GE Council Meeting(s)


The current agenda includes an item purporting to report on the results of planning applications that have ended up at VCAT over the past five years and council’s success rate in these hearings. These results are of course presented as extremely complimentary to council. The report recommends:

That Council notes:

  1. there has been a reduction in the number of planning decisions by Council being appealed to VCAT;
  1. the number of dwellings approved by VCAT, through ‘set aside’ decisions, have decreased substantially;
  1. the implementation of the interim Structure Plan controls for the Bentleigh, Carnegie and Elsternwick activity centres have contributed to these reductions; and,
  1. the changes implemented by the Urban Planning team in respect to improved processes and engagement with all parties have also contributed to these reductions.

Whilst it is undoubtedly true that there have been less VCAT hearings, council would like us to believe that this is the result of council’s approach to planning via its structure planning and delegations. What is never acknowledged at any stage in this report is:

  • The continued downturn of developments throughout the state in the past few years
  • The significantly increased costs of going to VCAT, especially for objectors
  • Council’s recent process change that now requires at least 15 or more objections to be decided by councillors rather than under delegation.
  • With less appeals, then logically this would involve a reduction in the number of ‘set aside’ decisions. It remains questionable of course whether the reduction in these types of decisions have anything whatsoever to do with council’s interim structure planning as claimed and more to do with the fact of general downturn, cost of land, and that our major activity centres are already built out compared to what is available in our neighbourhood centres.

Glen Eira Council is not alone in experiencing a major reduction in VCAT appeals. Below is the summary from the 2018/19 VCAT annual report which clearly shows how nearly all councils (apart from the growth suburbs) are in the same boat – ie a major reductions in appeals.

Throughout the council report we have some wonderful claims that do not stack up when analysed via third party data. For instance, the following council produced image maintains that in the 2019/20 financial year council has had 90% of its appeals to VCAT confirmed.

According to the State Government’s figures, nothing could be further from the truth. Below is a screen dump from the Planning Permit Activity website which provides data on how many VCAT appeals have been confirmed, set aside, or varied. Please note that what we are being shown is that for this time period Glen Eira was only successful in having its decisions confirmed a paltry 25%. Even if we amalgamate the ‘confirmed’ with ‘varied’ that still leaves us with only a 55% return and certainly not the 90% that is claimed!!!!

The ’varied’ results can also be entirely misleading when we consider certain examples where councillors granted permits that lopped off a couple of storeys and a number of apartments only to have VCAT ‘varying’ the permit to what the developer wanted. Perfect examples of this include: 240-50 McKinnon Road, McKinnon where council decided on 4 storeys and VCAT awarded the developer his 6 storeys and 33 apartments. Another recent example is Royal Avenue, Glen Huntly, where 4 storeys became 5 storeys at VCAT. Such decisions are not seen as ‘set aside’, they are simply labelled ‘varied’ since a permit was issued by council.

There are countless other dubious and suspect figures provided throughout this report. More importantly, what is entirely missing in this report is any mention of what is happening in our neighbourhood centres and how these appeals fair at VCAT. A perusal of VCAT decisions over the past few years reveals that the majority of appeals have involved these centres and NOT the major activity centres which have largely already been built out with the introduction of the zones in 2013. The reasoning for the development rush in our neighbourhood centres is quite simple: no real controls, no preferred character statements, and land that is cheaper. If council was really willing to provide an objective and honest analysis of what is happening in our municipality, then including a detailed assessment of what is happening outside the major activity centres is essential. This has not been done. Instead we are provided with figures that are not clearly defined.

For example: Council presents another table that is supposedly listing the number of apartments that have been approved in the Bentleigh, Carnegie and Elsternwick over the years.

In fine print and as a footnote we get this sentence alluding to the table: Based on land within the Commercial 1 Zone and Residential Growth Zone. Why, especially since these activity centres also include sites zoned as MUZ and GRZ both before and after the introduction of the interim height amendments. So what do these numbers really tell us and how comprehensive and valid are they?

Earlier in the report council admits that the 2017/18 financial year was the most ‘productive’ in terms of permits granted for apartments. We are told that 2217 apartments were granted permits in that year. In the above table the total number of permits granted in the 3 major activity centres for that year totals a mere 390! Hence 1,827 apartments were erected OUTSIDE these centres!

We do not believe that council’s belated structure planning for the major activity centres is responsible for this shift. To assume such is to ignore the real data and the prevailing economics of development and a council refusing to prioritise our neighbourhood centres.

