GE Council Meeting(s)


At this week’s council meeting, it was resolved to advertise the long awaited draft Local Law. Residents will be disappointed with the proposals given that:

  • The significant tree register does not feature. It will take another report, another round of consultation before anything is codified. We assume this will not be before March 2020. Shameful that after all this time, council is still unable to get its act together in a timely fashion. Further, there is still no guarantee that it will even get up with the likes of Magee, Esakoff, Sztrajt and Cade already stating their potential opposition to laws regulating private property. We will have to wait and see what kind of compromise the draft document features.
  • Even more disappointing is the failure of this council to even entertain the idea of a Notice of Motion. We have commented on this ad nauseum over the years. How is it in the best interests of residents and sound governance that Glen Eira is the only council in the state (the last time we checked this out) that refuses to grant councilors the opportunity to raise an issue and hence to adequately represent their constituents? If there is concern about making ad hoc decisions without the ‘expert’ advice of officers, this is easily overcome with the opportunity for officers to comment at the next council meeting. That’s how Kingston does it for example.
  • Also unacceptable is the continuation of the current Public Questions policy. Still a limit of 150 words. Still no public record of what was asked if the questioner isn’t present since the query is not read out and does not go into the minutes. Hence calling this section ‘PUBLIC QUESTIONS’ is ironic indeed. Answers to questions should be on the public record. That is how accountability and transparency are maintained. It is simply not good enough that a ‘response’ is given to the individual and the community has no idea of the question, the answer, and the issue.
  • Council’s constant refrain is that they desire to engage more people. Placing Public Questions near the end of each meeting defeats this entirely. It forces residents to sit through up to three hours (often of sheer tedium) before their questions are read out. All of our neighbouring councils see the folly of this approach. Municipalities such as Bayside, Stonnington, Port Phillip, Monash and Kingston for example place their Public Questions early on following the confirmation of the minutes. Why this can’t be done in Glen Eira is mind boggling, unless of course it is to ensure that few residents have the stamina to wait for hours before their question is read out and responded to.
  • Finally we also remind readers that an ombudsman’s report of recent times recommended that council agendas be made available at least 5 working days prior to a council meeting. In Glen Eira the mantra is that agendas are only available on the preceding Friday after noon and that public questions must be in on the following Monday before noon. It certainly does not give residents time to digest what is often hundreds upon hundreds of pages, nor the time to successfully lobby councilors before a decision is made.

It is instructive that when councilors resolved to advertise the Local Law the above issues (apart from the tree register briefly) weren’t even mentioned. If council is serious about enhancing community engagement, and being as transparent and accountable as possible, then these ‘laws’ are the things that will ensure it doesn’t happen.

We ask that residents listen very carefully to the following audio. It features one question on flooding, Water Sensitive Urban Design, and permeability standards from a resident at the last council meeting, in the ‘participation’ phase of the meeting.

Thinks to note:

