington are doing in terms of their consultation methodologies.

Last night’s symposium on the upcoming Housing Strategy went as expected – lots on the ‘big picture’ but very little that pertained to the current housing situation in Glen Eira. What data was presented fell far short of providing residents with the full picture.

If last night was meant to be the first stage of community consultation, then it even failed to achieve the ‘inform’ basis that the IAPP (International Association of Public Participation) sets out in its ladder of guidelines – ie inform, consult, collaborate, empower.  We also remind readers that council’s recently adopted Engagement Strategy places important strategic planning issues at the ‘consult to collaborate’ level. So much for council policies and acting in accordance with these policies!

What irked us most were several claims made by Bernard Salt.  He claimed that Glen Eira is a ‘microcosm’ of what is happening across municipalities and the state. To convince us of this he cited state wide population figures and compared this with population growth to 2016 in Glen Eira and the fact that projections out to 2036 were on par with previous growth. He also pointed out that in Glen Eira (according to the 2016 census) we had a total of 50.6% of detached housing.  What he did not reveal was that this figure represents a decline of 6% from the 2011 census. In other words, thousands of detached houses in Glen Eira have gone the way of apartments or townhouses. If he is correct and more residents will wish to work from home, then the issue of space becomes even more important. No details of course as to how many apartments were single or double bedrooms, or their cost. No commentary of density, especially for a municipality that is only 38.9 square km. Nor did he bother to mention the following facts and why these are important for any housing strategy that is meant to plan for the unique circumstances of individual municipalities. It is surely not enough to simply say that having 50.6% of detached housing is enough, or too much, when the municipality has:

  • The least amount of public open space per capita in the state
  • A development rate that is well and truly exceeding prognostications
  • A declining tree canopy coverage with no real controls to stop moonscaping
  • No structure plans
  • No constraints on development for our neighbourhood centres
  • No parking precinct plans
  • No WSUD or ESD policies in our planning scheme
  • No developer contributions in our planning scheme
  • No review of the zones and its schedules since 2013

Which brings us to question why our neighbouring  councils can maintain a much healthier proportion of detached dwellings for their residents. The following figures all come from the 2016 census.

COUNCIL2016 census
Glen Eira50.6%
Bayside63%
Boroondara56.1%
Kingston59.9%
Monash71.7%

In the current climate of COVID and the increased pressures on our open space, backyards become even more essential. Salt also pointed out that our population age group of 35-43 was significant. These are the ‘family with kids’ cohort where the Australian tradition of having back yards is still high on the wish list – if it can be afforded! If we keep losing such properties then the only alternative is an apartment or a townhouse with a modicum of private open space. And council’s willingness to permit balconies that are that in name only – ie 8 square metres or as with the recently abandoned Amendment C184, council’s creation of the new GRZ5 which saw fit to remove the mandatory requirement for a certain percentage of open space depending on the size of the block.

One question directed to Salt was on this very issue. His response was incredible. We provide the question and the answer below:

All in all, last night’s symposium was another example of how little this administration desires full and informed feedback from its residents. If it were otherwise we would have a decent discussion paper, a decent set of survey questions and speakers who were not selected to forward council’s secret agendas!

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Tomorrow night, council is holding a ‘symposium’ on the proposed housing strategy. The speakers are:

Bernard Salt (demographer)

Lester Townsend (Planning Panels Victoria)

Kate Breen (Affordable Development Outcomes)

Maria Yanez (Nightingale Housing)

Whilst these four individuals are undoubtedly ‘experts’ in their respective fields, we need to consider why these people have been chosen by council and exactly how much they know about Glen Eira and its current housing needs, its zones, its development rate, its lack of strategic vision! It’s all very well to look at the ‘big picture’ across the state, but housing strategies are meant to be ‘individualised’ and pertain to unique municipalities.  We are therefore very sceptical as to the value of tomorrow night’s symposium and how well it will address the fundamental issues facing Glen Eira. Yes, what is happening statewide and nationally is important, but even more important is what is and what has been happening in Glen Eira.

Even more disconcerting are the following statements (cited verbatim) all taken from this link – (https://www.haveyoursaygleneira.com.au/our-housing-our-future/widgets/344509/faqs#80192)

The event is the opener for our early community engagement phase which will continue to the end of August.  A second phase of consultation will take place in early 2022 on the content of a draft housing strategy.

Council has stated that the Housing Strategy will be completed in April 2022. Does the above paragraph then imply that the ‘second phase of consultation’ will simply be on what council produces as its one and only draft strategy? Why the huge gap of 6 months before any further ‘consultation’ takes place?

This might have been kosher if the survey and the issues paper were up to scratch. They are not. Once again we find that detail is lacking, pertinent questions and options are lacking, and residents are asked nothing more than irrelevant Dorothy Dix Questions, that add nothing to a full understanding of Glen Eira’s future and the role council needs to play.

