GE Service Performance


With each step in this process it is becoming clearer and clearer that the Virginia Estate project is Council’s gift to the developers with very little consideration to local residents and the wider community.

Admittedly the Panel report largely supports everything that the developers wanted. This however does not obviate councillors’ responsibility to their constituents in fighting tooth and nail for a far more equitable outcome. The officer’s recommendations fail to do so and we certainly have little confidence that these 9 councillors will have the gumption to oppose the final recommendations!

Here’s a brief summary of council’s proposed concessions:

  • Prior to the Planning Panel councillors voted to insist on mandatory height provisions for all areas. This has now become ‘discretionary’. Thus 8 storeys could quite conceivably become 10 or even higher for the majority of the site.
  • Council also decided prior to the Planning Panel that 3000 dwellings be seen as a ‘hard cap’ (ie mandatory). This has now been changed to a ‘soft cap’ meaning that there is the real possibility that by project’s end we could have over 4000+ dwellings. A replica of what has happened with Caulfield Village where that incorporated plan states a figure of 1100-1200 dwellings. By the time this is completed, the total number will exceed 2200. Literally double the amount agreed upon.
  • Council also wanted mandatory overshadowing protection for all the site’s proposed parks including Virginia and Marlborough Parks. This has now become nothing more than a ‘guideline’ for the latter two. Given that there has also been an increase from 3 to 4 storeys abutting one of these parks, then the probability of greater overshadowing increases.
  • Council has also agreed to the narrowing of the originally decided upon road widths within the project site. Since flooding is a major issue and the width of the roadways were originally supposed to be necessary to cater for the overflow and drainage capacity, this could end up being a disastrous decision. With narrower roads we also have to ponder whether this means more land for the owners to develop?
  • Another major concession agreed to by council is the removal of several traffic infrastructure items that were initially deemed essential by both the VPA, and council. The developers are surely laughing all the way to the bank given that their contribution has now become $48+ million instead of the original sum of $64+ million. On top of this windfall we must not forget to include the State Government’s purchase of 1.2 hectares of land for the new McKinnon High campus. No detail has been provided by the government as to how much this purchase cost. We can only guess that it would certainly be well over $4m – and that is a conservative figure no doubt.
  • Adding insult to injury is the fact that the calculations provided still state that the site is 24+ hectares in size. Why isn’t the 1.2 hectare site removed from this calculation? Especially since the traffic estimates DO NOT INCLUDE the traffic generated by the school in any of its final numbers.
  • When one looks at the open space calculations we find that only 8.33% is considered as ‘open space’ and that includes a calculation based on 24+ hectares. Only when the neat sleight of hand is applied to calculate percentages according to Net Developable Area,(instead of total site area) do we come anywhere near a 10% return.
  • Council also is in agreement with the loss of parking for residents along East Boundary Road to accommodate the installation of traffic lights not where originally deemed necessary.

There are a myriad of questions that residents should be asking of their councillors, namely:

  • Why can Hobson’s Bay have 3000 dwellings on a site that is 67 hectares and Glen Eira thought that 3000 dwellings on a site of 24 hectares should also accommodate this same number?
  • Why can Hobson’s Bay have a density quotient for each hectare and this isn’t even considered by our council?
  • Why should nearly 3 potential hectares of this site (ie along North Road) only be charged the minimal 5.7% open space levy?

As stated previously, we do not expect that our  very compliant councillors will reject the officer’s recommendations. We will undoubtedly get more scape goating about government, about population growth, about ‘consensus’, whilst the missing ingredient in all of this discussion will be the tremendous impact on East Bentleigh residents and the municipality as a whole.

A quick summary of last night’s council meeting.

BUDGET, SRP & CARNEGIE POOL

In a council first, changes were made to the advertised budget. Esakoff moved a motion to include an additional $150,000 for sustainability efforts as a result of the declaration of a climate emergency. Where and how this money was to be utilised was not stated. The motion was passed unanimously. Whilst certainly a welcome change given council’s past record of rubber stamping everything, we wonder whether this amount is nothing more than a token gesture and what it will actually achieve.

Comments were also made on the proposed $60M loan over the next 5 years and some were repeated when discussing the issue of the Carnegie pool redevelopment. The arguments presented included: current low interest rates, meeting community service expectations, cheaper to fix/renew/develop infrastructure sooner rather than wait until repairs cost too much or the costs go up year after year.

In relation to spending at least $51M on the Carnegie pool only Delahunty questioned the wisdom of concentrating so much on aquatic facilities in place of other potential projects. Also disheartening was Sztrajt’s continued recourse to a black and white (and false) dichotomy. The issue isn’t whether infrastructure needs upgrading, but how much should be spent on these projects. It is never a case of do nothing now or spend the money now. The fundamental question should be: Do residents agree with spending $51M – especially since they have never been asked this question! We remind readers that council is currently in debt for $11 plus million. Borrowing another $60M will ensure that ratepayers are paying off the loan for another several decades at least.