  • Whilst countless other councils have WSUD policies in their planning schemes, our wonderful council maintains its stance on ‘government responsibility’ and hence will not do anything other than ‘advocate’. See one of our previous posts on what other councils are doing and have achieved https://gleneira.blog/2019/01/19/esd-wsud-water-environmental-planning/
  • The claim that residents can express their views to a planning panel is deliberately misleading given previous events. Once an amendment is advertised then that’s it. Unless resident concerns are specifically listed then all comments will be regarded as outside the realm of the planning panel. They can only focus on what is in front of them. As occurred with Amendment C87 on Neighbourhood character overlays, residents found that if they wanted their views incorporated, then this would require a new amendment!
  • Council has had years upon years to change the schedules for its residential zones introduced in August 2013. Nothing has been done. Permeability remains at 20% for both the GRZ and RGZ and commercial areas don’t even rate a mention. Whilst council keeps patting itself on the back for its 25% permeability requirement and 50% site coverage in the Neighbourhood Residential zone, we wish to point out what some other councils have achieved in regards to permeability and/or site coverage throughout their municipalities: Banyule has a maximum 40% site coverage in its GRZ2 zone: Bayside in its GRZ1 AND GRZ6 & 7 has a 50% site coverage; Darebin also has a 50% site coverage in its GRZ1; Greater Dandenong has a 40% permeability requirement in its NRZ1 whilst MOnash has 30% permeability in NRZ1, 40% in NRZ2 plus 40% site coverage. Whitehorse has the following schedules:  50% site coverage for grz1 and 30%% permeability for grz1; grz2 40% and 40%; grz3 is 50 and 30% for permeability; grz4 50% and 30%; nrz1to 4 40% & 40%; nrz5 is 50 and 30%
  • Finally, council even considers these minimalist site coverage and permeability requirements as too much according to its draft amendment C184. Whether this remains once the amendment is advertised will be very interesting. Council has decided to create another zone RGZ4 (Garden apartments in activity zones) which will have a 90% site coverage allowance and a humungous 5% permeability requirement. Surely the way to go when all that matters is how many new apartment blocks can be crammed into Glen Eira? Here’s a screen dump of the draft proposal

Residents should indeed be following up and asking why this council is so adverse to introducing any decent controls into its planning scheme, such as a Water Sensitive Urban Design policy, or better still, amending its schedules so that site coverage and permeability standards are vastly improved. Other councils have done this, but not Glen Eira! We also note that the resident’s question(s) were directed to councillors. Sadly, not one councillor had the gumption to respond apart from Hyams and his usual waffle.

An application to amend a planning permit is up for decision at next Tuesday’s council meeting. The site is at 285/7 Neerim Road, Carnegie. Why this application is significant is that it highlights how council has repeatedly eroded residential amenity (especially in Carnegie) and how its strategic planning has gone from bad to worse.

The first application for 5 storeys on this site was submitted in 2015 and rejected by councillors. The developer appealed to VCAT, but prior to the case being heard, Wynne gazette council’s interim amendment in early 2017. The site was in the only precinct which then was granted mandatory height limits of 4 storeys. The developer subsequently amended his application from 5 storeys to 4 storeys and at a compulsory conference, agreement was reached and a permit granted. The other two precincts had discretionary heights of 7 and 6 storeys in 2017. Then in its wisdom, council in February 2018 decided that the 7 and 6 storey discretionary become up to 12 storeys and the applicant’s site be assigned a 5 storey height limit. Thus we have the developer asking for this height limit again plus the addition of another 5 dwellings, a reduction in retail space and the removal of visitor car parking spots in line with Wynne’s Amendment Vc148.

Council has never justified why it deemed it appropriate within the space of a year to go from 7 storeys to 12 storeys, or from 4 mandatory to 5 storeys. Even worse, we now have this application and an officer’s report which includes the most laughable comments. For example:

..it is considered that this addition (ie height) will be an improved outcome on the overall design response as it crowns the building, which previously appeared unfinished.

Question: if the design was so poor previously, then why did council’s delegate at the compulsory conference agree to the permit?

What residents are now seeing are applications for amendment after amendment where height is increased as a result of council’s structure plans, or where no structure plans or Design & Development overlays exist, literally reaching for the skies.

A recent VCAT decision for 1207 Glen Huntly Road, Glen Huntly repeats the long standing refrain:

  • There are no built form controls affecting the review site such as a Design and Development Overlay or similar, which might provide more specific guidance or requirements as to the built form expectations for the review site.
  • This activity centre is identified in Plan Melbourne 2017-2050 as a Major Activity Centre, subject to local strategic planning.
  • The Council stated that strategic planning for the future of this centre is in early stages, with no proposed planning scheme amendments yet afoot.(http://www8.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/vic/VCAT//2019/709.html)

With years to go before anything concrete materialises for our neighbourhood centres, or the disasters of the current structure plans for our major activity centres are open to full scrutiny, residents have much to fear as to council’s agenda, its planning competence and its genuine desire to listen and act upon residents views.

