GE Service Performance


Council has produced what it calls an ‘issues and opportunities’ paper on its upcoming housing strategy. One should therefore reasonably expect that residents be provided with:

  • An overview of the current situation,the various ‘issues’ confronting the municipality, and
  • How these ‘issues’ might be addressed via planning controls

In order to achieve the above, any decent discussion paper should provide readers with a detailed explanation of the issues, the problems, the potential solutions, and then insert specific questions that seek responses. Sadly, in the 13 page document, we find that only one single question has been included. It reads: How will we provide for the housing needs of an evolving community while continuing to support the sustainability, attractiveness and liveability of our City?

We are told nothing about our ‘evolving community’ (whatever that means!), nor anything about the controls that council has at its disposal in order to ensure ‘sustainability’ and ‘liveability’. Unless readers are aware of what is possible, their ability to respond meaningfully to such a question remains limited. For example: council introduced its residential zones in 2013 (without consultation). Nothing in the accompanying schedules to these zones has been reviewed, amended, or questioned. Whilst other councils have up to 40% permeability requirements even in their General Residential Zones, Glen Eira is content with maintaining its 20% requirement. This also applies to size of underground basements, open space requirements, etc. If sustainability is the objective, then residents need to know that council can and should be amending its schedules, and even reviewing the placement of the various zones. None of this has been communicated.

As for our ‘evolving community’, nothing in the issues paper identifies what this actually means or what the implications are and how they relate to a housing strategy. We are provided with a breakdown of detached housing figures, percentages of lone person households, and families with children (page 9). All we get are generalised comments such as ‘Housing diversity is important. There is support for housing diversity’. None of this has been explained, examined, and defined.

We also find statement after statement that deserves to be challenged. For example: ‘There is a need for student accommodation close to Monash University……’ We are not told how many student accommodation places currently exist and given COVID, how many might be required over the next 15 years. And if over a third of our current households are families with children, then surely, ‘housing diversity’ should pertain to the size of apartments built, the number of 3 and 4 bedroom homes, or the size of available open space? We are not provided with any data that reveals what is currently being built in Glen Eira or how council can introduce policies and standards that impact what is being built.

Page 12 of the paper exemplifies everything that is amiss with council’s consultation methodology. Under the banner of ‘Sustainability’, we are informed about 867km of footpaths (!), and the number of solar households in Glen Eira. Surely there is more to ‘sustainability’ than the length of our footpaths and even the number of homes with solar energy? We then also find the sneaky inclusion of this sentence: Higher densities in established areas can help contain urban sprawl on the edges of Melbourne. Is this simply setting the scene for more and more development and what does it have to do with ‘sustainability’ in Glen Eira itself? Not a single word is included on exactly what ‘higher density’ might entail and most significantly, what tools council has available to ensure that our streets, our open spaces, and our amenity is protected.

We started off this post by noting council’s refusal to provide questions that address and seek informed feedback on the central issues that any housing strategy should encompass. By way of comparison, here are some questions that other councils thought necessary to include in their respective discussion papers on their housing strategies – BUT ONLY AFTER SOME POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS WERE LISTED! –

KINGSTON

Thinking about new housing which has been built in Kingston over the last 10 years: a) Which specific developments or which types of development do you think have been successful? Which have been less successful?

BENDIGO

How important is the issue of housing affordability and to what extent should the Council and the private sector be involved?

Is this assessment accurate and is there additional land within the UGB (Urban Growth Boundary) that should be made available for housing or are there sites where development is not feasible or appropriate?

Council has identified a major future long term growth front to the north west of Maiden Gully –how appropriate is this area to accommodate residential growth in the future?

DANDENONG

What considerations should be taken into account when identifying locations for medium to higher density development?

How can Council improve the quality and location of medium and higher density housing?

There are several other councils which are currently reviewing and updating their housing strategies. We urge readers to have a look at what Bayside and Stonnington are doing in terms of their consultation methodologies.

Last night’s symposium on the upcoming Housing Strategy went as expected – lots on the ‘big picture’ but very little that pertained to the current housing situation in Glen Eira. What data was presented fell far short of providing residents with the full picture.

