GE Governance


Apologies for this long post but it highlights once again how residents have been lead down the garden path in so many ways by our representatives.

The current agenda includes an item on the 2018 Planning Scheme Review – done without consultation. There is an updated Work Plan that stretches out for years and years, or simply does not provide any time schedules. The promises of 2016 are in tatters. Instead we get a euphemistically labelled Planning Scheme Review, that is anything but a comprehensive ‘review’. The objective of any Planning Scheme Review, according to Practice Note 32 is to:

….assess whether the scheme provisions, such as local planning policies, zones, overlays and schedules have been effective and efficient in achieving the objectives and strategies of the planning scheme.

What has been dished up now does not contain one single word of analysis for any of the above. Even the purported VCAT decisions are nothing more than summaries. No recommendations have been made on how to tighten the scheme, what to scrub, or what needs including.

Of far greater importance however is the newly proposed Work Plan. We have created a table below which features the promises from 2016 and put them alongside what is the plan today. One major difference between 2016 and 2018 that should be highlighted is the disappearance of any intention to introduce a Neighbourhood Character Policy. In 2016 we got these statements:

A Neighbourhood Character Policy is recommended to clarify when protection of existing character is required, and clarity on neighbourhood character design outcomes for ‘change areas’

AND

The work plan also recommends that the residential zones support the neighbourhood character policy by including additional neighbourhood character objectives and increased schedule standards to protect and enhance character.

In 2018, this has gone and with no explanation, justification, or further reference, is replaced with this single sentence – The implementation of the Quality Design Guidelines addresses the Planning Scheme Review 2016 Work Plan action to implement a Neighbourhood Character Policy. 

There are several things to note about these proposed changes:

  • The Quality Design Guidelines only apply to the existing structure plans of Bentleigh, Elsternwick and Carnegie. They are not mandatory.
  • Its status in the Planning Scheme is nothing more than a ‘reference document’ and hence is basically useless. At least a full blown POLICY, whilst also not mandatory, would at least have more weight at VCAT than an appended ‘reference’ document.
  • The 2016 statements applied to ALL housing diversity, not just the 3 Activity Centres of Bentleigh, Carnegie & Elsternwick.  Yet even in these latter activity centres nothing has changed in terms of the schedules for permeability, site coverage, open space, etc.

There is much, much more which has been tossed out in the 2018 version -ie

  • The major heritage ‘review’ is now set down for the Major Activity Centres with no time line as to when the entire municipality review will be completed.
  • Tree registers and open space amendments are years down the track
  • And poor old neighbourhood/localcentres such as Ormond, McKinnon, East Bentleigh, etc.will not have any protection for years and years. Council is only committing to ‘one or two’ urban design frameworks starting in 2021/22!!!! PLUS no longer any talk of ‘structure plans’ for these centres just Urban Design Frameworks!!!!.
  • Limiting the impact of car parking basements is also watered down so instead of definitive standards such as Bayside implemented years ago in its schedules to the zones (ie max of 75% site coverage) our council is happy with statements such as this in its so called QUALITY Design Guidelines – Buildings should minimise basement footprints within the front and rear setbacks to provide for deep planting. No ‘musts’, no numbers, no changes to the schedules throughout the municipality.

Here is the table which quotes verbatim the August 2016 report and the current 2018 report. We have only highlighted some of the most important issues. The dates in parenthesis for 2018 merely indicate the STARTING TIME AND NOT COMPLETION TIME.

Please read carefully and consider the consequences.­­­

This is anything BUT a Planning Scheme Review. Yes we acknowledge that after 15 years of doing nothing Glen Eira Council is certainly behind the eight ball. But this should not be the excuse for watering down what was promised in 2016 without consultation and most importantly, without any strategic justification. It is merely another example of why this council cannot be trusted!

PS: Announcement today of a second campus for McKinnon High at Virginia Estate. A $70m, multi level school catering for 650 students. Whilst this is definitely needed we have to ask: is the site 1.2 hectares only? how high is multi level? will these 650 students be using the adjoining open space of the reserve and hence letting Gillon et al off the hook from providing sufficient open space for the proposed burgeoning population at the site? Plenty of other questions too regarding traffic, drainage, etc.