For those who think that a tree register is now a done deal, then last night’s council meeting is a rude awakening. The sticking point, as it has always been, is the issue of whether or not there should be controls placed on private land.

In a series of claims intended to wrench at the heartstrings we had Magee, Sztrajt, Esakoff and Cade stating that they were against laws that applied to private land, or which enabled neighbours to nominate trees on another’s land. Other spurious arguments like emergency situations, costs for home owners, etc. were also brought up.

Interestingly, Hyams was silent. His eventual vote therefore becomes crucial. Four out of the nine councilors have now made it clear that they will not support a tree register which covers private land, or at best which permits anyone from nominating a tree not on their own land. All it will take for this latest attempt to enter the 21st century is one more councillor to vote it out!

Most of the above arguments revolved around ‘individual rights’ over properties. These councilors seem to have forgotten their previous mantras that council works for the best interests of the entire community! We had this with the Elsternwick structure plan, with the current fiasco of the Inkerman bike path, and many other issues.

The motion eventually passed unanimously with that old argument that more reports are still to be presented to council before a final decision is made. We will not be holding our breath that after at least 15 years of dithering there will be something to celebrate for residents who care about what is happening on private land.

The agenda for Tuesday night features the 2019/20 Budget and Strategic Resource Plan. The latter encompasses a ten year timeline.

Whilst most budgets are admittedly subject to change and at best are often educated ‘guesstimates’ the changes in council’s plans from 2018/19 to the 2019/20 financial year are quite staggering. Please note the following:

  • Further delays in the implementation of major strategic planning projects
  • The huge blowout of costs on some of these. Even where the costs have been cited as a reduction, given that they are delayed we wonder how accurate these projections are since prices are sure to rise with delays and not reduce!
  • With $11.8 million still owing by the end of the next financial year, council is gearing up to borrow another $30 million!
  • Costs for rubbish, child care have gone up marginally, ie about $3 to $5 per item/day.
  • Council’s subsidy for pensioner rebates continues to decline. In 2016/17 council provided $58; in 2017/18 it went down to $48; in 2018/19 it was $42 and now for 2019/20 it is at an all time low of $36!
  • Council’s projected rate revenue is again based on 800 to 1000 new rateable properties. This is a repeat of last year’s budget and raises the question again of why we need 12 storeys and massive overdevelopment when council’s own documentation states that in order to meet forecast housing demand 800 dwellings per annum will suffice.

For ease of comparison, we present below a table that outlines the stated expenditure for the Bentleigh, Carnegie and Elsternwick structure plans. Of concern is:

  • The massive increase in cost for some of the items
  • The massive delay for implementation of car parks (ie 3 years for Horsely)
  • Why Bentleigh appears to be favoured overall in time lines when compared to Carnegie and even Elsternwick

There are also changes to Council’s ‘commitments’ in the Community/Council Plan that should be noted. We now have new jargon such as ‘Hidden Gems’ to replace the Major Heritage Review. Again this is put back years as has the promised ‘safe pedestrian pilot’. Other changes also exist and we urge residents to peruse these items carefully.

What remains a constant in Glen Eira is increasing staff. We will now have 860.19 Equivalent Full Time (EFT) an increase of close to 40 EFT. Also worth asking is why we could not find any mention of the projected sale of our aged care facilities and what this means to the budget, loans, etc?

The Good

The significant tree register issue is on the move. Item 9.6 of the current agenda proposes to:

  • Implement a tree register for both public and private land
  • Residents will have the opportunity to nominate trees
  • Review or objection rights will be included
  • Specific criteria based on the National Trust’s ‘standards’ will be applied

And the ‘drawbacks’?

