In recent times Glen Eira councillors rubber stamped the requisite ‘governance’ and ‘meeting procedure’ rules. The only change of note was that we now have a de facto ‘Notice of Motion’ which is anything but a real Notice of Motion since it only applies to the removal of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor.

Glen Eira has been stubbornly opposed to implementing anything which would provide councillors with the opportunity to have something go on the agenda for open, transparent discussion in a timely manner. The argument is that a Request for a Report is a satisfactory substitute and that without officer/expert input poor decisions can be made. This of course is pure rubbish given that officer feedback and responses to the proposed Notice of Motion are then included for the discussion – this happens in Bayside, Kingston and numerous other councils.

The other problem with this argument is that a Request for a Report can take anything up to 8 months in Glen Eira to be tabled at a council meeting. Hardly ‘timely’!!!

Notice’s of Motion we maintain are integral to good governance and to allow councillors to effectively do the job they were elected to do. As an example we have uploaded the current proposals from Bayside City Council. Readers should note the following:

  • An acknowledgement of the contentious nature of the pavilion/open space issue and community feedback
  • The implications for budgets and the desire to save money that can then be re-distributed elsewhere (all of course with the added pressure of COVID)
  • Concern about passive open space and footprints of proposed buildings

All of the above are relevant in Glen Eira when we have:

  • The Inkerman Road bike path issue
  • The massive proposed expenditure on multi level car parking in Bentleigh & Carnegie
  • The Carnegie Pool redevelopment that will cost a fortune

Naturally, this administration would never welcome a situation where councillors could and potentially would question budget decisions and policies in an open and transparent fashion where councillors would be given the opportunity to voice their concerns and potential opposition. That is anathema to a council determined to present the facade of a ‘unified front’ even when there is community opposition!

Please read carefully what Bayside councillors are allowed to propose and consider what such a ‘rule’ could achieve in Glen Eira!

Congratulations to Save Glen Eira for their terrific effort in collecting 1667 signatures in a very short time. We have also been told that there are even more with late signatures also coming in.

See: https://www.facebook.com/savegleneira/

Hopefully this kind of response will once and for all put a stop to the myths that residents are ‘satisfied’ with planning, open space, environmental sustainability, and consultation by this council. Residents have spoken and we can only assume that they desire major change and a council that does listen and act in accordance with residents’ wishes.

Over the past few years there have been numerous issues which have raised the ire of many residents, evincing passions that have hitherto been unknown in this community. We are referring to the various draft structure plans, the proposed Inkerman bike path, as well as the Carnegie Pool redevelopment for the current projected cost of $51 million. Why this has and is happening relates directly to council’s overall approach to ‘consultation’ and the methodology for disseminating vital information.

A few overarching comments and questions to begin with:

  • How reasonable is it to release hundreds upon hundreds of pages of documents and expect residents to fully understand, or have the time, to read, digest, analyse, and then comment on any proposal?
  • How reasonable is it to present ‘designs’ that provide no essential data such as cost, or vital information on current traffic data, the percentage of green open space, versus concrete; the potential for overshadowing of open space; the number of proposed tree plantings versus removal of existing trees, etc.?
  • Is the ‘top down’ approach really providing residents with clear options based on the above?
  • Is the timing of forums the best approach for those who work, or for families with children – ie during the day, or smack in the middle of dinner time or bed time for young kids?
  • Are the questions asked in surveys truly designed to elicit informed choices?
  • Are the resulting officer or consultant reports a true reflection of the feedback provided?
  • How can the goals of transparency and accountability be integrated fully into all consultation methods?

We believe that residents and councillors deserve a lot better if the goal is truly ‘evidence based’ decision making as has been stated again and again. What is asked, and how it is asked and analysed validly, remains the cornerstone of sound consultation. How this is then reported becomes crucial.

Below we highlight our reservations plus providing recommendations to improve the process and to address the above bullet points.

STRUCTURE PLANNING

Council’s first step in the process of developing structure plans came in 2017 with its surveys on ‘activity centres’.  Fair enough! But did the actual questions provide residents with a realistic insight into what they were actually commenting upon? When the phrase ‘shopping strip’ is used again and again, how many respondents had any inkling that this could, and did, lead to the rezoning of surrounding residential streets? How many respondents had any inkling that the size of their activity centre was to be expanded when the terminology used was consistently ‘study area’? And how on earth could the resulting reports be so out of kilter with the data actually provided? (See: https://gleneira.blog/2017/03/21/structure-planning-consultation-2/

Here is an image of what was asked. Please note the continued and slanted emphases on ‘shopping strip’. Not one single question was designed to elicit responses to the matters that had clearly concerned residents for eons – namely building heights, open space, and parking.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ACTIVITY CENTRE STRUCTURE PLANNING CONSULTATIONS