If last night was meant to be the first stage of community consultation, then it even failed to achieve the ‘inform’ basis that the IAPP (International Association of Public Participation) sets out in its ladder of guidelines – ie inform, consult, collaborate, empower.  We also remind readers that council’s recently adopted Engagement Strategy places important strategic planning issues at the ‘consult to collaborate’ level. So much for council policies and acting in accordance with these policies!

What irked us most were several claims made by Bernard Salt.  He claimed that Glen Eira is a ‘microcosm’ of what is happening across municipalities and the state. To convince us of this he cited state wide population figures and compared this with population growth to 2016 in Glen Eira and the fact that projections out to 2036 were on par with previous growth. He also pointed out that in Glen Eira (according to the 2016 census) we had a total of 50.6% of detached housing.  What he did not reveal was that this figure represents a decline of 6% from the 2011 census. In other words, thousands of detached houses in Glen Eira have gone the way of apartments or townhouses. If he is correct and more residents will wish to work from home, then the issue of space becomes even more important. No details of course as to how many apartments were single or double bedrooms, or their cost. No commentary of density, especially for a municipality that is only 38.9 square km. Nor did he bother to mention the following facts and why these are important for any housing strategy that is meant to plan for the unique circumstances of individual municipalities. It is surely not enough to simply say that having 50.6% of detached housing is enough, or too much, when the municipality has:

  • The least amount of public open space per capita in the state
  • A development rate that is well and truly exceeding prognostications
  • A declining tree canopy coverage with no real controls to stop moonscaping
  • No structure plans
  • No constraints on development for our neighbourhood centres
  • No parking precinct plans
  • No WSUD or ESD policies in our planning scheme
  • No developer contributions in our planning scheme
  • No review of the zones and its schedules since 2013

Which brings us to question why our neighbouring  councils can maintain a much healthier proportion of detached dwellings for their residents. The following figures all come from the 2016 census.

COUNCIL2016 census
Glen Eira50.6%
Bayside63%
Boroondara56.1%
Kingston59.9%
Monash71.7%

In the current climate of COVID and the increased pressures on our open space, backyards become even more essential. Salt also pointed out that our population age group of 35-43 was significant. These are the ‘family with kids’ cohort where the Australian tradition of having back yards is still high on the wish list – if it can be afforded! If we keep losing such properties then the only alternative is an apartment or a townhouse with a modicum of private open space. And council’s willingness to permit balconies that are that in name only – ie 8 square metres or as with the recently abandoned Amendment C184, council’s creation of the new GRZ5 which saw fit to remove the mandatory requirement for a certain percentage of open space depending on the size of the block.

One question directed to Salt was on this very issue. His response was incredible. We provide the question and the answer below:

All in all, last night’s symposium was another example of how little this administration desires full and informed feedback from its residents. If it were otherwise we would have a decent discussion paper, a decent set of survey questions and speakers who were not selected to forward council’s secret agendas!

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Tomorrow night, council is holding a ‘symposium’ on the proposed housing strategy. The speakers are:

Bernard Salt (demographer)

Lester Townsend (Planning Panels Victoria)

Kate Breen (Affordable Development Outcomes)

Maria Yanez (Nightingale Housing)

Whilst these four individuals are undoubtedly ‘experts’ in their respective fields, we need to consider why these people have been chosen by council and exactly how much they know about Glen Eira and its current housing needs, its zones, its development rate, its lack of strategic vision! It’s all very well to look at the ‘big picture’ across the state, but housing strategies are meant to be ‘individualised’ and pertain to unique municipalities.  We are therefore very sceptical as to the value of tomorrow night’s symposium and how well it will address the fundamental issues facing Glen Eira. Yes, what is happening statewide and nationally is important, but even more important is what is and what has been happening in Glen Eira.

Even more disconcerting are the following statements (cited verbatim) all taken from this link – (https://www.haveyoursaygleneira.com.au/our-housing-our-future/widgets/344509/faqs#80192)

The event is the opener for our early community engagement phase which will continue to the end of August.  A second phase of consultation will take place in early 2022 on the content of a draft housing strategy.

