GE Council Meeting(s)


The agenda for next Tuesday night’s council meeting is now up on council’s website. Readers will remember that at the last council meeting the decision regarding the proposed Built Form Frameworks for Bentleigh East, Caulfield South and Caulfield North, was deferred. The argument was that councillors needed more time to discuss and that further detail was required. Residents therefore have every right to expect that what is now published fulfills these requirements. So what have we got? Nothing more than a repeat of what was in the last agenda.

Even if this is the result of a simple ‘technological’ error and that an updated version was somehow not included in the agenda papers, it does not excuse what has occurred. Doesn’t someone double check what goes out to the public? Don’t we have spell checks that are employed? Who is responsible? How diligently did they proof read the documents?

In the end, incompetence reigns supreme!

PS: Council has now uploaded the correct Built Form Frameworks. What they have NOT as yet done is to include the latest officer report. Surely residents should have timely access to the rationale behind whatever changes have been made.

For the second time, councillors through their voting have sent a clear message to officers,  that the latter’s work is clearly not up to community expectations or standards. Last night’s motion on the Urban Design Frameworks was deferred until next month – the rationale being that councillors needed additional time to discuss and to be provided with far more detail and justification. This resolution follows the abandonment of Amendment C184 on the Bentleigh & Carnegie structure plans.

What does this mean and what are the ramifications long term? We can only speculate, but it is becoming apparent that the planning department is being put under increasing pressure and that many of these new councillors will not automatically be rubber stamping whatever is put in front of them. That is all to the good for residents.

The only ‘negative’ from the debate on this issue was provided by Magee and his vote against deferment. His comments were insulting – ie claiming that as an old councillor he understood perfectly what the Urban Design Frameworks were all about and that there was heaps of ‘detail’. Given that this is the first time that UDF’s have been introduced in well over a decade, we can only wonder as to Magee’s ‘familiarity’ with this planning tool. Secondly, his comments came directly after Zyngier stated that he had received a letter from council and that he had difficulty in comprehending what was proposed. His argument was that when council decides to communicate with residents they need to ensure that the ‘message’ is clear, and in everyday language. This followed on from Zmood’s points that Urban Design Frameworks should not be seen in isolation but that they are the result of looking at the municipality as a whole – ie via a Housing Strategy and that data must constitute the first step.

Magee also covered himself in glory with his views on Heritage. Suddenly he has become the saviour of properties with a heritage overlay on them – or so he would like us to believe. Put simply, he stated there is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Could he then perhaps explain to residents if heritage is that important, why he seconded and voted in favour of the demolition of a contributory building and the erection of a 12 storey monstrosity on top of the heritage building next door in Derby Road, Caulfield East? For those interested we invite you to listen to his diametrically opposed comments below –

Item 8.1 last night –

AND

From November 2018 –

Consistency has never been Magee’s strong point on development and other issues. What residents must by now realise is that every ‘speech’ must be taken with a huge dollop of salt when Magee opens his mouth!

For years now, council has been losing millions of dollars annually on its aged care provision. Ratepayers have therefore been subsidising this program. There is nothing wrong with this. Even if council is the only municipality to still provide aged care, that is no reason to get rid of the facilities or the various programs. And besides, ratepayers have been subsidising developers for eons now because this council does not have a development contributions levy, or a community infrastructure levy which countless other councils have.

Before any decision is made regarding the future of aged care in Glen Eira, we believe that there simply has to be a full, comprehensive and genuine consultation with the entire community. This is not a decision solely for bureaucrats or 9 elected councillors. The community has got every right to determine where and how their money is spent. If the majority of residents are opposed to council run facilities, then so be it. If the majority prefer that the $3m or so each year is spent elsewhere, then again, so be it. But if the majority still want council to continue to care for our frail and elderly, then that is a decision that must be respected. That is democracy!