  • Provide residents with a short, informative Discussion Paper that emphasises in a succinct manner all the pros and cons of what is proposed.
  • Ensure that council resolutions are carried through. For example, it was resolved on the 23rd May 2017 that council: endorses the creation of the Activity Centre Community Advisory Committee and request the expression of interest for community members. This never eventuated!!!!!!
  • When the Glen Eira News provides articles on the issue, then it must include all the relevant details being considered.. This was not done in either the April, June, July, November, 2017 editions. Unless residents were prepared to plough through reams of documents, they would not have had any inkling that 12 storeys was being considered for Elsternwick and Carnegie. Even with the final announcement of April 2018 (see below) those residents who had not followed the issue closely would not know what had been passed. Instead we have the usual jargon of ‘right buildings’ in the ‘right locations’, or the import of the word ‘guidelines’ (ie prescriptive or discretionary) without any real information being communicated. All is made to sound wonderful in what can only be interpreted as nothing more than another public relations exercise rather than information provision!

  • Ensure that questions included in surveys are not nebulous and vague – that they direct residents to the crux of issues. For example, would it have been too hard to include questions along these lines –
  • What do you consider to be an appropriate height for Centre Road buildings?
  • Are you in favour of any council sell off of public land to consolidate car parking in one spot?
  • Where would you like to see extra open space created and why?
  • What parking restrictions should council consider for this activity centre?

Council did not come close to asking questions of this ilk!

Finally, why shouldn’t the Community Engagement Committee vet proposed questionnaires and surveys? Why must everything be a top-down approach? And why shouldn’t residents be directly involved in the analyses of any responses? Unless of course, council’s main objective has been to push through its agendas regardless of what residents say they want. And there is plenty of evidence to support this notion, sadly!!!

Apologies for this long post!

Council seems incapable of providing residents with clear, unequivocal answers to straight forward questions. Here is one taken from the last council meeting and concerns council’s plans for three of our neighbourhood centres/activity centres. 

Could Council categorically confirm or deny that none of our current neighbourhood centres will have structure plans? Could council also clarify whether the East Bentleigh, Caulfield South and Caulfield North proposed Urban Design Frameworks will also have Design and Development Overlays applied to them? If there are to be DDO’s, then will these contain discretionary or mandatory height limits? 

Response:

Thank you for your question. Typically, Structure Plans are undertaken only for Major Activity Centres, which in Glen Eira has included Bentleigh, Carnegie and Elsternwick. For smaller centres such as our Neighbourhood Activity Centres, Urban Design Frameworks provide the same function of planning guidance, but in a simpler, and relatively faster to develop process. Council is currently developing Urban Design Frameworks: Caulfield South, Caulfield North (at Caulfield Park), and Bentleigh East. 

A Design and Development Overlay (DDO) would be the most appropriate tool to guide building heights in these centres, given their size, complexity, and status under State and Local Policy. The Urban Design Frameworks will provide direction as to the most appropriate form of height and siting controls, be they mandatory or discretionary. No final decision has been made at this point. Consultation on the draft controls is scheduled for 2021.

In order to understand the significance of this response and its implications, readers need to be aware of what an Urban Design Framework (UDF) actually is and how it functions. The State Government’s Planning Practice Note No.17 states:

an Urban Design Framework should provide flexibility by identifying key principles rather than finite solutions. It is not a fixed view of the future nor is it a land-use report. It includes a design vision for how a place might develop and should include sufficient detail at key locations so that the vision can be tested for economic and functional viability. An Urban Design Framework should include sufficient information to allow continuous review of detailed actions within the strategic frame, and to enable councils to assess development proposals.

AND

The process for any particular framework study must be fine-tuned to accommodate local issues and objectives. Community involvement should be sought early in the process and at all relevant stages.

Most existing Urban Design Frameworks that other councils have are:

  • Instrinsically linked to Design and Development Overlays and/or specific structure plans
  • Most Urban Design Frameworks are nothing more than a Reference Document in the Planning Scheme. Hence, their ability to provide certitude and genuine ‘controls’ is limited.

Thus, unless the UDF also includes a Design & Development Overlay, or is coupled with the various schedules to the zones, and finally, but most importantly, is directly linked to the objectives of the Municipal Strategic Statement, it is practically useless. In Glen Eira, our MSS, is acknowledged as completely out of date. It needs to be relegated to the dustbin of history – as has been promised for years and years. We are still waiting!

Here is an explanation of what a UDF signifies by a VCAT member –

Strategic planning documents like a  UDF  often form part of the background material that has informed the creation of a DDO schedule and may therefore be a reference document in the planning scheme policies, so as to provide an explanation as to what has informed the creation of a DDO schedule that contains specific built form requirements

Source: Jabala Pty Ltd v Maribyrnong CC [2017] VCAT 1083 (20 July 2017)

Also worth pointing out is that other councils have decided that their neighbourhood centres are deserving of full blown structure plans. Bayside covered all its neighbourhood centres with one amendment and whilst they were not granted mandatory height limits, they are now providing further strategic justification in order to achieve this goal. Boroondara was also successful in gaining Wynne’s signature for mandatory height limits of three (3) storeys for 18 of its 21 centres.

