In 2004 all councils throughout Victoria were given the option of introducing interim height limits for Neighbourhood Centres as well as interim structure plans for their major activity centres. Glen Eira Council voted against doing a single thing to help ameliorate the problems identified by residents as far back as 2003. The issues of 2016 are a mirror image of what was stated way back then and raises the fascinating questions of :
- what would Glen Eira be like today if in 2005 Council had taken the opportunity to implement structure planning and interim height limits?
- Would we now be faced with the fact that it has taken an order from the Minister of Planning to ensure that Glen Eira falls into line with every other metropolitan council?
- To what extent would residents now be better off given the ineptitude of the proposed Amendments C147 and C148 simply because the necessary ground work has never been done and these amendments are merely the most minimalist response to the Minister’s demands?
One must wonder why in 2005 Council rejected the offer from the State Government. Was it because they realised that structure plans and height limits would hamper development? Was it because they simply didn’t have the competence to do a decent job of providing the necessary strategic justification? Has anything really changed in the past 11 years?
Below is one page from the Community Plan of 13 years ago that identifies in black and white the same issues that are still with us – plus another snippet which shows that today’s scapegoating of VCAT is also nothing new – but Council still didn’t address these concerns over 11 years. All that has happened is that we got the atrocious zones and the scapegoating of VCAT has become more vociferous!
So here is what residents could have had. On the 7th February 2005 an officer report was tabled which recommended no action be taken by council. The following are all quotes from this report which we’ve also uploaded in full (HERE). Two councillors who voted for this dereliction of duty are Hyams and Esakoff. They are still there, joined by their fellow pro-development councillors and turncoats such as Pilling.
The recommendations read –
That Council notes that following the approval of former Amendment C25, it now has policy protection in the Glen Eira Planning Scheme for Minimal Change Areas (80% of the geographical area of the city) and Neighbourhood Centres.
C) That Council continue to monitor the performance of its local policies particularly at VCAT. Should it become evident that Council policy is not offering adequate protection for our centres and established residential areas,then use of these tools could be considered
At this stage there does not seem to be the need to embark upon what would be an extensive public consultation and amendment process when a level of protection through local planning policy already exists (introduced by Amendment C25).
Options / considerations –
- There do not appear to be any neighbourhood centres under particular or immediate threat from inappropriate development which would warrant immediate application of a maximum height control.
- A certain amount of strategic work would be required to justify any proposed height limit in a neighbourhood centre, balancing the need to protect the amenity and character of a centre whilst not discouraging appropriately scaled development from occurring.
- The structure planning process needs to have commenced for this tool to be considered.
- Interim Structure Plans could be a useful tool for the Bentleigh, Carnegie and Elsternwick Urban Villages. It is considered the optimum time to use this tool is once Council has adopted the Urban Design Frameworks and agreed to commence the amendment scheme process. In this way the adopted Structure Plan in the form of an amendment, would be given statutory teeth up until final approval by the Minister. (This is the same mechanism that is always used associated with heritage controls)
- It is anticipated that the Urban Design Frameworks will be reported to Council mid-year
Local Policy Protection
Glen Eira is in the fortunate position of having local policies in place which limit development in our established or minimal change areas as well as guide development in our activity centres. With the approval of Amendment C25, a number of objectives and policy statements in our local policies now deal with the height of buildings. We thus have protection in both our minimal change areas and neighbourhood centres through policy wording. At this stage this degree of protection is considered appropriate.
The additional tools introduced by the State Government are a welcome addition to the suite of tools available for Councils to use where appropriate to improve their planning schemes. At this stage, however, there is no need or urgency for Glen Eira to apply any of these options.
Our established residential areas have policy protection through former Amendment C25, and there does not seem to be any such areas under threat from buildings higher than 9 metres.
Similarly, in neighbourhood centres, building heights do not seem to be a major issue and Glen Eira’s neighbourhood centres currently enjoy a level of protection introduced by Amendment C25 through the performance based requirements of Council’s Housing Diversity Areas Policy.
With regard to Interim Structure Plans, this tool may be useful when the Urban Design Frameworks for Bentleigh, Carnegie and Elsternwick have been adopted by Council and a planning scheme amendment is commenced.
It is important however that Council continue to monitor the performance of its local policies particularly at VCAT. Should it become evident that Council policy is not offering adequate protection for our centres and established residential areas, then use of these tools could be considered.
- Had council taken decisive action in 2005, then development could have been contained
- Had council taken decisive action in 2005, then we would not have the need for the Minister to finally order Council to do what every other metropolitan council has done
- Had council taken decisive action in 2005, then we would not have the knee-jerk and substandard Amendments C147 and C148 because a lot of the groundwork would already have been done to produce planning that is of a sound standard.
And it is worth keeping in mind the following:
- Hyams and Esakoff were 2 of the councillors who voted for the ‘do nothing’ proposal in 2005.
- Promises of urban design frameworks have never eventuated. Why not?
- Monies for structure planning for Glen Huntly were handed back to the government. Council has simply refused to undertake and implement any structure planning
- The housing trends were already surpassing the 9 metres in minimal change areas – council itself has provided statistics which show that 3 and 4 storey developments were occurring in minimal change. Yet the argument produced in 2005 was that everything is ‘fine’ and that Glen Eira has adequate ‘protection’. Even the period between 2005 and 2010 showed the lack of real policy protection for residents – again met with silence by council.
- The Planning Scheme Review of 2010 (6 years later, when residents echoed the same concerns regarding overdevelopment) specifically noted that ‘no structure plans’ were to be done.
- In 2003 council was already complaining about VCAT. Yet in the 2010 Planning Scheme Review it stated on page 8 – As a general rule, Glen Eira has little difficulty defending local policy at VCAT, which is a good indication that the underlying philosophy of policies is sound. We remind readers that our analysis of published VCAT decisions for the years 2008-2010 showed that council had less than a 50% success rate at VCAT.
- The current mantra proffered by council is that with the new residential zones, resident demands for ‘mandatory height limits’ was implemented. Then why, oh why, is there not a single mention of this resident demand in the 2010 planning Scheme Review Report?
Nothing can excuse this council’s refusal to act. And the same culprits, especially Hyams and Esakoff, who were there in 2005 have been joined by the likes of – Magee, Pilling, Lipshutz, Sounness, Delahunty, Lobo. Ho is new, but with his developer links and history, we do not hold out much hope that he would be any different if elected!
These documents truly reveal a dismal history of neglect, failure, and indifference to resident concerns.