Another month and another set of figures that show no sign of a development downturn in Glen Eira. If anything, the number of building permits granted is increasing rather than decreasing. Thus even if we accept the figures that council relies upon so heavily to push their pro-development agenda, Glen Eira is maintaining its record of being far ahead of all required net new dwellings to cater for population growth.

Council keeps spouting the Victoria In Future (VIF) 2016 projections that an additional 9000 dwellings are necessary by 2031. Inexplicably, the government or the DWELP has failed to come up with Victoria in Future 2017 and neither have they produced Victoria in Future 2018. Promises to provide new Planning Practice Notes following VC110 on how to apply zoning, have yet to materialize – 18 months later! An abysmal record of planning all round!

Even if we accept that between 2016 and 2031, Glen Eira should produce an additional 9000 net new dwellings that means a lowly average of 600 net new dwellings per year. Glen Eira is currently TRIPLING THIS NUMBER and then some.

The tables below reveal the latest ABS stats published today. We have combined the totals from the year 2011 onwards, for our surrounding municipalities, as well as indicating the numbers of single houses. If we subtract the house numbers from the overall totals for the 2016/17 period up to the present, then we find that in Glen Eira, there have been 4,365 building permits granted for net new dwellings – in the space of 26 months! That’s an average of 2014 net new dwellings per annum! More than triple what VIF 2016 projected and more than double what Plan Melbourne Refresh indicates! Yet council still seems hell bent on more and more development according to its doubling of activity centre areas and believing that 12 storeys in Elsternwick and Carnegie are required.  Isn’t it time that council stopped with its propaganda and finally admitted that they see more and more development as their goal and raison d’etre!!!!

Please peruse the following tables carefully. We’ve uploaded the ABS stats HERE

To their credit, councillors last night voted to refuse (unanimously with Esakoff absent) the two controversial planning applications – ie 300 Glen Eira Road, and Wattle Grove McKinnon. Much was made of site coverage and permeability and the fact that the McKinnon application would directly overshadow a memorial park.

Yet, there was not one single word from any councillor regarding the ‘quality’ of the officer’s report. The most fascinating aspect involved several councillors claiming that the McKinnon plans did not meet the ‘standards’/’guidelines’ set down in the Open Space Strategy for developments abutting open space. The officer’s report on this component stated –

In relation to the assessment criteria in this strategy, the proposal:

Σ Fosters good access to the open space

Σ Provides passive surveillance over the open space

Σ Presents an appropriate residential interface envisaged under the strategy

Σ Maintains an appropriate level of direct sunlight during the winter solstice and equinox

Overall, it is considered that the proposal is consistent with the guidelines for development nearby open space

How the planning department can see something as ‘consistent’ and ‘appropriate’ with the ‘standards’/’guidelines’ and councillors the opposite needs investigation. Either the guidelines are so vague that they are useless, or there are plenty of hidden agendas.

One further question requires consideration. When council officers produce sub-standard reports who should be held accountable?  Who signs off on the report? Torres? McKenzie?

TREE PROTECTION (MAYBE?)

Following last night’s discussion on the consultation feedback on the significant tree register, we have major doubts as to whether this will eventually get up, or if it does, whether it will be so emasculated as to be practically worthless.  Magee, Strajt, and based on historical record, Esakoff, are firmly opposed to protecting trees on private land. This was made abundantly clear last night.

ABC STUDIOS

Another extraordinary motion put up by Delahunty and voted in unanimously regarding the ABC studios and council’s desire that the land not be sold and instead utilised for ‘community benefit’ – ie open space, affordable housing, heritage protection, etc.

Part of the motion included council’s possibility of employing the ‘compulsory acquisition’ component of legislation. Bluff and bluster in spades here and it certainly does not excuse years and years of inaction.