As for the consultation itself, and before any decision is made, residents need to know the full facts, such as:

  • What is the full cost to council (including staff, upgrade of facilities, cleaning, etc?)
  • What is the likely current and future demand for beds based on demographics?
  • Are there waiting lists?
  • Are the current facilities in the right areas, given demographic change?
  • What areas are deficient in aged care?
  • How many jobs are currently associated with aged care? What is the future job projection(s)?
  • How many (if any) Spurway residents were moved against their will or their families wishes?
  • How many private facilities are currently in the municipality and where?
  • What is the entry and weekly costs for residents associated with each of these private facilities?
  • What are the potential financial impacts of the recommendations likely to be made by the Royal Commission?

Once all of these facts are presented in a clear and concise manner to residents, the consultation should be straight forward, and include such questions as:

  • Should Glen Eira City council continue to provide aged care facilities?
  • Do you believe that private aged care can provide a better service? Why?
  • Is anyone in your family likely to require aged care in the next 10 years?

The other ramifications if council does decide to close Spurway, and potentially the others in time, is what happens to the land, the buildings, the staff? Additional questions that residents must have a say on, would focus on these areas:

  • Are you in favour of council land being sold off for private development?
  • How would you like the Spurway 2500 square metres of land used in the future?
  • Would you support the Spurway facilities being turned into social housing? Open Space?

Until this council learns to be upfront and honest with its ratepayers, we will continue to have the turmoil of 2019. In camera decisions are the antithesis of open, transparent government on issues such as this and what happened previously.

Two decisions from last night’s council meeting, should provide some hope that perhaps, just perhaps, things might be changing at council.

Decision 1 – abandoning Amendment C184. This was an unanimous decision from all 8 councillors present (Cade being absent). Esakoff very ‘reluctantly’ voted for the motion, declaring that her wish would have been to send the amendment to a panel and have council adopt an advocacy position! There were some mea culpas, especially from Athanasopolous, who declared that he should have insisted on a housing strategy years before! Szmood pointed out that the need for a housing strategy should have been known since at least 2015 and together with other councillors hoped that the resulting strategy would be strategically and soundly based and looked at the entire municipality and not just the major activity centres.

Decision 2 – concerned the consultation approach to the Council Plan and the Health & Wellbeing strategy. The officer’s recommendation stated that the latter would undergo far more comprehensive consultation compared to the Council Plan. Szmood moved an alternate motion (seconded by Zhang) that the Council Plan be subject to a 500 phone survey, plus wider public consultation that was not limited to the Community Voice or the deliberative panel membership alone.

Both of these resolutions represent a positive change. What remains to be seen of course is whether the proposals are carried out in the spirit of the resolution. All will depend on:

  • The questions that are asked. For example: will any of the questions ask residents for feedback on specific heights, setbacks, permeability requirements, rezonings? Or will we be presented with another set of predetermined ‘options’ that ignore these fundamental concerns?
  • Will residents (ie the community consultation committee) have any say in the drafting of questions, or the analysis of feedback?
  • Will the housing strategy provide sufficient data to be justified or will we again have a 60 or 70 page document of which half is filled with pretty pictures and the rest is full of generalities, and clichés?

These are the issues and questions which remain to be resolved. If there is to be light at the end of the tunnel, then it is incumbent on these councillors to ensure that the agendas and mistakes of the past are not repeated!

PS: There’s one other item deserving of comment – agenda item 11.1. This was considered in camera and the subject was ‘Aged Care. Council’s are required to provide some detail as to why an item should be considered as confidential. In this case, the council blurb stated:

Aged Care
This agenda item is confidential information for the purposes of section 3(1)
of the Local Government Act 2020:
– because it is Council business information, being information that would prejudice the Council’s position in commercial negotiations if prematurely released (section 3(1)(a)); and

The information contained in this paper is confidential under the definition of confidential information as defined in section 3(1) of the Local Government Act 2020 (the Act) being Council business information that would prejudice the Council’s position in commercial negotiations if prematurely released and information concerned with land use that if prematurely released is likely to encourage speculation in land values.

Several questions spring to mind, especially since this was NOT specified as a normal tender. Hence:
  • are we back to square one with the possibility of the sale of our aged care once again?
  • is council possibly considering sale of some of the land?

The fact that 2 sections of the Local Government Act are cited, (ie commercial and land use) does not fill us with confidence that this administration is not having second thoughts regarding the future of aged care.

