GE Council Meeting(s)


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.

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!

If any resident still has doubts as to the planning department’s priorities then listening to Item 8.1 from Tuesday’s council meeting will resolve any doubts still held. (See: http://webcast.gleneira.vic.gov.au/archive/video21-0608.php#placeholder)

Item 8.1 was for an application at 646-66 Glen Huntly Road, Caulfield South – a 5 storey mixed use development including 18 apartments, a shop and an office.  There were 16 objections including one from an adjoining  resident who asked that council include in its conditions screening for the balcony on one of the units since this directly overlooked his back yard’s private open space. No such condition appeared in the officer’s recommendation.

We therefore congratulate the 8 councillors who finally determined that such a condition be imposed within the ensuing permit – especially councillor Zyngier who first brought the issue up and moved the amendment for the inclusion of the condition. The only councillor who saw fit to reject such a proposal was Athanasopolous. His arguments revived the nonsense that was the modus operandi of Hyams, Lipshutz and others from the past – that VCAT would not uphold this condition since all the ResCode guidelines on this issue had been met. After 5 years as a councillor one would hope that Athanasopolous should know by now that future decisions by VCAT are irrelevant to council’s decision making. Planning Schemes make no mention of VCAT. What they do say is that each application must be evaluated on its individual merits – ie according to zoning, urban design, decision guidelines, etc. What VCAT may or may not decide is irrelevant. Furthermore, since the additional condition of screening is certainly minor, the developer would do his sums, consider the inevitable time lag, and in all probability decide that going to VCAT was not in his best interests.

But it gets worse when Torres was asked two questions. We include both of his responses below.

COMMENTS:

  • The reliance on Rescode as an argument against imposing the condition is nothing more than a furphy. First of all, there is nothing MANDATORY about ResCode. Secondly, ResCode does NOT APPLY to building of 5 or more storeys!
  • Council has on numerous occasions imposed conditions that far exceed the ResCode requirements. The perfect examples are previous applications along Neerim Road, Belsize, etc. These were all for 4 storeys where ResCode did apply.
  • It is very sad indeed that in Torres’ second response his emphases was entirely on the amenity of the apartment, rather than the amenity of the neighbouring resident!  Also the response is quite frankly ridiculous given that other apartments in this development all required screening! So much for ‘avoiding screening’!

Again, we congratulate those 8 councillors for showing common sense, and a concern for residents. Something this planning department appears incapable of doing!

Year after year we have witnessed the farce that is called ‘public question’ time in Glen Eira. In the vast majority of cases no ‘answer’ is provided to the questioner. At best they receive a ‘response’. The question remains unanswered.

Residents have every right to expect that when a reasonable and relevant question is asked, council provides a clear and complete answer. Such occurrences are extremely rare.

This raises several fundamental issues of governance and the role of councillors. Given that the often carefully crafted and obtuse responses are delivered in councillors’ names, and signed off by the Mayor, then surely it is incumbent on these nine individuals to stand up and insist that questions are not simply fobbed off, but answered respectfully and truthfully. Only once in living memory has a councillor taken such a stance where he stated that he did not agree with the response.

One must therefore wonder:

  • Who writes the responses? And who finally authorises each response?
  • Do councillors actually get to see the questions before they are read out at the council meeting? If they do see the questions, when do they receive them?
  • Do councillors have any say, or contribute in any manner to the responses? If not, why not?
  • Why do councillors sit in chamber and never proffer any opinion/reaction to the response – even if they strongly disagree with what has been written?
  • How does such councillor silence engender greater ‘community involvement’ and/or faith in open and transparent government, or does this achieve the direct opposite?

Wednesday night’s council meeting provided the perfect example of this farce. We will focus on one question in particular. In this instance, a resident asked the simple and basic question about the budget – what projects had been abandoned, deferred or delayed over the past 2 financial years and what savings had accrued as a result of such delays? Here is the audio of the question and the ‘response’.  Interestingly, the sound quality of this recording is woeful. Given the millions that council has spent on technology, one should expect that public recordings provide decent audio versions.