All in all, what we have before us is a report that is simply not good enough in terms of detail, comprehensiveness and basic truth telling!

 

Included below is council’s latest attempt at so called ‘consultation’ methodology. Readers should carefully note the sentence regarding the delay on introducing the long awaited tree register.

Once again we find council putting off any real action which could have some major impact on development in our municipality. No reason is provided for this delay! Nor are we told which projects will push on and which others may have been delayed. As for the excuse that this is the result of COVID 19 we simply don’t buy that ridiculous claim. Here’s why:

  • An amendment is required to incorporate this into the Local Law. The protocol for this is straight forward. We would be presented with an officer’s report, councillors would vote, and the documentation would then be placed on public exhibition for 28 days.
  • The form of ‘exhibition’ would remain as it always has – ie public notice via the website, (admittedly not in the local paper since these have been stopped).
  • Community responses would be via written submissions (email, letters).
  • A council meeting would then consider the submissions and people could, if they wished, speak to their submission (available via tele-conferencing, Zoom, etc.) The number of people addressing council has historically been minimal (ie average of 5)
  • The next council meeting would then vote on the draft amendment.
  • It would then be submitted to the department/minister and gazetted very quickly.

Given this process we do not see how COVID has impacted in any significant way on this issue and hence why it has been put on the back burner. Please remember that ‘consultation’ for this occurred between November and December 2017. Two and a half years later nothing has happened except to delay this even further.

We can only speculate as to why this issue has been shelved in comparison to the other multi million dollar projects that council seems intent on pushing through at a time where finances for councils and residents have taken a huge hit!

As an example here are the tenders from last Saturday’s Age newspaper. Questions that could be asked:

  • Do we really need ‘catering’ for councillors and ‘guests’ when we have social distancing and no community events?
  • Do we really need to push ahead with the Elsternwick community hub when we don’t even have a firm structure plan in place and this is mooted to cost $32 million according to the last budget papers?

It is truly time that this council was forthcoming on all projects citing specifically which ones are on hold, which should proceed and why! That is what good governance demands and what Glen Eira City Council continually fails to provide!

The above screen dump comes from council’s proposed actions to support the community during the current COVID pandemic. As with countless other municipalities, Glen Eira recognises that residents, businesses and sporting clubs need assistance. This is to be commended. What is not to be commended however is the lack of financial detail and communication that is clear and unambiguous.

For instance, we are told that there will be: ‘rent relief for Council Community and some Commercial tenants…….’. Exactly what does this mean? Will there be zero rent for 3 months, 6 months for community groups renting council facilities? Will they instead have a 50% reduction, a 25% reduction? And what does ‘some Commercial tenants’ really mean?– which ones and on what basis will they be eligible? Nor are we given any indication as to how much any of this will cost? The only clear statement from this paragraph relates to sporting groups and even here we don’t know the eventual cost to council.

Compare this shadowy report with what Kingston has provided. Admittedly these are only ‘guesstimates’ but at least Kingston’s ratepayers have some idea of how the sums have been calculated. Also worth noting is that they are willing to defer rents for all of their community rentals unlike Glen Eira.  Here’s one page from their report and we’ve uploaded the full report HERE

Our objective is not to quibble or argue against what is proposed. Our concern rests entirely with the lack of substance and hence transparency that permeates this report. We are told that cost to council will ultimately be $7.4 million, but the only figure that is provided in both item 8.3 and item 8.4 states that council will lose $500,000 in late fee interest for payment of rates. How we get from $500,000 to $7.4 million is thus anyone’s guess! Compounding this even further we do not know how many staff, especially casuals, have been stood down and what ‘saving’ this represents to Council, nor how it will affect essential operations.

We appreciate that projections may be difficult. But the nature of these reports continues the tradition in Glen Eira of vague, unsubstantiated claims, lack of detail, and councillors voting something in without enough information to arrive at real informed decision making! This has happened far too often in Glen Eira for it to be anything but deliberate!

PPS: We have perused what other councils are doing in terms of increased funds to the CEOs under delegation. Surprise, surprise, there is not one single council that comes close to what Glen Eira is proposing! The following quotes all come from the March minutes of these councils:

HOBSONS BAYawarding a contract or the expenditure of council funds exceeding the value of $3,500,000(inclusive of GST), with the exception of insurance premiums, Workcover premiums andemployee superannuation payments;

DAREBIN: Temporarily increase the financial delegation of the Chief Executive Officer from $500,000 to $1M including awarding a contract for the purchase of goods and services or for the carrying out of works not exceeding the value of $1M (including GST) to be used only in the event that Council is unable to meet because of circumstances related to the COVID19 pandemic subject to;

  • The expenditure being included in budget.
  • Compliance with the provisions of the Local Government Act and Council procurement policy and practices.
  • Receive a report at the next available Council meeting on the use of the temporary delegations.

