GE Governance


For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of deliberative democracy or citizen juries/panels, we invite you to watch the following video created by Darebin Council quite some time ago. When most governments, organisations, and yes, local councils, are now embracing this concept which has gained popularity since the 1980’s, it is still astounding that we have troglodytes who promulgate the myth that citizen juries are ‘undemocratic’.  The Darebin experience proves the exact opposite.

If this council is truly about an open, transparent, and accountable council, determined to work with the community, then establishing such a panel is the only way to go.

The Save Glen Eira community group, has published a petition which will be presented to the new council. The stated objectives of this petition is to ensure that councillors have a clear idea of what residents expect from their new council and what ratepayers would like to see achieved.

The petition can be accessed via – https://savegleneira.com.au/petition-to-new-council-2020/

We assume that residents should download and print off a copy of the petition and then once signatures are collected, to hand them in at the various collection points mentioned.

Here is a screen dump of the petition and the accompanying information sheet.

In February 2020, council adopted its City Plan. Now 9 months later we are still waiting for an amendment to be produced which would allow this policy to be included in the planning scheme. But this delay is only part of the problem which is facing many of our neighbourhood centres – in particular what is happening around Caulfield South and Caulfield itself.

Two recent VCAT decisions illustrate how this council is failing its residents. Both applications received their permits from VCAT. They are:

  • 348-354 Hawthorn Road, Caulfield South which was granted a permit for 8 storeys, a supermarket, and reduction in retail car parking requirements.
  • The second permit was 679-683 Glen Huntly Road, Caulfield which will become a 6 storey building with 50 apartments and car parking reductions for its retail component.

Both judgements of course made mention of the fact that for commercially zoned land in these neighbourhood centres, Glen Eira does not have anything in its planning scheme to control building height, setbacks, or podium heights. The Glen Huntly application elicited this comment from the member: The land is in an area where there is design and built form policy to guide decision-making but without specific development controls in the scheme articulating, guiding or capping heights and setbacks.

What is intriguing about these two decisions is the divergent and misleading role that council’s representative took at these hearings.

For the 8 storey proposal we find that council argued as follows –

City Plan is key to the Council’s position. Its position to support the proposal subject to deleting Level 05 is underpinned by City Plan.

The Council relies on City Plan in support of its position.

City Plan is intended to form the basis of a planning scheme amendment/s to implement aspects of the plan, including local policy. But amendments have yet to progress with respect to the CSNC. While City Plan is relevant and provides a clear statement of the strategic direction currently being articulated and to be pursued by the Council, the expected built form outcomes  cannot be used as if they are controls or policies in the scheme.

When the above is compared to the Hawthorn Road application we find the following member comments:

Since our decision of Bewhite in 2018 the council has adopted the Glen Eira City Plan in February 2020. This sets a broad framework for planning of activity centres and nominates a preferred building height across the SCAC of five storeys. The plan does not identify how this height was derived or its relevance to the specific circumstances of the SCAC. Rather it appears to be drawn from a hierarchy of activity centres across the municipality, with the SCAC sitting in a ‘substantial change 3 area’ along with a number of other neighbourhood activity centres.

The council acknowledged in its submission that it is only in the very early stages of developing a structure plan for the SCAC and consequentially it does not place any weight on the City Plan for the purposes of the proceeding before us. It submits that the City Plan ‘simply provides useful context on Council’s current thinking’ for the SCAC. We accept the City Plan may be the council’s current broad thinking about activity centres in general, but we give it no weight as a tool to assess building height, relative to the urban design tests of the planning scheme as set by both the State and local policy frameworks

So what is the truth? Why do we have council’s rep in the first case placing such emphases on the City Plan, and in the second case an acknowledgement that ‘consequentially it (council) does not place any weight on the City Plan’?

