GE Council Meeting(s)


There can be no excuse for what is proposed for council’s Community Engagement Strategy. The vote on Tuesday night will seek to endorse a strategy that has been rejected by a council resolution on the 23rd February 2021. This resolution still stands!

Council’s presentation for this item is deliberately false, inaccurate, and devious. First off, we are told that the attachment represents the endorsed Community Engagement Policy from 2020. Here is the (false) presented version . Please note the highlighted sections at the bottom of the table.

On the 15th December 2020 the draft contained the following. Again, please note the highlighted sections and compare with what is now suggested as the 2020 policy.

Following public consultation, councillors voted on the 23rd February 2021 as follows:

COMMENTS

It is simply staggering that council should attempt to present such false information and in doing so,  over-ride a clear councillor resolution. Secondly, if this is passed then it achieves a reduction in community input to the most important aspects of council’s operation – ie strategic planning and policy development. As we’ve stated in earlier posts, Glen Eira compared to other councils is determined to limit resident participation as much as possible. ‘Inform’ and ‘Consult’ are the lowest rung of the engagement ladder according to these councils and the IAPP principles.  (see: https://gleneira.blog/2021/01/07/consultation-2-2/. But what is even more damning is our allegation that this is deliberate and an attempt to bypass and ignore a councillor resolution as well as limiting community participation. It is unconscionable!!!!

Council’s agenda is out and once again we despair at the predetermined outcomes that this administration enforces upon its residents. Included in the agenda are the Built Form Frameworks (BFFs) for Caulfield South, Caulfield North and Bentleigh East, as well as the Community Engagement Strategy.

Readers should note the following:

  • The Community Engagement Strategy promises that residents will be provided with feedback on how their views influenced the final council proposal/decision. In relation to the BFF’s this is entirely missing. So much for the ‘engagement strategy’ and its empty promises.
  • The report on the community consultation for the BFFs failed to include the actual comments. What we basically get are ‘summaries’. Given the importance of these strategic plans, and how many residents will be impacted, surely a comprehensive and detailed analysis of all responses is warranted? Of course, readers might like to think back to the actual questions that were asked as part of this ‘consultation’ and how sub-standard they were! (See: https://gleneira.blog/2021/05/12/is-this-fair-dinkum-consultation/ for our ‘review’ of the consultation)
  • The BFFs remain unchanged from the previous versions as far as we can tell. Interestingly, the accompanying draft Design & Development Overlay, is only for Caulfield South. Why? No explanation is given as to why Bentleigh East and Caulfield North are ignored. Is council simply testing the water at this stage? What is the expected time frame for the DDO’s for the remaining two centres?
  • Most importantly, any planning for activity centres has as its major objective to ensure that there is capacity to meet the forecast population growth. Not one single statistic on population and dwelling growth is provided in any of these frameworks!!!! Hence, we cannot find any strategic justification as to why 6 storeys is appropriate, compared to 10 storeys or even 15 storeys if this is the logic behind these plans!   In our view, the link between projected population growth and dwellings required has not been established. That is the role of a Housing Strategy. But of course, council is rushing everything through PRIOR to the creation of a Housing Strategy!!!!!
  • Even more damning is the fact that Council is still relying heavily on its City Plan. We remind readers that this document argues that 5 storeys is the optimum discretionary level for commercially zoned sites in these centres. Yet we are confronted with BFFs that totally ignore this and recommend higher levels. What’s the point of having a policy that is continually ignored?

There is much, much more that could be said in regards to these BFFs and the Engagement Strategy. We will provide a more detailed analysis in the next few days.

There are several agenda items for the upcoming Wednesday night council meeting which deserve residents’ close attention. The major focus for two of the items is on heritage, whilst the third item contains comments that apply to planning in general throughout Glen Eira.