FRANKSTON: It is proposed that during a state or national emergency, the expenditure limit for the Chief Executive Officer will increase from $500K to $2M, exclusive of GST. This will enable the Chief Executive (CEO) to enter into contracts during these periods. The expenditure limits for the Directors, Managers, Coordinators, Team Leaders and staff will remain unchanged

MORNINGTON: $1 M

The agenda for next Tuesday night’s council meeting contains several items that make us wonder whether the proposed initiatives are nothing more than bureaucratic opportunism which would result in the increased power of unelected officers and the further sidelining of residents and councillors.

We acknowledge fully the ongoing COVID crisis and the impact it is having on all sectors of the community  – including councils themselves. What is proposed in several items is the following:

  • Changes to CEO delegation empowering her to grant contracts/tenders of up to $20 million
  • The abolition of Delegated Planning Committee hearings and Planning Consultation Meetings for all planning applications
  • If no quorum at council meetings then CEO and/or delegated officers have power to grant, refuse, amend permits.
  • The cessation of public participation at council meetings. All public questions will be recorded in the minutes.

We will deal with these sequentially.

  1. Delegations

We are informed that according to the legislation, councillors have to be present in order to cast their votes. Hence, if some councillors may have to self isolate, there is the possibility that no quorum will be available and hence, no council decisions can be made. The argument is that in order for council to continue functioning, that more power be delegated to officers and the CEO since there is no legal avenue for online communication and participation when it comes to formal council meetings. The agenda cites the ‘advice’ provided by Local Government Victoria:

“Present” means being physically present at the meeting. This requirement mirrors Parliamentary practice in which a Member must be present at a Division to vote. While there can be advantages for remotely located councillors to be able to participate in meetings without being physically present, this must be balanced against other considerations including the public transparency requirements on decision making by a publicly elected body.

What is not revealed in the agenda is that this ‘advice’ is dated the 18th March 2020. Since then there have been several more restrictions placed on meetings due to COVID. Furthermore, the Municipal Association of Victoria, plus plenty of other councils, have come out urging the Premier/Ministers to ‘fast track’ changes so that councillors can complete council business via electronic means. Currently, both NSW and South Australia permit council meetings without having councillors physically present in the chamber. See the following especially the quote from a government official that makes specific mention of meetings :

https://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-01/councils-worry-local-democracy-being-compromised-by-coronavirus/12111270?pfm=sm

We’re working with councils to consider the implications of coronavirus on their operations, including the welfare of staff, compliance with the Act, elections and their meetings.

MAV MEDIA RELEASE:

“With streaming and virtual meetings now widely available, we call on the Minister for Local Government Adem Somyurek and the State Government to make this common sense decision and enable one of these options to be implemented as as alternative to meeting face to face.”

Lord Mayor Sally Capp is also calling on the State to fast-track changes.

“The community relies on councils to make decisions that impact their daily lives, but in the current climate we are handcuffed by the restrictions in the Local Government Act.

“We need to prioritise the health and safety of our communities while also continuing to deliver results,” she said.

South Australian Decision (https://www.lga.sa.gov.au/page.aspx?c=87606)

The Electronic Participation in Council Meetings Notice (No 1) 2020 (Notice 1) was made by the Minister on 31 March 2020 and provides variations to the Local Government Act 1999 (LG Act) and the Local Government (Procedures at Meetings) Regulations 2013 (Regulations) to enable some or all council members to participate in a council meeting by electronic means. Further information, including a link to the Notice and an explanatory paper prepared by the LGA, is available in Circular 14.1.

It is our view that allowing an unelected individual to have control over $20m is not in the best interest of this community – regardless of the current situation. It also begs the question of why Moreland City Council can decide to grant its CEO only $2 million in the exact same circumstances. Here is what Moreland decided on the 25th March 2020

Notes the delegation temporarily increases the financial limit of the Chief Executive Officer from $700,000(excludingGST)to $2million (excludingGST),including awarding a contract for the purchase of goods and services or for the carrying out of works, with the increased delegation to be used only in the event that Council is unable to meet because of circumstances related to the COVID19pandemic and subject to:

i.The expenditure being included in budget; and

ii.Compliance with the provisions of the Local Government Act in force at the time and Council’s Procurement Policy.