What is even more fascinating is the statement that council is in the ‘very early stages of developing a structure plan’ for South Caulfield. Really? Is this representative totally ignorant of council’s stated position for South Caulfield, or is he simply and deliberately misleading the tribunal? Numerous public question responses and the 2018 work plan published by council make it clear that our neighbourhood centres will NOT HAVE STRUCTURE PLANS. They will eventually be ‘controlled’ via Urban Design Frameworks and maybe, just maybe, Design and Development Overlays.

These two decisions raise innumerable questions about the state of planning in Glen Eira and how well objectors are represented at VCAT hearings.

The City Plan is not a bona fide housing strategy which council was told to undertake. It represents the lowest common denominator in strategic planning – ie a ‘one size fits all’ approach where every single neighbourhood centre or local centre is viewed as identical. Council has had 5 years to come up with a decent housing strategy and has failed miserably. We can only hope that our new council sees these policies for what they really are – useless and totally ignoring what the community has stated it wants.

The above decisions can be found at:

https://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/vic/VCAT//2020/1231.html

and

https://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/vic/VCAT/2020/1211.html

Below is the blurb that has accompanied the latest ‘survey’ for Community Voice members. It purports to investigate how our public open space has been used during COVID and to provide an insight into potential future use.

The questions (only 3) for this ‘survey’ were:

Question 1 – Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have used parks or shared paths (not including street footpaths) in Glen Eira… (a) more frequently; (b) the same; (c) less frequently.

Question 2 – Do you anticipate that you will continue to use parks or shared paths (not including street footpaths) in Glen Eira more frequently than before the pandemic for the foreseeable future? …(a) yes; (b) no; (c) unsure

Question 3 – Is there anything you would like to add about Glen Eira’s public parks and paths? (Space provided for a comment)

If council really wants to know how to “plan for the changing needs” of the community then surely the very first set of questions that need to be asked are:

  • How did you use parks during covid? – ie passive enjoyment? Exercise – walking? Walking the dog? Meeting friend(s)? Bike riding? etc.
  • Were any of the above new to your previous use of parks?
  • Which parks did you visit and why?
  • Was the existing infrastructure adequate? (seats, barbecues, water fountains, toilets, shade? etc)

There are many, many more questions that could and should have been asked in order to come up with a ‘survey’ that is genuine, valid, and fully informative. We allege that this is merely another instance of ‘consultation’ that is not only meaningless but a waste of money and officers’ time. Yet it will undoubtedly lead to council proudly proclaiming how often and how well they ‘consult’ with residents. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Several days ago, The Age newspaper, ran an article on the political chicanery that is occurring in the lead up to council elections in Greater Dandenong. The link is: https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/the-facebook-election-the-vicious-online-battle-for-dandenong-council-20201016-p565su.html

Part of the article included this paragraph: Many are backed informally by Labor or Liberal Party members. In one ward, Keysborough South – where farmland could one day be rezoned for huge financial gain – there are 11 candidates and six are likely “dummies”, competing purely to funnel votes to others via preferences.

This paragraph does have relevance to all council elections and especially Glen Eira. There is no doubt that many of our 36 candidates are in reality there to ‘funnel votes to others via preferences’.  It can’t be a mere coincidence that Liberal party members are on the whole preferencing other declared Liberals; nor that Labor candidates are doing the same for their associates.  Whilst some have declared that they are there for ‘the community’ and not their parties, we can only wonder whether any Labor member would openly oppose and strongly lobby against what the current State Government is doing. The same goes for Liberal members should there be a change in Government.

Nor are we prepared to accept declarations of ‘independence’ from several candidates when their voting records at council clearly reveal a Liberal or Labor voting bloc alliance. The constant patterns of the past should not be ignored when time and time again we found this kind of voting: Lipshutz/Esakoff/Hyams/HO/Okotel opposed to Delahunty/Magee/Lobo. If this isn’t voting along party lines we don’t know what is!

All of this thus leaves us in a quandary-

  • Should residents vote according to their own political views? or
  • Should the emphases be on local council issues and who is best to solve these issues?