Council knew in 2013 and maybe earlier, that the site was up for sale. Where were Delahunty, Magee, Hyams and Esakoff then? Why has it taken 5 years for council to suddenly decide there is heritage value in the property? How on earth would council even dream of compulsory acquisition when it is forecast that the land will sell for $40 million?  The Commonwealth provided the ABC with $90 million for their relocation. The sale will recoup some of this money. If council proceeds with the threat of acquisition, then council is liable to pay the land value to the owners. Currently council is in hock up to its ears. The prospect of paying the land valuation price, plus legal fees is a pipe dream. So is, we suspect, the hope that either the federal or state government will forgo millions in handing over the land.

Bluff and bluster indeed. The tragedy is that for years and years this council sat on its backside and did nothing – as is so often their want!

The latest ABS building approvals show Glen Eira still well ahead of all dwelling projections. These figures simply make a mockery of council’s claims that there is the need for doubling the size of activity centres and the newly introduced height limits of 12 storeys in Carnegie and preferred 12 storey height limits in Elsternwick.

We remind readers that Plan Melbourne Refresh includes projections from 2015 to 2051.

Council insists on using figures that ignore the 2015 projections and start from 2016. Even granted this sleight of hand, Glen Eira is well and truly meeting its obligations . Plan Melbourne Refresh sets an aspirational figure of 125,000 net new dwellings in the 4 municipalities (Bayside, Boroondara, Stonnington & Glen Eira). Even if Glen Eira is supposed to accommodate 30% (rather than 25%) of these new dwellings, that means 37,500 dwellings by 2051. Thus 2015 to 2051 equals 36 years and produces a requirement of 1041 net new dwellings per year.

The ABS building approvals reveal that Glen Eira is tracking on average at close to double those figures. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of these permits will have been enacted well before 2051!

For the last 3 years alone (ie 2015-July 2018) Glen Eira has had 6424 building permits issued. When we remove the ‘houses’ numbers (ie no net increase) then the figure for this period is 5430. That’s an average of roughly 1750 for this entire period and Plan Melbourne Refresh data requires only a tad over 1000 net new dwellings per year.

We’ve uploaded the ABS data HERE and ask that residents pay careful attention to the following tables that capture the long-term dwelling increases.

The figures that council produces simply don’t add up. And, as we have repeatedly stated, if the figures are awry, then all that follows is also awry. Council is yet to produce one single scrap of hard evidence that supports 12 storeys nor the doubling of activity centre sizes.

We’ve received the following email from a resident –

There is very little transparency or accountability in Glen Eira. Most decisions are made by Council officers, possibly under delegated authority, but with little public evidence about who made what decision, why they made it, or what relevant considerations were actually considered.

14-22 Woorayl St is a case in point. I was an objector to a permit amendment request. There was no record in the Planning Application Register of a permit extension, so I went along to the Planning Conference to find out why the original permit hadn’t elapsed after some years. It was only at the conference that I was told, verbally, that an extension had been granted.

I asked whether the extension request had been assessed against the Kantor principles. Council claimed it had. That was extremely unlikely given the circumstances so I asked for a copy of the report that should have been written documenting the assessment. The council officer refused, but the Mayor in his role as chair said it would be made available to me.

Also at the meeting a lady asked why it was acceptable for her elderly parents to be in permanent shade on an abutting property. Council couldn’t explain why but the applicant expressed the pious hope that “it would have been carefully considered at VCAT”. The published VCAT decision makes it clear it wasn’t carefully considered.

Eight minutes before the Council meeting to consider the amendment request I received an email from the Mayor making a half-hearted attempt to explain the decision to grant an extension. There was an attached document, written only a few hours earlier. No officer was identified as making the decision, there was no date on the document, but there was metadata in the PDF identifying the author and creation date.

Critically the document didn’t mention Kantor principles, nor the “seriously entertained planning proposal” principle. It argued that policy hadn’t changed and therefore the outcome was likely be the same if a fresh application was lodged. That was far from truthful. Council had resolved to request Amendment C148 5 months earlier. It was a seriously entertained planning proposal, it was public knowledge, it changed planning policy, and as we now know, it did become part of the planning scheme. It introduced height controls to the Scheme that 14-22 Woorayl didn’t comply with.