Apart from the simple fact that this question remained unanswered, referring a resident to the budget and SRP (Strategic Resource) documents only compounds the problem of council’s lack of clear reporting. For anyone to try and make sense of what is proposed takes great effort and at the very least some modicum of accounting knowledge. Even more difficult is to remember what was contained in the previous year’s budget and to reconcile this with what is in the current budget. It should be council’s role to explain and expand on any variations. One example should suffice:  In the 2020/21 SRP we find on page 8 the following sentence: Town Hall Refurbishment – total of $8M ($2M per annum from 2021/22 to 2024/25). In the current SRP (page 12) this has changed to: Town Hall Refurbishment and Essential Safety Measures: $4M from 2021/22 to 2023/24. What does this actually mean? Is this a ‘saving’ of $4M or $2M given the different years stated?

We then have the latest Quarterly Report which does state that the Carnegie Market development has been ‘deferred’ and that both the Bleazby and Stanley Street proposed multi-storey car parks are ‘under review’. Whilst it is true that no specific funding was allocated to these projects in the current budget, and hence no real ‘savings’ per se, council could have highlighted these decisions in both its response to the public question and in its budget papers.

More importantly, given that there are frequent mentions of ‘efficiencies’ in council’s budget papers, a simple table that itemises ‘savings’ in each department would not go astray. Residents might also be interested to know which departments have had their budgets cut and by how much! Until all the information is out there in a simple, straight forward manner, residents will remain confused, befuddled, and ignorant of what is really happening to their money and how it is being spent and/or wasted.

Nor does it help create a climate of transparency when all councillors simply sit there like silent statues and accept the tripe that parades as ‘answers’ to public questions!

Council’s latest decision regarding waste collection changes has spurred much controversy on social media. Council has decided that the green bin collection will now become weekly instead of fortnightly and the red bin collection will change over to fortnightly. Food waste is now meant to go into the green bin.

This decision is supposedly based on a trial run of 1000 residences in the McKinnon/Ormond area. On the basis of this trial we now have the decision to forge ahead with this changeover.

Our understanding is that by diverting food waste into green bin collections this will reduce the amount of garbage going to landfill and also have environmental benefit in terms of reducing carbon emissions from this food waste  – as claimed in the letter dated 3rd May that was sent out to households.

We are not advocating in favour or against this decision. What we are fully cognisant of is the lack of process that has informed this decision making. When council decides something that will have an immediate and huge impact on residents’ lives, then they had better make sure that all the data is accurate, that it has majority community support, and is economically viable.

To the best of our knowledge, no formal consultation was undertaken by council for the trial and certainly none for this final decision. In other words, what is the real level of community support for this change? Nor do we know the cost of the green tidies that council has produced for distribution. We also don’t know how much the garbage ‘police’ surveillance is likely to cost. Or the cost of providing extra bins for those families that deal with nappies.

All we have to go on to determine whether the trial is in fact working and worthy of being implemented across the entire municipality is to be found in the small print of the current Quarterly Report. Here is the screen dump (page 31) from this report.

If the objective is to increase the amount of food scraps being diverted into the green bin, then the above results clearly show that this isn’t happening. So, what does this really mean? That residents aren’t embracing the change? If so, then what guarantee does council have that this will improve – unless of course they introduce a fine system to ‘encourage’ compliance! Nor do we accept the pathetic reasoning that seeks to blame COVID for the lack of improvement. Surely people still continued eating and creating food scraps regardless of whether they were in COVID lockdown or not. We could even argue that with lockdown more people would be cooking and eating at home rather than going out, so the production of food scraps should have increased! We also find it hard to buy the argument about seasons. Does this mean that winter produces more food scraps than summer? Where is the evidence for any of this?

Summing up we do not appear to have necessary pre-requisite data, or community support, that justifies the decision that has been made. Instead we are forging ahead with a project that cannot guarantee ‘success’, and has the potential to impact dramatically on countless residents. Perhaps we should simply say that this is another example of pre-determined decision making by council that ignores process and thorough testing, monitoring, and analyses.

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