Council has stated that the Housing Strategy will be completed in April 2022. Does the above paragraph then imply that the ‘second phase of consultation’ will simply be on what council produces as its one and only draft strategy? Why the huge gap of 6 months before any further ‘consultation’ takes place?

This might have been kosher if the survey and the issues paper were up to scratch. They are not. Once again we find that detail is lacking, pertinent questions and options are lacking, and residents are asked nothing more than irrelevant Dorothy Dix Questions, that add nothing to a full understanding of Glen Eira’s future and the role council needs to play.

Finally, we have this other quote:

As the purpose of the event is to explore information about demographics and housing rather than specifically about the current housing strategy project, Councillors and Council officers will not be answering questions on the night.  Drop-in sessions on 22 and 26 July are planned and will be an opportunity for the community to discuss the themes of the housing strategy discussion paper and the housing stragegy (sic) project with Council officers.

 Why then hold such a forum if it does not relate specifically to our local housing strategy? Why deny residents the opportunity to ask questions of officers and councillors? How much has this public relations exercise cost?

In the coming days we will analyse the survey and reveal why it is nothing more than another bogus exercise in so-called ‘ consultation!

PS: In 2019 Stonnington Council also held a symposium for its revamped housing strategy. They did include speakers from Planning Panels and Nightingale just like Glen Eira is doing. However, they also had someone from Profile.id – a company that Glen Eira and most other councils in the state rely on for their ‘individualised’ information. This presentation focused exclusively on Stonnington – its population growth, its development rate, its age structure, etc. See the presentation via this link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1odRg-PHd-pmfAGCJ_oN44sI5rJkJR5oN/view. In Glen Eira such information is deemed unnecessary it would appear!

Mistakes can and do happen. But when you are a council with all the available technology, and (presumably) check and balance systems, then how is it possible that something like this shows up on your home page?

Council will be voting on the draft budget this Tuesday night. The differences between the May version of the budget and what is now presented is remarkable. Whilst some areas have received increased funding, the issues that were highlighted in the submissions have been totally ignored. This once again raises the question of why bother to ask for community input, when the recommendations are so flagrantly ignored year after year? Residents are never given the opportunity to specify what their priorities are. Instead we continue with the top-down approach and the minimalist adherence to the legislation. God forbid that residents be given the opportunity to answer such questions as: where do you want your money to be spent and how much?

The submissions made it very clear that what was needed was:

  • Increased funding for the urban forest strategy. This still remains at the May version of $200,000!
  • More funding for the acquisition of new open space. Nothing has changed from the $7M proposed in May.
  • Residents wanted the bicycle strategy to receive a minimum of $500,000. We are still stuck on $250,000.

At this rate, we can be waiting well into the 22nd century before our tree canopy reaches any reasonable target, or there is sufficient open space to accommodate the increasing population.

Yet council has still managed to find and allocate huge increases to various projects that are not only questionable, but where we believe most residents would argue aren’t necessary and certainly not on the top of the priority list. Please note, we are not arguing that these things shouldn’t be done. What we are suggesting is that given all the other major issues that are currently confronting Glen Eira, that much of this money should have been directed into those areas that demand immediate action – such as open space, the urban forest strategy, structure planning, amendments for development contribution levies, etc.etc. Five years on from the ordered Planning Scheme Review, we have practically nothing in concrete outcomes.

Below is a table which depicts the monies allocated for the various projects according to the May and then the June draft budgets – and all with hardly any detail.

PROJECTMAY DRAFT BUDGETJUNE DRAFT BUDGET
Caulfield Park Masterplan$600,000$710,000
Duncan Mackinnon Netball$200,000$250,000
Pedestrian Safety$205,000$355,000
GREAT WALKS STREETNot listed$700,000
Outer Circle$40,000$700,000
Lord Reserve/Koornang Park master plan implementation$500,000$680,000
Hopetoun Gardens$40,000$220,000
Tennis Strategy$75,000$275,000
Caulfield Park master plan implementation$40,000$790,000
Princes Park Playground upgradeNot listed$1,250,000

Surely some of these projects, and their massive increases in funding, could be deferred until this council sorted out its other major concerns as we’ve listed above.

