GE Planning

Today’s major news is all about inflammable cladding and the cowboys who have made a killing in the construction industry. It also points to the utter failure of regulation from the Victorian Building Authority, to State Governments and councils.

In March this year, council’s CEO released the following statement:

Our questions are pretty basic:

  • Why wasn’t council’s ‘building surveyor’ on the job when the redevelopment was happening? Did he/she sign off as everything being okay back then?
  • What oversight did council insist on with its redevelopment?
  • How much will it cost ratepayers to remedy the situation?
  • How long will it take?

Adding further fuel to the fire we now learn that there are at least 60 developments in Glen Eira that have suspect cladding. Here’s a map produced by the Victorian Building Authority. See:

Our sympathies go out to all those residents who find themselves living in one of these high rise potential death traps! Now wonder residents can have no faith in governments of all shades and certainly not councils.

For the past few years now social and affordable housing has been in the spot light at Glen Eira. So now we’ve finally got a ‘strategy’, but only after it was pointed out to council at VCAT that they didn’t even have a policy when they tried to enforce the social housing component for the Caulfield Village development. Further, this strategy comes only after the State Government provided Council with a grant to formulate the strategy! Other councils have had a strategy for well over a decade in some cases and without such state government benevolence! (A case of he who pays the piper…..?)

So how good is this strategy? What will it achieve? In our opinion, it follows the general pattern of all Glen Eira policies. That is:

  • Plenty of waffle
  • Plenty of empty promises
  • Plenty of shifting the onus onto state and federal government, meaning ‘let’s not do anything except wait because it is their responsibility’.

What is especially galling is the continued cave ins to developers. East Village is the perfect example. It appears that Council is ready to accept a 5% outcome on the current 3000 net new apartments. That equals a mere 150 homes out of 3000. Plus, we have no doubt that this ‘preliminary’ figure of 3000 will grow in precisely the same way that the original mooted 1100 for Caulfield Village has ballooned out to probably 2500 net new apartments! Thus 5% will eventually dwindle down to 3% unless these escape clauses are closed off in any Section 173 agreement.

Thankfully, not all councils operate as Glen Eira does. Their policies and strategies do not accept a 5% number for social and affordable housing. They go much higher. Moonee Valley for example on its VPA partnership over the Commonwealth defence site has demanded a 20% coverage for social/affordable homes. There are others too, as shown in the following screen dumps from Yarra, Kingston, and Maribyrnong. Thus if social and affordable housing is such an issue for Glen Eira as proclaimed, then why are we settling for a paltry 5%. Why can other councils go for double this percentage and voice their opposition to government plans, as in Bayside? Why is Glen Eira so compliant? So amenable to developers? And so indifferent to the plight of its residents when it comes to anything to do with planning?

Admittedly all of the above are ‘policies’ and hence do not have great statutory weight. They do however outshine anything that Glen Eira produces. If this council is serious about addressing the issue of the lack of social and affordable housing then going for a 5% imposition is only scratching the surface. Gillon and his mates (the VPA) are continuing to laugh all the way to the bank!

Please listen very carefully to the following audio from last night’s council meeting. It features one resident’s questions that exemplify everything that is wrong with this council. Needless to say, the responses to her queries were anything but satisfactory!

This is not the first time that applications have gone to VCAT and been ‘settled’ at what is known as Compulsory Conferences. Countless times we have the situation where councillors have refused a permit outright, only to find that the planning delegate at VCAT has caved in and the developer got everything he wanted. Since these compulsory conferences are ‘confidential’ residents have no idea as to the reasons behind the cave in. Caving in at a compulsory conference also means that there is no full hearing and no decision published. Perfect for avoiding full transparency and accountability!

Here are some decisions that were agreed to by council’s delegate at VCAT compulsory conferences. More disturbing than anything is the fact that some of these decisions fly in the face of councillor resolutions to refuse the permit outright. We doubt that councilors are even aware of what officers argue in these compulsory conferences and certainly not the grounds upon which permits are granted. Since no decision is published since a full hearing was averted, the community has no idea why some of these applications  got their permits. This in itself says heaps about the lack of transparency and accountability.

Here are some examples of cave ins at compulsory conferences:

2/4 Blair Street, Bentleigh. Councillors refused permit for 4 storeys and 24 apartments. A consent order granted 4 storeys and 22 apartments!

12/14 Howe Street, Murrumbeena. Councillor refusal. Permit granted for 10 x2 storey dwellings.

