Before we report on the farce that occurred at last Tuesday night’s council meeting we wish to make the following comments and ask residents to carefully consider what occurred and the questions raised.

Why is it that in Glen Eira resolutions mean bugger all – that they can be ignored, changed, forgotten about, and reneged upon at will, or presumably at the behest of vested interests? Not for the first time have those same councillors (Lipshutz, Hyams and Pilling) totally ignored resident views and aspirations. It is significant that not one single councillor mentioned the fact that a petition of near a thousand signatures was tabled seeking to preserve Frogmore, nor that over 300 submissions came in supporting the amendment for a heritage overlay.

We also find it extraordinary that at the very last moment both Delahunty and Esakoff just happened to discover that they’ve got a conflict of interest. We remind readers that this conflict did not exist when both voted to go to Heritage Victoria and then to draw up the amendment a few short months ago. Surely aged relations couldn’t have aged that rapidly to suddenly find themselves in need of an aged care facility that will take at the very least two years to be operational? We certainly anticipate plenty of objections once the plans are submitted and people trot off to VCAT so it is likely to be even longer than two years.

The result is that 3 councillors – a minority – decided what happens in Glen Eira. That isn’t ‘representative government’ and nor is it listening to the community. Just as with the C60, residents are being duped and dudded and repeatedly ignored.

And as always, the level of argument is abysmal. How on earth Okotel can speak about costs, and then in the very next sentence ask for 3 additional heritage reports, is mind numbing. Or more to the point, how all her arguments suggest opposition to going to the panel and then to vote in favour of going to a panel is equally mind numbing.

For a council that repeats ad nauseum that it is ‘planning law’ and ‘policy’ that determines decisions, ‘planning law’ fails to get a mention in the ‘debate’. Not one word on ‘planning law’ from councillors and not one word from the officer’s report. Instead it’s all smoke and mirrors and pure unadulterated gibberish and misrepresentation of the facts – as so clearly pointed out by the National Trust (see link below). Further, how dare Hyams and Okotel argue that cost should be the determinant of whether or not something goes to a panel, or (worse) what is financially ‘viable’ for the prospective developer. Even here, Hyams’ claims are far from the truth when he asserts that ONLY a 120 bed facility is worthwhile for the developer. In Glen Eira  there are currently plenty of aged care facilities that offer far less than 120 beds and have managed to stay in operation for eons – eg: Estia Health Bentleigh has 45 beds; Claremont Terrace has 94 beds; Lovell House has 40 beds; Victoria by the Park has 70 beds; Hammond Care has 60 beds and Montgomery has 30 beds and there are plenty of others in this category.

We might also quibble with Hyams’ assertion that the Churches of Christ were forced to sell because 60 mere beds is ‘not viable’. In the first place, the current owners are based in Queensland. They only have 3 aged care premises in Melbourne and are currently looking to invest far more heavily in their own home state as their Annual Reports and corporate strategy documents indicate. Perhaps it’s simply the old adage of ‘charity begins at home’ – ie Queensland – and not because a 60 bed home that has been in existence for decades is suddenly going to the wall?

All of this leads us to ask these fair and reasonable questions:

  • Is it coincidence that Delahunty and Esakoff suddenly discovered a conflict of interest? Or is their ‘maybe’ conflict nothing more than a political shirking of the necessity for a vote?
  • Have some of these councillors learnt their lesson about Planning Panels and Heritage – ie remember the Esakoff Seaview property fiasco where the Panel came down in favour of objectors? Is that why going to another Panel was deemed too great a risk– especially in light of the damning comments of the National Trust and the most recent (and hence valid) heritage assessement? See: http://www.trustadvocate.org.au/frogmore-soon-to-be-no-more/?
  • If the prospective buyer was other than Jewish Care would the Frogmore case now be firmly set for a panel hearing rather than demolition?

Here’s what happened. Please read carefully.

Delahunty declared a conflict of interest under Section 78(b)(1a) of the Local Government Act in that she’s a ‘manager of a company’ that ‘may have an interest’ in the proposal. Pilling then assumed the chair. Esakoff then declared a conflict under Section 79(b) under ‘conflicting personal interest’ in that she has ‘very close relatives’ who are ‘currently looking for aged care places’ and that she ‘feels’ that this wouldn’t be out of the question for them as a residence. ‘On that basis I request leave’ to declare the interest.