Finally, we have this other quote:

As the purpose of the event is to explore information about demographics and housing rather than specifically about the current housing strategy project, Councillors and Council officers will not be answering questions on the night.  Drop-in sessions on 22 and 26 July are planned and will be an opportunity for the community to discuss the themes of the housing strategy discussion paper and the housing stragegy (sic) project with Council officers.

 Why then hold such a forum if it does not relate specifically to our local housing strategy? Why deny residents the opportunity to ask questions of officers and councillors? How much has this public relations exercise cost?

In the coming days we will analyse the survey and reveal why it is nothing more than another bogus exercise in so-called ‘ consultation!

PS: In 2019 Stonnington Council also held a symposium for its revamped housing strategy. They did include speakers from Planning Panels and Nightingale just like Glen Eira is doing. However, they also had someone from Profile.id – a company that Glen Eira and most other councils in the state rely on for their ‘individualised’ information. This presentation focused exclusively on Stonnington – its population growth, its development rate, its age structure, etc. See the presentation via this link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1odRg-PHd-pmfAGCJ_oN44sI5rJkJR5oN/view. In Glen Eira such information is deemed unnecessary it would appear!

Mistakes can and do happen. But when you are a council with all the available technology, and (presumably) check and balance systems, then how is it possible that something like this shows up on your home page?

Council will be voting on the draft budget this Tuesday night. The differences between the May version of the budget and what is now presented is remarkable. Whilst some areas have received increased funding, the issues that were highlighted in the submissions have been totally ignored. This once again raises the question of why bother to ask for community input, when the recommendations are so flagrantly ignored year after year? Residents are never given the opportunity to specify what their priorities are. Instead we continue with the top-down approach and the minimalist adherence to the legislation. God forbid that residents be given the opportunity to answer such questions as: where do you want your money to be spent and how much?

The submissions made it very clear that what was needed was:

  • Increased funding for the urban forest strategy. This still remains at the May version of $200,000!
  • More funding for the acquisition of new open space. Nothing has changed from the $7M proposed in May.
  • Residents wanted the bicycle strategy to receive a minimum of $500,000. We are still stuck on $250,000.

At this rate, we can be waiting well into the 22nd century before our tree canopy reaches any reasonable target, or there is sufficient open space to accommodate the increasing population.

Yet council has still managed to find and allocate huge increases to various projects that are not only questionable, but where we believe most residents would argue aren’t necessary and certainly not on the top of the priority list. Please note, we are not arguing that these things shouldn’t be done. What we are suggesting is that given all the other major issues that are currently confronting Glen Eira, that much of this money should have been directed into those areas that demand immediate action – such as open space, the urban forest strategy, structure planning, amendments for development contribution levies, etc.etc. Five years on from the ordered Planning Scheme Review, we have practically nothing in concrete outcomes.

Below is a table which depicts the monies allocated for the various projects according to the May and then the June draft budgets – and all with hardly any detail.

PROJECTMAY DRAFT BUDGETJUNE DRAFT BUDGET
Caulfield Park Masterplan$600,000$710,000
Duncan Mackinnon Netball$200,000$250,000
Pedestrian Safety$205,000$355,000
GREAT WALKS STREETNot listed$700,000
Outer Circle$40,000$700,000
Lord Reserve/Koornang Park master plan implementation$500,000$680,000
Hopetoun Gardens$40,000$220,000
Tennis Strategy$75,000$275,000
Caulfield Park master plan implementation$40,000$790,000
Princes Park Playground upgradeNot listed$1,250,000

Surely some of these projects, and their massive increases in funding, could be deferred until this council sorted out its other major concerns as we’ve listed above.

Finally, it is also remarkable that in the space of one month, we have gone from an estimated deficit of $45,000 to a suggested surplus of over $11M where the announced government grants somehow don’t add up to this amount!

Our final comment is that until this council is prepared to provide full and comprehensive explanations for its decision making and budget allocations, residents are once again left in the dark with no real say as to how their money is and should be spent.

Whatever the outcome of Mr Wylie’s Supreme Court Challenge, the issues are crucial in terms of the planning system itself, and especially how the planning department at Glen Eira Council operates. Part of Mr Wylie’s concerns appear to be the lack of sufficient notification to residents that an application has been submitted to council. According to the legislation, it is council which has the power to decide who and how many properties will be alerted to the fact that an application has come in. Hence, if only a handful of notification letters are sent out, then it is not surprising that there are none, or very few objections. Mr Wylie claims that in his case, only those adjoining sites zoned Commercial 1 were notified and that neighbouring residents were left in the dark – hence the claim that there were zero objections in this matter. It is very plausible to suggest that had neighbours living in surrounding NRZ zoned sites been aware, then the chances of objections to a 5 storey development would have brought in at least a few objections.

But that’s only part of the problem. Not so long ago, officer reports in Glen Eira regularly noted the number of notifications sent out, and the number of ensuing objections. For the past few years this has now ceased. We have absolutely no idea as to how many letters council ordered the developer to send out, nor to which properties. Nor do we know where the objectors lived. Other councils such as Boroondara, feature maps of where the letters went and where objectors lived in relation to the application. (See image below). Other councils (Monash, Port Phillip to name a few) also include maps showing the number of objectors and their residences. In Glen Eira we are left in the dark on both of these important matters.

