GE Transport


Well over 120 residents came out last night to partake in the Housing Strategy forum at the town hall. Our over-riding impressions of the evening are:

  • Spin remains the modus operandi of officers
  • Resident dissatisfaction and anger was palpable

On the first bullet point above, the audience was again assailed with the sheer nonsense of some of the statements made by the planners – the same individuals who featured in the previous disastrous zoom session.  We were, for example, told that the aim of the housing strategy was NOT to encourage more development! How such a statement tallies with the fact that the proposals include new zoning for street after street to go from 2 storeys, to three or four storeys is laughable. And how more development won’t be the outcome of aiming for 3 or more dwellings on sites currently carrying  2 dwellings is even more laughable.

Slides were shown, and once again the ‘explanation’ of what was being proposed was through a very selective rose coloured glasses view. For example: much was made of the fact that the sites selected for increased dwellings per site were primarily along main roads. No mention of all those areas that would now have to cope with 3 or 4 storeys instead of their current zoning allowing only 2 storey heights. Nor at any stage was there any precise detail provided as to what might change. We were told that there was consideration to revert to RESCODE standards, but explaining precisely what this would mean was not done.  

Arguably, the most revealing admission of the evening was the announcement that the officers’ presentations would be audio taped and presumably published on council’s website, but that the ‘audience participation’ would not be taped and made public. One resident responded to this by stating that such a decision goes against all tenets of transparency. We agree and as a result we  invite all residents to listen to what the community had to say via the audio presented below.

After a huge outcry from residents, and we presume from councillors as well, the following has been announced on the Housing Strategy consultation – time extension to 15 May and…..

We certainly welcome the extended time period. And given the webinar fiasco of last month, a face-to-face meeting in the auditorium is also most welcome. Whilst there is definitely ‘improvement’, much more could have been achieved we believe. For example:

  • There is no change proposed for the inadequate survey questions.
  • No short online summary of the proposed changes has been added to the website – and we don’t mean the waffle and verbage that the 9 page ‘information document’ currently contains. What is required is something along the lines of: GRZ will have mandatory garden area removed; new zone of NRZ2 will have increased site coverage, less permeability, etc. etc.
  • Do we really need another Q & A in the form of ‘one on one’ with officers? Fair enough that some residents may not be fully au fait with the detail, but surely the ‘presentation’ should precede any Q & A and not after?
  • Why has only 35 minutes been assigned for residents to state their views where everyone can listen?
  • And what do the final 10 minutes really mean? How is this different from the preceding 35 minutes?
  • If a Q and A, we wonder how much of the allotted time will be taken up by officers ostensibly responding to these questions?

Our concerns remain about consultation in Glen Eira and the willingness of this administration to fully engage with its residents – to provide them with relevant and accurate information at the outset, and to ensure that there is ample opportunity for residents to record their views and not merely ask questions. Thus far, the emphases has been on ‘asking questions’ and not ‘what do you think’ about our proposals’? In order to arrive at this second stage, residents need information and not weasel words and spin. That is the challenge for councillors. To mandate genuine, open consultation that is driven by the desire to listen to the community and incorporate their views as fully as possible into all strategic planning. If this cannot be totally achieved, then full explanations as to why not. That is what council has signed up for with its pledge to also ‘involve’ rather than merely ‘consult’. Thus far we have had nothing more than ‘consult’. This has to change.

The Melbourne Racing Club (and their development arm) are at it again with the latest development plan for Stage 9 of the Caulfield Village. As in all the previous applications, the Incorporated Plan of 2014 is a completely worthless piece of paper that should be shredded and assigned to the dust bin. At every step of this process, we have had council caving in time and again – on heights, on borders of precincts, on the need for social housing, on open space, on parking requirements. Now we have another application and have to wonder why for such a major development:

  • Why this wasn’t prominently displayed on council’s home page?
  • How many letters were sent out to nearby residents?
  • How long was the advertising period? (which has now closed).

