GE Planning


The following table taken directly from council’s latest version of the Open Space Strategy (OSS) says it all in terms of performance and how important this council views open space.

There are several things to note about this table:

  1. Of the fourteen suburbs listed 7 have less than 10 square metres per individual
  2. Only three suburbs have maintained the amount of public open space available to each individual, and these are the suburbs with the LEAST amount of public open space per capita (ie 3 metres).
  3. Thus Glen Eira has seen a REDUCTION of available public open space per individual over the past 6 years. Given the projected population growth, this will only get worse.

Over the past 6 years council has ‘achieved’ the following:

  • Placing a public acquisition overlay on 2 properties in Mile End Road/Mimosa Road, Carnegie. Houses still stand.
  • Purchase of old furniture store in Carnegie for $3+M in order to cater for market
  • Purchase of fully renovated property in Aileen Avenue for $2.16 and then rented out for 4 years. Also a stone’s throw from Princes Park
  • Several pocket parks. No report/evaluation as to how well used these are – ie unnamed road between Eskdale and Fitzgibbon Crescent and 500 metres from Caulfield Park

Over the past ten and a half years, council has accumulated $52m in open space levies. It has spent just over $8M on acquiring properties as NEW open space. That is basically 15%. The rest has gone into ‘improvement’ of existing open space, despite the fact that this council has identified for the past 30 odd years the need for additional open space!

Here’s the table that documents council’s accrued levy contributions. The figures are taken directly from the 2014 and 2020 open space strategies, together with data from the monthly financial reports.

FINANCIAL YEAR

REVENUE

2009/10 $1,663,000
2010/11 $1,629,000
2011/12 $2,230,000
2012/13 $1,900,000
2013/14 $2,581,000
2014/15 $3,667,000
2015/16 $5,865,000
2016/17 $7,811,000
2017/18 $10,348,000
2018/19 $7,851,000
2019/20 (Jul-April) $6,856,815
TOTAL $52,401,815

The central question for residents is: how much more development should a suburb like Glen Huntly have when it is already the most overdeveloped area in the municipality? Council uses profile.id. Here is what they conclude about Glen Huntly based on census figures. With Council’s proposed structure plan it can only get worse!

It is time that this council was called to account for its continued facilitation of more and more development. The latest example of what this means for residents is the draft Glen Huntly structure plan. This is far from a typical ‘structure plan’ in that:

  • Borders are yet to be identified
  • Rezoning of residential areas is yet to be itemised (ie from 2 to 3 or 4 storeys)
  • Potential heritage impacts unidentified

What we do know is that council’s much vaunted Quality Design Guidelines is not worth the paper it is written on and the latest City Plan  isn’t much better. Whilst the Guidelines stated that the preferred heights for the commercial areas be 5 storeys, we now have council officers advocating for 6 storeys. What was 8 storeys now becomes 10 storeys. The following screen dumps reveal what is proposed (most are discretionary height limits too):

The final insult comes with the discretionary setbacks. Whilst the Bentleigh & Carnegie upper floor setbacks were reduced from 6 to 5 metres, we now have council recommendations for a majority of only 4 metre setbacks and in one precinct a front wall of up to 15 metres.

This is not ‘urban design’ – it is urban destruction in a suburb that is currently the most densely populated in the municipality. With this ‘structure plan’ it will only get worse.

Several things are very clear.

  • The entire Caulfield North/East and Glen Huntly/Murrumbeena/Carnegie will meld into one hodge podge of high rise.
  • Glen Huntly currently does not have any sites zoned Residential Growth Zone (ie 4 storeys). This is the first step in changing this!
  • Developers, once COVID is over and the economy recuperates, will have a field day with practically everything being ‘discretionary’.

The tragedy of all this is that our councillors are failing spectacularly in fulfilling their roles – that is primarily to be COMMUNITY REPRESENTATIVES. Listening to the community is one thing. Acting on community wishes is another thing completely.

The vast majority of Glen Eira residents live in our neighbourhood centres. Yet it is these very centres which have no protection against overdevelopment in the commercial and mixed use areas. Making matters even worse, it is these areas which are now being exploited since the major activity centres are basically already built out and land is far more expensive. So, if any reader should happen to live in Ormond, McKinnon, East Bentleigh, South Caulfield, North Caulfield, Patterson, Alma ‘village’, Caulfield, Gardenvale etc. then they had better get used to having high rise dominate their landscapes.

Thus far we already have either applications or permits granted for the following:

  • Multiple 7 s in Caulfield North
  • Multiple 7 storeys and 9 storeys in Caulfield South
  • Six and the potential for 10 storeys in Ormond
  • 6 storeys in McKinnon
  • 7 storeys in Bentleigh East
  • 9 storeys in Gardenvale
  • 12 storeys in Caulfield East heritage zone

Our neighbouring councils such as Bayside, Kingston, and even Boroondara have nothing of this for their neighbourhood centres.  Our council however sees fit to delay and delay so that by the time anything of value is produced it is far too late to put a stop to such development. If these suburbs already contain 7, 8, or 9 storey buildings it becomes impossible to then argue that the height limit should be 3 or 4 storeys.