What each of these items has in common can be summarised as follows:

  • A history of neglect and dereliction of duty by council on heritage for well over 15 years. Given that we have had, and still have certain councillors with extended time on council, the blame for such inaction must fall upon them.
  • Scant concern for existing heritage overlays and the resolve to initiate controls via planning scheme amendments to ensure greater protection for these sites and precincts.
  • In Glen Eira, development potential usurps heritage protection. In fact, this applies equally to the State Government and VCAT.
  • With the third agenda item (ie submission on the Gov’s Land Use Frameworks) we have the explicit and unequivocal admission that the introduction of the residential zones in 2013 were abysmally implemented. Even worse, is the admission that what council is now proposing is in fact contrary to what the approved structure plans for Bentleigh, Carnegie and Elsternwick propose.

We will go through the above and elaborate in order.

HERITAGE AMENDMENT C214glen

Included in the Panel Report for this proposed amendment, we find data collated by the Heritage Council’s review for all municipalities in the state. These are produced below. Please note:

  • How badly Glen Eira compares with other inner metropolitan councils
  • How little has been achieved over the years on heritage, despite the fact that in the 2016 Planning Scheme Review, residents were promised a complete review of the ENTIRE municipality. This has now morphed into individual precincts and suburbs. The promise of 2016 has not been done, which leaves hundreds of properties at the mercy of developers.

The Panel Report, and the officer’s report makes it absolutely clear that the issue of whether or not a site is suitable for heritage protection has nothing whatsoever to do with:

  • Objections
  • Financial costs
  • State of building, or
  • Potential development

This therefore raises innumerable questions as to why council did not utter a single word when the Minister refused to incorporate several heritage precincts in Elsternwick that were evaluated by Heritage experts as being worthy of inclusion into the proposed heritage overlays. The published excuse was that there was no current ‘development pressure’. Council has also used this ‘excuse’ when considering applying for interim heritage overlays. The above Planning Panel report invalidates these excuses and also brings into question why the Minister, in refusing to include these heritage precincts, has in fact acted against his own Planning Practice Notes!

NEERIM ROAD, MURRUMBEENA APPLICATION

This is an application for 7 storeys, and 88 student apartments, and on a site which has recently gained a heritage overlay. There were 115 objections. Previously the site was earmarked for a 9 storey building, which was refused by council. At the subsequent VCAT hearing, the developer reduced the application to 7 storeys. VCAT also refused the granting of a permit, largely on heritage grounds and insufficient setbacks. This latest application argues that the previous VCAT directions have now been attended to via the new plans.

Whilst this latest application receives the nod for a permit, we find the reasons for this view to once again show how pro development this planning department is. The report completely ignores to mention the following:

  • Less than half of the proposed dwellings are more than 20 square metres! Some are in the range of 16, 17, and 18 square metres in size. Readers might remember the furore created by the City of Melbourne’s report that student apartments should have a minimum size of at least 50 square metres in order to be truly ‘liveable’. The Minister had his chance to implement minimum size guidelines with his ‘Better Apartments’ guidelines, but failed to do so.  Glen Eira’s submission to this endeavour stated: While setting minimum apartment sizes is encouraged in principle, this should be considered against the impact it may have on construction costs and consequently, housing affordability. If a correlation genuinely exists between the two, setting an apartment standard may not be ideal.
  • Whilst both City Futures and Heritage stated that the height was still a concern, the report concluded: While Council’s Heritage Advisor does not consider that the proposal has gone far enough to address the specific heritage elements in this centre, it is considered on balance that the proposal has suitably addressed the requirements of the Heritage Overlay, has moderated the bulk and form to a sufficient degree which was a key issue in the VCAT decision for the 2019 Student Housing Proposal and provides for the retention and restoration of the façade of the original building.

It is clear that when it comes to heritage, this council prefers development. We have already seen the granting of a permit for 12 storeys of student accommodation in Derby Road, Caulfield East on a heritage site, and the demolition of several other heritage properties throughout Glen Eira.