Item 8.9 in the current agenda papers, recommends that seven trees be included in the Significant Tree Register. Whilst this is admittedly only the start, we have to wonder why after 6 months, we only get seven nominated trees – of which only two are listed as being on private property.

The report states that between 4th September 2020 and 18th February 2021, 105 nominations were received. There is no information as to:

  • How many of these 105 were on private property as opposed to council land?
  • How many of these 105 have potentially been rejected?
  • How many assessments have actually been carried out or do we assume that in the space of nearly 6 months council has managed to assess a paltry 7 trees?

At this rate we will still be assessing these 105 trees in 2050!

Could we just once, please, have an officer’s report that provides all the relevant information.

The agenda for Tuesday night’s council meeting again features Amendment C184 for Bentleigh and Carnegie. Once again the recommendation is to abandon the amendment and to start on a Housing Strategy, plus individual amendments for both of these major activity centres.

Whilst we support this recommendation, we still do not have any real answers as to why there has been this monumental stuff up and who is responsible. Nor are we told in this latest report what extra external ‘expert’ advice was relied on. Were they lawyers – if so, who, and how much did this cost? If planners, again who were they? But the real question remains – why weren’t all these drawbacks picked up years ago?

At last the current officer’s report goes some way to enunciating the significance of a housing strategy. Up until today, this has been entirely ignored. What is clear, is that housing strategies are vital not just for the resulting built form of major activity centres, but for any Municipal Strategic Strategy rewrite, and its purpose is not only to look at individual centres, but the entire municipality. What we have instead is a concocted City Plan that is anything but a housing strategy. We also have the residential zones that have now been acknowledged to be not up to standard in regards to heritage and other constraints.

THE ROLE OF A HOUSING STRATEGY & GLEN EIRA COUNCIL

In July 2014 there was introduced what is called a ‘ministerial directive’ number 16. It specified several important points that councils had to do, namely:

  • use a housing strategy to inform the balanced application of the three residentialzones
  • evaluate and monitor the implications of the application of any of the three residential zones within two years of their gazettal into the planning scheme 

Glen Eira introduced its zones in August 2013. There certainly has not been any ‘evaluation’ and monitoring of the efficacy of these zones and certainly not done in accordance with this directive at the time. In fact the MRDAC committee concluded that the manner in which Glen Eira introduced their zones (by stealth!) was far from acceptable. We quote:

The zones were implemented in Glen Eira without public consultation, and without an independent review process. The Reasons for Decision to Exercise Power of Intervention deemed that further consultation through the formal statutory process unnecessary, stating: Consultation has been conducted during the development of the Housing and Residential Development Strategy and in relation to Amendment C25.
The Committee notes the Council’s Housing and Residential Strategy was adopted in 2002, 11 years before the gazettal of Amendment C110. The Committee questions the currency of the policy itself as well as the currency of the community consultation in relation to this policy.
(page 176 of Advisory committee Report: Managing Residential Development Advisory Committee Residential Zone Review).

Thus as far back as 2014, Council were, or should have been aware of the need for an up-to-date Housing Strategy.To therefore imply, that this bit of news has only now come to council’s notice via the Minister’s letter of 2019 is pure bunkum. Interestingly, other councils took real notice of this directive. In Glen Eira it did not rate a mention!The following screen dump comes from Boroondara’s council meeting of 14/12/2015.

Whilst this directive was rescinded several years later, the demand for a housing strategy still exists. How any council can pretend to plan for the entire municipality without an up to date strategy beggars belief. In Glen Eira, such acknowledgement always comes years and years too late when many of our streets and suburbs are already beyond redemption.

For all readers’ information here is what other councils have been doing for years and years and which our lot have stubbornly refused to do. Again the perennial questions: why have all these councils got Housing Strategies and Glen Eira does not? How ‘genuine’ will the proposed community consultation on the upcoming strategy be? Or will it remain a simple tick the box sham as with the current City Plan?