The next 4 years will be crucial in delivering what the community wants in Glen Eira. Ratepayers’ aspirations are clear. We want:

  • Genuine consultation
  • Structure planning accelerated for all activity centres
  • Less spending and more prudence
  • Budgets that are in line with community input
  • Public questions that are answered and not merely responded to
  • Planning processes reformed so that they are far more transparent and accountable
  • Transport/parking plans that align with majority resident views
  • Plenty of new open space and a levy that is commensurate with our needs
  • Real action on climate change and tree registers

Can the current party candidates fulfill these aspirations, or will they be captive to their political overlords?

It has taken council no less than 4 weeks to fulfill its promise of answering ALL questions posed by residents at the 20th August Zoom meeting on planning.

What is concerning about the responses is:

  • The failure to answer some of the questions posed
  • The reliance on more and more motherhood statements that are meaningless
  • The unwillingness to engage directly (and honestly) with what the questions actually asked.

We’ve uploaded council’s version of the questions and their responses HERE.

Even more significant is the number of questions that remain unanswered. We list them below. We have edited out comments and only included what can be regarded as ‘questions’.

How many homes has the State govt required GE to provide over what period of time and how are we on track for that? At some point can we say ‘that’ it, we’ve built  our allocation and we can stop now’?

Can you define housing and how the current repeat building of shoe boxes is meeting the needs of older Australian’s or young families

Ron’s  photo with title”the right housing in the right place” is shops and apartments at corner of Glenhuntly Road corner of James St in Glen Huntly. But this development has a step at shop front doors and disabled access is only by pressing buzzer through apartment entry in side street. Does Glen Eira Planning Scheme now require universal access for all new shops and ground floor apartment ? Especially as Ron noted aging population wit likely greater accessibility needs.

How is planning going to fund adequate open space into activity centres, areas of need, increased population to ensure resident recreation, mental health and a decent Urban Forest policy as if 5.7% open space levy has not increased open space, 8.3% may well also be inadequate.

in regards to the Elsternwick Structure Plan, particularly as it relates to the Urban Renewal North Area. In Dec 2018 we were provided with a step-by-step process by the Mayor. Where are we at right now specifically in that  process that was presented?

How does bulldozing one heritage home after another present has proctection

In Feb 2018, Council endorsed max. of 5 stories in all Neighbourhood Centres as recommended by the Planning Officers.  To have made this recommendation Planning Officers must have undertaken statistical analysis that supported that decision.  Please advise when the Amendments supporting a request for interim height controls for 5 stories was submitted to the Minister

You mention diversity but there seems to be little diversity in  what’s being built that’s new… lots of tiny apartments.  What about townhouses, low cost housing, well equipped house sized apartments for downsizers …??

what is the status of the Caulfield North Activity Centre planning? has it been discussed with the community because the area is a real dogs breakfast at present

how do the conditions imposed on planning permit applications get enforced and followed through by Council?

When will ESD LPP be introduced and when will Council include zero net emissions from buildings  and transport by 2030 in the Planning Scheme? Is Council considering water sensitive design and biodiversity sensitive design? How will council prioiritise active transport and reduce car-dependence and car-parking provision?

how do the conditions imposed on planning permit applications get enforced and followed through by Council?

It sounds like the Planning team is under-resourced, having to put important work on hold while attending to other work – do you need more staff?

Sorry Matt but if the council isn’t listening to the community why spend money on so called “consultation”.

Caulfield South is a Neighbourhood Activity Centre, which, in the Glen Eira City Plan 2020, height limits of buildings in commercial zones are designated as 5 storeys.

 As we meet this evening there are 5 developer proposals heading to VCAT:  one of 9 storeys, one of 8 storeys and three buildings of 7 storeys in Caulfield South Neighbourhood Centre. Caulfield South is not a Major Activity Centre. Developments of this nature will seriously impact the neighbouring properties and destroy the concept of what is presently a neighbourhood centre.

