Councillor Performance


Words are not really necessary for this post. Readers should merely compare the results from 2014/15 to 2016/17 and assess whether these Best Value reports do reveal ‘continuous improvement’ by council and as mandated by the Local Government Act. We have chosen Traffic/Parking and Home Care . The 2014/15 reports are presented first.

Click on each image to enlarge

 

 

 

 

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We wish to raise an important and contentious issue – aged residential care. Over the past half a dozen or so years, countless councils have decided to hand this responsibility over to the private sector. In Victoria, literally only a handful of councils continue to maintain these services.  Many reasons are behind this move:

  • Increasing costs
  • Increasing maintenance costs
  • Accreditation challenges
  • Adequate staffing costs
  • Whether aged care should even be a local government responsibility

Glen Eira runs 3 accommodation sites providing 173 beds. For the past 2 years alone these facilities have incurred ‘deficits’ of just under $7m. This means that residents are basically subsidising aged care to the tune of approximately $3.5m each year. Is this warranted, much less sustainable?

Please note that we are not advocating any position – either to maintain this service, sell off the assets, or lease the beds  to private hands. We believe that what needs to happen is full community consultation and for council to put all the facts on the table so residents can have a say in the decision making. Thus far this has not occurred. Council has been content to continue losing $3m plus per annum with no proper public announcement, no discussion, and no real explanation as to why this is occurring.

Given these losses it is perhaps fair to ask:

  • Do residents believe that council has the expertise to run such an operation?
  • Do residents believe that such losses per annum are ‘acceptable’ and warranted?
  • Do residents believe that council should maintain its aged care facilities?
  • Do residents believe that private operators can deliver a better service?

When the outcry is continually about cost shifting and rate capping and council after council cries poor, then surely it is time for an open discussion with the community on what the priorities should be. We hasten to add that not only does this apply to aged care but to many other aspects of council’s agenda. Until residents are given a say in determining budget priorities and how ratepayer monies should ideally be spent we are still captive to rule by an unelected bureaucracy!

Another disappointing VCAT decision for 33-35 Belsize Avenue Carnegie. This consolidated site runs across both the GRZ and RGZ (ie 3 and 4 storey) current zoning. The applicant got his permit for these heights and 29 dwellings.

Council’s draft structure plans featured this area south of Neerim Road as being ‘downgraded’ to double storey. This decision is simply another nail in the coffin for council’s plans – exacerbated even further by the request for another year’s extension on structure planning and the interim height guidelines. By 2019, we can only speculate as to how many other such developments will occur in these streets!

Below is what the member had to say about council’s plans and their current ‘value’.

Source: http://www7.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/vic/VCAT//2017/1399.html

There has been some recent attempt by Council to manage this rate of change including the introduction of interim height controls and the preparation of a draft concept plan. I was provided with a copy of the Carnegie Draft Concept Plans and Carnegie Background Report-Building Transition Plan both dated July 2017. These documents propose side-by-side townhouse style development of 1-2 storey scale for all of Belsize Avenue and surrounds, other than along Neerim Road where terrace/ townhouse development of 2-3 storeys is contemplated. The document states that:

Carnegie has experienced a significant transformation in recent years with apartment developments being constructed in traditionally low scale areas. Current policy supports dense apartment developments with little consideration for the area’s existing character. The scale, rate of change and quality of new building stock are all issues that have been raised through consultation.

The Building Transition Plan looks to limit the amount of four storey apartment buildings in the long residential streets of established homes in Carnegie.

Ms Maude expressed concern that if the future changes set out above are implemented that the proposal before me will stand in complete contrast to the new planning framework. I find this strategic work is in its very early stages and cannot be given weight as a seriously entertained planning proposal. I cannot speculate as to future changes in planning policy and must apply the current planning scheme that seeks increased development throughout the urban village with the scale and intensity generally guided by the differentiation between the zones. I must apply the planning scheme as I find it.

The following screen dumps feature land currently for sale. Most are within ‘neighbourhood centres’ and one is in Elsternwick. Council is now asking for a year’s extension on its interim heights amendment, with no clear dates set for its neighbourhood centres structure plans where plenty of development is occurring. The future is writ large in these shots!

 

Apologies for this long, long post. It concerns the agenda for Tuesday night’s council meeting. There are many items that deserve comment – some good, some bad, and some particularly atrocious and misleading!

THE GOOD

After years and years of complaint regarding council’s lack of transparency and accountability, there does appear to be some movement at the station –

  • Item 9.8 recommends a tender be decided for telecasting both ordinary and special council meetings. We certainly welcome this and hope that those councillors who previously opposed such a move will now vote in favour. One proviso however is that no mention is made of when this will be up and running (if voted in).
  • For the first time there is now a running sheet of motions to be put forward at the MAV state conference – including how council will vote on the various motions. Previously these were all decided behind closed doors, so again a welcome new initiative. However, we also note that the rationale behind council’s position on many of these motions has not been included.
  • Another item features the review of the Community Engagement Policy. One important advance is the promise to ‘monitor’ and ‘evaluate’ the outcomes. For some unknown reason however, the actual policy is not included in the online agenda!