670 Centre Road & 51 Brown’s Road. Councillor refused amendment for addition level (up to 6 storeys). Permit granted for 6 storeys.

233/47 Glen Huntly Road. Councillors refused permit for 13 storeys . At compulsory conference permit granted for 12 storeys and 105 dwellings.

777 Glen Huntly Road, Caulfield. Councillors refused permit for 4 storeys. Permit granted at compulsory conference.

8 Egan Street, Carnegie. Councillors refused permit for 8 storeys. Permit for 8 storeys at compulsory conference.

Besides these major cave ins, there are plenty of others which were refused at officer level (ie never even making it to council) and then suddenly they get their permits at compulsory conferences. Admittedly, some developers might compromise and adjust their plans. This does not however excuse the granting of permits for high rise that were refused overwhelmingly by councilors.

So the questions remain:

  • Do councilors even know what happens at compulsory conferences in regards to the planning officer’s position on the application?
  • Have councilors voted or even agreed to the planning delegate’s position?
  • Why do Glen Eira councilors continue to allow unfettered delegations that excludes councilors completely from their rightful roles as decision makers?

Finally, we provide the following screen dump (from Boroondara council meeting) which shows clearly that not all councils operate in the same manner as our lot. Until our councilors have the balls to stand up to this planning department and insist on full transparency and accountability, then nothing will change. Residents will continue to be the casualties of a planning department allowed to run riot!

None of the above listed applications came back to council for deliberation.

Another 9 storey application has been received by council for a site zoned Commercial 1 at 217 Nepean Highway, Gardenvale. Our neighbourhood centres, of which Gardenvale is one, remains at the mercy of a council unwilling, or incapable, or secretly ‘satisfied’ that developers are utilising the holes in our planning scheme to turn our neighbourhood centres into high rise areas.

Nothing but nothing can excuse this council in failing to address such issues which have been staring them in the face for the past 15 years. Nothing but nothing can excuse this council for failing to embrace structure planning until ordered to by the Minister of Planning in December 2015. And definitely nothing can excuse this council for deciding that nothing will be done on proper strategic planning for such centres until at least BEGINNING in 2021. In the meantime developers set the precedents and any subsequent attempt to limit heights is doomed to fail. If this is the plan, then it is frankly unconscionable. Nor do we accept that council has not the ‘resources’ nor the finances to begin work on this immediately. When hundreds upon hundreds of thousands are spent on so called ‘community consultations’ on open space ‘redevelopments’ that won’t be completed until years down the track, or on more and more concrete plinths in our parks, then this council has no idea as to what the priorities should be. And of course, residents have never been properly asked!

Council’s budget year after year proclaims a hefty surplus. There is money that could be spent on additional planning staff, consultants, etc. All that is needed is the will to redirect some of this money to the ‘essentials’ such as safeguarding our neighbourhoods.

Further exacerbating the Gardenvale commercial area is that on top of this 9 storey application, there is also another application in for a 5 storey development.  Plus of course if there is a 9 storey eventually along Nepean Highway, then this augurs well for council’s ill considered proposals for 12 storeys reaching all the way back to Elsternwick! And what does Bayside think just across the road from this 9 storey application? Their Martin Street structure plan has varying preferred heights of 5, 4 and 3 storeys in the Commercially zoned land. The amendment is awaiting Ministerial approval.

The message to these councillors is clear. Get off your backsides and start fulfilling your role of representing the community.

The State Government’s latest ‘review’ of our laws has led to another instance of doublespeak, window dressing and the continued watering down of legislation that serves the purpose of making things as difficult as possible for communities to peek behind the veil of secrecy and lack of accountability.

We remind readers that on every occasion when real reform to local government and planning could, and should, have been achieved, Wynne and his cohorts have literally wimped it in favour of bureaucratic (continued) control, or in favour of developers and the construction industry.

We’ve had the following legislation changes that are nothing more than empty words:

  • The Objector’s Act that was supposed to take account of resident objectors’ concerns to development applications and pay heed to the number(s) of objectors. It does nothing of the sort and is a dismal failure as various VCAT decisions have pointed out.
  • Better Apartments. Another whitewash where instead of stipulating mandatory size apartments we got nothing more than guidelines for ‘ventilation’, etc. A complete cop out.
  • Garden area requirement for NRZ & GRZ developments. More fiddling and failure. Following several VCAT decisions where it was decided that land under eaves should NOT constitute part of the open space requirement, Wynne changed the Practice Note so now these areas CAN be included in the calculation. Also changed was the requirement that these areas be on the ground floor level. That also went so that now that this aspect of open space can be part of someone’s balcony.
  • VicSmart (Amendments C143 & C148) are nothing short of disastrous for residents. No need to advertise some applications and the introduction of the Transport Networks, has resulted in 80% of Glen Eira now not having to provide visitor car parking.