In summary, this application is for:

  • 354 apartments – of which 245 are single bedroom making that 69.2% of proposed units. There will be only 3 three bedroom apartments and the rest are either 2 bedroom or miniscule ‘studio apartments’.
  • Parking spots total 250 and only 8 for ‘retail parking’ – hence a huge shortfall in what is required.
  • Heights will be 14 storeys over two towers
  • Trees will be removed along Station Street
  • Open Space will be in shadow most of the day as will the Boulevard.

THE IMPORTANT POINTS

  • The Incorporated Plan envisaged the maximum height for this precinct at 12 storeys. The recently released Caulfield Station Structure Plan, also had this site as 12 storeys. This increase in height is similar to what has happened with all the other precincts and allowed by this council without any fight whatsoever.
  • We still have Stage 9 and 10 to go – which will be a minimum of 20 storeys and likely much higher!

Of greatest significance to residents is council’s private dealings with the developer and their reactions to the initial plans. The developer’s responses to council’s ‘requests for further information’ luckily include council’s original views in the advertised documents.

When council has previously agreed to documents that establish a projected development of approximately 1100 dwellings, and clearly defined height limits (admittedly discretionary), why do we get double the number of apartments and heights well above what was agreed? Why doesn’t this council fight tooth and nail so that the developer has to comply with the original agreement?

Here is our planning department’s response to the issue of height and parking waivers –

….there are a number of variations sought to the indicative built form shown in the approved development plan and associated controls.

Whilst the Urban Planning Department has no issue in principle with a number of variations, such as the increased height and the reduction in car parking sought, additional justification and supporting documentation should be provided to support all other variations, such as podium setbacks, podium height, etc.

The above says it all we believe!

We’ve received an email from a resident containing the letter which council claims to have sent out to thousands of ratepayers about the Housing Strategy consultation. Incredibly, not one word in this ‘invitation’ provides a clue as to what is being proposed in the strategy, nor how the recipients of the letter may be impacted. In other words, a whole lot of verbage with no relevant or vital detail.

If council was really serious in eliciting feedback, then surely a summary of proposals was essential? Even if those receiving the letter followed up and investigated the Have Your Say webpage they would be confronted with the same waffle and the lack of pertinent information – unless of course, they were prepared to wade through 589 pages!

This is not consultation! It is a ‘tick the box’ exercise designed to comply with legal requirements rather then finding out exactly what residents think or want!

Readers should find the following cut and paste from the council website both laughable and illuminating.  Laughable, because this is an example of the emptiness of all council promises. Illuminating since it illustrates again and again that what goes into the public domain is nothing more than an exercise in public relations spin. In Glen Eira, the chasm between words and actions would challenge the Grand Canyon!

We quote verbatim from the second half  of the webpage found here: https://www.gleneira.vic.gov.au/services/planning-and-building/planning-scheme-and-amendments/glen-eira-planning-scheme-review-2018

During this wide ranging program of consultation a number of issues and opportunities were raised which have been grouped into themes below. These issues and opportunities are generally the same as those identified in the 2016 Review. Our ongoing engagement with the community has reinforced initial community feedback rather than revealed anything new. In light of this, it was not considered necessary to consult the community again for the specific purpose of this 2018 Review.

Work plan

The work plan adopted by Council includes projects that will cover:

  • Loss of neighbourhood character, more specifically:
    • The need for additional design guidelines within zones
    • More landscaping opportunities and vegetation
    • Better transition between developments
    • Curb the rate of growth
    • Reduce basement encroachments
    • Improve garden character
    • Protect backyards
    • Reduce hard surfaces in private open space areas
    • Front fencing
    • Streetscape integration
    • Better quality architecture
    • Greater front setbacks
    • Reduce building heights
  • Overdevelopment in Activity Centres
  • Development transition between zones
  • Protection of heritage
  • Traffic and parking
  • Lack of open space
  • Developer contribution to infrastructure
  • MSS and Local Policy framework
  • Loss of trees
  • Environmentally Sustainable Design

The Planning Scheme Review report and work plan has been submitted to the Minister for Planning, with work commencing immediately.

COMMENTS

The above quotes relate to the 2018 so called Review Of the Planning Scheme which, as stated, did not involve any community consultation. It is now 4 years since the updated work plan from 2016. We were promised another update for this year. We are still waiting. Nor have we heard anything about another Planning Scheme Review which is also required – unless of course, officers have applied for another extension!