The only ‘safeguard’ in terms of transparency and accountability that is provided to Glen Eira residents comes with the following:

  • Council will make available (where practicable) on its website, a list of decisionsthat would have been dealt with by Council, but were made under delegation dueto Council being unable to form a quorum due to illness of Councillors or the needto self-isolate by Councillors;
  • the CEO will (where practicable) consider and take into account the views ofCouncillors in making the decisions that would have been dealt with by Council atan ordinary council meeting or special council meeting, but for the coming intooperation of Schedule B of the Instrument of Delegation; and
  • the Instrument of Delegation, when in force, will be reviewed at least once everythree months and that Council at an ordinary council meeting or special councilmeeting will resolve whether to vary, revoke it or leave it in place.

Why do we have such phrases as ‘where practicable’ included? Who decides what is ‘practicable’? What does the term mean anyway given that publishing up to date items on council’s website should be simple given the millions that this council has spent on its IT and website upgrades!!!

QUESTIONS

  • Why is there no mention of this pressure for change in the officer report?
  • How was the figure of $20m derived and why?
  • Why does one council consider that $2m is sufficient for the continued smooth operation of a council and Glen Eira feels that ten times this amount is necessary?
  • Why the rush to push this through when change is undoubtedly imminent given the outcry and the existence of this in at least 2 other states?

 

2.Abolition of DCP & Community Planning Consultations

Ceasing the operation of the above does ostensibly make sense given the requirement for social distancing, etc. at this time. What does not make sense is council’s failure to even consider the possibility that these important avenues for community involvement could be done via the multitude of different phone and online conferencing tools.

Instead, the only time that this possibility is even mentioned in the officer’s report, and then totally ignored comes with this paragraph:

Council is presently working towards instituting online platforms which will allow a Delegated Planning Forum and a Planning Conference to be conducted without having to physically meet. Given the nature of these meetings and the diversity of stakeholders in the planning process, it is important to ensure that any on-line platform is stable, reliable and facilitates accessibility, inclusiveness and transparency in the planning process.

What on earth does ‘presently working towards’ really mean? What is the proposed time line?

Surely there would be no cost or very little cost in implementing such tools immediately. Here’s what Corangamite was able to do in the space of less than a week for its first live streamed council meeting:

The Shire’s first live stream, hastily put together in response to the coronavirus pandemic social distancing requirements, used existing equipment and the free Facebook platform, incurring no cost to ratepayers. (https://www.corangamite.vic.gov.au/Council/News-and-Media/Latest-News/Online-Council-meeting-call)

 

CONCLUSIONS

We can find no sound reasoning that would condone:

  • Granting one individual the power to spend $20m
  • The continued sidelining of residents and councillors when technology can be used to continue meetings
  • The real potential for the further erosion of accountability and transparency

 

PS: By way of contrast to how other councils have handled the current situation and CEO delegations, we’ve taken 2 screen shots of the recent March minutes from Monash and Port Phillip. Please note the requirement for complete and open transparency. The question then becomes: why isn’t this part of the Glen Eira Council approach? What’s to be gained (or hidden?) in the way Glen Eira has determined things will run?

 

Gazetted today:

Last night’s council meeting showed the first public sign that maybe things aren’t as hunky dory within this councillor group as they would like us to believe. The feathers were definitely flying with Delahunty, Davey and then Athanasopolous getting up on their high horses to implicitly criticise and condemn Esakoff.

All of this related to the ‘debate’ on the Parking Strategy. Esakoff, as is her right, spoke against the strategy. Mind you, she spoke for just on 10 minutes without getting a time extension. So much for the meeting procedures, eh? The bone of contention related to her use of the term ‘social engineering’ (twice in this 10 minute speech).

Here is the full audio of what she said:

Delahunty then rose to object to the terminology. This was followed up by Athanasopolous’s Right of Reply (see below).

Social engineering originates from social science and the term was first used in the 1890’s. In this context of social and/or political science, dictionaries provide the following definitions:

Wikepedia: means of influencing particular attitudes and social behaviors on a large scale

Oxford: the use of centralized planning in an attempt to manage social change and regulate the future development and behaviour of a society.

Webster: management of human beings in accordance with their place and function in society

Collins: is the use of planned measures, for example, measures that affect people’s social or economic position, in order to create a desirable society.

One could quite reasonably ask: Does Glen Eira Council practice social engineering? When we look at recent policies and strategies developed by this council, then the answer is clear. Yes, council does engage in ‘social engineering’!