I don’t support the officer recommendation to give officers unlimited freedom to undermine Council policy. There’s a lot of things that need to change about the culture first. The Planning Application Register should contain details of all decisions, including permit extensions. It should contain the date when each Permit expires, and be updated when extensions are granted. There should be a publicly accessible record of reasons for decisions made under delegated authority. There should be checklists of all matters that must and should be considered when making planning decisions, and those checklists used to verify compliance. Delegated authority should be constrained or limited to implementing Council policy. If there are inconsistent policies, get Council to resolve them.

For more information about Kantor principles and the role of seriously entertained planning proposals:
http://blog.vgso.vic.gov.au/2015/01/running-short-on-time-seven-key.html
http://clause1.com.au/seriously-entertained/
http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/vic/VicSC/1997/167.pdf
http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/vic/VCAT/2003/448.html
http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/vic/VCAT/2014/993.html

+++++++++++++++

Council’s planning register is the perfect example of the lack of transparency. It fails to:

  • pinpoint who made any decision (ie delegate, council or VCAT)
  • provide details of amendments
  • collate all information pertaining to the site in one record
  • and certainly no indication as to any payments made

By way of contrast and what can and should go into a planning register, we present one example from Bayside. Readers should note the final permit is available; reasons for refusal are available; dates and times for every single action are provided.

Even more interesting is the following example from Stonnington where the amount paid in the Open Space Levy is there for all to see. Given that Glen Eira council has admitted that not all levies are paid (as they should be) such information becomes essential –

In Glen Eira the philosophy is to make it as difficult as possible for residents to have any idea as to what is going on – particularly when it comes to planning and finances!

The agenda set down for tonight’s council meeting illustrates once again how little has been achieved in a decade and how governance continues to fail miserably.

First off, we have the recommendation to create a heritage overlay on the former ABC studio site in Elsternwick. It currently has no heritage coverage. Originally zoned Neighbourhood Residential council decided to rezone it as Residential Growth Zone in 2013 and according to its draft structure plan, this became 8 storeys. Wynne’s recent intervention will make it 10 storeys.

Given all of the above, and considering that council knew in 2013 that the site was being sold, why has it taken 5 years at least to even start considering a heritage overlay? The property has now been sold and plans are surely on the drawing board for major residential development. This is made absolutely clear by council’s archaic planning scheme itself and their report into the studios in 2013 where it was stated – Given the size of the land (8000m2) and Residential zoning, it is likely that the site will be sold to developers for residential purposes.(Minutes of July 23rd, 2013). Why couldn’t council get off its backside in 2013 and initiate some positive action?

For more info, see our past posts –

https://gleneira.blog/2013/06/18/abc-studios/

https://gleneira.blog/2016/11/14/is-this-why-no-structure-plan-for-elsternwick/

The second issue, concerns the use of school grounds. Nothing new here since the minutes of 26th February, 2008 contained this resolution –

Crs Esakoff/Whiteside

That a report be prepared into any opportunities that may exist for Council in the provision of additional/improved areas of open space that could be used for both passive and active recreation within Glen Eira’s existing school network.

The resulting officer’s report was tabled on 20th May, 2008 and basically concentrated on all the ‘problems’ associated with sharing school grounds. The councillor resolution was watered down to ‘let’s write a letter’ – 

Crs Esakoff/Spaulding

That Council write to all primary and secondary schools in Glen Eira along the lines of Attachment A and send a copy to the Victoria Department of Education The MOTION was put and CARRIED unanimously.

The issue popped up again 8 years later when there was another Request for A Report –

CRS HYAMS/MAGEE 

That Officers prepare a report into the potential for Council to collaborate with schools in Glen Eira to utilise their open space and grounds for use by sporting clubs and the wider community.

The MOTION was put and CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY. (Minutes of 19th July, 2016) 

Thus history repeats itself. Motion after motion and nothing is done or reported back on. In fact this 2016 request for a report WAS NEVER TABLED AT ANY COUNCIL MEETING. The ghost of Newton is well and truly still alive in Glen Eira it would seem!