Pilling said that ‘I understand that I have to put that to a vote’. Hyams then said that ‘our current practice’ is for those making the request to leave the chamber. Esakoff left the chamber, vote was put and passed unanimously.

Lipshutz then moved to accept the motion (ie abandonment of heritage amendment) ‘as printed’. Hyams seconded.

LIPSHUTZ: said that he had gone down to have a look at the Wahgoo property and it is ‘old’ and just because it is old does not ‘make it heritage’. Said that council had gone ahead with Heritage Victoria and they reported that the building was ‘not significant’ and that ‘in my view council should abandon the proposal’ for a heritage overlay.

HYAMS: called this item a ‘tough one’ since he claimed that ‘I do care’ about history and heritage as a member of the Historical Society. Also said that ‘council’ cares a lot about heritage and ‘that’s why there are 3,893 properties’ in Glen Eira listed under heritage zones and this includes over 100 individual properties. Said that ‘we conducted an exhaustive heritage assessment between 1996 and 2003’ and Wahgoo property was ‘not quite considered worthy’. Reason for this is that ‘it can’t be seen from the street’, and ‘modern additions obscuring it’ and there have been ‘fairly significant changes made’ to the building. Heritage Victoria ‘looked in detail’ and from the 8 criteria ‘determined that 3’ are ‘likely to be satisfied’ but ‘not at the State level’. Said that the 3 criteria relate to ‘historic’ and not ‘aesthetic’ reasons. Read out some of the judgements – ie that Frogmore is ‘one of a vast number’ of this type of buildings throughout Glen Eira. It also doesn’t have ‘novel or outstanding features’. The report ‘certainly doesn’t state’ why it should be heritage protected. If the additions hadn’t been added and if it was visible from the street then he thinks it would be ‘heritage worthy’. Council needs to balance the ‘benefit to the community’ and that would be ‘120 beds’ for aged care. ‘We have to accept’ that aged care places need this number of beds ‘to be viable’. So it’s ‘not a matter of having fewer beds’ and the ‘previous facility’ was ‘shut down because it was not viable’ and it had 60 beds. ‘We also need to respect the integrity of our planning system’ and the ‘would be purchaser’ and the current owners ‘rely on our planning system’ and that ‘we did exhaustively assess the heritage value’ of properties in Glen Eira in 1996 to 2003. Thus it is ‘preferable on the balance’ that the amendment is abandoned and that ‘we allow’ the plan to be submitted. ‘It is a reluctant decision on my part’.

SOUNNESS: said he was against the recommendation and concerned about ‘process’ – that if there is benefit that needs to be ‘documented’ and looked at closely and ‘that is the process that is in place for amendments’. Said that this ‘isn’t due process’ and it should go to those people who have greater ‘understanding’ of heritage. If it goes to a panel they might decide against heritage or they might determine that there is heritage value. What’s going to happen to the site ‘is not finished’ because plans are ‘sitting to one side’ and there are ‘many good sites’ that make an ‘effort to do heritage interpretation’. Acknowledged that when heritage ‘was done’ years ago the ‘problem’ of significant vegetation ‘wasn’t mentioned’. Said he suspects that many residents would believe that council isn’t really protecting minimal change areas and that this ‘is further proof that Glen Eira is not doing things effectively’ and not protecting minimal change areas ‘in the way that residents feel it should be done’. He is voting against because ‘at the very least due process’ means going to a panel. It will ‘delay things – that’s the process’ and that from the purchasers point of view this is being held up. He ‘regrets that’, but ‘we have a process’ and that’s the role of council who has the ‘authority’ and is representing residents. If the motion is defeated, then he is foreshadowing a motion to send to a planning panel.