But what is particularly frustrating is the stated ‘commitment’ of this council to undertake all of the things so important to residents – ie height controls, tree protection; open space, traffic, etc. We have bolded and underlined all of council’s promises which relate to these issues in the above. So, how is it possible that the current draft Housing Strategy flies in the face of all these promises?

How on earth can you:

  • ‘Curb growth’ and at the same time rezone at least 10,699 properties for more development when you already admit to a capacity for 50,000 net new dwellings and only need 13,000 out to 2036?
  • ‘improve garden character’ by removing the mandatory garden requirement in over 7000 sites?
  • ‘protect backyards’ when rear setbacks are mooted to be removed in GRZ2 and reduced in NRZ?
  • ‘reduce hard surfaces’ when you intend to decrease permeability requirements in several zones?
  • Have ‘developer contribution’ still absent after 6 years?

What the Housing Strategy proposes is completely at odds with resident views and council promises. Add to this the fact that so little has been achieved in six and a half years and the results are shameful and incompetent.

How much longer will council officers be allowed to fudge the facts and get away with it? Statement after statement made by these officers at Thursday night’s webinar was not only incorrect, but it was selective, misleading, and failed to provide participants with the full picture. Either these planners are not acquainted with the relevant legislation, or they are misrepresenting what is written in order to support the decisions they have already made. Either way, they need to be called out and held to account. This is the purpose of this post.

Two officers claimed that the Planning Practice Notes only require councils to ‘consider’ neighbourhood character in the General Residential Zone. The major quote was:

The General Residential Zone is a zone that allows up to three storey development and the Practice Note associated with the Residential zone says that the purpose of the zone is that it is to consider neighbourhood character as opposed to the Neighbourhood Residential Zone which is to respect existing neighbourhood character….

COMMENTS

The Planning Practice Notes are basically there to ‘explain’ and expand on the Victorian Planning Provisions that are in every single planning scheme.

The word ‘consider’ does not feature anywhere in the Practice Notes in relation to the General Residential Zone. What is stated is this (from Planning Practice Note 91):

While the purpose of the GRZ includes ‘To encourage development that respects the neighbourhood character of the area’, it is unlikely that neighbourhood character can be respected if existing development is single and double storey. However, the GRZ may be the appropriate zone to apply to areas with existing three-storey development.

Council should then have to explain why they have ear marked countless streets that contain only single and double storey buildings to now become 3 and 4 storey given the above paragraph. Clearly, the intent is for increased density and nothing else as explained in another quote from this practice note:

…. it may be appropriate to exempt the minimum garden area requirement in the GRZ where a planning authority is seeking to recognise existing development conditions or to promote a denser urban form of housing than currently exists to achieve other housing objectives

From the following image taken from the Housing Strategy, it appears that Council would have us believe that removing the garden requirement is primarily so that the Urban Forest Strategy and sustainability can be ‘improved’.

The Housing Capacity document is far more forthcoming when it states: Garden area requirements appear to be a constraint on development take-up and density in both the GRZ and NRZ (page ix)

And then from the very same document we also find: The GRZ zones have relatively high average development densities, as most developments in this zone are three storey apartment buildings rather than townhouses or villa developments. (page 48)

And from page 68: With the proposed changes …..the current extent of the general residential zone limits the take-up rate, and so applying this zone to more land will provide a greater supply of potential sites to developers and increase the development rate.

Finally this statement from page 69 – A further increase in development rates in areas formerly zoned GRZ2 of 50% will occur reflecting the reduction or removal of rear setback requirements to facilitate development.

If the argument as presented by council is that what is required is townhouses and ‘medium density’, then the above quotes illustrate completely, that the real objective is to cram as many new apartment blocks as possible into our suburbs. How on earth this council even has the gall to argue that removing the garden requirement in the GRZ will facilitate better ‘sustainability’ and landscaping outcomes is simply mind boggling, or that what will eventuate are townhouses!