Here is the work that other councils have done and the dates of their strategies:

Kingston – adopted in 2020a nd awaiting ministerial approval to advertise

Bayside 2012 and 2019

Hobson’s Bay – 2017

Maribyrnong – 2011 and updated 2018

Darebin – 2012 and is currently out for consultation review

Stonnington – 2020 revision of existing housing strategy

Boroondara – 2015

Casey – 2019

Banyule – 2009 and currently being updated

Bendigo – 2018 updated strategy

Frankston – 2018

Mornington 2020 is updated strategy

Darebin – 2013 and being updated

Brimbank – 2012 updated 2020

Yarra Ranges – 2009

Wodonga – 2018

Yarra – 2018

Latrobe – 2019

Knox 2015

Whitehorse 2014 and being reviewed in part

Surf Coast 2006

Nillumbik – 2020 and ongoing

Maroondah – 2016

Port Phillip – 2007 and updated for specific precincts regularly

Moorabool – 2016

Warnambool – 2013

A myriad of questions needs to be asked and answered in regard to Amendment C184. For starters, here are some:

  • When did council first learn that the submitted first draft was running into major difficulties with the Department?
  • How many meetings were held with Department officials seeking some ‘solutions’? What were the dates for these meetings? Were any councillors party to these ‘discussions’? Were councillors informed as to the outcomes of these meetings?
  • How many times in these discussions did the issue of a Housing Strategy come up and in what context and when?
  • At last week’s council meeting and in response to the Athanasopolous question of why council is only now considering a Housing Strategy, Torres responded by saying in part – ‘council chose to continue with the amendment and seek some definitive answer from the minister’. Who made this decision – officers or councillors? Where is this documented? And what were the grounds for forging ahead, when it was clear there were major difficulties?
  • Given that within the space of 3 or so months, there is now the recommendation to abandon the amendment, what has changed? How well did council consider the possibility of ‘success’ at a planning panel last year, especially since no new documentation was included in the proposed amendment?  If ‘failure’ is now a real possibility, why wasn’t this picked up prior to advertising of the amendment?
  • Who should be held accountable for the waste of ratepayers’ money?

Even more intriguing is the rationale presented in the last officer’s report. We are told that much has changed in government requirements, especially with the publication of Practice Notes 90 and 91. These were released in December 2019! Repeated numerous times in these documents is the role of a Housing Strategy. The chart below is clear on the significance of the role that a Housing Strategy needs to play together with a Neighbourhood Character Strategy for any framework plan, or even zoning. Glen Eira has neither a viable housing strategy and definitely no Neighbourhood Character Strategy worthy of that name! Yet it has taken 14 months for council to even get around to putting out a tender for a consultant to work on the Housing Strategy.

If we go back in time to the Aiden Mullen report contained in the agenda for 26th November 2019 (page 31) we find this statement:

Officers had understood that due to the various State time frame demands, the structure plan amendments could run separately to the planning scheme rewrite. However, as the Minister has now clearly expressed a view that the housing strategy needs to be incorporated into the scheme alongside the structure planning amendments, Officers will now review how best to achieve this, which will include bringing an updated Strategy to Council in the short term, to seek adoption. 

So even before the release of the relevant Practice Notes, this council was fully aware of the need for a Housing Strategy. 15 months later we are still waiting – so much for ‘short term’!!!!!

We are still waiting to get permission for the Planning Scheme Rewrite. We predict that given what was submitted, council will not get permission to advertise and we will face the same situation with the rewrite as we are now facing with Amendment C184.

All residents need to think carefully as to where the blame should be sheeted home. Does the fault lie with the Minister, the Department, or with our planning department and its failure to produce work that is up to the required standard? When other councils have invested their resources to produce some decent housing strategies that go as far back as 2005 and are continually updated, all Glen Eira has to show is a pathetic ‘city plan’ that is devoid of data, of detail, and instead features nothing more than glossy pictures and graphs that a ten year old could question the validity of. Torres, in our view has much to answer for!

In what can only be described as a $1 million plus cock-up by this planning department, the CEO, and all those councillors who voted in favour of exhibiting Amendment C184, we now have the recommendation to abandon the amendment! This represents not only a wastage of rate payer money, but a clear indication of the complete incompetence of this planning department. What has occurred over the past 5 years is a damning  indictment of this council.