Finally, it is also remarkable that in the space of one month, we have gone from an estimated deficit of $45,000 to a suggested surplus of over $11M where the announced government grants somehow don’t add up to this amount!

Our final comment is that until this council is prepared to provide full and comprehensive explanations for its decision making and budget allocations, residents are once again left in the dark with no real say as to how their money is and should be spent.

Whatever the outcome of Mr Wylie’s Supreme Court Challenge, the issues are crucial in terms of the planning system itself, and especially how the planning department at Glen Eira Council operates. Part of Mr Wylie’s concerns appear to be the lack of sufficient notification to residents that an application has been submitted to council. According to the legislation, it is council which has the power to decide who and how many properties will be alerted to the fact that an application has come in. Hence, if only a handful of notification letters are sent out, then it is not surprising that there are none, or very few objections. Mr Wylie claims that in his case, only those adjoining sites zoned Commercial 1 were notified and that neighbouring residents were left in the dark – hence the claim that there were zero objections in this matter. It is very plausible to suggest that had neighbours living in surrounding NRZ zoned sites been aware, then the chances of objections to a 5 storey development would have brought in at least a few objections.

But that’s only part of the problem. Not so long ago, officer reports in Glen Eira regularly noted the number of notifications sent out, and the number of ensuing objections. For the past few years this has now ceased. We have absolutely no idea as to how many letters council ordered the developer to send out, nor to which properties. Nor do we know where the objectors lived. Other councils such as Boroondara, feature maps of where the letters went and where objectors lived in relation to the application. (See image below). Other councils (Monash, Port Phillip to name a few) also include maps showing the number of objectors and their residences. In Glen Eira we are left in the dark on both of these important matters.

Also of major concern is the secrecy surrounding council’s DPC (delegated planning committee). We have commented numerous times over the years that this committee lacks all transparency and accountability. Meetings are held during the day, where both the developer and objectors can appear to state their views. The three officers then leave the room and come back in about 20 minutes with their decision to grant, refuse, or impose conditions. No agendas are ever published and certainly no minutes. Hence, residents have no idea  why a permit may have been granted or refused.  Plus, for years our council operated under Section 86 of the legislation meaning that agendas, and minutes, had to be published. An ombudsman’s report in 2016 cited us, and forced Glen Eira to amend its delegation so that it no longer was constituted under the Special Committee requirements. The committee still operates as before – no councillors present, no agendas, no minutes, and no accountability!

Making matters even worse, is that in December 2018, councillors voted to change the delegation authority for this committee. There now has to be at least 16 objections before an application can be brought to council. Anything less becomes the purview of this committee.

We are not suggesting that there is no place for such a committee. Clearly councillors can’t be expected to ‘adjudicate’ on all planning applications. What we do expect, is that there be far more transparency and accountability when it comes to planning.  Other councils have ALL councillors as part of their planning committees – whether or not these are seen as Special Committees. In Glen Eira, councillors are, we believe seen as nothing more than unnecessary appendages that will only hinder the work of the bureaucrats, so let’s sideline them as much as possible. Such an ethos is the antithesis of good planning and full transparency and accountability.

It’s with great interest that residents need to follow the following Supreme Court Case –

This raises innumerable questions:

  1. How much of ratepayers’ money will council expend in fighting this case?
  2. Were councillors apprised of what was happening and if so, when?
  3. How many more times will this planning department overlook their own planning scheme and recommend permits that are highly questionable?

PS: Today’s (Saturday’s Age) –

https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/well-connected-ex-banker-takes-on-council-over-elsternwick-tower-plan-20210618-p5826q.html

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/radio/melbourne/programs/breakfast/snakes-and-ladders-bentleigh-jumbled/13390280

Public submissions for the draft budget and Strategic Resource Plan, have one consistent theme running through nearly all of the presentations. This is best summed up with this sentence from one such submission –

It is one thing to have a strategy and action plan in place, it is quite another to implement them. As Councillors would well know, implementation requires funded projects. It is here that Council is lacking.

