Councillor Performance

Last night’s council meeting was another marathon of posturing, self congratulations, and inconsistency from one item to the next. Developers of course had a field day!

Below is our report on one of these items – a six storey building, 12 units and one shop of 37 square metres at Kokarrib Road, Carnegie. We are highlighting this decision since it features all of the negatives outlined above. Surely after 6 months as councillors we should expect a far better ‘performance’ than what is currently being dished up?

Hyams moved motion to grant permit with added conditions regarding screening and visitor and shop car parking. Seconded by Athanasopoulos.

HYAMS: said that the recently approved interim height guidelines ‘allows’ for a 6 storey building. Claimed that ‘it does fit in’ with recent developments in Rosstown Road and issues of ‘overshadowing’ are within ResCode provisions because the overshadowing basically occurs across a ‘driveway’.  Didn’t want a waiving of visitor car parking because he was there on Sunday and it was ‘certainly all parked out’ in the area. Said that the additional car space could be accommodated within the plans so ‘it wouldn’t be like we’re knocking back’ an apartment. There’s a ‘small shop’ so that ‘fits with the commercial area’ but doesn’t divert shopping from Koornang Road. Overlooking is an ‘issue’ because the building next door is ‘actually screened’ and the applicant himself asked for screening to prevent overlooking so ‘that’s what we’ve done’. Admitted that traffic is ‘onerous’ but 12 apartments is ‘unlikely to be significant’ impact on the roads. Thought it was a ‘reasonable application’.

ATHANASOPOULOS: asked Torres whether there will be ‘consideration’ given to road changes with the structure plan work they are currently doing?

TORRES: said that the ‘accessibility of our centres’ would be looked at as well as ‘pedestrianisation’ and ‘safety’.

ATHANASOPOULOS: thought it ‘was great’ that there is enough area to ‘squeeze’ the visitor car parking into the plans. Said that they need to understand ‘how these places actually work’ and how they might work in the future. He asked Torres the question because residents need to ‘understand’ that there might be some changes. If you can’t house people 100 or 200 metres ‘away from a train station I don’t know where you’re going to house them’. ‘Is 6 storeys too tall? – I don’t know’. Currently ‘I can’t say it is too tall’ based on ‘policies in place at the moment’. ‘It fits all the other aspects reasonably well’. Said that on the issue of the commercial area, people have ‘complained’ to him about the amount of housing they’ve also said that there ‘isn’t enough work, whether it be service or retail’ but you ‘can’t have growth’ by increasing population and not increasing commercial zone. Chapel Street ‘died’ over time because ‘there was no increase in amenities’ despite huge increase in population and ‘rentals went through the roof’. All of these things ‘have to be taken into consideration’. So the plan fits into the zone but will ‘hopefully’ help the ‘amenity as well’.

ESAKOFF: started by saying she is ‘struggling with this one’. To the north there’s another apartment block and the residents there said they would be ‘impacted severely’. They will be ‘virtually walled in’. ‘It’s a 6 storey building. It’s a large edifice’. Said she ‘understands’ that setbacks ‘have been applied’ and that the open space isn’t ‘considered as private open space’ and ‘I just can’t fathom that’. ‘They are not going to get any light’ into ‘their properties’. Even that block of flats will probably also be redeveloped. because it’s in the same zone. ‘I am struggling with the amenity issues around this’ and the ‘transition’ of more residential further down Rosstown Road. This ‘sits close to the edge of the zone’. Finished by saying she will listen to the ‘debate’ and decide.

SZTRAJT: agreed with Esakoff and said ‘I too am torn’. Said there’s an issue with zoning in ‘allowing a 6 storey building’ to occur in ‘places like this’. Said that looking at all the items on the agenda tonight that as a council ‘we are providing guidance to developers’ by ‘changing some subtle things in the plan’ by allowing a ‘visitor spot that they asked an exemption for’ yet ‘we couldn’t do it for another development’. Therefore ‘what we are teaching developers’ is that if they want to build in Glen Eira and don’t want to ‘fork out the extra’ for a car parking spot then all they have to do is ‘make sure they’ve got a stacker system’. Said he would have been against the application if council went with the waiver but they’ve now got the ‘additional parking spot. We managed to fit it in’. ‘This applicant was unlucky that we managed to fit that in’ by putting the shop car parking spot into the stacker thereby ‘creating this spot’. Said he is leaning towards approval because the ‘overall amenity’ isn’t going to be ‘too bad’. ‘I shudder to think how developers will learn from out actions’. They will realise that there is a simple way to ‘lead council by the nose’ by telling them that in every application they put in ‘there is no additional space’ for car parking so ‘I need a waiver for additional car parking’. ‘And we’re now so frightened about what VCAT will say that we are approving’ such applications.