Several other councils have also enunciated their policies on structure planning for their neighbourhood centres – as depicted below.

For a long time mandatory height controls have not been supported in the Victorian planning system. However, recent changes have provided some support for mandatory heights in Neighbourhood Centres, in particular the new State planning strategy –Plan Melbourne and the new residential zones. Therefore, there is an opportunity for Council to pursue mandatory height controls in Moreland’s Neighbourhood Centres, subject to ensuring that housing supply and diversity is provided for across Morelandto cater for forecast housing needs. On this basis the Strategy recommends mandatory heights of four storeys acrossthe majority of the ‘focus areas for change’ in Neighbourhood Centres (which includes the Commercial 1 Zone, Residential Growth Zone and Mixed Use Zone)and a mandatory three storey height in areas where the Residential Growth Zone or Mixed Use Zone is located directly oppositethe Neighbourhood Residential Zone. The approach is supported by testing of building types across the most common lot sizes and an analysis of housing capacity in Moreland

https://www.moreland.vic.gov.au/globalassets/areas/amendments/amendmentslib-7208/c159/moreland-c159-neighbourhood-centres-strategy-reference-document-march-2017-adopted.pdf

A structure plan is a means to provide precinct-specific direction on the extent, form and location of land use and development. The preparation of structure plans for Maroondah’s Neighbourhood activity centres is designed to protect and enhance the role of the centres, help direct capital spending on public realm and infrastructure improvements, and protect residential areas from the encroachment of inappropriate commercial uses.

https://www.maroondah.vic.gov.au/Development/Planning/Planning-Framework/Structure-Plans/Heathmont-Activity-Centre-Structure-Plan

For council to therefore imply that a UDF (without associated DDO’S, MSS upgrades, structure plans or revised zone schedules) is sufficient to protect our Neighbourhood Centres is sheer bunkum.

Even more concerning is that reading between the lines, council intends to once again employ Section 20(4) of the Planning & Environment Act. That means no planning panel, no formal submissions  and the opportunity for residents to provide detailed input. The minister alone will be the final arbiter.

In the above quotes from the Planning Practice Notes, there is a strong emphases on the importance of community consultation. Council will no doubt claim that there has been plenty of ‘consultation’. Yet when we go back to the 2017 ‘consultations’ we find that the number of residents who bothered to contribute to the ‘survey’ on these three neighbourhood centres was minimal – ie

A total of 71 people contributed to the Bentleigh East survey

A total of 52 people contributed to the Caulfield Park survey

A total of 59 people contributed to the Caulfield South survey.

Hardly ‘comprehensive consultation’ and we remind readers that the survey was anything but a genuine attempt to discover what residents thought about development etc. when the terminology used was repeatedly ‘shopping strip’ and no question was directly querying matters of appropriate height, open space, etc.

There has not been any further ‘consultation’ on these three suburbs. Council will now produce its UDF, and residents will have the opportunity to provide feedback. Council will then presumably ignore this feedback and send this off to the minister as happened with the Elsternwick, Bentleigh & Carnegie interim structure plan process. That is how ‘democracy’ works in Glen Eira! Again, readers should remember the outcry over 12 storeys in Elsternwick & Carnegie. It mattered little to the subsequent decision making by this council. Our fear is that this ‘tradition’ will continue with our neighbourhood centres!

 

Up for decision next Tuesday night is an application for 7 storeys, 30 apartments, some office and retail space in Balaclava Road, Caulfield North. The site is directly opposite Caulfield park and practically on the corner of Hawthorn and Balaclava Road. The retail component is seeking a car parking waiver of 9 spots. The officer’s recommendation is to grant a permit.

As per usual we get pages and pages professing to quote the planning scheme. The conclusion is that the planning scheme supports the application. No mention is made of the fact that currently there are no height limits, nor that the so-called City Plan, calls for a maximum of 5 storeys.

These omissions are all minor compared to the following. On page 23 of the agenda we find that the report quotes Section 22.07 of the Housing Diversity Policy. What we are not told is that this is only PART of section 22.07. Completely missing from the officer’s report is the section on Commercial Zoning in Neighbourhood Centres which is the most relevant section of the planning scheme in relation to this application. We quote it below:

Ensure that where the new building is greater in height than the prevailing building height or where significant changes in building height are proposed for residential buildings:

  • There is a graduated transition in building height between the proposed building and adjoining buildings.
  • The resulting height, mass and scale of the building does not dominate or visually intrude on the streetscape and takes account of views from the wider neighbourhood and at a distance.
  • The upper storeys are recessive so that the visibility of upper storeys is reduced when viewed from the footpath opposite or residential properties to the rear.