There is absolutely no way that last night’s webinar could be construed as ‘consultation’. It was nothing more than an officer talk fest, carefully designed to limit community participation and for this administration to fully control every aspect. We elaborate:

  1. The only voices (and faces) that were seen and heard, were those of the four officers in attendance and the facilitator
  2. The number of participants was not revealed and nor could they read out their questions.
  3. Questions contributed during the evening only went to the officers and were not revealed to participants. We have no idea how many questions were submitted.
  4. Many of the questions were paraphrased by Torres, rather than read out verbatim
  5. Responses were general and more than half did not specifically answer the question. For example, the rationale for height increases was simply put down to ‘urban design’ recommendations. Responses on ‘sustainability’ were frankly abysmal.
  6. Specifics were totally absent – ie no mention of the removal of the garden requirement; no mention of the proposed new nrz which would increase site coverage, reduce setbacks, etc.
  7. Responses to questions submitted prior to the evening lasted precisely 13 minutes. We then had another 13 minutes of ward ‘explanations’ that again refused to mention the most important aspects of the proposed changes.

More disappointing is that only four councillors were announced as being present – Esakoff, Magee, Szmood and Zyngier – although they could not be seen and nor were they given the opportunity to say anything.

What happened last night is nothing short of disgraceful. We would even go as far as stating that there has literally been NO CONSULTATION whatsoever on the housing strategy. When residents are denied the opportunity to speak, to hear/or read what other residents think, and to be continually fobbed off with double speak and weasel words, this is the opposite of ‘consultation’. At best, this was nothing more than another ‘information’ evening – and even that failed to reveal the full facts to participants. Providing skewed and misleading information is NOT consultation. At no point in anything that has happened thus far have residents been asked the most important question that genuinely seeks their views – namely:

  • What do you think of our proposed changes to zones, garden requirements, sustainability, etc?

For those readers who wish to hear what occurred last night we have uploaded the full audio. The audio starts after about 40 seconds. Apologies for the quality of the sound. Council couldn’t even get this right it seems!

Also worth mentioning that the evening finished 10 minutes early.  Does this mean that all questions were dealt with, or it was simply decided to cut the evening short?

PS: BY WAY OF CONTRAST HERE IS WHAT KINGSTON COUNCIL DID IN TERMS OF CONSULTATION WITH THEIR COMMUNITY.

Source: https://www.kingston.vic.gov.au/Property-and-Development/Planning-for-our-future/Housing-Strategy-and-Neighbourhood-Character-Study

Council has now provided the Zoom link for tomorrow nights Housing Strategy Webinar. They have also included an agenda, presented below.

Judging by the published agenda, ‘presentations’ by officers will dominate most of the 90 minute scheduled meeting. Unacceptable!!!!!!!

Furthermore, why is the program divided into wards? Does this mean that comments made by Tucker Ward residents will not be admissable if the program is at the Rosstown ward section? Again, unacceptable!!!!!!

Furthermore, a Housing Strategy, is NOT about wards. It is about the entire municipality, and the principles embedded in the strategy that will shape land use. For example: the general residential zoning exists in all wards. What if some residents wish to comment on the proposed removal of the mandatory garden requirement, as a concept, and not necessarily how it relates to either Rosstown, Tucker, or Camden? Will they be told ‘this isn’t a question’ as stated in the agenda?

All in all, the deliberate and calculated machinations of this council to avoid anything resembling genuine consultation is quite literally unbelievable. Either those in charge have no idea of what consultation means, or they are simply doing everything possible to negate and undermine the expected flood of negative responses. But, and a big but, the URL is now available. We again urge all residents to log on and to tell this council administration, planners, and some councillors, exactly what they think of their strategic planning and continued failure to represent community views.

Criticism after criticism has for ages now been directed at council’s ‘consultation’ methods. Countless comments have highlighted:

  • The failure to incorporate, or even acknowledge resident feedback in officer reports
  • The absence of Discussion Papers that provide a complete and accurate overview of what is proposed in an accessible, short summary format. Instead residents are expected to plough through hundreds upon hundreds of pages instead of simply being told: this is what we are planning to introduce.
  • Survey questions that are anything but open ended or are geared to gaining genuine and relevant feedback
  • Drop in sessions that are mostly set down for times that are unsuitable for many residents.
  • The failure to implement councillor resolutions – ie on the Housing Strategy both councillors and the Consultation Committee were to be part of vetting the survey questions. We have been informed that the Consultation committee received the draft questions late Friday afternoon and were told to provide feedback by the coming Sunday. In order to provide any decent feedback, this meant that the committee members had to have read 589 pages of associated documentation – all on a weekend! We doubt that any changes occurred as a result of any feedback that did come in.