Here are some recent examples:

  • Waste reduction and food scrap containers.
  • Parking strategies
  • Bicycle strategy

The stated objective(s) of all of the above endeavours are to bring about behavioural change. To basically introduce programs, policies, and laws that will ‘encourage’ people to moderate their behaviours. That’s the purpose of the current Parking strategy – to get more people to use public transport and the Inkerman Road fiasco is supposedly to get more people riding bikes. Providing food scrap containers and changing what can go into green bins is another example of trying to influence behaviour.

We are not discussing the value or efficacy of these programs. What we would like to know is how on earth Delahunty, Davey and especially Athanasopolous can get up on their high horse and protest vehemently about the ‘language’ that Esakoff used. This strikes us as hypocrisy of the highest order. More to the point, it raises the question of WHY this outrage and why now?

For Athanasopolous to bring up Pol Pot, Stalin, and presumably Hitler in what amounts to a personal attack on Esakoff is quite unbelievable. We are not in the business of defending Esakoff. However in this instance, the response to her use of the term Social Engineering is way beyond the pale, especially when council is the supreme agent of its own social engineering which is often accomplished in the face of stern opposition from residents. May we even suggest that by ignoring community opposition, such actions would resonate beautifully with Stalin and his aberrant version of ‘social engineering’.

Council has released the results of its community consultation on the proposed Parking Policy and set out several recommendations for councillors to adopt.  However, the tradition of drowning residents in so called ‘data’, coupled with conclusions devoid of real supporting evidence continues with analyses and recommendations that would fail any grade 7 mathematics exam/test. Dubious assumptions that then become the foundation for subsequent recommendations abound. We can only suggest that had the initial questions been more water tight, and unambiguous that the ‘results’ would be far more credible.

The resulting policy/analysis purports to present data from two distinct surveys. A general one that was freely available online to the entire community, and a second ‘survey’ that was directed to the 450+ registered users of Community Voice. (CV) Of these latter 450+ community representatives,(CV) council only received 190 responses. For the community wide survey there were 592 responses. Thus, the ratio was 3 times as many ‘answers’ from the wider community as there was for the Community Voice survey. Yet incredibly, far greater credence is given to the CV responses time and time again in the accompanying officer’s report and in the recommendations put forward to council. Here are some examples:

When considering if the proposed introduction of a fee is fair/reasonable for resident car owners in Glen Eira a majority of respondents to the community survey either disagreed or strongly disagreed (76 per cent). This was reinforced by 18 letters/emails an 9 phone calls to Council which explicitly referenced issues around permit fees. Concerns and questions were expressed around the fairness of the proposal and a perceived entitlement to free permits under Council rates. When considering if this approach is fair/reasonable for the wider Glen Eira community the majority of respondents who disagreed or strongly disagreed reduced to 53 per cent. 

Community Voice members were also asked the same question. When asked if this approach is fair/reasonable for resident car owners in Glen Eira a majority of respondents agreed or strongly agreed (54 per cent). When considering if this approach is fair/reasonable for the wider Glen Eira community this majority of respondents who agreed or strongly agreed increased to (62 per cent). 

And the final officer recommendation is: Officers recommend retaining the residential permit fee structure as consulted within the draft Parking Policy (Attachment 2- Residential Parking Permit System, section 3.3.6).

Also extremely important in analysing any of this data is the makeup of the various groups and how their circumstances might have influenced their responses. For example: we are told that the vast majority of respondents from the community wide survey were in possession of residential parking permits (440 out of 576 responses). For the Community Voice participants only 48 out of 190 had these permits. Thus 76% versus 25%!!!!! Secondly, we need to consider the physical attributes of the various suburbs that these participants live in and their probable parking arrangements.

The following screen dump does have these percentages (not numbers we note).

One could quite reasonably question the value of the above data given the following:

  • East Bentleigh has the largest proportion of single detached dwellings in the municipality. Presumably a large percentage of these homes would also have onsite parking and therefore parking is not necessarily the problem it is in other areas. This is reflected in many of the Community Voice (cv) responses.
  • The Community Voice responses were significantly lower in those suburbs where parking is an acknowledged problem ie. Elsternwick/Gardenvale; Caulfield North/East. Where higher (ie McKinnon and Murrumbeena) the issue is not so urgent.
  • What valid conclusions can then be drawn from such numbers? We posit very little!

What irks us the most however is the following.