Residents should not be expected to fight these battles on their own. As there are no structure plans in place for Caulfield South, and there are currently no mandatory height limits for Caulfield South Neighbourhood Centre, residents will struggle to win at VCAT.

Will Council commit to defending its City Plan by providing external legal representation to help residents oppose these developments when each of these proposals goes before VCAT?

CONCLUSION(S)

The questions that weren’t answered are important. Some seek information on status of policies and structure planning; others seek specific statistics that council should have at its fingertips. In terms of council’s needs is it really that difficult to provide a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a straight forward question of ‘do you need more planning staff’?

Given the sheer number of questions that didn’t receive an ‘answer’, it is impossible to accept the possibility that missing all of these was nothing more than an ‘oversight’. So why weren’t they answered? And why does council keep promising things that it has no intention of fulfilling?

It literally staggers belief how often public questions remain unanswered and unchallenged by our group of councillors. Last week’s council meeting was the perfect example of a council determined to deflect, dissemble, and refuse point blank to respond accurately and transparently to resident concerns. It remains one of the most shameful incidents of recent times.

There were quite a number of questions at this meeting. We will highlight only one of the responses  in this post – (they certainly do not merit being called  ‘answers’).

QUESTION: Can Council advise what is the number of additional dwellings that are possible under the current Planning Scheme and the total dwelling capacity of Glen Eira? 

RESPONSE: There is no prescribed limit to the number of dwellings that can be provided under the provisions of the Glen Eira Planning Scheme. The Victorian Planning System is performance based, which means that every application requires analysis of its context and the application of policies and established planning principles. The planning system is designed to enable development while protecting amenity. 

As such, the total dwelling capacity of the municipality is not fixed. 

Council however monitors the number of new dwellings that have been constructed against State Government housing targets identified in Victoria in Future. Council has previously informed you that Glen Eira is on track to meet the State Government housing targets. 

COMMENT: The question was very straight forward – ie asking for the number of ‘possible’ additional dwellings given the current Planning Scheme. The response was a deft deflection through the use of the word ‘prescribed’. Yes, nothing much is ‘prescribed’ in the Planning Scheme, and ‘yes’ it is “performance based’ where each application is evaluated individually. Having said all that, what council has refused to acknowledge is that every single version of its structure planning is based on a ‘capacity’ or ‘opportunity’ analysis of the municipality’s housing.

In 2017 we got 2 versions of such documents as the  Analysis of housing consumption and opportunities. On top of this we also have: Planning Strategy Impacts on Housing Opportunity. This latter document included the sentence: Council should seek to demonstrate adequate Housing Opportunity to ensure that expected housing targets will be met. Thus available land, population, and residents per dwellings are crunched to envisage some kind of ‘capacity’ under different zonings.

Even in the documentation accompanying  the draft C184 Amendment for Bentleigh & Carnegie we also have the 2020 version from SGS entitled: Addendum: Updated Housing Assessment for Bentleigh and Carnegie Activity Centres. In short, every application for interim heights and/or structure plans has included data on the potential number of additional dwellings that can be crammed into the municipality.

Here’s a breakdown of the published data:

In October 2017, we were told that housing ‘opportunity’ was – Using various methodologies outlined previously, this report has identified opportunities within the City of Glen Eira to provide a net gain of 25,970 dwellings. At 2011-2016 rates of development, this represents approximately 36 years of supply. This figure was repeated by the authors in the December 2017 version.

What needs to be remembered is that this data was the ‘backbone’ for the introduction of the interim height amendments C147 and C148 that had discretionary 6 and 7 storeys for Carnegie and 4 mandatory and 5 discretionary for Bentleigh. With Amendment C157 (August 2018) this suddenly became 12 storeys mandatory for Carnegie. And now through proposed Amendment C184, these mandatory heights are to become discretionary, plus the removal of the mandatory garden requirement for properties proposed to be zoned GRZ5. NRZ2 will revert to pre 2004 site coverage of 60%.