The current officer report now recommends:

  1. receives and notes all written submissions received following the exhibition ofAmendment C184;
  1. extends its appreciation to all those who made written submissions;
  2. notes the officer responses and attachments in response to submissions;
  3. abandons Amendment C184 under Section 23(1)(c) of the Planning and EnvironmentAct 1987 to enable Council to pursue revised permanent planning controls in theBentleigh and Carnegie Activity Centres;
  1. endorses the commencement of a new process beginning with a Housing Strategy, a revised Carnegie Structure Plan, an updated Bentleigh Structure Plan and two newplanning scheme amendments based on the revised structure plans; and
  1. notes that there would be a separate and subsequent amendment to implement theHousing Strategy into the Planning Scheme

We are not opposed to the abandonment of this Amendment. It should never have been exhibited in the first place. As with most things done by this council, the cart is always put before the horse. How on earth structure plans can be adopted prior to any decent Housing Strategy is beyond belief. And when one considers that Wynne’s letter to council in November 2019 stated:

Whilst it is evident that the council has undertaken significant strategic work on housing capacity within the municipality, the amendment is not underpinned by an adopted municipal wide housing strategy that provides clear policy direction about where residential development should occur

Why then has it taken a year for council to even advertise a consultant to undertake the work on a Housing Strategy. This appeared in the Age on Jan 30th 2021.

The officer report is full of admissions as to the failings of the draft Amendment. Of course, the basic argument is that because there is so little strategic justification, the amendment would have little hope of being endorsed at a planning panel and going to a planning panel could cost upwards of $200,000. It’s a pity that what money has been spent thus far to no avail, does not receive much comment, except to say that it is still ‘useful’.  However, we then get told time and time again that what council needs to do now is:

  • Proper traffic analyses
  • Peer reviews of urban design
  • Change zonings that are in error
  • Test shadow controls – especially for winter solstice
  • Zoning inaccuracies that are not in alignment with structure plan
  • Open space needs and locations to be addressed upon creation of an ‘implementation plan’
  • Multi deck car park to be ‘revised’
  • Need to rewrite to consider cumulative impact of parking from developments
  • Heights and setbacks to be reviewed by ‘independent urban design advice’. Please note that this has already been done in October 2017 when a 6 metre setback was reviewed as okay, only to have council change this to 5 metre setbacks! No justification of course provided except that some developers ‘complained’!!!!!!!

We could go on and on, detailing what needs to be done and what wasn’t done.

Finally, a comment on how the information has been presented to residents. The tables and other comments lack quantification . For example what do such terms referring to submitters, actually mean – ie  ‘a few’, ‘some’, ‘several’? Are we talking about 5 submissions, 20 submissions, or even 50 submissions. Who are these submitters – developers or residents? Why isn’t this made clear? And why can’t council publish in full, all submissions that came in? And council is still publishing documents that cannot be highlighted. Simple PDF versions rather than scanned jpegs are necessary. Why has this been going on for nearly 2 years? Again, this goes to the heart of transparency and accountability in this council!

Our real concern however is with what this means for Bentleigh. Many of the officer responses indicate that Bentleigh in the new version will be accorded much higher heights than currently. 5 storeys is about to go out the window – and again without any strategic justification for these comments. The argument about accommodating ‘higher density development’ once again is made PRIOR to any housing strategy, or real analysis of what is happening throughout the municipality.

What we have here is a monumental stuff up that has cost at least a million in ratepayer funds at a time when councils as a result of COVID have had budgets and plans wrecked. We can only hope that what is about to be spent now is finally up to standard and councillors deliver proper oversight!

Tonight’s council meeting will feature an item that seeks an amendment for a permit that was granted in 2019 for a 5 storey development at 590-596 Glen Huntly Road, Elsternwick. The property was sold on in August 2020 and the new owner is now seeking an additional 2 storeys, plus 5 apartments. The officer’s recommendation is to grant a permit for a 7 storey building, and 25 apartments, plus a reduction in car parking requirements. The proposed height will now go from 17.2 metres to 23.6 metres.

Readers need to note the following:

  • The site is in a Local Centre and not a major activity centre or even a neighbourhood centre
  • Council’s City Plan posits 3 storey height limit in local centres
  • The abutting and surrounding buildings are all 2 storeys in height

Here’s what it will look like. Note the neighbours!