Time and again throughout all of these well documented and thoughtful submissions we find similar statements. Council has policies, plans, strategies but implementation is either non-existent, or years behind schedule, and simply underfunded and/or forgotten about. This applies across all departments – from Caulfield Park implementation of the Master Plan, to bike paths, open space, the Urban Forest Strategy or the Climate Emergency. Nothing seems to have been done or certainly not funded enough to ensure real progress on any of these issues.

Then we also have the penny pinching that is so common in Glen Eira. Child care fees go up another $3 per day. Council’s persistent claims about such repeated rises is that they are on a par with the private providers. Only now the differences are made clear thanks to these submissions – ie whilst the fee per day might be equitable, council does not provide lunches or nappies. As for the car share options, that has remained static, yet for all the talk about reducing the number of cars on our roads, very little has been done to expand this option for residents. Instead fees are through the roof! Glen Eira’s car share policy first came to notice in 2016. Its subsequent policy is dated 2017-20 – hence defunct and out of date. We currently have 12 car share spaces in comparison to: Yarra – aiming for 231 in the next 5 years; port Phillip in 2018 had 181; and as far back as 2015 Moreland had 40. The rhetoric and the reality are simply miles apart on so many issues.

Council can ratify as many policies/strategies as it likes, but until there is a genuine commitment to fund such projects adequately nothing will change. Policies become nothing more than another worthless piece of public relations providing the illusion that council does give a damn about the lack of open space, the destruction of our tree canopy, and the failure to progress the bicycle strategy or provide sufficient car share opportunities. Residents should really start asking themselves whether this council’s priorities are in line with ratepayers’ thinking. Of course, ratepayers have never been provided with the opportunity to have a say in what these priorities should be before they are presented with the draft budget. In Glen Eira it would be fair to say that residents are nothing more than cash cows!

If any resident still has doubts as to the planning department’s priorities then listening to Item 8.1 from Tuesday’s council meeting will resolve any doubts still held. (See: http://webcast.gleneira.vic.gov.au/archive/video21-0608.php#placeholder)

Item 8.1 was for an application at 646-66 Glen Huntly Road, Caulfield South – a 5 storey mixed use development including 18 apartments, a shop and an office.  There were 16 objections including one from an adjoining  resident who asked that council include in its conditions screening for the balcony on one of the units since this directly overlooked his back yard’s private open space. No such condition appeared in the officer’s recommendation.

We therefore congratulate the 8 councillors who finally determined that such a condition be imposed within the ensuing permit – especially councillor Zyngier who first brought the issue up and moved the amendment for the inclusion of the condition. The only councillor who saw fit to reject such a proposal was Athanasopolous. His arguments revived the nonsense that was the modus operandi of Hyams, Lipshutz and others from the past – that VCAT would not uphold this condition since all the ResCode guidelines on this issue had been met. After 5 years as a councillor one would hope that Athanasopolous should know by now that future decisions by VCAT are irrelevant to council’s decision making. Planning Schemes make no mention of VCAT. What they do say is that each application must be evaluated on its individual merits – ie according to zoning, urban design, decision guidelines, etc. What VCAT may or may not decide is irrelevant. Furthermore, since the additional condition of screening is certainly minor, the developer would do his sums, consider the inevitable time lag, and in all probability decide that going to VCAT was not in his best interests.

But it gets worse when Torres was asked two questions. We include both of his responses below.

COMMENTS:

  • The reliance on Rescode as an argument against imposing the condition is nothing more than a furphy. First of all, there is nothing MANDATORY about ResCode. Secondly, ResCode does NOT APPLY to building of 5 or more storeys!
  • Council has on numerous occasions imposed conditions that far exceed the ResCode requirements. The perfect examples are previous applications along Neerim Road, Belsize, etc. These were all for 4 storeys where ResCode did apply.
  • It is very sad indeed that in Torres’ second response his emphases was entirely on the amenity of the apartment, rather than the amenity of the neighbouring resident!  Also the response is quite frankly ridiculous given that other apartments in this development all required screening! So much for ‘avoiding screening’!

Again, we congratulate those 8 councillors for showing common sense, and a concern for residents. Something this planning department appears incapable of doing!

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