If and when this latest application goes to VCAT, we are not optimistic as to the final decision. Why? Because the arguments presented at the previous VCAT hearing remain. Of course, these comments made by the member were not included in the council officer’s report. We quote from this earlier decision:

Unfortunately, there is no structure plan for this activity centre to assist us in considering the built form outcomes for this site. Council has adopted a new City Plan (February 2020). The plan sets out a 4-storey preferred height for those parts of the activity centre to be included within the Heritage Overlay and a 5-storey height for land facing Melbourne Street. The City Plan shows four levels for the front part of 430 Neerim Road and five levels to the rear. The Tribunal in 348-354 Hawthorn Road Pty Ltd Ltd v Glen Eira CC [2020] VCAT 1211 accepted that the City Plan may be the council’s current broad thinking about activity centres in general, but we give it no weight as a tool to assess building height, relative to the urban design tests of the planning scheme as set by both the State and local policy frameworks. While we agree with these comments, we consider that there is an expectation of development within this activity centre of up to five storeys, noting that there are developments of this scale already present in the activity centre

The council submission acknowledges that the local policies do not prescribe particular heights or densities for the neighbourhood centre and that density, mass and scale of residential development needs to be assessed according to the location, physical size, scale and character of the neighbourhood centre.

there is nothing in the planning scheme to indicate that a uniform height is sought for buildings in this centre, or any other neighbourhood centre.

COUNCIL SUBMISSION TO GOV – LAND USE FRAMEWORKS

Whilst this submission is a vast improvement on previous council efforts, given that there are overt criticisms made of the policy, plus the call for more specific explanation and verified data, the overall response includes several paragraphs that should be noted by residents.  The following is in response to the State Gov’s proposal that neighbourhood activity centres be required to accommodate medium to high density development along a range of 800 metres.

Direction 5 – Prioritise housing growth in areas with access to jobs, services and good public transport

This Direction refers to opportunities for new medium and higher density housing to be considered within an 800 metre walkable catchment of activity centres. This is not supported. Many of Glen Eira activity centres are linear and relate better to a 400 metre walkable distance at the most. A radial measurement is not appropriate and opportunities for new housing should be considered at the local level, through structure plans, where the community is involved.

What we have here is the complete disavowel of the residential zones that were introduced in 2013. They were ‘radial’ in countless residential streets. All council did was draw a circle on a map with a radius of 400m. Most of our activity centres and their respective zoning still has not altered, meaning that countless residential streets currently have at least 2 and often 3 different zones. 8 years later we are being told that this is ‘inappropriate’.

Worse still is the admission that a 400 metre ‘walkable distance’ is the best option. If so, then why do our current interim structure plans work on the principle of 800m? Does this mean that the structure plans for Bentleigh, Elsternwick and Carnegie will be consigned to the dustbin of history – as they should? How much money has this cost thus far and to what effect?

All of the above illustrates fully what an absolute mess planning is in Glen Eira. Heritage is ‘expendable’ when it competes with development; structure planning for all of our neighbourhood centres remains in the ‘never-never’ and contrition from the likes of Hyams, Magee, Athanasopolous, Delahunty, Lipshutz, and Esakoff, and Pilling, for allowing such incompetence for years and years, is not forthcoming.  Our hope is that with a new crop of councillors, perhaps residents can finally achieve the sort of council that does act in the best interests of its community.

Below we feature some of the public questions which were submitted for the last council meeting. As per usual, residents received ‘responses’ rather than ‘answers’.

QUESTION: Council recently abandoned the Bentleigh and Carnegie structure plan due to the lack of a housing strategy and yet on tonight’s meeting agenda is the Glen Huntly structure plan (item 8.4). Should not Council wait to vote on Glen Huntly structure plan until after the completion of the housing strategy?

RESPONSE: The development of a Housing Strategy before the adoption of this structure plan is not necessary for this centre. While Glen Huntly will provide for additional housing, the structure plan is primarily focussed on the commercial core. This is quite different to Council’s other structure plans in Bentleigh, Carnegie and Elsternwick which also include large residential areas.

As a Major Activity Centre, there is an expectation that this centre will change in alignment with State Government Policy. The structure plan seeks to get on the front foot and manage the height and form of buildings that we expect following the removal of the level crossings

The preparation of the draft Housing Strategy will give appropriate consideration to the role of Glen Huntly as part of its development.