Please note:

  • Are we comparing apples with oranges?
  • What is this supposed to prove when the community wide survey includes both ON and OFF street results and the Community Voice simply lists ON STREET?
  • Comparing the two graphs reveals NOTHING as to the real numbers parking on the street. Interestingly 37% of the Community Voice people also park cars overnight on the street.
  • Why wasn’t the identical question asked of the Community Voice participants? ie do you park on or off site?

The most contentious argument in the entire policy rests on the following statement and its accompanying table:

When considering car ownership and access to permits the draft Parking Policy, the community survey shows that out of 493 permit eligible households,182 accessed more residential permits than they have vehicles. This indicates that as many as 37 per cent of current permit holders who completed the survey are accessing more permits than they need.

Even if we accept these figures, the questions keep coming. Permits are currently linked to specific cars. Residents have to fill out a form and provide a license plate number. Thus, how is it possible that someone with 2 cars should have 4 permits? Doesn’t council check what they are applying for? Are residents lying and making up license plate numbers? Have respondents confused ‘residential’ permits with ‘visitor permits’ in their responses? To then conclude that the parking policy is aimed at these drivers in particular and the aim is to change ‘behaviour’ is laughable. Behaviour will only change once there are adequate options. No figures are provided as to how many of these 37% of permit holders even have access to on site parking. Nor do we know where they are located. Assumptions on top of assumptions should never be the basis for policy!

Other assumptions are also worth commenting upon. Here is an extract from the report that focuses on the proposed charge for the second and third parking permit:

To understand the impact of permit fees an assessment (Attachment 4) has been undertaken on the car ownership and access to permits data provided within the draft Parking Policy community survey. To assist with this assessment the following assumptions have been made:

  • A minimum of one car will be parked off-street. Therefore, charges for permits will not begin until a household owns 3 cars.
  • A fee for a third permit has only been applied to those households within the bus only(Bentleigh East) precinct.
  • Approximately 18.4 per cent of residents in Glen Eira are aged over 60 years.Therefore, a concession rate has been applied across 18.4 per cent of households.

As a result of these statements, we can reasonably ask:

  • On what basis can the assumption be made that one car will be parked ‘off-street’ – especially since there is no correlation with where these residents live, nor how many of these permit holders do in fact have off street parking available?
  • Why conflate the NUMBER of residents over 60 in the municipality with the number of households? Surely there must be 60+ residents who live together and not in single member households?
  • Is this simply a ploy to assure ratepayers that council is not gouging more and more from our pockets when we are told that revenue will only amount to $149,099 per annum? And even this amount is likely to be less because council goes on to state: However, due to the introduction of a fee, it is expected that a portion of the community will change their parking behaviour (including utilising off-street parking such as driveways and garages, or parking in unrestricted areas). This has been estimated at 30 per cent. When applying this behaviour change reduction, the total amount raised from permit charges is estimated at $104,369 per year. No explanation has been given as to why there is this assumption of 30%. Nor are we told anything about the likely lack of parking in the proposed ‘unrestricted areas’ if these streets become the only option for parking.

There are literally countless assumptions made throughout the report. To comment on all of them would require many more pages. The bottom line is that residents deserve better. Survey questions need to be precise, unambiguous, and clearly related to unearthing data that is valid, relevant, and consistent.

Until this council learns to produce genuine consultation, and to produce reports and analyses that actually tells the real story, residents of Glen Eira can have no confidence whatsoever in any consultation that this council undertakes. More to the point, they can have no confidence that their voices are being listened to.

Several residents have contacted us with queries about Council’s renting of 840 Dandenong Road, Caulfield East. This was ‘vacated’ by Stellar in mid 2019. Real Estate websites state that the rental space was approximately 1200 square metres and that Stellar were paying rental of between $320 and $340 per square metre.

A check of council minutes reveals that in July 2019, as part of the in camera section of the council meeting, this item came up for deliberation. No result/outcome was listed in the ensuing minutes. Hence, we have to ask:

  • Why is council renting this property?
  • What is the rental being paid?
  • How long is the lease?
  • Did council spend extra on outfitting this property? If so, how much?

If any concerned resident were to peruse the monthly financial reports it is impossible to discern where this money is coming from, nor how much.  In terms of ‘income’ versus ‘expenditure’ we find that there is a category labelled ‘other expenses’. The budget claimed that this figure would be $3.5 million. The actuals now state that this figure has blown out to $5.168 million. Thus how much of this blowout is the result of the new lease? We can only guess at the amount that council is paying but given the above figures it would not surprise us if this lease was in the vicinity of $400,000 at least per annum, and possibly much higher!