TREE REGISTER

Councillors unanimously resolved to seek further consultation on implementing the tree register. Sztrajt again came up with some bogus arguments such as the problem with anonymous nominations by neighbours determined to create mischief. Delahunty countered by stating that the decision would be based on the merits of the tree nominated. If it was worthy of inclusion in the register it would be regardless of the motivation of whoever nominated it.

Esakoff did not repeat her previous opposition to the register on private land, but stated that she would read residents’ views. Cade was opposed, and Magee was absent. Hence we have at this stage 4 councillors who have already declared their opposition to the creation of controls on private land. All it would take is for one councillor to alter their view and the tree register issue would again be confined to the dustbin of history!

It is also becoming pretty tiresome to hear repeated the arguments about community consultation and how this fails to elicit the full community’s views. Instead, we are told, that only those with an interest will respond, or those who are the loudest, will respond thereby negating the ‘outcomes’ of the consultation. Council can’t have it both ways – ie arguing that ‘we have consulted’ and forging ahead with dubious projects or, conversely, the consultation is a dud. If council is really determined to elicit greater responses then there are various methodologies they could employ, namely:

  • Including a letter/flyer with each rate notice so that postage costs are kept at a minimum
  • Providing discussion papers for each major project that clearly lists the pros and cons so that residents have a clear idea of the issue
  • Asking specific questions instead of the vague nonsense that currently parades as ‘community consultation’

DELEGATIONS

Whilst other councils rescind their earlier increase in funds available to the CEO, Glen Eira councillors have merely halved the total – ie from $20M to $10M. However, planning conference and Delegated Planning Committee meetings can now proceed with community input via zoom.

In another jam packed agenda for Tuesday night, the council tradition of ignoring resident views continues. Here is a brief overview of the important items.

THE BUDGET & SRP

Given the number of submissions put forward by residents on the budget and the Strategic Resource Plan (SRP) it is unbelievable that the budget does not include one single word in response to these submissions. The only acknowledgement of what residents said comes in the SRP in a paragraph that typically says nothing. We quote:

While there were three formal submissions received for the Strategic Resource Plan 2020-2021 to 2029-2030, twenty submissions received for the 2020-21 Draft Annual Budget also made reference to a number of matters in the Strategic Resource Plan. These included level of proposed borrowings and strategic projects contained within the long term capital works program. No formal submissions were received for the Draft Community Plan Commitments 2020-2021.

Once again we have a council that refuses to alter any aspect of its budget in response to resident feedback. Several submitters urged council to increase its allocated spending given the declaration of a climate emergency. Totally ignored! But this has not stopped council from:

  • Increasing the rate in the dollar (marginally) despite the fact that there is now an additional 200 rateable properties that will be paying rates.
  • A mere $3 reduction in the 240/120L wastage charge, despite the fact that there is a large reduction in the estimated State Government land fill levy.
  • The continued determination to borrow $60m over the next five years, most of which will probably go to funding the $51M Carnegie mini Gesac pool redevelopment! This is assigning future generations to huge debt repayments.

When residents have taken the time and trouble to sift through volumes of pages and figures, the least any council should be prepared to do is respond directly to these comments and provide solid justification as to why the suggestions have been ignored, adapted, or even incorporated into the final budget! In Glen Eira, there is no such thing as changing what has already been determined as a result of community feedback. The legal requirements are met and that is it!

CARNEGIE POOL DESIGN

Despite the fact that the vast majority of feedback on the initial concept designs repeatedly stated that a de facto GESAC was not wanted, Council has again ignored these views. The ‘promise’ is that the size presented in the plans: Remains within the footprint, size and structure as the existing pool

We certainly query the veracity of this statement as depicted in the following images. How on earth council can claim that the ‘footprint’ will be identical to what currently exists is simply mind boggling when the following is compared:

There are many other questionable statements. For example:

In terms of a Business Case we find this comment: The findings of this review will be presented in full to Councillors in July. Does this mean that councillors have not as yet even clapped eyes on the business justification to spend at least $51M? Will this business case ever make it into the public domain? And how on earth can any design be progressed when the financial evidence is not available? Another example of putting the cart before the horse!

There’s also this:

The traffic and parking report includes future scenarios which have been modelled around the proposed closure of Moira Avenue. Councillors have not made a final decision on closing Moira Avenue yet and an additional community consultation will be conducted in relation to the proposed road closure at a separate time next financial year 

Surely the question regarding the possible closure of Moira Avenue should come before any designs are put out for consultation? This smacks of the Inkerman Road bicyle path fiasco where decisions are made to plough ahead prior to a full, objective assessment of all the data.

We are simply reminded of what happened at GESAC with its abysmal planning that required the expenditure of several more millions to turn open space into more car parks (3 times). The Mile End traffic report and its claims for sufficient car parking down the track warrants very careful scrutiny.

All in all, it would appear to be more of the same in Glen Eira City Council. Namely, pretend you are really consulting in order to ‘prove’ all the decisions that have already been made!

Evidence keeps piling up as to the machinations that this council undertakes in the name of ‘community consultation’ – especially in relation to structure planning. The latest example is the draft Glen Huntly Structure Plan.