COMMENT(S) –  

The response given is literally baffling for several reasons:

  1. When buildings of 5, 6, and 8 storeys are proposed, then upper floors will inevitably consist of apartments. To therefore argue that this structure plan is only concentrating on the commercial sector and hence a housing strategy is unnecessary flies in the face of all common sense. How many apartments these sites can contain is surely an essential consideration in meeting the forecast population growth and the accompanying housing needs for Glen Huntly. Remember, the population growth according to council’s own published data is a mere 1000 over a 15 year period from 2021 to 2036.  That’s the role of a housing strategy. To determine need for each activity centre, and the entire municipality, and then to apportion this requisite growth across the entire municipality.  To pre-empt such analysis is not planning. It is simply assigning huge sectors of Glen Eira to unsustainable overdevelopment.

QUESTION 2

QUESTION: Following extensive resident feedback and inaction from Council, in 2015 the Minister for Planning compelled Council to undertake a Planning Scheme Review with a focus on controls for activity centres. In 2019 as part of the Planning Scheme Amendment C184, Council Officers belatedly highlighted the need for a Housing Strategy advising that the C184 amendment was not underpinned by an adopted municipal-wide plan. While Council failed to progress a Housing Strategy in 2019, it subsequently aborted Amendment C184 in 2021 in the absence of a clear strategic justification including a Housing Strategy. Based on advice from Officer’s, the Structure Plan controls for Bentleigh is now scheduled to be completed in 2024, some nine years after the Minister’s direction which is appalling.

Given this long history, why then have Council Officers recommended the adoption of a Structure Plan for Glen Huntly without a Housing Strategy?

Given that the response to this question consists primarily of a verbatim repetition to the first question, we have only included the opening two paragraphs of the response.

RESPONSE: It is noted that there are some inaccuracies and selective representation of facts in your opening preamble. Despite this, the answer to your question regarding the adoption for a Structure Plan in advance of the completion of the Housing Strategy is as follows :

Council began preparation of the Glen Huntly Structure Plan in mid 2019 in response to the announcement of the Government’s intention to progress level crossing removals in the area. The level crossing removals are expected to bring about a renewed focus and opportunity for change in Glen Huntly once complete. The preparation of a structure plan would assist guiding the height and form of future development, recognising its role as a Major Activity Centre, as designated by the State Government.

COMMENT:  If council does not agree with the comments made by the resident, then why not provide a full rebuff of those comments? How about explaining, itemising, and justifying the claim that there are ‘inaccuracies’ contained in the question? As far as we know, the resident was 100% correct in his claims!

More importantly, we now have to consider the entire argument as to why a housing strategy is not required prior to the adoption of the structure plan because, it is claimed, the focus is primarily on the commercial areas. Then why, did the council officer state in his report of the 16th March, 2021 (when Amendment C184 was abandoned/rejected) the following:

A housing strategy would also enable Council to introduce more tailored built form controls for its commercial and mixed use zones within activity centres, based on a better understanding of where and how growth will occur across the rest of the municipality

The housing strategy would provide Council with a municipal-wide framework for density,
based on demographic and character analysis and
inform all of Council’s strategic planning
activities.
(Page 116 of the agenda)

Doesn’t the above contradict what Council is currently stating? And doesn’t it illustrate perfectly the role of a housing strategy that needs to be completed before the adoption of structure planning? Council can’t have it both ways. Consistency, and dare we say, complete transparency, has never been this council’s strong point!

The agenda for next THURSDAY’S council meeting is now out and features Version 3 of the Glen Huntly Structure Plan. Readers will remember that the first draft went out for consultation in mid 2020 where council wanted 10, 8 and 6 storeys for many sectors. Following consultation, the 10 storey site at the supermarket was reduced to 8, with several other reductions. This was rejected by councillors in September 2020 with the arguments that 8 storeys in the second smallest suburb in Glen Eira, and with the densest population was a step too far. So now we have version 3, which to be blunt, is another pathetic planning document that is without strategic justification, without due consideration to residents’ views, and which will deny residents any say in what is approved.

The newly proposed changes are literally miniscule – a few nominated heritage properties to the west, and some in the commercial eastern side. Basically, this new version remains very much the same document as before – heights, to the greatest extent, remain the same as do setbacks. Thus, if councillors saw fit to reject this earlier draft, we see no reason as to why this ‘newer’ version should gain their approval!