Making matters even worse is that residents have been lead up the garden path again by our councillors and administrators. The 2016 Planning Scheme Review consultation produced results which were unequivocal and which this administration acknowledged at the meeting in the auditorium. Our notes from this meeting included the following comments:

MCKENZIE: because we can’t do everything at once we want you to tell us where you think the relative priorities are….the order we should be tackling some of this’

TORRES: ‘key messages’ and ‘themes’…today we believe there is a strong need to develop structure plans for our activity centres…..’there is a growing call from the community in this environment to better manage development in our activity centres….. It’s not one size fits all….not every shopping centres is the same.….strong representation from residents from the Bentleigh area….there are calls for height limits in our other shopping centres…., SO WE BELIEVE THAT STRUCTURE PLANS CAN DELIVER THAT SHARED VISION

SMITH: structure plans mentioned at every workshop; 3 structure plans in the municipality within the next 5 years; we envisage that these will continue throughout our activity centres after that initial 5 years …….; preferred character statements will allow us to set out (what we want) for a precinct…..decvelopment controbutions scheme…..’a lot of that work has already been done’

FACILITATOR: opportunity to prioritise urban villages and your neighbourhood centres

 Structure planning for ALL ACTIVITY CENTRES was the message that came through loud and clear. That is no longer the case and hasn’t been since the 2018 Planning Scheme Review work plan. Instead of structure planning, our neighbourhood centres and local centres will only have ‘guidelines’ and possibly ‘urban design frameworks’.

At last council meeting a public question was asked about these neighbourhood centres and how work will be progressed. The language council used in response confirms once again what their intentions are. What is unacceptable of course is that this council refuses to come out in an open and transparent fashion and tell its ratepayers that THERE WILL NOT BE STRUCTURE PLANS for these areas. Instead it becomes a game of semantics, obfuscation, and deliberate deceit.  Here’s the question and response.

What is even more disconcerting about council’s intentions is that:

  • Guidelines and/or urban design frameworks, or even Neighbourhood Centres Policies are NOT mandatory
  • These documents are generally viewed as ‘Reference documents’ at best and hence have very little statutory weight in any decision making by both council and VCAT
  • The starting date is 2021 for Caulfield South. Add on another couple of years before anything materialises and the suburb could well and truly be gone. How long for the other suburbs is the $64 question – perhaps never?
  • The ‘one size fits all’ that was decried by officers in 2016 is now firmly in place with the so called objectives of the city plan.

CONCLUSION

What we therefore have is a council determined to ignore public feedback and to allow our neighbourhood centres to become quasi major activity centres. Even worse is that this council refuses to be up front and commit to a clear statement that is truthful, accurate, and details exactly what is intended!

The following application will now certainly test our councillors’ bona fides when it comes to Heritage!

The site is in 2 heritage overlays including an aboriginal heritage overlay. It is also under a SBO (special building overlay for flooding). Of course, this site is part of the proposed Selwyn Street Cultural Centre so we can expect that various interests have and will continue to play a part here.

One could of course ask whether any ‘cultural’ zone smack in the middle of a heritage overlay needs an 8 storey building for an ‘arts centre’ and ‘offices’. Worth remembering that council fought tooth and nail to apply a heritage overlay on the ABC studios recently. This is well worth watching we suggest.

All councillors deserve an academy award for their performances last night. There was ‘passion’ with a capital P, so much in fact that at times it became cringe worthy. Residents really need to ask themselves – ‘what was actually achieved last night’ and did we witness anything other than another exercise in smoke and mirrors?

CLIMATE EMERGENCY

Davey did manage to get her most important motion up. This was to work on the Environmental Sustainable Policy (ESS) and to set a goal of cutting corporate emissions by 2025 and community emissions by 2030.

Sounds wonderful! But is it simply more of the same since nothing will happen for at least another 18 months given that there is no funding for anything new in the current budget! We are going to have to wait for the 2021/2 budget to see anything materialise and even then it could take months and months before any project is up and running. We did not get one single word about how much anything would cost nor which priority actions that will be pursued first down the track. It will all depend on the new ESS strategy and putting some money into the NEXT BUDGET!

Put simply, words and actions are miles apart. If we are indeed facing an ‘emergency’ then action is required NOW as it has been for years and years. We reiterate the following:

  • Why has it taken 4 years of doing nothing regarding a WSUD or ESD policy to emerge in our planning scheme?
  • Why haven’t the schedules to the zones been revamped so that permeability requirements are increased?
  • Why has nothing been done regarding basement sizes in our GRZ areas and the conditions for planting canopy trees?
  • Why are we still delaying any controls on tree removal on private land?