  • Potential fines are miniscule
  • Not part of the planning scheme but only constituted as a Local Law
  • No indication as to the potential number of trees making it onto the register?
  • No indication of appeal rights for those who nominated a tree and then refused by council
  • No indication as to whether an application to remove a tree on the register will be decided by a full council hearing or left in the hands of officers? (Note that Bayside, Stonnington, etc. require such applications to go to council)
  • No time lines for completion

Overall, this is something that residents have been advocating for since at least 2003. It does represent a positive move by council.

The Bad

Selwyn Street Closure

We now have another  version of the proposed Selwyn Street closure. Please note that Gordon street does not change.

Below is the latest tinkering. Clearly the overwhelming opposition to the previous drafts have caused council to rethink the issue.

Here are the officer’s recommendations.

Please note the following:

  • Part 1(a) of the motion recommends that councilors approve the closure as ‘generally in accordance’ with the new design
  • Part 1(b) presents the option of not “exercise(ing) the power”, meaning do nothing and a refusal of the design.
  • Part 2 of the motion is the most fascinating. Another more ‘detailed’ report is to be made some time in the future but prior to closure of the street. If councilors vote for Part 1(a) does this mean that ‘detailed’ analysis will be conducted post closure of Selwyn Street?

The argument for acting now and doing the research later is lamentable in our view.  We’re told that closing Selwyn Street first is

essential to be undertaken prior to a full and detailed design process commencing, and before significant time and resources are spent on developing a design of the cultural precinct. It is crucial that the process to effect traffic changes precedes any further design work to ensure that the precinct design is being developed to an operational and functional framework that is able to be implemented, where the key parameters are known and have been decided by Council 

This is nothing but hogwash. Surely it is incumbent on council to ensure that whatever it does is in the best interests of the community and that this be based on sound technical and detailed analysis. Instead council’s approach to everything it seems has been to produce half baked ideas based on substandard plans that lack empirical justification and achieve nothing except to alienate most in the community. We have seen this time and time again with the Inkerman Road bike paths, playground upgrades, and street closures for so called ‘open space’.

Perhaps residents should start querying the capability of our designers, planners, traffic management people and ask how much each design and accompanying reiterations have cost in terms of production, staff time, consultants, etc? We have no doubt that any changes council produces is NOT the result of their technical know how, but simply the outcry from residents. It is a sad state of affairs when rates pay so much for so called ‘expertise’ and all we continue to get is second rate planning with no thought to curbing expenditure.

And talking of expenditure, we urge all readers to have a look at the budget and the Strategic Resource Plan. Page 5 of this document tells us that council is looking to spend $90 million on Bentleigh, Carnegie & Elsternwick over the next 10 years. Not a word about neighbourhood centres or structure plans for these areas!

We will comment on the budget and the SRP in our next post.

 

Tonight’s speakers on the Selwyn Street/Gordon Street closures had one thing in common. Each and every speaker was strongly opposed to council’s plans. What came through clearly was:

  • Council’s failure to consult with the major stakeholders, including some of the Jewish organizations.
  • No real consideration for businesses in the area and the imperative to provide loading zones
  • How the neighbouring streets would cope with increased traffic
  • How a reduction in parking spots will only exacerbate the already limited parking
  • The failure to provide decent traffic analysis of wider area prior to deciding on the current design

Questions remain as to what will now happen. For example: councilors can accept the current plan, reject it, or will we find that some modifications are made and this will be decided on at the April 30th Council meeting? If changes are made and a decision is also expected at the end of April, then does this mean that the community will not have the opportunity to comment on the changes?

This issue is another example of not only poor consultation, but poor planning. When will this council learn that they cannot produce half baked plans devoid of all essential data to justify their plans and expect residents to swallow this hook line and sinker. How much has this fiasco cost thus far? How much have the hired guns cost? Has any officer actually set foot in the area or has this design been done via a desktop analysis? And why can’t these councilors put a stop to this nonsense right now and order officers back to the drawing board and insist that proper consultation begin immediately with all those impacted?

We urge all readers to listen to what was said. It is illuminating and a harsh indictment of a council that has no idea of how to inform, consult, and listen to its residents.

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