The following paragraphs go through the proposed plan and highlight what we believe is so erroneous and constitutes poor planning.

What can be gleaned from the officer’s report and the draft structure plan itself:

  • This structure plan will be adopted BEFORE a Housing Strategy is completed and any permanent controls will only see the light of day AFTER the Bentleigh, Carnegie and Elsternwick structure plans have been done. Given that Elsternwick is stated as blowing out to 2023, that means that the Glen Huntly structure plan will have no statutory weight (ie.being included in the Planning Scheme) for years to come. This represents nothing more than another example of putting the cart before the horse!
  • There is currently no Heritage Overlay that exists for the proposed sites. This again, means that there is nothing available to stop a developer coming in and demolishing what council now believes is heritage worthy. Given the long process for having amendments included in the planning scheme, again we are looking at least another 2 years if not more, before any constraints are placed on developers – we quote: No changes to heritage overlays are proposed at this time. They will be pursued as part of a Planning Scheme Amendment at a later date
  • What is implied throughout this report is that the surrounding residential areas of Glen Huntly will be looked at down the track and this will cover the ‘study area’ for potential rezonings. As a Major Activity Centre, this will invariably mean that many sites now zoned GRZ (3 storeys) have the potential to be increased to RGZ (four storeys), plus the fact that the size of the activity centre will undoubtedly expand. We see no other way to interpret the following: again, we quote from the structure plan itself (page 17) – a review of the boundary of the activity centre as required  AND page 26 – the whole activity centre study area is considered a potential housing opportunity area. Council will undertake a housing strategy to determine the scope for residential change across our city. This will include assessment of residential land within the study area of the Glen Huntly major activity centre.

OVERSHADOWING/SUNLIGHT

Glen Huntly is a Major Activity Centre (MAC) in the same way that Bentleigh, Elsternwick and Carnegie are. The only difference is that it is far smaller (roughly 1 square km) but far, far denser (ie 63 people per hectare, compared to Bentleigh’s 38.92, Carnegie’s 54.51 and Elsternwick’s 44.73. But far more worse is that currently, Glen Huntly has 35% of its land mass zoned as appropriate for 3 storey dwellings. Many of these immediately abut the commercial and mixed use zones that the structure plan is considering. Given this proximity to increased heights of 8 and 6 storeys in some sections, we are completely flabbergasted as to why the proposed overshadowing requirements are different to what was thought appropriate for Bentleigh and Carnegie via the rejected Amendment C184.

Bentleigh and Carnegie were privileged to have overshadowing requirements that were form 10am to 3pm on September 21 AND 11am to 2pm for various precincts on June 22st – ie the winter solstice. Poor old Glen Huntly does not get anything for the winter solstice and only from 10am to 2pm for the September calculation. The officer’s report tells us – The shadow analysis was prepared for the September equinox from 10AM to 2PM. We also get these ridiculous statements from the officer’s report (page 138 of the agenda) –

  • The southern footpath of Glenhuntly Road in the Central Retail Precinct is not in shadow from 11AM to 2PM on the spring equinox.
  • 75 per cent of private open space is in sunlight for 5 hours on the spring equinox.

What happens to the southern footpath at 3pm? 4pm? How much is in shadow? What impact will this have on residents sitting drinking their coffees on the footpath? And what on earth does 75% of private open space mean? Which open space? Have consultants surveyed and done shadow diagrams for all of the ‘private open space’ in Glen Huntly? And if we take this statement at face value,does it mean that 25% of ‘private open space’ is in shadow and for how long?

PODIUM HEIGHTS & SETBACKS

When it comes to these two components of planning,  Glen Huntly again comes off a second best compared to the proposed Bentleigh & Carnegie structure plans envisaged by Amendment C184. For large swathes of land in Bentleigh/Carnegie their street podium heights were designated as 2 and 3 storey. In Glen Huntly, it is somehow fitting that these podium heights can be up to 15 metres (4 storeys) in 2 large precincts. And this is when the current sites along Glen Huntly road are predominantly 2 storeys in height! Why? Readers should peruse page 24 of the draft to see the full details.

