Residents at Wednesday night’s ‘feedback’ forum were provided with the opportunity to ask questions. Here is a summary of the first few –

Resident #1 –  asked what part of structure planning will ensure, for example that heights are mandatory?

THE TORRES RESPONSE: said that there can be a mixture of controls – some are discretionary and also mandatory. ‘Ideally’ they want mandatory which VCAT cannot overturn. Glen Eira has got mandatory height controls over residential zoned land and VCAT can’t change this, but they can over-ride the ResCode guidelines such as setbacks, car parking requirements, etc.

Resident 1 then asked whether ‘we can assume’ that mandatory height limits will be put on commercial zoned sites like in Centre Road?  Torres responded by saying that there would be a ‘thorough review’ of what people want to see develop in the future and that ‘there are tools available to produce greater clarity’ and height limits is one of these and there is ‘potential for mandatory height limits’ but this will involve a planning scheme amendment, then ‘ultimately the Minister for Planning has to approve that’. We will ‘ensure that we produce the best strategic justification’ for this.

RESIDENT #2 – spoke about heritage and that ‘our heritage areas are being attacked and we are losing them’.   Said he couldn’t understand why council hasn’t done anything about its 2002 draft heritage guidelines which VCAT continually ignores because it is only a ‘reference document’ in the planning scheme and not a major policy. Said that he ‘understands’ that all that needs to happen is for this draft to be ‘ratified’ in some way. So instead of having ‘five or ten years of destruction happen’ he can’t understand why this draft document isn’t ‘ratified’ since a lot of the work has already been done and ‘is far better than the 1996 plan’. ‘We need to do something about it now’.  (applause).

TORRES: said that what was called the ‘draft’ is part of the plan for the review and they’re ‘not talking 5 or 10 years’ time . The review will also probably recommend an ‘updated status’ of heritage within the planning scheme. They still need to go through the planning scheme review process though.  Resident then asked that the draft plan stems from 2002 and that’s 14 years, so ‘why wasn’t this certified or ratified’? Also stated that he doesn’t understand Torres’ response and asked if he’s saying that it ‘can’t be certified or ratified now or do we have to wait for this other grand plan?’

Torres replied that there has to be a planning scheme amendment process in order for this to be ‘elevated’ in status in ‘our planning scheme’.  They are reference documents currently and VCAT is ‘not giving them the weight’ that they should have.  Resident again asked why this draft ‘can’t be certified now. Why wait’. The facilitator then interrupted asking officers to explain the amendment process to the audience because ‘there is a process involved here’. Torres then went through the process – ie asking the minister for authorisation to exhibit the amendment, public consultation, and if there are concerns then an independent planning panel is convened and this ‘applies to all of Victoria’. ‘There are many legal stages and they have to be honoured’.  The comment was that all this could take 18 months.

Again the resident stated that he didn’t understand why nothing has been done in 16 years on something that is a lot better than the work produced in 1996. Then resident asked ‘why can’t this be taken as interim’ for the time being? Facilitator then intervened suggesting that the resident sit down with Torres privately so he could explain the State Government ‘process and the local council process’. Resident again stated that if it is taken directly to the Minister that the minister ‘can come up with some interim’ orders. Smith responded that it is part of the ‘work plan’ and that they can’t do anything that hasn’t been ‘reviewed’.

COMMENT

The responses to both of these questions are informative not for what they state, but for what is left UNSTATED! On the heritage questions, Torres kept insisting on the legal processes of a formal advertised amendment, possibly a planning panel and then the Minister’s approval. What is NOT STATED and could be a viable option is an application to the Minister under Section 20(4) of the Planning and Environment Act, asking the minister to intervene and approve the amendment, or impose interim controls – without the need for public consultation or a panel. This we remind readers is what council did when they introduced the residential zones by stealth and in secret! Of course, the major obstacle to such an approach is that since council has done bugger all for the past 14 years on Heritage, the minister may well be loath to rubber stamp a document that is so out of date. Another scathing indictment of the failure of this council to act and to fulfil anything that it has promised in the planning scheme.

On the first question of height limits for Centre Road, we again have to query the comprehensiveness of the Torres response. When both Lipshutz and Hyams have declared that they think that 6 storeys is appropriate in Centre Road, then how much credence should residents have that their preferred heights (which some have already stated to be 4 storeys) will get a look in from this council. Once again council has the option of applying for interim height controls whilst working on their structure plans and thus ten years need not go by before anything is done. This option is not stated!

Nor is it clear what position LOCAL CENTRES have in all this discussion of ‘activity centre’ commercial zoning. Glen Eira has heaps of LOCAL CENTRES and in each we have commercially zoned sites, many directly abutting Neighbourhood Residential zones. Not once has the discussion paper referred to these areas. Not once has any councillor or planner referred to these areas.  Nor is it even clear whether Local Centres are classified as ‘activity centres’!

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