THE BAD

The most important item for this section is council’s application for an extension on the interim height amendments for Bentleigh and Carnegie. The current amendment expires on December 31st 2017. Council is now requesting a one year extension. What this basically means is that residents will not have the structure planning work completed and gazetted for the major activity centres until at least mid 2019! Worth remembering is that there is not even any ‘interim’ protection for Elsternwick! Further, no mention is made of the current neighbourhood centres – these could be waiting well into the 2020’s! Our concern is that with the constant delays more and more development will occur that will undermine the very objectives of the structure planning work itself. For example: it will be very hard to argue for a 5 storey mandatory height limit when countless buildings already exceed this height and which leaves the door open for similar developments over the next 2 to 5 years. What is certain is that if development continues as it has, especially in neighbourhood centres, then any attempt to rein in development will be that much harder if not impossible!

The above leads onto questioning council’s whole approach to their planning process – namely:

  • Why has it taken til now for those in power to realise that council’s approach to consultation has only now become ‘tangible’ to residents? What does this imply about the intent of the ‘consultation’? We have remarked previously on the lack of detail provided, the lack of strategic justification provided, the lack of genuine reporting of community feedback. From the first stage we have queried the validity of council’s approach – ie asking questions such as ‘what do you love about your shopping strip’ only serves to focus residents’ attention on the commercial strip itself. It does not guarantee that feedback will focus on the primary issues of development, open space, traffic, infrastructure, etc. As an example of what should have been done, and could have been done, readers may find the following screen dumps informative. They come from the Banyule consultation on Fairfield. Please note that the same consultants were used by Glen Eira. The difference in approach is staggering. Why is it that for the Banyule consultation this company included direct questions on height, traffic, etc. and in Glen Eira none of these queries were specifically included in the initial consultation. Surely the only reason to explain this is the brief provided to the consultants! In other words, hired guns again doing council’s bidding!

 

   

 

 

Plus some screen dumps of the initial ‘consultation’ processes employed in Banyule. Compare this with what Glen Eira did!

  • Given the amount of work required why has it taken over a year to advertise for an additional 4 planning staff (ie consecutive ads over 2 weeks). And this is on top of continued planning applications, VCAT appeals, etc. and council repeatedly bemoaning the fact that they have been inundated with applications and that more and more cases end up at VCAT. This trend has been evident since the introduction of the zones but it has taken 4 years to act!
  • Making matters even worse is item 9.2 in the agenda. For a ‘simple’ 2 double storey application in Thomas St, East Brighton, council couldn’t reach a decision in the required 60 days. This, despite the fact that they admit the following – The application was lodged on 28 November 2016. The application was advertised from 27 April until 15 May 2017 and 1 objection was received. The applicant lodged an appeal at VCAT on 6 September 2017 against Council’s failure to make a decision within 60 statutory days. Our sympathies to the developer in this instance since it is unfathomable why such an application should take forever to finalise! Of course, this means more money spent by ratepayers at VCAT! Please note we are not commenting on the merit of the application – merely on the unbelievable time lines.
  • We also observe that in the past year or so the number of refusals for 2 double storeys in the NRZ has gone through the roof. Invariably, our analysis indicates that in over 95% of cases that end up at VCAT, the applicant gets his 2 dwellings!
  • The only ‘positive’ out of all this is that council has at least had the good grace to publicly admit how inept it has been – there has been community feedback regarding the overall process including:
    • Requests for city-wide dwelling forecasts that inform the structure planning
    • Improved communication to all residents and landowners within the study area for the next stage of engagement
    • An appropriate level of detail for best consideration of positive and negative impacts of the proposals

Ensure the next round of consultation period allows affected parties enough time to read through the released information in detail, attend information sessions and provide a response to Council.

Surely this should have been a given right from the start? 

THE UGLY

The ‘ugly’ aspect of this agenda is council’s continued inability to reveal the truth in an honest and upfront manner. Instead we are presented with the usual spin and misleading statements designed to basically cover up what actually happened. Here is the offending extract –

We have commented on this issue previously, (see: https://gleneira.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/inept-or-indifferent/) but will repeat the evidence which shows beyond any shadow of a doubt that:

  • Senior officers knew of this ‘error’ back in July 2013
  • That from the department’s point of view this was not an ‘error’ but a required trade off for the introduction of the residential zones
  • Council also knew that at least one case went to VCAT where the developer tried to use this clause to his advantage (unsuccessfully).
  • To now turn around and claim that this ‘error’ has only been ‘recently’ discovered is a blatant lie! Even if Akehurst and Camera (the ‘architects’ of the residential zones) are now gone, Torres is still at council as are many other senior planners. Where is corporate memory? Why can’t council simply admit the truth?