The same applies to setbacks. Compared to the far greater setbacks imposed in Bentleigh & Carnegie, Glen Huntly is supposed to be content with a majority of 4 metre setback opposed to the standard 5 metres in these other MACS. The higher the building, then Glen Huntly is again worse off! Why?

HERITAGE

As we’ve stated, council has belatedly undertaken some heritage inspections of sites and come up with proposals for heritage inclusion. Yet even on this level, there is some major discrepancy between what Glen Huntly is afforded and what is stated for Bentleigh & Carnegie.  The officer’s report tells us – When the Built Form Framework was prepared, shopfronts along the Central Retail Precinct were treated as “character” areas. As such, no changes are proposed to the height limits or setbacks of the Central Retail Precinct as a result of the heritage assessment.

So we have the ludicrous situation where various sites in the Eastern Retail section designated as heritage – commercial/Mixed Use precinct – will be allowed to have 5 storeys (discretionary) and those in Bentleigh and Carnegie were seen as suitable for only 4 storeys.

Even worse, is that we again have council policy such as the City Plan, and which is referred to in the draft structure plan, that is totally ignored. The City Plan speaks of ‘shop top (heritage) as being suitable for 4 storeys. But this goes out the window with this plan for Glen Huntly!

HOUSING NEED

Council keeps repeating its mantra of the need for 18000 net new dwellings by 2036 throughout Glen Eira. When the population stats for Glen Huntly itself are produced we find:

Even if we accept these projections (which of course take no account of COVID), we find that in a 20 year period, the population growth in Glen Huntly will increase by a mere 1000. Plus in the period from 2021 to 2036 the increase will be 500 over a 15 year duration. Thus, if these projections are correct and only another 500 people will come to Glen Huntly, why do we need 8 storey and 6 storey buildings, that together are suggested by consultants to result in the addition of 410 net new dwellings. That is on a 50% uptake, so feasibly, the uptake could be even more if the housing market improves. Over various census results, the number of people per dwelling has averaged at 2 and a bit. This is forecast to continue by the ABS. So, 2 people per dwelling with a 500 increase in population should only require at best 250 net new dwellings!!!

Finally a comment or two on the ‘aesthetics’ of the document itself, and these comments pertain to much of what is produced by council.

  • The actual size of the full structure plan is 73 pages. Of these 73 pages we have 39% that are nothing more than either full page pretty pictures, or sketches that reveal absolutely nothing. For example: not one of these sketches present realistic images of an 8 storey building!
  • Jargon, generalisations, vague assertions, and platitudes reign supreme. Perhaps someone can inform us what this actually means? – Encourage pedestrian permeability (page 18). Will we now be aiming for ‘porous people’?!!!!!

Much of what is in this draft document is evasive and scant explanation and justification is provided to residents. In a democracy, where transparency and accountability are crucial, Glen Eira Council continues to fail dismally.

We urge all readers to write and ring councillors and inform them why the process, the lack of further consultation, and the outcomes if approved are not in the community’s best interest and as happened in September 2020, this draft plan should again be relegated to the dust bin of history!

At last night’s council meeting there was a motion put up by Esakoff and seconded by Magee under the category of Urgent Business. The motion was that council undertake certain actions in regard to Minister Wynne’s introduction of planning legislation without first consulting residents and councils. The motion was passed unanimously.

Whilst we applaud council for this first step in finally registering some public discontent with the processes of planning in the State, we also have to wonder why the final motion departed in some major elements from what Port Phillip will move tonight. Here is the proposed motion from Port Phillip –

Readers should now listen to the motion that was passed by Glen Eira – (available via http://webcast.gleneira.vic.gov.au/archive/video21-0831.php#placeholder)

Whilst much of this motion is practically a verbatim repetition of the Port Phillip one, there are some major and disconcerting changes. Given that we are told that ten councils are now supposedly working in unison, surely a joint motion/statement signed by all, would have far greater impact than a single council presenting its own version and working alone?