Adding further insult to injury, this coming Thursday, (24th March @ 6.30-8pm) council has scheduled a ‘webinar’ on the Housing Strategy. Registration is essential. The blurb states: Our independently-facilitated webinar will include a presentation by our planning officers, followed by a Q&A session. What this actually means is:

  • Probably one third to half of the 90 minutes will be taken up by officers
  • A Q & A session is not designed to hear what residents really think. It would come under the rubric of an ‘information session’ and not a ‘feedback session’.
  • In the past very few councillors attended. Will this be the same on Thursday?
  • For the past few ‘webinars’ residents were unable to copy items from the chat feature. This must be changed so that all attendees can see and respond to what others have said.

If council is really serious in receiving feedback from its residents then the following should happen:

  • No officer introductions. Immediate hand over to residents to state their views on various aspects of the Housing Strategy.
  • No registration required. If someone wants to log in at any stage they should be able to do so.
  • The evening be recorded and uploaded on council’s website for all to see/listen
  • Full zoom features to be available to all participants.
  • Councillors free to comment without being gagged.

For too many years now, this council has been allowed to get away with a ‘tick the box’ consultation methodology, that is anything but genuine consultation.  If residents, and councillors, really care about what is happening to the municipality, then it is vital that resident voices are heard loudly and clearly. Please attend this Thursday evening.

PS: We’ve just received the following from Save Glen Eira which is being distributed to all streets impacted by the proposed changes in the Housing Strategy.

PPS: please have a read and listen to the following. Another example of the depths this council can stoop to. Remember that twice this application was unanimously rejected. Now decisions are made in secret by what constitutes a minority of councillors.

Council has decided to cave in on the 10-16 Selwyn Street application for two 10 storey towers, and a major supermarket. All done in secret at the last council meeting. The minutes did not record the vote. This decision flies in the face of what has been determined over the past few years. Please note:

  1. 2 unanimous councillor decisions to refuse the permit
  2. VCAT refusing the first permit
  3. Council’s refusal to employ anything ‘higher’ than a solicitor for this second VCAT hearing
  4. May street status still left uncertain and council unwilling to share their legal advice on this issue
  5. For all the talk about the Jewish Cultural Centre, and access to this ‘pedestrian’ mall, council has (deliberately?) dragged its feet in its stated objective of closing off part of the street. Two years down the track, we still have the same traffic conditions.

As far as we know, the only ‘concessions’ made by the applicant are to remove one storey from the proposed 10 storey tower, and to increase setbacks for this tower. At best this is likely to be nothing more than a 3 metre reduction. Nothing has been stated on traffic, the objective of pedestrianising Selwyn Street when there is an admitted potential for 5,000 additional cars in the street, the loading bay directly opposite a primary school level crossing, etc. etc. etc.

The end result is that objectors will be fighting both council and the applicant at the upcoming VCAT hearing. Why these new plans were agreed to by council remains secret. We can only conjecture what occurred last Tuesday night, but it is worth remembering that:

  • Only 7 councillors were in attendance – Zhang and Pilling were absent
  • We very much doubt that the decision was unanimous. Hence a minority of Glen Eira councillors decided council’s position on this application.
  • What arguments were used by the pro permit lobby – ie costs involved for council? Heritage can be ‘sacrificed’ as has happened plenty of times before? Some secret deals involving May Street – maybe a section 173 agreement where council is paid off?

Whatever the reasons and the arguments, we maintain that the lack of transparency and accountability by this council is unconscionable – as is their responsibility to ensure that ‘net community benefit’ is the result of all major planning decisions. This cave in benefits no-one except the developer and those parties who were provided with a so-called ‘discount’ of millions by supporting the application.

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