The decision for 277-279 Centre Road, Bentleigh has finally been handed down by VCAT. The original application for a 9 storey development was amended by the applicant to 7 storeys. VCAT granted a permit for the 7 storeys.

What is crucial in this decision is the fact that the site sits within the recently gazetted amendment for a 5 storey preferred maximum height – ie under the Design and Development Overlay (DDO8). The amendment was hailed as the ‘solution’ to overdevelopment by council and the Minister – despite residents wanting mandatory height limits for the entire area.

There are several extracts from the decision worth highlighting. They reveal once again council’s inept planning – ie almost nonsensical would be a good description of what constitutes the amendment and its decision guidelines (in bold below). It also points to the current ludicrous plans to allow 8 storeys! Finally, we also find mention of the necessity for a parking precinct plan – something that has been on council’s mind for the last 15 years! They have just never got around to doing anything of course!

The take home message is clear:

  • preferred maximum height limits are useless
  • council’s planning department is performing well and truly below standard
  • these decisions need to be addressed in any structure planning and to ensure that all the countless loopholes are removed
  • strategic justification was not in existence for the Carnegie/Bentleigh amendments. We maintain that they are non existent for the current activity centre structure planning as well!

The source for the following extracts is: – http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/vic/VCAT//2017/1656.html

It is Council’s submission that the introduction of the DDO8 was to temper expectations and outcomes during the period that the controls apply and clearly seek to limit the nature of the development proposed. What Council does not state however is that the overlay does not impose a mandatory height in ‘Area 3’ such as other ‘Areas’ have. This suggests to us that the controls allow for consideration of heights that do exceed the Preferred Maximum. We therefore look for guidance from the DDO8 in assessing the proposed development.

  • If we refer to the decision guidelines of the DDO8 as the relevant ‘test’ to assess if seven storeys, instead of five storeys is appropriate, we make the following findings.
  • Council put to us that this site fails to perform a transitional function (within the activity centre) resulting in a jarring impact at the edge of the Urban Village. We do not agree with this submission. This site is not at the edge of the Urban Village, it may be at the edge of DDO8-3 and DDO8-1. Therefore, we do not agree that it is the role of the site to perform a transitional function. There is currently a five-storey building under construction on the corner of Rose Street which is at the edge of DDO8-1. This is the site that performs a transitional role to the centre and Residential Zones beyond it. The review site is located within the retail hub of the Bentleigh Urban Village and whilst it is not located on the railway station, it is also not located at the edge on Rose Street. We conclude that we do not agree with Council that this site is to serve a transitional function.

There is nothing in the Planning Scheme to require a uniform height in this location. The decision guidelines of DDO8 question whether the proposal is compatible with and respect the character of neighbouring buildings within the same streetscape. We find this a curious guideline. How can a building ‘respect the character of an adjoining single storey neighbouring building when the preferred maximum height is five storeys? Is it to be interpreted that the DDO8 control determines that (in this case) a five storey building adjoining a single storey built form is respectful? It would be nonsensical to assume that a proposed built form even at five storeys would be considered as ‘not respecting a neighbouring building’. This is an example of where strategic work would provide for background as to what and how a guideline such as this is to be interpreted, if indeed, it remained in the overlay. We consider that it has to be the way the proposed built form responds to each interface that is most important, just as the podium base of the building is respectful of the form of built form within the street. This guideline is balanced against others including policies calling for more intense development in activity centres and urban villages.

We conclude that it is reasonable to reduce the car parking requirement and waive the requirement for the 4 residential visitor and 17 commercial spaces. The planning scheme also supports sustainable transport alternatives and the efficient use of car parking. In response to Council’s concerns regarding the future development of the centre and the potential increased car parking pressure, parking in the centre as a whole is a broad issue and one that may warrant strategic planning in the form of a car parking precinct plan.

The ABS has today released its figures for building approvals for the months of July and August, 2017. They have also updated their data for the 2016/17 financial year. Glen Eira’s numbers for the past financial year were upgraded to 2021 building permits granted.

Please consider the table below. Glen Eira is now not only the biggest development municipality in the south east, but is winning hands down for the Northern suburbs alone. If the current rate continues, then Glen Eira will well and truly surpass another 2000 net new dwellings per year!

We have uploaded the full Excel spread sheet HERE

Readers may also find the suburb analysis of interest as well (uploaded HERE). Please note that Bentleigh-McKinnon is now far ahead of Carnegie. Quite incredible considering that McKinnon is merely a poor old neighbourhood centre in council’s heirarchy and Bentleigh is supposed to have only ‘minimal’ growth according to the structure planning documentation. The bottom line remains, we believe, that land zoned GRZ provides easier and cheaper pickings for developers – and McKinnon, Ormond have plenty of land zoned GRZ. Our prediction, unless zoning changes dramatically, is that these figures only represent the tip of the ice-berg and more and more development will be focused in our neighbourhood centres – especially since council has not provided any timelines for addressing this crucial issue or providing any information as to its intentions for these suburbs!

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