It is also worth stating that the word ‘lease’ does not appear anywhere in the financial report. Thus, we are left in the dark (again) as to how this council is spending ratepayers’ money and the purpose for such expenditure.

Here’s a screen dump of the site:

The long awaited Ombudsman’s report has now been released. See: https://ombudsman.vic.gov.au/our-impact/investigation-reports/investigation-into-three-councils-outsourcing-of-parking-fine-internal-reviews/

What we discover is that councils (Glen Eira, Stonnington & Port Phillip) all owe millions to drivers who were fined by outsourced agencies (ie Tenix) and requests for review were not done by council but this agency. This is seen by the Ombudsman and government as contrary to law under the Infringement’s Act and the Road Traffic Act.

What is even more reprehensible is that all of these councils knew of this for years but did not notify the public. In refusing to remove parking fines none of these councils made it crystal clear that Tenix was the body reviewing the fines and not council officers. Furthermore, all rejection letters included anonymous signatures such as  ‘Appeals Review Officer on behalf of Glen Eira City Council’. The lack of transparency and accountability is commented on repeatedly. Even more insulting is that all of these councils had meetings, legal advice, etc. without once informing residents. Adding salt to the wounds is the refusal of these councils to furnish the ombudsman with the legal advice provided (which councils are legally entitled not to do). But, unless there is something to hide, why not furnish these documents? In short, the name of the game was to keep mum, avoid responsibility, and hope all this goes away.

It didn’t thanks to the public announcements by such councils as Monash and Kingston, the complaints forwarded and the initiative of the ombudsman.

All of this simply makes us wonder what else this council is keeping quiet about. When a council foregoes it duty to be open, transparent and accountable, we are in trouble.

Here are some quotes and stats from the report that relate specifically to Glen Eira.

  • In 2017/18, 68,000 parking infringements were issued
  • Glen Eira said that it ‘relied on Tenix to provide appropriate advice in accordance with its contractual arrangements’. Tenix responded that ‘in no way could it be reasonably interpreted that the council would require that Tenix act as its legal advisor as regards whether or not the council had the authority to contract the services in the first instance’.
  • When Ombudsman officers asked the councils why they did not identify decision makers in their letters to motorists, Glen Eira said: Council is unaware of any requirement under legislation that the decision maker is identified by name in the decision notice’.
  • Glen Eira has more than 36,000 affected infringements valued at $3.67 million

The most scathing and salient comment by the Ombudsman’s office is arguably the following:

The councils’ statements that they currently have no express legal obligations to identify internal review decision makers or answer questions from lawyers overlooks their broader obligations as public authorities. Councils have been entrusted with a service to the public that affects people’s rights and liabilities. With that trust comes a responsibility to behave accountably and transparently. The Infringement Act only permits certain persons to make internal review decisions. Affected motorists cannot tell whether their internal review decision was authorised and valid, unless they know the identity of the decision maker. This transparency builds public confidence in the system.

Finally, here’s Glen Eira’s lamentable response:

Despite the lack of any legal determination regarding the reasonableness of Council’s actions, we do take our responsibility to act ethically and with integrity seriously. Council will therefore reflect on the findings and recommendations of this report and give early consideration to what further action may be appropriate in the circumstances, including consideration of an in good faith reimbursement scheme.

PS: COUNCIL’S MEDIA RELEASE

As we’ve stated repeatedly, every aspect of the Caulfield Village planning process for the past 9 years has resulted in council’s rolling over and granting the MRC everything they have applied for. The latest application for Section 7 & 8 development continues this sorry and pathetic tale.

Please note the following:

  • The Incorporated Plan of 2014 stated that there would be between 1000 and 1200 apartments. We are now well over 1200 with the Smith Street precinct (the largest and highest) still to occur.
  • The Incorporated Plan had maximum preferred heights of 5 storeys in the residential precinct. We got 6. The second precinct stipulated 8 and we have 10. The current proposal wants 9 when the incorporated plan says 8 and 6 for the centre. We get 9 and 7. These additional heights are because council refused to fight for MANDATORY provisions plus the fact that they did not stipulate the number of storeys. Instead they simply worked on height according to the Australian Height Datum (AHD) which looks at ground level. In other words, if the land slopes, plus lowering the ceiling heights and it is possible to fit in several more storeys (meaning more apartments) whilst still meeting the AHD requirement. We envisage that the last Smith Street Precinct will be anything from 22 to 24 storeys in height given past history.
  • Following amendment after amendment the developers have succeeded in: decreasing the initially proposed commercial/retail component and instead increasing the number of apartments. Money these days rests in residential, not commercial. All agreed to by council!
  • Council has made much of its ‘social/affordable’ housing policy. When they had the chance to enforce this at VCAT, council voted to abandon the proposed amendment with the argument that it would cost too much. What is still to be determined is whether the ambition of a 5% social/affordable housing component is 5% of the entire project, or simply 5% of the current application. Even this has been watered down to 16 apartments instead of 21!!!!! Again acceptable to council going by the officer’s recommendation.