We therefore have 2 issues that have been on the cards for at least 5 and 10 years respectively and council has been satisfied to sit back, be reactive and achieve a big fat zero during this time.

Finally, we turn to planning and ask readers to consider the following officer’s comments for the planning application for Pearce St., South Caulfield. Is it really too much to ask that when plans come in, that council insists that they are accurate, and if it is impossible to ascertain whether they are, that they be referred back to the developer?

The plans will be required to demonstrate that the proposal provides at least 20% permeability across the site, as this is unclear when looking at the provided landscape plans. 

In regards to site coverage, the proposal appears to come in above the required maximum percentage. To further assist the development to integrate better with the neighbourhood character it is recommended that the proposal does not exceed this maximum percentage of site coverage.

Incompetence, laziness, indifference? You make up your mind!

The issue of granting permit time extensions is important, especially when planning schemes and their controls have changed. The officer’s report for this item included this paragraph –

From 1 January to 30 July 2018 there have been 102 requests for an extension of time. In the 2017 calendar year 157 requests were received. This represents a relatively high volume of work and indicates that such requests are common. 

This is literally a staggering amount of applications. Yet the community has no idea how many of these requests for time extensions were granted, or refused. Most importantly we have no idea as to the reasons why they were either granted or denied.

The issue of time extensions is important and has already been shown to have a decided impact on land use in this municipality. The most blatant example concerns an approved permit for 7 storeys in Centre Road Bentleigh. When the permit was granted by VCAT, there were no interim heights. In November 2017, after the amendment was introduced a council planner granted a time extension. Had the time extension not been granted then the developer would have had to put in a new application where the height restrictions applied – ie lower. Council thus provided the developer with a free pass to build his 7 storeys despite the fact that it is council ‘policy’ to NOT GRANT TIME EXTENSIONS IF PLANNING CONTROLS HAVE CHANGED. Below is an extract from a 2012 officer report which makes this abundantly clear. So why was this permit granted and if this is council’s policy then what were the reasons for the approval?

Since the approval was granted under delegation, the question of how council handles its delegations becomes vital. More importantly, it raised questions of transparency and accountability. In March 2018, there was a request for a report to consider the issue. It’s only taken 5 months for this report to make it into the agenda! Excuses have been that council is reviewing its delegations! Please remember that it only took 3 weeks for council to change its delegations from one council meeting to the next (ie 1st May proposed delegations were deferred until 22nd May, when some major changes were added!). There is nothing (legally) to stop councils changing their delegations at any time. Thus why are we still waiting until the ‘near future’ as stated in the officer’s report? And what does ‘near future’ actually mean – 3 months, 6 months, another year?

The officer’s report provides councillors with 4 options. They are:

  • Do nothing
  • Make it a ‘manager decision’ plus the ability of councillors to ‘call-in’ the application
  • Make it a formal council resolution
  • All decisions be via council resolution

The report recommends option 2.

Whilst this is a marked improvement, it still fails to address residents’ major concerns. Here is option 2 & 3 as presented in the officer’s report –

The wording of the recommended option 2 is far from satisfactory. (1) It limits applications to those which were the result of council resolutions alone or which fall under the category of ‘significant community interest’. Very few decisions are made by councillors in planning – less than 5% of applications. Plus, who is to decide what constitutes ‘significant community interest’. Are we talking 10 objections, 15 objections or must the magic number approach more than 50? The final sticking point is that there will be no public disclosure of which applications have been lodged since this will only go to the councillor briefings. The online planning register does not detail this information – or certainly not on a regular basis.  

Option 3 is slightly better in that it calls for councillor resolution and takes it out of the hands of ‘managers’. There is however the repetition of what was stated in Option 2.

If council is genuine in its attempts to improve transparency and accountability then these 4 options will not do the job. The public has a right to know:

  • Which developments are seeking time extensions and what the outcomes are
  • The reasons for any decisions
  • An online register that is comprehensive, up-to-date and accurate
  • Delegations which work in the community’s interests, not the developers!

Next Page »