DELAHUNTY: said she was conscious that ‘we have been veering off in our discussions tonight’. Council makes decisions and ‘tries to be consistent’ but applications are decided on the individual merits of the ‘application in front of us’ and ‘sometimes those decisions can seem to be in constrast to one another’. They look at the transport ‘around’ and ‘it’s always taken in context’. She takes the point that maybe they are giving developers a message but there are also other instances where council says ‘it’s not good enough’ and they ‘redesign’. Also going to VCAT has an ‘imposte’ on residents in terms of money spent and officer’s time so ‘there’s an element of that that needs to be taken into consideration’. Said she was in favour of the motion.

HYAMS: said he wouldn’t have done what Sztrajt did by ‘pointing out’ to developers what they might do. Disagreed with this anyway because ‘the site is the size that it is’ and developers ‘aren’t going to buy a site’ thinking ‘oh I can’t fit’ car spots in. Esakoff’s concerns were with amenity impacts but at the planning conference it was clear that these residents weren’t ‘going to be overshadowed’ because they were over on the ‘other side of the driveway’. They ‘will be looking at a unit in front of them’ but there will be other development ‘anyway’. Admitted that this is a concern he didn’t think it was a ‘reasonable’ concern to refuse.

MOTION PUT AND CARRIED. Esakoff voted against.


  • When 5 of the current councillors decided WITHOUT CONSULTATION that 6 (preferred height) storeys in this spot was okay, surely it is a bit late to start wondering whether or not 6 storeys is too big?
  • 95% of discussion avoids planning issues per se and certainly any intelligent commentary on the application itself. Credit to Esakoff here as the only councillor to even attempt to enunciate what ‘amenity’ impacts are likely to be.
  • An officer’s report that is devoid of all detail, including how many 1, 2, or 3 bedroom apartments nor detail as to how this accords or doesn’t accord with ResCode and the planning scheme.

This is what should happen if a council is determined to be transparent and accountable in its planning decisions – a simple table outlining all the issues and whether or not the application is compliant. Maybe then we could also get councillors to speak to the application rather than regurgitate the nonsensical officer’s report or simply enjoy the sound of their own voices!

There is an extraordinary officer’s report for a planning application at tonight’s council meeting. The application is for Kambrook Road, Caulfield North. It proposes a 5 storey and 61 unit development. The problem with this, is that the site is zoned as Residential Growth Zone (RGZ) – ie a mandatory 4 storey height limit!

So what does our wonderful council do? Simple – the Camera report recommends that a storey be lopped off to bring the development down to 4 storeys with a height of 14.5 metres due to the slope of the land.

A multitude of questions arise from this –

  • Since the application was ‘illegal’ to begin with, why wasn’t this rejected outright at the start when the application first landed on council’s desk in December 2016 – and we are sure in the countless earlier pre-application meetings with the developer?
  • Why is council doing the developer’s job? – ie instead of forcing the developer to come up with an entirely new application, it is council, and council’s officers’ time that are doing the work of the developer. That of course means that ratepayers are again subsidising developers
  • No mention is made of the number of apartments that council is now willing to grant a permit for. The Camera report is silent on the repercussions of deleting one storey.
  • The use of the word ‘generally’ occurs 7 times in this officer report. In other words, planning scheme conditions are not FULLY met, but only ‘generally’ met. We have to again ask why on earth have standards and guidelines when they can be so easily overlooked?
  • The final important question is – how far will council go to accommodate developers?

Council is wonderful in producing stats that sound scary and ostensibly support their case. More often than not, these stats tell only half the story. For example this paragraph from the Activity Centre Strategy  –

State Government statistics indicate that over the last five years (2011–2016), Glen Eira has experienced significant change with a population increase of 11,233 and 4,300 new dwellings constructed (page 147)

Or this effort –

Recent statistics released by State Government (Victoria in Future 2016) indicate that Glen Eira’s population is likely to increase by a further 15 per cent over the next 15 years, resulting in the need for an additional 9,000 dwellings.(page 159 and repeated in the glossy section at page 22).

So exactly what do these figures mean? 9000 new dwellings sounds like a hell of a lot and is meant to – but this is over a projected 15 year period. Hence all Glen Eira requires to meet its population growth according to these figures is a measly 600 net new dwellings per year! Hardly enough to justify the strategy and its ambition to hand over more and more land to developers.