The Current Proposal 

Here’s the breakdown of the major aspects of the proposal:

  • 437 apartments
  • 4 buildings of 7 storeys, 2 of 9 storeys
  • 94 studio apartments (average size 40 square metres)
  • 191 single bedroom apartments (average size 50 square metres)
  • 142 two bedroom apartments (average size 70 square metres)
  • 10 three bedroom apartments

That makes it 2.28% of dwellings that are three bedrooms. Council calls this satisfying the planning scheme’s clause regarding ‘diversity’ 

Worthy of mention is that there is not a single word in the officer’s report that mentions size of actual apartments, no figures are provided on overshadowing or overlooking. Basically we get an officer’s report that is devoid of all detail and strategic justification for the recommendation of a permit. Instead we find the following nonsense:

As part of the Whole of Land plans, it was originally anticipated that the Mixed-Use Precinct (which encompasses Stages 4-8) would have a residential yield of 732 dwellings, a supermarket space of 4000 sqm, retail space of 3,658 sqm and 798 sqm of office space.

The proposed mix is now 834 dwellings, 3,800sqm of supermarket space, 2,646sqm of retail space and 798 sqm of office space. This represents an increase in dwelling numbers (102 additional), a decrease in supermarket and retail space (by 400 sqm). The proposed office space remains the same. 

The increase in dwelling numbers has been managed within the permissible building envelope while maintaining an acceptable mix of dwelling sizes. This is considered to be consistent with the Incorporated Plan. 

Are we then supposed to accept the statement that 2.28% of apartments represents an ‘acceptable mix of dwelling sizes’? What then becomes ‘unacceptable’? And how is this considered to be ‘consistent’ with the Incorporated Plan when nothing is stated in the plan except the desire for ‘diversity’?

Interestingly, nothing in the officer’s report mentions the fact that a previous amendment to the development plan increased the size of the Mixed Use precinct. Council did not object and hence granted the MRC land that could then be developed even more as opposed to its original designation as ‘residential’!!!!!

Parking Waiver(s) 

Since council is such a stickler for claiming that everything is established via the Incorporated Plan, it is therefore amazing that the developer has asked for a car parking waiver of 154 spots and council officers think this is okay!! So much for the ‘certainty’ that residents were told again and again was provided as a result of the Incorporated Plan.

Here’s the council’s excuse for another cave in:

Council’s Transport engineers have reviewed the information provided and agree with the reduced rates for the supermarket, retail uses and the reduced rate for the 1 and 2 bedroom dwellings.  

This is considered worthy of support because there will be a number of residents across this development who are attracted to the location because of the excellent public transport options which negate the need for a private vehicle. 

Affordable Housing 

Instead of achieving 21 apartments under the banner of ‘affordable housing’, we now find that this has been reduced to 16 only. We have no problem with the provision of 2 or 3 bedroom apartments. Our problem is with the proviso that the ‘net floor area’ originally planned remains the same! There is nothing in the Incorporated Plan regarding net floor area for social housing. Another brilliant move by our council.

Even more disquieting is the fact that these arrangements will only be for 10 years!!! What happens after that? Will tenants be tossed out and the apartments sold off? And what of the entire precinct since it is not earmarked to be sold but 437 apartments to be rented out! The potential slums of the future perhaps? Also, neatly sidestepping the requirements for student accommodation, the studio and single bedroom apartments are not called ‘student accommodation’. What are the chances that they will be anything but student accommodation given their size and proximity to Monash Uni? Again, nothing in the officer’s report about this loop hole!

CONCLUSION

The willingness of this council to bend over backwards to facilitate more and more inappropriate development is again being displayed. Every aspect of Glen Eira’s dealings with the MRC has been disastrous for the community. This latest application is simply one more in the long line of disasters!

PS: we forgot to mention that because of the ‘wisdom’ of Hyams, Esakoff, Pilling & Lipshutz at the beginning of the proposals, there is NO VISITOR CARPARKING ALLOCATION for anything that is developed on this site!!! Thus over 2000 apartments will not have to provide for visitor car parking.

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