If readers know the area, then they will know that a 7 storey building next to a 2 storey building cannot but help stick out like a sore thumb! So much for the ‘graduated transition in building height’, which the planning scheme states! There’s also the problem of how upper storeys can be truly ‘recessive’ when the setbacks of levels 4, 5 and 6 are deemed acceptable at only 2.65 metres. Readers should remember that council started off contemplating setbacks of 6 metres, then 5 metres, in its early documents/policies, so now it seems that 2.65 metres will do!

But there’s even more to query in this report. We quote directly from this report and then comment:

The area has undergone substantial change over recent years with a number of redevelopments of up to seven storeys in height extending along both Hawthorn Road and Balaclava Road.

COMMENT: Yes, it is true that Hawthorn Road has several seven storey developments approved. To the best of our knowledge, Balaclava Road, DOES NOT!

Caulfield Park is a neighbourhood centre which has a role to support increased density and to provide greater diversity of housing. …. It is an area where substantial change is anticipated. 

COMMENT: Nowhere in the current planning scheme can we find any reference to the need for ‘substantial change’ – whatever that term may mean. It is also worth pointing out that the ‘reference’ documents to the Housing Diversity Policy (Clause 22.07) date back to 2002 and 1996!!!!!! This is after ‘strategic work’ on reviewing policies was promised in 2004, 2016. Thus far we are stuck with 20 year old data and promises!

Empirical assessment confirms that the retail parking allocation is sufficient for staff parking and that car parking occupancy survey indicates that there is available car parking spaces in the surrounding streets to accommodate the customer car parking demand. 

COMMENT: The above is in relation to a 9 car parking waiver. In previous applications for 7 storeys, much was made of the LACK of street parking in this area. Delahunty in particular, commented several times on the difficulty of finding a car parking spot. We would also like to query the ‘empirical assessment’. Did council verify the developer’s data, or have they simply taken it as gospel?

There are plenty of other issues with this report and its assessment. Currently one rear laneway serves the other two 7 storey developments. Now we will have another development that in part at least will also be utilising this laneway. How much traffic can one rear laneway take? How much backing up and manoeuvring will be required since there certainly is not enough room for two cars to pass each other?

Finally, we wish to remind readers of what happens when precedent after precedent is set in an area that council has done nothing about. When the first 7 storey application came in, the officer report stated:

The proposal is inconsistent with the intent and objectives of clause 22.07 (Housing Diversity policy) as:the density, mass and scale of the development is not appropriate to the scale, character and physical size of the Caulfield Park Neighbourhood Centre 

Two years down the track when the second 7 storey application arrived, we had this: suitable for an intensive form of development that would complement the well-established mixed-use role of the Caulfield Park Neighbourhood Centre

Given that not a word had changed in the planning scheme Clause 22.07 how can we reconcile these two contradictory statements?

For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of deliberative democracy or citizen juries/panels, we invite you to watch the following video created by Darebin Council quite some time ago. When most governments, organisations, and yes, local councils, are now embracing this concept which has gained popularity since the 1980’s, it is still astounding that we have troglodytes who promulgate the myth that citizen juries are ‘undemocratic’.  The Darebin experience proves the exact opposite.

If this council is truly about an open, transparent, and accountable council, determined to work with the community, then establishing such a panel is the only way to go.

The Save Glen Eira community group, has published a petition which will be presented to the new council. The stated objectives of this petition is to ensure that councillors have a clear idea of what residents expect from their new council and what ratepayers would like to see achieved.

The petition can be accessed via – https://savegleneira.com.au/petition-to-new-council-2020/

We assume that residents should download and print off a copy of the petition and then once signatures are collected, to hand them in at the various collection points mentioned.

Here is a screen dump of the petition and the accompanying information sheet.

In February 2020, council adopted its City Plan. Now 9 months later we are still waiting for an amendment to be produced which would allow this policy to be included in the planning scheme. But this delay is only part of the problem which is facing many of our neighbourhood centres – in particular what is happening around Caulfield South and Caulfield itself.

Two recent VCAT decisions illustrate how this council is failing its residents. Both applications received their permits from VCAT. They are:

  • 348-354 Hawthorn Road, Caulfield South which was granted a permit for 8 storeys, a supermarket, and reduction in retail car parking requirements.
  • The second permit was 679-683 Glen Huntly Road, Caulfield which will become a 6 storey building with 50 apartments and car parking reductions for its retail component.

Both judgements of course made mention of the fact that for commercially zoned land in these neighbourhood centres, Glen Eira does not have anything in its planning scheme to control building height, setbacks, or podium heights. The Glen Huntly application elicited this comment from the member: The land is in an area where there is design and built form policy to guide decision-making but without specific development controls in the scheme articulating, guiding or capping heights and setbacks.

What is intriguing about these two decisions is the divergent and misleading role that council’s representative took at these hearings.