The question then becomes – how on earth could this application have received a permit for 5 storeys in the first place and now an officer recommendation for a seven storey permit?

The accompanying officer’s report literally beggars belief in some of the statements made. Here are some examples:

Council’s Urban Designer states: A five storey building would be more consistent with current Council policy. Yet the final officer report basically ignores this and instead we get: The scale of the building at seven storeys is considered to be appropriate given the site’s proximity to multi-storey buildings that are in neighbouring sections of the Glen Huntly Road streetscape to the west within the Elsternwick Urban Village and to the east within the Caulfield South Neighbourhood Centre. Accordingly, it is considered that the density embodied in the additional five dwellings (creating a total of 25) will complement the built form character and the role of this centre.

So here we have the ludicrous situation where an area is designated as a local centre, but is being compared to what is happening in our Major Activity Centres and our larger Neighbourhood Centres. Adding insult to injury we also have this comment: Whilst it is acknowledged that a lower height limit would be appropriate in some Local Centres that are located within a pure residential hinterland, this site has unique locational qualities and is suitable for a taller building that departs from this aspect of the Housing Diversity Area Policy. Council’s planning scheme and its policies make no differentiation between Local Centres as this statement implies. Thus again, we have an officer departing from what adopted council policy says!

And we continue to go from the sublime to the ridiculous with this sentence: The proposal to increase the height of the building from the approved five storeys to seven storeys will match the height of a seven storey building at 485 Glen Huntly Road, located 500 metres to the west of the site.  Are planning decisions therefore to be based on what is up to 500 metres away, rather than what council’s own policies state? If the answer is ‘yes’, then we do not need any structure plans, or zonings whatsoever, since these can be so easily rejected. All we have to do is say ‘Yes, there’s a 12 storey 500 metres down the road, so it is appropriate here too’!!!!!!

Finally, as to the competence of this planning department, we’ve uploaded a page from council’s City Plan, which is supposed to indicate ALL local centres in the municipality. This local centre is NOT included in the diagram, yet the City Plan is supposed to be the be all and end all for the MSS rewrite, and other strategic plans. It does appear on another page. The point however, is why aren’t such errors picked up? (The small circles are ‘local centres’)

In recent times Glen Eira councillors rubber stamped the requisite ‘governance’ and ‘meeting procedure’ rules. The only change of note was that we now have a de facto ‘Notice of Motion’ which is anything but a real Notice of Motion since it only applies to the removal of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor.

Glen Eira has been stubbornly opposed to implementing anything which would provide councillors with the opportunity to have something go on the agenda for open, transparent discussion in a timely manner. The argument is that a Request for a Report is a satisfactory substitute and that without officer/expert input poor decisions can be made. This of course is pure rubbish given that officer feedback and responses to the proposed Notice of Motion are then included for the discussion – this happens in Bayside, Kingston and numerous other councils.

The other problem with this argument is that a Request for a Report can take anything up to 8 months in Glen Eira to be tabled at a council meeting. Hardly ‘timely’!!!

Notice’s of Motion we maintain are integral to good governance and to allow councillors to effectively do the job they were elected to do. As an example we have uploaded the current proposals from Bayside City Council. Readers should note the following:

  • An acknowledgement of the contentious nature of the pavilion/open space issue and community feedback
  • The implications for budgets and the desire to save money that can then be re-distributed elsewhere (all of course with the added pressure of COVID)
  • Concern about passive open space and footprints of proposed buildings

All of the above are relevant in Glen Eira when we have:

  • The Inkerman Road bike path issue
  • The massive proposed expenditure on multi level car parking in Bentleigh & Carnegie
  • The Carnegie Pool redevelopment that will cost a fortune

Naturally, this administration would never welcome a situation where councillors could and potentially would question budget decisions and policies in an open and transparent fashion where councillors would be given the opportunity to voice their concerns and potential opposition. That is anathema to a council determined to present the facade of a ‘unified front’ even when there is community opposition!

Please read carefully what Bayside councillors are allowed to propose and consider what such a ‘rule’ could achieve in Glen Eira!

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