Tuesday night’s ‘debate’ on whether or not to accept the draft was stage managed to perfection. With Silver absent this created the potential for a tied 4-4 vote on whether to proceed with consultation or to reject the draft plan. The final vote was 5 to 3 to exhibit with Hyams, Esakoff and Sztrajt voting against exhibition and Magee, Athanasopolous, Cade, Delahunty and Davey voting to go ahead.

Not for the first time Magee outdid himself. Anyone listening to his comments would surely have come away with the view that he was opposed to exhibition. But no! He VOTED FOR, in spite of all such comments as: Council has to be ‘very very careful’; Glen Huntly is ‘charming’; there already are ‘lot of flats a lot of units’; to grow futher  ‘ would be detrimental to that strip if the structure plan was implemented the way it is currently written’ and finally ‘let’s make sure we save Glen Huntly so that in 10 or 15 years time Glen Huntly looks like Glen Huntly’. Had Magee voted against, as his comments implied, then Esakoff would have had the deciding vote and the draft would have been knocked back. As we said, stage managed to perfection!

But that’s not all. Consultation is now going ahead and the questions asked of residents could not be any more vague and useless. Here are the pertinent questions after the usual demographic options such as sex, age, connection with Glen Huntly. Direct questions on the draft structure plans itself are:

What do you like about the draft Plan?

Are there opportunities for change?

Do you have any other feedback?

How did you hear about the draft Structure Plan and the opportunity to provide feedback? Please select all that apply.

Not once in the opening blurb are residents told:

  • 10 storeys is proposed in one spot and between 6 and 8 for others
  • How many properties will be rezoned from 2 or 3 storeys to 4 storeys
  • Which height limits are discretionary and which are mandatory
  • That Glen Huntly is already the most dense suburb in Glen Eira

By way of contrast we provide the following example from a current consultation by Kingston. Whilst not brilliant, residents are at least provided with options that they can prioritise and comment upon. Also worth noting is that residents are specifically given the option of development density and scale plus the question: Please describe what need to be protected most when planning for the future of Chelsea! Questions that Glen Eira would not dare to ask because they know that the majority of residents are opposed to 10 storeys!

Countless other processes are missing whenever this council pretends to undertake community consultation. For instance:

  • No Discussion Papers outlining the pros and cons are presented
  • No background studies on traffic, parking, business, etc are done to accompany and inform the consultation

This approach is consistent in all council’s ‘consultations’ and stands in stark contrast to the way that  other councils go about involving their communities. Glen Eira does not have consultation worthy of that name. What we have is a carefully managed show where decisions are made behind closed doors and then the data or questions are skewed to find the ‘evidence’ that supports the predetermined decisions.

Readers will remember that as a result of COVID, Glen Eira decided to put into the hands of the CEO a $20M fund to use as she saw fit. Other councils also upped their CEO’s powers – but nowhere near this amount! The rationale behind this was that at the time the Local Government Act required the physical presence of councillors in the chamber. This has now been amended and council meetings are being conducted via zoom. Hence, there is no reason why the delegations that came into effect should remain.

Below, is a page from the Boroondara Council’s agenda which repeals the COVID delegations and returns things to the previous state. Please note the reasons given!

Glen Eira however sees no need to rescind the delegation. A recent public question asked when this is likely to happen and Council’s response is presented below:

Questions/Comments:

  • Why should this be ‘left in place’?
  • Why is this council so consistently out of step with what is happening in other councils?
  • Where are our representatives and why do they continually accept such nonsense responses that only work to sideline them even further?

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 table presented below tells a sorry, sorry tale about the gulf between words and actions by Glen Eira City Council, especially in these difficult financial times when residents are experiencing continuing rate and charges increases.

Council would like us to believe that they care; that they support to the hilt our most vulnerable such as pensioners. Year after year in the budget papers we find this sentence:

As pensioners are often asset rich but income poor, the adoption of rate increases has a real impact on the disposable income of a significant proportion of our community. (page 20 of current budget).

How is it then possible that Glen Eira is the only council that keeps reducing its monetary contribution to the pensioner rebate whilst other councils either maintain their funding or increase it year after year? The State Government provides a rebate that is indexed to the CPI – thus it increases each year. Glen Eira sees fit to REDUCE its contribution each year despite the fact that rates keep going up as well as charges.

What we present below is a comparison of what other councils contribute in terms of pensioner rebates. Glen Eira introduced the arbitrary $270 maximum in 2001 and has never revisited this decision in any formal way. Thus in 2006 pensioners were entitled to over a $100 rebate on top of the state government rebate. This has now dwindled to a meagre $29!

The blanks in the table are a result of not all of these councils providing online access to their past budgets. Most simply list the previous 4 or 5 years and none go as far back as 2006. Some have also not finalised their 2020/21 budgets. However, the trend is evident even from the last 5 years. Glen Eira sticks religiously to a total maximum of $270 per household. Thus whilst the government is this year providing a rebate of $241, council only needs to cough up a miserly $29 to make it a total of $270. In contrast Maribyrnong goes up to $438 and most of the other councils listed are well and truly above this magical figure of $270.

This council should hang its head in shame!

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.

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