OKOTEL: said that this isn’t ‘an easy decision’. Said the prospective purchasers acted in ‘good faith’. They did their research, and searches. As councillors they have the ‘initial assessment’ from heritage which said that there was no ‘heritage significance’ and ‘provided a grading of C’. If it had been C+ then ‘it would have been put in the register’. ‘More recently we’ve had the independent assessment’ and that decided there was ‘local significance on 3 grounds’ . Council then went to Heritage Victoria and they decided there ‘wasn’t any state significance’ but ‘acknowledged and agreed with the 3 grounds’ of the independent assessment’ but stopped short of endorsing ‘heritage significance’. (Member from gallery then stated – ‘at the State level). Okotel corrected and said ‘state level’ but it ‘didn’t conclude that there was’ significance at the ‘local level’. (again gallery comment – ‘they didn’t have to’) Okotel – ‘all right’. So the two reports are saying opposite things – early one no heritage value and independent assessment that there is heritage value. Okotel’s ‘difficulty’ is that there isn’t ‘sufficient detail as to whether or not’ to ‘warrant heritage’. Said she asked Heritage Victoria whether there was ‘evidence’ to warrant ‘local signficance’ and they replied that any ‘written’ statements would not ‘be specifying whether or not’ there was local significance’. Didn’t think that there is ‘enough evidence at this time’ for council to make the decision about whether Frogmore is worthy of local heritage protection and to ‘refer this matter to a panel’. Said that if referred to a panel as Sounness wants, then this would ’cause delay’ and would put the parties involved into ‘significant financial expenses’ such as ‘engaging lawyers’ planners and other ‘experts’. It would also ‘cost Council about $10,000’ and would ‘likely cost other parties that amount’. This would result in ‘two non-profit groups’ experiencing ‘significant additional expenses’ and even cost community groups is ‘they were to advocate on this issue as well’. So ‘it would be unfair to progress the matter’ to a panel. She thought it ‘would be more appropriate’ for Council to get ‘more information’ by engaging ‘three additional independent heritage assessors’ so then’council might make a decision, a more informed decision’ about whether to go to a panel.

LOBO: said that Frogmore mightn’t be ‘heritage’ listed but it’s been in ‘existence since 1889-90 so ‘it has been a part of people’s upbringing, culture, education’.   He ‘understands the needs of an ageing populating’ but deciding on the issue ‘without another opinion’ from the panel is also fraught. The site ‘may or may not be an ideal place’ for an aged care facility. In order to vote on this, he said he needs to ‘depend on an independent panel’.

PILLING: thanked residents for their strong campaign and emails, posters, and ‘kudos for raising the issue’. Said he is trying to ‘make a balanced decision’ and looking at the ‘long term best interests of the community’. In 1996 they had a heritage assessment and ‘at the time the property wasn’t protected’ and the most recent assessment did recommend protection. The director of Heritage Victoria found that of the 8 criteria, the building only met 3 of the criteria and ‘last Thursday Heritage Victoria voted’ not to grant state level protection. Said ‘all councillors’ visited Frogmore ‘this morning’ and the pictures that some of the gallery are holding isn’t what the site looks like now. Said it is ‘a compromised site’ and at present is ‘derelict’. The two parties want to settle and Jewish Care wants to put in a 120 bed facility. He ‘feared’ that if this wasn’t ‘settled’ then the site ‘could be rezoned’ for residential and have ‘multi-unit developments on it’. He would ‘much prefer a community asset’. Said that ‘if someone wants to come along with $10 million to develop’ like Ripponlea then great but ‘I don’t think that is going to happen’. As Lipshutz said ‘we live in the real world’. Said he ‘understands’ the issue of ‘losing our older’ buildings such as the Boyd House in Murrumbeena but they are now faced with making a ‘decision on balance’ as to what is best for the community. Going to a panel when state institutions ‘won’t protect it’ and just because a former mayor lived there, and there are other houses where councillors/mayors have lived ‘does that make it heritage?’ This ‘is a compromised site’ and ‘it is not pristine’ and ‘I will be voting in favour of abandoning the amendment’.

LIPSHUTZ: said that ‘perhaps’ they should have ‘preserved heritage’ before. There was a property in Bambra road that was an ‘old mansion’ and was ‘turned into a hospital’ and ‘someone came along’ and put a home there and he thinks ‘it’s great’. ‘this property has been certainly compromised’ and isn’t the ‘pristine property it was when it was built’. Also ‘it doesn’t accord with the requirements of heritage’.

MOTION PUT AND CARRIED ON CASTING VOTE OF PILLING. VOTING IN FAVOUR OF ABANDONING AMENDMENT – LIPSHUTZ, HYAMS, PILLING. VOTING AGAINST – LOBO, SOUNNESS, OKOTEL. PILLING, AS CHAIR, THEN HAD THE DECIDING VOTE.

And for the last few bits of info, see The Age article at: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/residents-fail-in-attempt-to-preserve-historic-frogmore-house-from-demolition-20150610-ghkyz7.html

Also an audio interview with resident Jan Armstrong – http://www.magic1278.com.au/news/historic-home-to-face-the-wrecking-ball-20150611-ghlcfs.html

Plus a posting from Glen Eira Residents’ Association – http://geresidents.wordpress.com

and last but not least, the Leader’s contribution –

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