Nor do these figures take into account what has been happening in Glen Eira for the past 5 to 6 years. Australian Bureau of Statistics data on building approvals provides a window into the rampant development that has already occurred. Building approvals are development applications that have already received their permits and have been given the green light to begin construction. Here are the ABS figures for new dwellings –

2011/12 – 912

2012/13 – 957

2013/14 – 1,231

2014/15 – 1,786

2015/16 – 1,680

2016/17 – 1520 (end of March 2017)

TOTAL – 8086

This figure of 8086 new dwellings DOES NOT INCLUDE:

  • The 1200+ new dwellings for Caulfield Village which have already been granted their ‘permits’ via the approved Incorporated Plan and various Development Plans
  • Another, 2000, 3000, 4000(?) potential apartments for Virginia Estate.
  • Nor does this figure of 8086 include all the permits which have been granted but are yet to be taken up and construction started (and hence are still awaiting their building permits)
  • Set down for decision Tuesday night, we get the recommendation for another 87 new dwellings! The meeting before, 18 new dwellings plus refusal for 169 which will end up at VCAT and in all likelihood get at least half of this number. These would not have been added to building or planning permit state registers as yet. Thus, in two council meetings we have just under another 200 net new dwellings in Glen Eira. Go back a couple of more council meetings and the picture is the same.

So what is the take home message for residents?

  • At the current rate of development, Glen Eira will be able to cater for projected population growth NOT IN 2031 BUT BY 2021!
  • 600 net new dwellings is the required ‘quota’ per year according to all recent projections. Glen Eira is averaging close to triple this amount per year.

By way of summary, here is what the strategy wants to happen in order to facilitate further development. This may sound innocuous and to be merely repeating the current mantra of housing diversity versus minimal change and thus directing development to ‘appropriate’ spots. It is the extent of expansion, the vague references to ‘strategic sites’ plus ‘arterial roads’ and the upgrading of local centres to neighbourhood centres, or neighbourhood centres to major activity centres that is the concern.

CLICK TO ENLARGE – Couldn’t council have produced a far more legible document that could be read clearly without the need for a magnifying glass?

Council has finally released its draft Activity Centre Strategy. We are left speechless at both the quality and the deliberate camouflage of council’s intentions. Not only is the document a vapid, repetitious , and totally uninformative vision of the future but it lacks everything that an Activity Centre Strategy should include. For example:

  • No detail on proposed height limits
  • No detail on proposed building form
  • No detail on proposed open space requirements
  • No definition as to what ‘urban renewal’ really means
  • Plenty of promises that largely repeat the promises made in 2003/4 but without any timelines
  • Statistics that are wrong, wrong, wrong!

Worse still is the tone! Lack of detail is one thing, but when a strategic document of this importance includes the following rubbish it is totally unacceptable. We quote directly from the strategy and invite ‘interpretations’ as to the true meaning of any of these sentences –

As our local centres become more affected by globalised and mobilised markets, it becomes more and more important to create community rich experiences within these centres that cannot be bought online

Explore opportunities to facilitate local flexible working opportunities such as co-working spaces or expanded library areas.

Strategically locate future parcel pick-up stations and other digital transactions facilities within activity centres that encourage community interaction

Strengthen the heart of the community

Foster ‘bottom-up’ change through a focus on place-making.

Ensure key community needs are provided in each centre (such as banks, post office, grocers, butchers and bakers). (Please remember that council has no control over banks, post offices, nor private retail!!!)

Housing capacity and building scale can be separated from activity centre hierarchy by clearly identifying housing typologies that can accommodate growth in strategic locations that respond to their immediate context and neighbourhood character, and also reduce impacts on amenity.

We also have succinct vision statements for each centre that belong to the world of Forrest Gump or the Wizard of Oz, rather than a local government strategic document. Here is the ‘summary’

We acknowledge that Plan Melbourne has foisted some conditions onto council – ie Caulfield Junction as a Major Activity Centre, plus Moorabbin, etc. However, this does not excuse the production of a document that is full of meaningless waffle and motherhood statements, plus similar promises to what has been made and not been acted upon in the past 15 years! It is surely time that council comes clean and informs its residents in a straight forward and honest manner exactly what it proposes! We would also welcome a submission period of longer than the 3 weeks indicated.

Finally, by way of contrast, we have to again bemoan the fact why  other councils can do things so much better and with so much more clarity, and dare way say, honesty! Here are a couple of Activity Centre Strategies from other councils. Please compare and contrast!



Finally some potential action on flooding and the Elster Creek catchment area! But what is so disappointing is that residents have to find out about this initiative not from their own council, but from the agenda items of Port Phillip! Given that the first meeting occurred in March, that surely provided enough time for some Glen Eira Council comment, or even a media release. Instead there has been silence.

This will also have major significance for Glen Eira which is ‘home’ to about 70% of the Elster Creek catchment – and that includes the upcoming Virginia Estate development. How much this will all cost the individual councils remains to be seen. But wouldn’t it make a great change for once if residents were informed as to what was happening and the likely costs – instead of being always kept in the dark like mushrooms!

We’ve uploaded the full Port Phillip officer report HERE

A couple of basic questions to start with:

  • How much does it cost ratepayers to defend the indefensible at VCAT?
  • How ‘competent’ are our planning staff, or
  • Are we witnessing the expansion of council’s agenda that is designed to reinforce the image of VCAT as the awful ‘villain’?