For the 8 storey proposal we find that council argued as follows –

City Plan is key to the Council’s position. Its position to support the proposal subject to deleting Level 05 is underpinned by City Plan.

The Council relies on City Plan in support of its position.

City Plan is intended to form the basis of a planning scheme amendment/s to implement aspects of the plan, including local policy. But amendments have yet to progress with respect to the CSNC. While City Plan is relevant and provides a clear statement of the strategic direction currently being articulated and to be pursued by the Council, the expected built form outcomes  cannot be used as if they are controls or policies in the scheme.

When the above is compared to the Hawthorn Road application we find the following member comments:

Since our decision of Bewhite in 2018 the council has adopted the Glen Eira City Plan in February 2020. This sets a broad framework for planning of activity centres and nominates a preferred building height across the SCAC of five storeys. The plan does not identify how this height was derived or its relevance to the specific circumstances of the SCAC. Rather it appears to be drawn from a hierarchy of activity centres across the municipality, with the SCAC sitting in a ‘substantial change 3 area’ along with a number of other neighbourhood activity centres.

The council acknowledged in its submission that it is only in the very early stages of developing a structure plan for the SCAC and consequentially it does not place any weight on the City Plan for the purposes of the proceeding before us. It submits that the City Plan ‘simply provides useful context on Council’s current thinking’ for the SCAC. We accept the City Plan may be the council’s current broad thinking about activity centres in general, but we give it no weight as a tool to assess building height, relative to the urban design tests of the planning scheme as set by both the State and local policy frameworks

So what is the truth? Why do we have council’s rep in the first case placing such emphases on the City Plan, and in the second case an acknowledgement that ‘consequentially it (council) does not place any weight on the City Plan’?

What is even more fascinating is the statement that council is in the ‘very early stages of developing a structure plan’ for South Caulfield. Really? Is this representative totally ignorant of council’s stated position for South Caulfield, or is he simply and deliberately misleading the tribunal? Numerous public question responses and the 2018 work plan published by council make it clear that our neighbourhood centres will NOT HAVE STRUCTURE PLANS. They will eventually be ‘controlled’ via Urban Design Frameworks and maybe, just maybe, Design and Development Overlays.

These two decisions raise innumerable questions about the state of planning in Glen Eira and how well objectors are represented at VCAT hearings.

The City Plan is not a bona fide housing strategy which council was told to undertake. It represents the lowest common denominator in strategic planning – ie a ‘one size fits all’ approach where every single neighbourhood centre or local centre is viewed as identical. Council has had 5 years to come up with a decent housing strategy and has failed miserably. We can only hope that our new council sees these policies for what they really are – useless and totally ignoring what the community has stated it wants.

The above decisions can be found at:

https://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/vic/VCAT//2020/1231.html

and

https://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/vic/VCAT/2020/1211.html

CAMDEN

Sam Parasol

Simone Zmood

David Zyngier

 

ROSSTOWN

Margaret Esakoff

Tony Athanasopolous

Neil Pilling

 

TUCKER

Ann-Marie Cade

Jim Magee

Li Zhang

Mr HAYES (Southern Metropolitan) (15:28): I move:

That this house requires the Environment and Planning Committee to inquire into, consider and report, by June 2022, on the adequacy of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 and the Victorian planning framework in relation to planning and heritage protection, and in particular the committee is to examine:

(1) the high cost of housing, including but not limited to:

(a) provision of social housing;

(b) access for first home buyers;

(c) the cost of rental accommodation;

(d) population policy, state and local;

(e) factors encouraging housing as an investment vehicle;

(f) mandatory affordable housing in new housing developments;

(2) environmental sustainability and vegetation protection;

(3) delivering certainty and fairness in planning decisions for communities, including but not limited to:

(a) mandatory height limits and minimum apartment sizes;

(b) protecting green wedges and the urban growth boundary;

(c) community concerns about VCAT appeal processes;

(d) protecting third-party appeal rights;

(e) the role of ministerial call-ins;

(4) protecting heritage in Victoria, including but not limited to:

(a) the adequacy of current criteria and processes for heritage protection;

(b) possible federal involvement in heritage protection;

(c) separating heritage protection from the planning administration;

(d) establishing a heritage tribunal to hear heritage appeals;

(e) the appointment of independent local and state heritage advisers;

(f) the role of councils in heritage protection;

(g) penalties for illegal demolitions and tree removals;

(5) ensuring residential zones are delivering the type of housing that communities want; and

(6) any other matter the committee considers relevant.

When developers brazenly demolished the Corkman hotel, Melburnians were appalled. The minister responsible for heritage protection, the Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne, thundered that he would make them rebuild it ‘brick by brick’. Now, that was an impulsive but regrettably empty threat. He did not, nor does he, have the legal power to do this. The Corkman hotel vandals got away with it. They escaped with a fine, which does not even cover the extra money they can now get from selling the property as vacant land as a development site. Now, if this were an isolated example of Melbourne’s heritage being demolished while this Parliament turns a blind eye, that would be one thing, but it is not.