Also of major concern is the secrecy surrounding council’s DPC (delegated planning committee). We have commented numerous times over the years that this committee lacks all transparency and accountability. Meetings are held during the day, where both the developer and objectors can appear to state their views. The three officers then leave the room and come back in about 20 minutes with their decision to grant, refuse, or impose conditions. No agendas are ever published and certainly no minutes. Hence, residents have no idea  why a permit may have been granted or refused.  Plus, for years our council operated under Section 86 of the legislation meaning that agendas, and minutes, had to be published. An ombudsman’s report in 2016 cited us, and forced Glen Eira to amend its delegation so that it no longer was constituted under the Special Committee requirements. The committee still operates as before – no councillors present, no agendas, no minutes, and no accountability!

Making matters even worse, is that in December 2018, councillors voted to change the delegation authority for this committee. There now has to be at least 16 objections before an application can be brought to council. Anything less becomes the purview of this committee.

We are not suggesting that there is no place for such a committee. Clearly councillors can’t be expected to ‘adjudicate’ on all planning applications. What we do expect, is that there be far more transparency and accountability when it comes to planning.  Other councils have ALL councillors as part of their planning committees – whether or not these are seen as Special Committees. In Glen Eira, councillors are, we believe seen as nothing more than unnecessary appendages that will only hinder the work of the bureaucrats, so let’s sideline them as much as possible. Such an ethos is the antithesis of good planning and full transparency and accountability.

Public submissions for the draft budget and Strategic Resource Plan, have one consistent theme running through nearly all of the presentations. This is best summed up with this sentence from one such submission –

It is one thing to have a strategy and action plan in place, it is quite another to implement them. As Councillors would well know, implementation requires funded projects. It is here that Council is lacking.

Time and again throughout all of these well documented and thoughtful submissions we find similar statements. Council has policies, plans, strategies but implementation is either non-existent, or years behind schedule, and simply underfunded and/or forgotten about. This applies across all departments – from Caulfield Park implementation of the Master Plan, to bike paths, open space, the Urban Forest Strategy or the Climate Emergency. Nothing seems to have been done or certainly not funded enough to ensure real progress on any of these issues.

Then we also have the penny pinching that is so common in Glen Eira. Child care fees go up another $3 per day. Council’s persistent claims about such repeated rises is that they are on a par with the private providers. Only now the differences are made clear thanks to these submissions – ie whilst the fee per day might be equitable, council does not provide lunches or nappies. As for the car share options, that has remained static, yet for all the talk about reducing the number of cars on our roads, very little has been done to expand this option for residents. Instead fees are through the roof! Glen Eira’s car share policy first came to notice in 2016. Its subsequent policy is dated 2017-20 – hence defunct and out of date. We currently have 12 car share spaces in comparison to: Yarra – aiming for 231 in the next 5 years; port Phillip in 2018 had 181; and as far back as 2015 Moreland had 40. The rhetoric and the reality are simply miles apart on so many issues.

Council can ratify as many policies/strategies as it likes, but until there is a genuine commitment to fund such projects adequately nothing will change. Policies become nothing more than another worthless piece of public relations providing the illusion that council does give a damn about the lack of open space, the destruction of our tree canopy, and the failure to progress the bicycle strategy or provide sufficient car share opportunities. Residents should really start asking themselves whether this council’s priorities are in line with ratepayers’ thinking. Of course, ratepayers have never been provided with the opportunity to have a say in what these priorities should be before they are presented with the draft budget. In Glen Eira it would be fair to say that residents are nothing more than cash cows!

At last night’s Zoom forum on the Built Form Frameworks for Caulfield South, we had Kate Jewell (Co-ordinator City Strategy) make the pronouncement that’s in the header to this post. This statement followed resident after resident complaining vigorously about council’s reluctance to impose mandatory heights.

Here is the audio of this interchange:

Jewell’s statement tosses the ball straight back into councillors’ court. They have the power to oversee policy direction. They also have the power to pass resolutions which officers are mandated to follow. We have already had some examples of this – namely the abandonment of Amendments for Glen Huntly and for Bentleigh & Carnegie. This is no different. The question thus becomes:

  • Will councillors have the courage to insist on mandatory heights for all neighbourhood centres?
  • Will councillors, as representatives of their constituents, act in accordance with the community’s wishes?
  • Will councillors finally see the folly of this planning department and insist that the foundation for all strategic planning must derive from a comprehensive Housing Strategy that should be prioritised immediately and certainly before any decisions are made on structure plans or built form frameworks.

We also have to wonder whether Mr Slavin’s quick intervention in the above audio, cutting off the Jewell response, was that he perceived she was heading into ‘dangerous waters’ for the bureaucrats?

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