The latest woeful effort is the proposed changes to the Local Government Act. Instead of ensuring that councils are far more accountable and transparent, this proposed Bill does the exact opposite. Parading as giving residents more say we now have a farce writ large!

Currently only another councillor or an officer may report a councillor to a Conduct Panel. In trying to appear as if this government really gives a damn about resident views we have the intention to ‘broaden’ this so that a petition can be sent off asking for a ‘commission of enquiry’. Not so simple however. The applicant has a 200 word limit, plus this petition must obtain 25% of signatures of residents eligible to vote in the municipality. This is not only ludicrous. It is designed to fail. In Glen Eira at the last council elections there were 104,000 qualified voters. That means that any petition asking for an investigation under this ruling would require at least 25,000 signatures. The chances of that happening are zilch. But it surely sounds good, when the government talks about more ‘community accountability’.

Another aspect of great concern is the proposal that a councillor can only be dismissed if there have been 2 findings of gross misconduct in the space of 8 years. What happens if the misconduct takes place over 9 years? More importantly, this completely changes what the current Local Government Act states:

If VCAT makes a finding that a Councillor has engaged in conduct that constitutes gross misconduct, VCAT may order that the Councillor is disqualified from continuing to be a Councillor for a period specified by VCAT not exceeding 8 years and the office of the Councillor is vacated.  

No second chances here. That councillor can be booted out immediately for a period up to 8 years!

We present below the two pages from this draft for readers to digest.

In summary, every legislative review of the past few years has not resulted in greater transparency and accountability to the community, but the exact opposite. Shameful in a so called ‘democracy’’

Readers will remember that council has slipped in some new (dubious) figures for our housing projection needs. At first we were told that Glen Eira requires 9000 net new dwellings by 2031. This was suddenly changed to 13000 by 2036, with an average requirement of approximately 800 net new dwellings per annum.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics(ABS) has today released its latest figures for the current financial year ie from July 2018 to the end of April 2019. That is a 10 month period. We have taken the trouble to analyse these figures from July 2016 up to the present day to coincide with council’s prognostications. We have also removed the number of building permits for single house replacements. Thus what these figures represent is building approvals for multi developments in the main. The figures literally make a mockery of council’s propaganda. Please also bear in mind that these figures do NOT include the 3000+ for East Village, plus an anticipated additional 1500+ for the Caulfield Village precinct 3 development.

Of particular interest is the average number of net new dwellings per annum. At the current rate, Glen Eira is DOUBLING the 800 average with its total of 1755pa. Compare this with the following averages: Bayside: 685; Boroondara: 838; Kingston: 903; Stonnington: 1106; Port Phillip: 927, and Monash: 1469. If this rate continues (without including East Village & Caulfield Village) the so called target of 13000 net new dwellings will be achieved NOT IN 2036 but in 2023.

Council’s persistent argument has been that not all building permits are acted upon. In fact, they claim that 50% are abandoned and never completed. Even if we accept this argument that means that on current figures council is already achieving its 800 net new dwellings per annum. Which of course raises again the fundamental question(s) of:

  • Why do we need to double the size of our activity centres?
  • Why do we need to turn Glen Eira into a high rise municipality with 12 storeys?
  • Why do we need to rezone so much of our Neigbourhood Residential zoning to GRZ or RGZ?
  • Do we really have the infrastructure to cope with this development given that council spends approx. only $3m per annum on drainage and we do not have a Development Contributions Levy?
  • Why does council never answer these questions?

Finally, so that readers can compare councils in our area we provide a graph that shows the number of building permits since July 2016 until today. The data does NOT include building permits for single house replacements. We also reiterate what we have said countless times previously:

  • Stonnington has roughly 8% of its land zoned commercial. Glen Eira a bare 3% meaning that most multi unit development is occurring in residential streets and NOT in our commercial areas
  • Glen Eira’s density is already the 4th highest in the State behind Melbourne, Port Phillip and Yarra. Port Phillip is a special case with its Capital City Zoning and large tourist requirements
  • Monash is 80 square km in size whilst Glen Eira is half that size with the least amount of public open space per population.

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