Here are some of the differences between the Port Phillip version and Glen Eira’s resolution –

  • No demand for a report back to council. Thus the matter is left in abeyance and in the domain of officers alone. Transparency is again lost.
  • Port Phillip requests a ‘collective’ letter. Glen Eira insists on an individual letter.
  • Glen Eira can only bring itself to ‘strongly voices its concern’ about consultation, whilst Port Phillip ’strongly supports the community having a central role’ in planning.
  • Glen Eira sees the community voice only as an ‘integral consideration’ rather than Port Phillip’s view that it is ‘central’

These changes and others, in our view, go way beyond an argument about semantics and linguistic nuance. They should be read as sign posts to how Glen Eira views its residents, how it views collaborating fully with other councils, and how the planning in Glen Eira remains destined to be out of kilter with other municipalities. When we have a council that refuses to see its residents as ‘central’ to planning decisions; when it refuses to align itself with the values of other councils and instead basically opts to work alone, then we are in deep trouble. There is absolutely nothing in the Port Phillip motion that shouldn’t be endorsed fully. Ask yourselves, why our council was unable to do this?

In the regular VCAT Watch there is one report on the decision for 219-229 Balaclava Road, Caulfield North.  Readers will remember that this was originally an application for 9 storeys and then amended to 7 storeys. Councillors voted for a permit for 5 storeys and the developer appealed this condition. A permit was granted for 7 storeys. (See: https://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/vic/VCAT/2021/867.html for the full decision).

Not only does this decision have major ramifications for all of our neighbourhood centres, it also raises questions about:

  • The level of ‘representation’ that council produces before VCAT
  • The ‘cherry picking’ aspects of the VCAT Watch reports
  • The failure to provide detailed ‘refusal’ grounds that will stand up – which of course raises the question of who writes these ‘refusals’ and are they deliberately destined for ‘failure’?
  • The uselessness of council’s much vaunted City Plan
  • The continued inability to get anything of value into the Planning Scheme after nearly 6 years!
  • Raises questions about when anything is likely to be done about the rest of our neighbourhood centres such as Ormond, McKinnon, Patterson, Gardenvale, etc.

Whilst some of the following comments from the VCAT member who made the decision are laughable, this still does not excuse council’s lack of timely strategic planning and the performance of its VCAT representative. As it currently stands, our Planning Scheme has enough holes for developers to drive a truck through. This has been the case for the past decade at least.

Please read the following carefully:

In the absence of specific height controls that have been adopted into the Glen Eira Planning Scheme, or which can otherwise be said to be seriously entertained, an attempt to apply a uniform height limit to a number of neighbourhood centres based purely on their position in a hierarchy, is not the appropriate approach.

The final key component of the relevant strategic context is the recent strategic work being undertaken by the Glen EiraCity Council to introduce built form controls, that will provide greater guidance for decision makers, such as myself. This strategic work includes the Glen EiraCity Plan, February 2020 and a Built Form Framework for the Caulfield Park Neighbourhood Activity Centre, both of which I am told identify the review site as being suitable for a five storey development. However, the Council also submits, at paragraphs 83 and 85 of its written submissions, that it does not place any weight on either of these documents, for the purposes of informing my decision making regarding an appropriate building height for the review site in this proceeding. That is due to the very early stages of the creation of both documents and their potential future insertion into the Glen EiraPlanning Scheme, as well as the absence of a built form analysis from the Glen Eira City Plan. I have no reason to depart from the Council’s submissions in this proceeding, that no weight should be placed on either of these documents.

The removal of the very top level (level 6) will have a very negligible impact on views from the surrounding context, and indeed will have no impact on the extent of scale that will be visible from many parts of the surrounding public realm, due to the extent to which the top level is recessed from the level below, and thus obscured from view. The removal of level 5 will produce a slightly lower setback tower form, but will not significantly change the extent of scale or prominence of the overall building. The Council has failed to persuade me that the slightly reduced scale achieved by deleting levels 5 and 6 will produce any appreciable or necessary relief from building scale, in this activity centre context.

That this proposed building on the review site will be taller than other buildings that can currently be viewed from Caulfield Park does not make the proposed height inappropriate. Rather, it simply reinforces the proximity that this component of Caulfield Park has to an activity centre. Any user of Caulfield Park that wishes to experience a more pleasant environment has many options to move away from this direct interface with the activity centre, to locations where views to the proposed building on the review site will be difficult owing to the intervention of canopy trees. On this basis I consider that the proposed development will not have an unreasonable built form impact or presence on the adjacent Caulfield Park.