For the past year or so, council via ‘manager’ has refused an extraordinary number of planning applications for 2 double storeys in the Neighbourhood Residential Zone. These applications then invariably head off to VCAT and we estimate that over 90% are granted their permit and council’s refusal is set aside.

Here is a sample and the full summary for the past year is uploaded HERE

The applications in this image are all well and truly over 600 square metres and one is over 700 square metres. Surely, any ‘transgressions’ could have been remedied via thoughtful conditions rather than incurring the costs of going to VCAT  for both the developer and council.

What is literally staggering is the quality of the council arguments that then occurs at VCAT. A recent VCAT decision must surely take the cake for the most inept and farcical attempt to defend council’s refusal. We quote:

  • The responsible authority’s key concern focused on the rear of the site and what it considers to be an open backyard character of the area. In particular, it was concerned that the rear setback of the first floor of the proposed dwelling 1 would be closer to the rear boundary of the subject land than the rear setback of the older dwelling at number no.16 Molden Street. It submitted that the rear setback of the first floor of the proposal should not extend deeper into the review site than the rear setback of the existing dwelling at no.16 Molden Street.
  • We do not agree with the responsible authority that it is appropriate the prevailing setback to the rear boundary of a dwelling built some seven decades ago should prescribe the rear setback of one or two new contemporary dwellings. Simply ruling a line across the subject land aligned with the setback of the existing older dwelling on no.16 Molden Street does not comprise site and context responsive design. It is a very blunt tool to use to determine whether a proposal is respectful of the existing character of the area. More importantly such an approach has no basis in the scheme.

So the questions remain:

  • Why are so many applications in NRZ being refused? Surely they can’t all be that poor? and especially when they meet all the NRZ schedule requirements for site coverage, height, permeability, setbacks as the one cited above has done?
  • Why is council content to waste its planners’ time and effort in defending the indefensible?
  • How much is this costing ratepayers – especially in an era of supposed cost cutting and pressures on councils to be far more frugal and proficient in what they do?
  • We suggest that instead of spending tens of thousands on such cases, that council should employ far more competent planning staff to deal with the current planning chaos that is Glen Eira!

PS: in order to provide a little more context to the above we add the following – a list of all published VCAT outcomes from January 2016 to the present day. All decisions involved 2 double storey applications in the Neighbourhood Residential Zone. Council’s record as revealed below is literally appalling with only one ‘refusal’ upheld and only several ‘varied’ – ie council’s conditions chucked out. More applications are awaiting decision.

8 Bokhara Road, Caufield South – set aside

45 Mortimore Street, Bentleigh – affirmed

285 Alma Road, Caulfield North – set aside

20 Cushing Avenue, Bentleigh – varied

40 Fromer Street, Bentleigh – set aside

19 Thomasina Street, Bentleigh East – set aside

12 Anarth Street, Bentleigh East – set aside

20 Begg Street, Bentleigh East – varied

1 Heatherbrae Avenue, Caulfield – set aside

6 Glenmer Street, Bentleigh – set aside

309 East Boundary Road, Bentleigh East – set aside

6 Burreel Avenue, Elsternwick – set aside

3 Malcolm Street, McKinnon – set aside

1 Jane Street, Bentleigh East – set aside

633 Warrigal Road, Bentleigh East – set aside

7 East Boundary Road, Bentleigh East – set aside

1A Osborne Avenue, Bentleigh – varied

8 Murrong Avenue, Bentleigh – varied

34 Omar Street Caulfield South – set aside

25 Coates Street, Bentleigh – varied

2 Draper Street, McKinnon – set aside

5 Lord Street, McKinnon – varied

3 and 4 Beatty Crescent, Bentleigh – set aside

18 Richard Street, Bentleigh East – set aside

30 McArthur Street, Bentleigh – set aside


One way of determining the performances of a council is via a comparison with others. This admittedly throws up many challenges since categories and definitions are vague and elusive. However, there are some basic figures that can be compared so that we know for sure that we are not looking at apples versus oranges! Staffing and staffing costs provide a way in.

In the 2017/18 draft budget, Glen Eira announces a $4.18 million increase in staff salaries plus a $2.38 million increase in contractor costs. For staff expenditure, this means nearly a 6% increase on the 2016/17 budget figures. We’re also told that the total staff cost is $72 million and total income for council is roughly $174 million. Staff numbers are also projected to go up by just under 20 EFT for the upcoming financial year making a grand total of 810.7 equivalent full time staff. Please remember that ‘contractors’ are not considered as ‘employees’!

So how does all this compare with other councils? Glen Eira, despite ‘restructuring’ its directorship numbers, still remains top heavy in our view. Here are some stats from other councils according to their budgets –

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