Here is a list of heritage homes demolished in my electorate alone all due to a lack of heritage protection. Some were demolished while their heritage values were still being assessed. They are: 34 Armadale Street, Armadale; 19 Moir Street, Hawthorn; Forres at 9–11 Edward Street, Kew; 981 Burke Road, Camberwell; 993 Burke Road, Camberwell; 33–35 Huntingtower Road, Armadale; 34 Were Street, Brighton; Idylwilde at 16 St Georges Road, Toorak; 18 St Georges Road, Toorak; 27 Mariemont Avenue, Beaumaris; 19 Nautilus Street, Beaumaris; Breedon House at 34 Were Street, Brighton; 32 Middle Crescent, Brighton; 25–27 Victoria Avenue, Canterbury; 360 Auburn Road, Hawthorn; 368 Auburn Road, Hawthorn; 55 Seymour Road, Elsternwick; 2 Burgess Street, Beaumaris; 46 Rowland Street, Kew, the home to young Gough Whitlam; and 1045 Burke Road, Camberwell.

That is just 20 heritage homes in the last few years in my electorate alone, and that is also Mr Davis’s electorate, Ms Crozier’s electorate, Mr Erdogan’s electorate and Ms Taylor’s electorate too.

Here I am talking about heritage, but this motion seeking a referral to the Planning and Environment Committee, of which I am deputy chair, is about a broader and at present all-encompassing issue of planning, which I will talk to later in this speech. I want to thank my crossbench colleague Dr Ratnam, also a valued member of the committee, for her initial collaboration in framing the terms of reference and her continuing support in getting this motion before this house and, with the government’s and hopefully the opposition’s support, getting the issues before the committee.

During my time as an MP I have received many expressions of concern from constituents about the loss of these homes and what these continuing demolitions say about the poor state of heritage protection in Victoria. I have come to the view that a parliamentary inquiry is needed. Some suggestions I believe require investigations by a committee, especially in regard to heritage protection, and they are the adequacy of existing arrangements for heritage protection in Victoria; whether there should be a federal minister for heritage and a federal department of heritage; whether heritage protection in Victoria should be moved away from the Minister for Planning and have its own minister and its own department; whether there should be a separate Victorian heritage tribunal rather than having heritage decisions made at VCAT; whether developers should be required to pay for independent heritage advice on any building they propose to demolish but not be permitted to appoint the heritage expert; whether councils should have their own heritage department outside the council’s planning division, which would promote local heritage and maintain lists of independent heritage advisers; whether penalties for illegal demolitions, such as the Corkman hotel disaster, and illegal tree removals are sufficient; whether buildings which have been altered to some degree still retain ongoing heritage significance and value; whether the two levels of heritage protection available—significant and contributory—are sufficient.

In this respect, as well as others, we should look at practices in other jurisdictions, which we have done. This is by no means an exhaustive list of heritage issues which we can consider. Other things that have been brought up are whether communities should make some contribution to helping heritage owners maintain heritage properties in some ways too, but Victorians in general are dismayed and even aghast at the lack of heritage protection in this state. It is a matter I have discussed directly with the minister, and to the minister’s credit he has expressed his concern about this as well. I am glad to have the government indicating it is going to support this today. I am really very pleased to hear that, and I thank the minister.

Here are some of our residents’ thoughts. First, a demolition permit should not be issued without a planning permit. That means you cannot knock down what is there until the planning process has decided what is going to replace it. The current practice puts demolition powers in the hands of private building surveyors, and as I have said to this house previously, the system of private building surveyors is a scam, and it has had a detrimental effect on the quality of our buildings since the Kennett government introduced it and subsequent governments have continued to support it. Heritage protection should not be privatised out to unqualified building inspectors. However, if we required a planning permit or something similar before a demolition could proceed, this would bring councils into the picture, as they should be.

Respected Melbourne planning expert Professor Michael Buxton from RMIT has told me our heritage system is ineffective compared to that of many other countries. He said there is no proper consideration of precincts and that the system relies on the use of the heritage overlay, which he considers a flawed process. Overlays omit too many important areas and buildings. The process is costly and cumbersome and the overlay provisions are weak. Constituents have suggested we look at the heritage provisions in the UK or Canada or New Zealand. Some have noted that in jurisdictions like New South Wales heritage is part of the environment department.

And heritage is not just about old buildings. There is cultural heritage. Some buildings are not architecturally special but have significance due to their place in history. Then there is Indigenous heritage, and I am concerned about the heavy-handed force used to ensure the destruction of significant Indigenous trees as a consequence of the Western Highway extension. Earlier this year the federal government for the second time rejected an application to protect these trees, and I hear there has been some success in a court today but I do not have all the details here.