While the Council has a section in their written submissions headed ‘off-site amenity impacts’ the written submissions fail to identify any potential impacts, nor any surrounding land that might be impacted. Further, in response to my questions, Mr Berzins failed to identify any potential amenity impact on any adjacent property.

In respect of each of these matters, I accept and adopt the evidence of Mr Bastone and Mr Blades, that the proposed levels five and six do not result in any unreasonable off-site amenity impacts, and provide an appropriate level of internal amenity for future residents. In respect of the relevant internal amenity considerations, the apartments on levels 5 and 6 would provide similar, if not higher, internal amenity outcomes for future residents, as compared to the apartments approved on the lower levels of the proposed building. That is, there is nothing in the design of the apartments on levels 5 & 6 that cause them to be singled out for criticism, on the basis of the relevant internal amenity considerations. On this basis I must conclude that an internal amenity assessment cannot be a reason for the contested permit condition.

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!

At Tuesday night’s council meeting, another policy that achieves practically nothing in comparison to other councils was enshrined through an unanimous vote – the social and affordable housing policy. It was decided that council would seek 5% contribution from developers for any development over 20 dwellings with only the possibility of a higher percentage for major developments. Of course, no figure was provided for what this might be.

We remind readers of council’s lamentable efforts in this area – the backdown on the Caulfield Village development where not even 5% has thus far been achieved and the even more pathetic 5% for 3000 dwellings in Virginia Estate. If the number of dwellings reach 4000 then it would be 10% for anything over 3000. Thus the potential is there for a 6.25% social/affordable housing component if the final number of dwellings is 4000. The fact that Magee lauds this as an ‘achievement’ shows how out of tune this council is in comparison with its neighbouring municipalities.

Policy after policy that is produced is big on waffle, generalisations, and priceless motherhood statements. But when it comes to actually implementing objectives that must be applied, council goes missing. The refusal to impose any policy which might affect the developer’s pocket is simply staggering.

Other councils have been active in this area for years now, with many continually updating their strategies and increasing the demands on developers. Below is a small sample of how these other municipalities view the issue. We have also included the various dates of these policies and their revisions. All are direct quotes:

Yarra (2018 & 2019) Yarra has worked with a number of site owners to provide at least 10% affordable housing. At the former GTV9 site, Richmond, affordable housing will represent at least 10% of the total number of new apartment dwellings. At the former Gasworks site, Fitzroy North a range of dwelling types will cater for a variety of housing needs including the provision of up to 20% affordable housing. Council will continue to seek additional affordable housing for our very low, low and moderate income community.

AND

Council expects that any affordable housing should be tenure blind and integrated with market housing, meaning that subsidised and private dwellings should not be able to be readily differentiated through either their appearance, quality or amenity and should have equal access to all communal indoor and outdoor spaces.

HOBSON’S BAY (2016) – This policy statement calls for 10 per cent affordable housing within Strategic Redevelopment Sites and encourages affordable housing in activity centres and established suburbs

FRANKSTON: (2018) – A possible threshold could be that for developments with 20 dwellings or more, 5% of the total number be allocated to a social housing and 10% to be affordable housing by agreement (15% all together). This would mean that 1 dwelling in every 20 would qualify as Social Housing under this approach.

MARIBYRNONG (2018) Investigate a contribution of a minimum of 50% of the value uplift created when land is up-zoned, to be used for affordable housing ―― Require a contribution of 10% of housing units to be used for affordable housing in areas currently subject to a Development Plan Overlay

MELBOURNE: (2020) Urban renewal areas present unique opportunities to substantially increase the supply of new affordable housing. This is due to the extent of underused land available in these areas and the opportunity Council has to shape these precincts as they are regenerated. On these sites, consideration will be given to accommodating greater than 25 per cent affordable housing

CASEY(2020) – ….guide action towards increasing the supply of affordable housing and working towards achieving a minimum of 12 percent of all new dwellings built to be affordable housing.

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.

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