What’s important is that the so called experts were telling us that with the first versions of structure planning we would achieve the potential of 25,970 net new dwellings – nearly 8000 more than required by Victoria in Future 2019. Hence, why is council prepared to accept even more and more rezoning and greater heights that destroy our neighbourhoods?

And why can’t council quote these very figures in response to a public question? Is it because they do not want residents to suddenly put one and one together and start questioning the very basis of all planning in Glen Eira? If in 2017 we had capacity for over 25000 net new dwellings, then surely we don’t need structure plans that allow developers to reach for the sky? Or is this simply another example of council’s pro-development agenda?

The refusal to provide a straight forward response to a public question, when all the data has previously been published, is inexcusable.

Council’s penchant for secrecy and burying important news in its voluminous documentation continues with the release of the July 2020 financial report contained in the agenda for the upcoming Special council meeting (8th September).

We learn that $150,000 has been spent on the purchase of 66 and 66a Mackie Road, Bentleigh East. This is a 937 square metre property, that directly abuts Mackie Reserve. The property was sold on the 20th July 2020 for $1.605M. We can only assume the $150,000 is only the deposit and that settlement had not as yet occurred to warrant entry in the July financial report.

Why is there no open and transparent statement from council as to this purchase? Why is something as important as open space buried deep with two throwaway lines in a financial report that we doubt many people would bother ploughing through? Why the secrecy once the purchase has been made?

There are many queries regarding this purchase:

  • Does this constitute a wise decision given its 500 metre proximity to Bailey Reserve and the fact that at the back of this property sits Mackie Reserve? The following map illustrates other open space areas within walking distance.

  • Is it ‘beneficial’ to simply increase the size of existing open space when countless other areas are severely open space deficient – ie major activity centres?
  • Why was this land purchased when the Open space Refresh only graded its ‘importance’ as ‘medium’. And why was the land bought prior to the recommendations of the OSS, that a master plan be created for this reserve? As far as we know, no ‘consultation’ on Mackie Reserve has been done. Here are the ‘recommendations’ of the Open Space Refresh –

The following image from Google Earth shows why we have major concerns about this purchase and whether it is really ‘value for money’. Nothing however can excuse this council’s refusal to be open and transparent with its ratepayers.

 

This is a very, very brief report on last night’s council meeting. It represents in our view one of the most shameful performances in living memory. Inconsistencies in argument abounded, as did the continuation of council policy in NEVER, but NEVER answering residents’ questions that are deemed ‘embarrassing’ to council. And God forbid that any councillor actually has the balls to criticise or even question such responses or the substandard officer reports that are continually tabled in chamber.

The true highlight is Athanasopolous’ comment that councillors should not appear to be in the ‘pockets of residents’. Esakoff and her cohort were guilty of this very thing – but only when it suited. On the one hand they supported the 9 storey development in Selwyn Street in the face of massive opposition, and then when it came to the Glen Huntly Structure Plan, the argument suddenly changed to we ‘have to listen to our residents’.

Each and every one of these councillors has failed the community time and time again. It is definitely time for change.

Featured below is an interview with a Caulfield South resident on what is happening to this neighbourhood centre. As we have stated numerous times residents have never been given a clear unequivocal answer as to whether or not Caulfield South, Bentleigh East and now Caulfield North will have structure plans with mandatory heights, or merely Urban Design Frameworks that are nothing more than ‘guidelines’. More to the point, even if structure planning is undertaken, it will still take years and years for these plans to have any legal effect.  In the meantime these suburbs will, and are already, having high rise plonked alongside one and two storey dwellings.

Council is of course playing the blame game – ie it is all the government’s fault. Nothing could be further from the truth. Had council done what every other council has for the past decade, such as structure planning, design and development overlays, and decent strategic planning, we would not be in the mess we are now. Residents are the true victims of this councils inaction and pro development agenda for the past 15 years!!!!!

Please listen to this interview since it reveals fully the impact on residents.

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