And there is context too in relation to landscape. In the case of some of the homes in Toorak which are at risk of demolition, it is not so much the home as the loss of the magnificent grounds and gardens which needs to be prevented. One of my constituents, former TV presenter Ilona Komesaroff, has collected the signatures of over 600 Toorak residents on a petition demanding an end to the destruction of local heritage by developers. The United Kingdom’s Conservation Principles, Policies and Guidance for the Sustainable Management of the Historic Environment sets out four groups of heritage values.

One:

Evidential value: the potential of a place to yield evidence about past human activity.

Two:

Historical value: the ways in which past people, events and aspects of life can be connected through a place to the present …

Three:

Aesthetic value: the ways in which people draw sensory and intellectual stimulation from a place.

And four:

Communal value: the meanings of a place to the people who relate to it, or for whom it figures in their collective experience or memory.

My constituents see little evidence of these sorts of values being seriously applied on the ground. Ms Dasha Kopecek from Box Hill advised me of a case in Box Hill where she said that the heritage officer employed by the developer presented a biased, ill-informed heritage perspective, unsurprisingly intended to support the developer. The council heritage officer did not attend a planning forum designed to give residents a chance to discuss the heritage significance of the site. The council officer who did attend and chaired the meeting was unable to summarise the heritage officer’s long and technical report. Few people—residents or council staff—would have actually read his report. VCAT appears ill-equipped to deal with complex heritage matters and has a poor history of dealing with residents’ concerns. Bernadette Pierce from the Save Glen Eira group said their members are concerned about the effect on heritage buildings of large developments carried out adjacent to them. Overshadowing, access to sunlight, wind issues, changes in the water table and so on can negatively affect heritage buildings causing distress and expense for their owners.

Last year the National Trust released a document concerning federal heritage priorities. They pointed out that Australia’s heritage creates a unique identity, a sense of place and a strong reminder of our proud history. Our heritage places, from buildings to landscapes, from song lines to character areas, from trees to shipwrecks, all represent our story—the story of our people and our shared connections. They said Indigenous cultural heritage continues to be at risk from incremental destruction and the cumulative impact of large-scale landscape change. Government heritage departments at all levels are underfunded and under-resourced. The ongoing loss of trade skills in heritage leaves heritage places vulnerable to poorly executed repairs and conservation work.

They advocated a program of accredited job skill training to boost the traditional heritage trade skills. They advocated more effort to protect, conserve and celebrate Australia’s heritage. Also, last year the National Trust’s Kristin Stegley had an opinion piece published in the Age titled, appropriately, ‘Governments only pay lip service to heritage’. She said there is a failure to appreciate how heritage contributes to social cohesion and to vibrant, prosperous and healthy communities. She is right. Governments have not done enough to promote social cohesion in recent times, and we could use all the social cohesion we can get right now. She also referred to an editorial in the Age which called for the buck-passing between state governments and councils over heritage protection to stop. The Age is right of course. Both government and councils have a responsibility to protect heritage, and as you can see from the list of demolitions I read out earlier, they are failing to discharge it, and property speculators benefit from this failure in responsibility.

Residents in Boroondara are strongly supporting my campaign for a parliamentary inquiry. Sandra Alexander, Rose Blanden and Christina Branagan from the Boroondara Group for Advocacy and Protection described the changes to the statewide Victorian planning provisions introduced by amendment VC148 in July 2018, just two years ago, as an alarming development which threatens heritage and residents’ rights through exempting notice requirements and the like. As examples, they pointed out that a local house had recently been approved for contributory heritage protection after a huge community campaign. Then the owners made a planning application to council which would seriously degrade the heritage elements, and due to amendment VC148 local people were not informed, nor does council have to consider their objections as part of the decision process.

A second example is a house and garage with an individually significant grading. The owners can subdivide that land, build a fence or demolish the garage or sell the land as a development site, and local residents would be given no notice and have no rights of objection.

They have also raised the issue of VCAT with me. They say that VCAT has become increasingly focused on whether a heritage property has had alterations. This is increasingly being used as a reason to deny heritage protection, yet there is nothing in the guidelines or regulations to support this approach. The fact is that all heritage places have been altered in some way over the years. It is a part of their heritage, and it is what happens all around the world. The claim of alterations was the claim made by developers who developed two century-old buildings in Burke Road, Camberwell, on either side of Victoria Road intersection, but minor alterations should not destroy the case for heritage protection.

The Boroondara residents also raised the issue of facadism. Planning guidelines are supposed to discourage the demolition of buildings except for their facade, but increasingly places of heritage value are being all but demolished in this way.