We also had the spectacle last night of Silver stating that he wasn’t happy with some of the wording of the recommendation(s) in the officer report. Fair enough! Then why didn’t he outline his misgivings and move a motion to amend the wording? Why pretend that abstaining (which was the flavour of last night) was not a vote against when the legislation clearly states: for the purpose of determining the result of a vote, a Councillor present at the meeting who does not vote is to be taken to have voted against the question [Local Government Act, 2020: Section 61:5(e)]

We also take issue with Sztrajt and his ‘passion’ on the importance of declaring a ‘climate emergency’. This will ‘send a message’ to all levels of government; it will inform the public, it will show how serious the community is and that Glen Eira is not the odd man out. Wonderful, except why isn’t this same passion applied to over-development and the ruin of our suburbs, especially the neighbourhood centres? Why can’t this same public statement be made on behalf of a community who don’t want our streets turned into high rise wind tunnels. Instead we get silence from the council lot!

The Budget

The spin doctors were really out in force on this item. Esakoff read out her version of the budget/SRP that contained no details whatsoever as to the plan to borrow $60 million. She merely used the term ‘borrowings’ once; nor did we get any summary of which services would be cut back. (For instance the massive reduction in library collection funding).

Not a single word from any councillor was directed to HOW MUCH our charges had increased. Yes, we were told 2% but that does not tally with what the actual numbers in the budget state – ie an average increase of between 12 and 15% on some major items.

And then there’s the rush to pass the budget, when councils have been given until August 31st to set their finances. How is it possible that council can state that it is currently unsure of the full financial impact of COVID and with the same breath draw up a budget that is so open to change? Or is this merely another tactic that council can later use when they delay project after project?

CONCLUSION

There is much, much more that needs to be said regarding last night’s meeting. What is very clear is that this council has no intention of changing its goals, its modus operandi, and its insistence on being as vague, and as uninformative as it possibly can be – both via the written and spoken word.

Yes, the legal requirements are met, but that is all that happens. Remember that this council has NEVER adopted any recommendations made by residents to its draft budgets. Once published everything is set in concrete unlike so many other councils who are now really seeking community responses to their planned projects and priorities.

For all the talk about ‘community’, Glen Eira councillors do not know the meaning of the word in our view. If they did, then the manner in which this council operates would be entirely different and far more transparent and accountable!

 

This post is not about whether councillors should declare a Climate Emergency or not. Rather it focuses on the officer’s report and asks readers to determine how objective such a report really is and whether this is merely another example of council’s attempt at public grandstanding whilst in reality doing nothing at all.

Once again we have a report that purports to present all the relevant information so that informed decision making by councillors may take place. This report is far from ‘informative’ or objective. The take home message from this report can only be MAINTAIN THE STATUS QUO!

Three options are proffered to councillors (see below)

Option 1 is clearly the most proactive and given the fact that we are told that declaring a Climate Emergency requires ‘immediate’ action this would ostensibly be the option most appropriate. We even have Ms Krull’s response to Ahtanasopolous’ question of the 25 Feb council meeting where she said: Councils that declare a climate emergency must commit to strong and fast climate action and reduce their carbon emissions as fast as possible.

Yet sprinkled throughout this report we find statement after statement that debunks this ‘urgency’ and plays the cost card. For example: Increasing the Solar Savers program where council purchases the system and residents therefore have no up-front costs, we are told: This scheme will have a financial impact on Council’s budget as Council will need to fund the upfront cost for each household in the program.

And this approach goes on and on –

Committing to goals and initiatives in Options 1 and 2 will require significant additional staff resources and operating budget to fund new activities to reduce corporate and community carbon emissions.

Current operating and capital budgets do not include an allowance for activities that will need to be undertaken if Council determines to declare a climate emergency 

No provision has been made in Council’s long term SRP for the substantial costs of the initiatives in Options 1 and 2. If these initiatives are included, Council would need to consider re-prioritisation of other projects to ensure long term financial sustainability of the SRP. 

How ludicrous that within the same agenda we have the proposed 2020/21 budget and another item that would impact greatly on this budget but has not even been investigated and quantified. Surely the vote on any Climate Emergency declaration and its accompanying actions should precede any vote on the budget? Unless of course the objective is not to introduce anything new at this point in time and continue with the goal of achieving so very little by 2030 or 2050. A charade at its best we say! 

Much of the report focuses on council’s ‘achievements’ in this domain of climate change. One such ‘achievement’ is touted as the annual planting of 2000 trees to combat the heat island effect. What we are not told of course is that according to the 2018/19 annual report 940 trees were lost (page 13). Seen from this angle, 2000 plantings become 1000! And we are still waiting of course for an ESD policy, a WSUD policy into the planning scheme and that old perennial of tree controls over private land (ie tree register). Oh, and an Urban Forest in the Booran Road park that remains under lock and key but is still counted as ‘open space’!

Finally, here is a list of Victorian councils that have declared a Climate Emergency (up to Feb 2020). Many of the accompanying proposed actions in these policies put Glen Eira to shame.

Ballarat City Council

Banyule City Council

Bass Coast Shire Council

Bayside City Council

Brimbank City Council

Cardinia City Council

Darebin City Council

Frankston City Council

Greater Dandenong City Council

Hepburn Shire Council

Hobsons Bay City Council

ndigo Shire Council

Kingston City Council

Manningham City Council

Maribyrnong City Council

Melbourne City Council

Moonee Valley City Council

Mount Alexander Shire Council

Moreland City Council

Mornington Peninsula Shire Council

Moyne Shire Council

Port Phillip City Council

Queenscliffe Borough

Surf Coast Shire Council

Warrnambool City Council

Yarra City Council

Yarra Ranges Council

As stated at the outset, we are not debating the issue of climate change and how council should address the challenges. We are far more concerned with how decisions can be authentic and valid when the requisite information is not provided, and budgets are to be decided that don’t include any possibility of funding real action in the immediate future. If this is the objective, then let’s see that declared instead of the continued camouflaging that is council’s modus operandi.

Council has released its draft budget and Strategic Resource Plan (SRP) for the next ten years. We can only marvel at the audacity that goes into these documents whilst simultaneously wondering how much credence should be given to any of the figures produced year to year. We acknowledge up front that budgets can and do change; that unforseen circumstances (ie COVID) play a role. However, when prognostications are out by 100% then questions need to be asked and those responsible for the figures should be held to account and judgement. More importantly, there is not one single word that seeks to explain or justify the unbelievably divergent figures!

Here are some examples comparing the figures provided in the 2019/20 Strategic Resource Plan (SRP) and what we are now presented with.

Carnegie Pool Redevelopment: Capital costs of $47.6M from 2020/21 to 2023/4 (Capital costs of $39M in 2019/20!)

Elsternwick Community Hub & Park: $47M (majority of spend in 2024/5 to 2027/8) In 2019 – $31.8M

Selwyn Street Cultural Precinct: $5.6M to be completed in 2023/4 (2019; $5.5M)

Stanley Street Multi-deck Carpark: $22.32M completed in 2023/4 (In 2019 17.3M)

Koornang Road Streetscape & Upgrade: $6.5M (majority of spend in 2025/6 to 2028/9) (2019 – $6.15)

Eat Street rotunda: $5.1M to be completed in 2021/2)(in 2019 $1.8M)

Bentleigh Library Upgrade: $6.3M to be completed in 2022/3 (In 2019 $3.5M)

Bleazby Street Carpark: $15.7M completed in 2023/4 (not listed in 2019 but Horsely Street was listed at $1.6M with majority of spend in 2029/30!)

Fair enough that prices have increased over the year. However, no sensible person will accept the massive increases suggested in the above comparison. So what does this tell us about council plans and what they are not revealing.

All  of this can be summed up neatly with the following screen dumps from the 2019/20 version and the current draft SRP.

How and why on earth should forecast spending jump from $90 million to $160M or even from $140 million to $160M. Have residents really been consulted on whether this is what they want? Is it wise spending when so many people have lost their jobs and/or are in financial difficulties? Do we really need such massive infrastructure projects and borrowings that will keep us in hock for decades? Of course, this council never bothers to present a complete picture or to consult its residents. And as some residents have already asked – have any of our extremely well paid administrators and/or councillors taken a pay cut in the current COVID situation?

Adding more insult to injury, we find the following increases:

240L waste bin – $515 up from $441 last year

120L waste bin – $255 up from $220 last year

Child care

0-3 year olds: $140 per day up from $137 last year

3-5 year olds: $132 per day up from $129 last year

Pensioner rebate contribution – $29 last year was $36 and in 2016 was $59!!!!!

Staff EFT: FROM 860.19 TO 873.86 plus a 2.5% increase in wages!

We keep reading about council’s reduced income stream as a result of COVID, yet there is nothing in this budget or the SRP which indicates a tightening of the belt, a reduction in spending, and a reduction in grandiose contruction plans. Nor is there anything to indicate that council will increase the amount of open space so desperately lacking in this municipality.

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

That Council notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORNINGTON: $1 M

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

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

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

We will deal with these sequentially.

  1. Delegations

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

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

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

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

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

MAV MEDIA RELEASE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

i.The expenditure being included in budget; and

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

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

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

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

QUESTIONS

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

 

2.Abolition of DCP & Community Planning Consultations

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CONCLUSIONS

We can find no sound reasoning that would condone:

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

 

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

 

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