In Bayside residents have been concerned about the demolition of unique mid-century heritage. The award-winning Breedon House in Brighton, designed by Geoffrey Woodfall and built in 1966, was demolished in May this year after being refused an interim protection order because it was considered not to be under immediate threat. In the same week a mid-century home in Nautilus Street, Beaumaris, designed by the architect Charles Bricknell, was demolished despite objections from the National Trust and the community group Beaumaris Modern. Beaumaris Modern president Fiona Austin described that week as ‘devastating for our architectural heritage’. She has advised me that Heritage Victoria denied an application by them for an interim protection order after a phone call was made to the owner of Breedon House. Apparently Heritage Victoria was reassured by phone that the owner had no immediate plans to demolish the house. So they did not put a protection order on it, but the owners demolished it the very next day. What a farce. And what does it say about the effectiveness of Heritage Victoria?

National Trust chief Simon Ambrose said:

Mid century homes are an important part of our history and utilised groundbreaking construction methods, innovative approaches to open-plan living and connections to the landscape.

The battle goes on. In August Hawthorn residents launched a campaign to save a 1916 Queen Anne federation villa in Berkeley Street which is at risk of being sold, having been passed over in a heritage study, and a modernist home in Tannock Street, Balwyn, designed by renowned Melbourne architect Robin Boyd in 1949, was also at risk of being listed for sale in August—and what is more, it is being advertised as a redevelopment opportunity. Professor Philip Goad, a professor of architecture at the University of Melbourne and a board member at the Robin Boyd Foundation, says that more than 60 years later the building is still virtually intact. In mid-October we learned of plans to tear down four period homes in Hampton and replace them with a three-storey apartment block with 36 apartments. Apparently we do not have enough apartments. Changes to the residential zones which allow multi-unit developments in older areas where previously only two new dwellings on a block were allowed have accelerated the market-driven destruction of our heritage.

And it is not just private developers who are the culprits when it comes to heritage destruction. The state government’s Level Crossing Removal Project has been removing a lot more than level crossings. The Upfield line project destroyed trees at Moreland station that were more than 100 years old and destroyed the historic Munro Street signal box despite the objections of hundreds of local residents and the Coburg Historical Society. The fact is that heritage matters. The fact is we are failing in our duty to protect it for the enjoyment of this generation and the ones who come after, and we need an inquiry to produce ways we can lift our game and do better.

So far I have been speaking about heritage protection, but the motion goes to a number of other important issues concerning the Planning and Environment Act as well. The first of these is the high cost of housing, and I know I am not alone in being very concerned about the high cost of housing. The extent of homelessness and rough sleeping in Melbourne is unacceptable. It is shameful. It is worthy of note that the state government was quite able to find accommodation for our homeless people when it became a public health issue due to the coronavirus pandemic. Let us learn from this and take the opportunity to get fair dinkum about putting an end to homelessness. On our road to recovery from the pandemic I believe that it would serve Victorians better in the light of near future if public money was being spent on social housing, which might give homeless people a break and also employ local builders, rather than huge, environmentally damaging infrastructure projects.

The inquiry would also look at environmental sustainability, vegetation protection, mandatory height limits, minimum apartment sizes, protecting the green wedges, the urban growth boundary, concerns about VCAT’s role, third-party appeal rights and ministerial call-ins. These issues are all fundamentally important to me and to our party, Sustainable Australia. I have spoken about them many times in the past couple of years. Last year I put forward a private members bill concerning mandatory height limits and restricting VCAT appeals. The bill was narrowly defeated in this place, and I believe it is a great pity for our state because it would have reshaped planning in Victoria and given citizens a much greater say in important planning issues.

This year has shown more than any other since the Second World War how much we depend on social cohesion and people being prepared to act for the good of the community rather than simply pursue their own personal interests. We politicians are much more likely to get that cooperation and support if people know they are being listened to and have a stake in the results. In the area of planning, the community is only involved in a token manner. Property developers have the ear of governments and are far too close to them and, as we have seen many examples of lately, improperly close to them.

Governments have been imposing ever-denser populations in Melbourne to satisfy the development industry, often against the express wishes of the community. Now we are faced with a time of change—an unmitigated disaster but an opportunity too. We need to learn the lessons of the coronavirus pandemic and a lesson which we learned in the past but have forgotten.

Right around the globe population density has been a contributor to disease and death. We are witnessing a revolution in working habits, and we must rethink our planning and transport systems. Will more public transport be necessary now, or will more and more freeways continue to be seen as the answer to ever-increasing density? Will ever-increasing density everywhere be seen to be desirable again? To property developers of course yes, but will the general public want to go along with them again? CBD office space is now empty, and it is a long way back from here.

It is time for a rethink of Plan Melbourne, which was written by the true believers that bigger and denser is always best for everyone, especially property speculators. And it is time for a rethink of the planning and environment legislation, which could possibly turn its focus away from an overwhelming concern with higher density and focus its attention on community health, community wellbeing and of course our precious environment and what we value about the past. All of these are primary concerns to local residents but are rarely taken into account in planning decisions under this much-corrupted act. I commend this motion to the house.

Source: https://beta.parliament.vic.gov.au/parliamentary-debates/Hansard/HANSARD-974425065-9050/