The following is much of the text of Glen Aitken's remarks between introductions of other speakers. Glen was the presenter of the rally, but he was also asked to speak before or after or between introducing other speakers. So the transcript below is compiled of a number of interesting things he said in that context, particularly the insights he provided about how council operates, and especially his advice about how the people of Frankston could help the Council to stand up to the bully that State Governments and ministers have become. [Glen does not actually call them bullies, but they clearly act that way. The great fear of council is that they will have their powers even more severely abrogated by the state government if they don't give it everything it demands.]
Transcript of a compilation of Glen Aitken's comments
[Some Councillors] didn't really want to know about it and cried other people down who were trying to make great improvements for your local city. And we're actually in the shadow of one of the buildings that came out of that bad decision making here today. [The South East Water building on Kananook Creek esplanade.]
In the years that I was in Counsel […] I always worked to try and get a better planning outcome with all the applications that came before us in the chamber as far as was possible. What happened in Frankston was about seventeen, eighteen – oh, it would be twenty years ago now - the whole concept of ‘transit cities,’ was put to us and other key places around Melbourne, such as Box Hill and Dandenong.
Now, councils were promised a treasure trove of money, development, stimulated economies. And, of course, councils wanted to see that in their local area, but one of the conditions, I suppose, of a Transit city is high-rise buildings. Now, in Dandenong, they've received a vast amount of money to redevelop Dandenong centre, and that's very obvious. If anybody has been to Dandenong. You can see all the boulevard, the white areas of paving, and other buildings going up.
The distinction, particularly in Frankston, is that we do not have the space. And that is a historic thing, because Frankston was a coastal fishing place. Whereas Dandenong was a bustling hub of drays being drawn by oxen from Gippsland and they have to have room to move around, and so the streets the promenades, the [?unclear] layout of Dandenong, the streets are very spacious. That's a historic fact.
In Frankston that didn't happen. Nor did we have the economic stimulus that Dandenong experienced in the 19th century. So, Frankston’s town centre, by comparison with other town centres, is actually very small. Now, it is just basic common sense that if you have very tall buildings in a very small urban area or a town area, in winter your sunlight-access is going to be wiped out.
And that's just one of the most understandable points about this whole issue, that if you put tall buildings up in a limited area, your sunlight’s gone. So, in areas of Melbourne, of course, with very high buildings and narrow lanes and some narrow streets, there's no sunlight, all winter-long.
I don't think that's a desirable outcome for anyone.
One of the most disturbing things about this whole issue is that, being on Council, I have insight into closed meetings and also speaking in public at the general Council meetings, dealing with the press, all the rest of it: One thing that's absolutely crystal clear, and that is all the community polls Frankston city has held over the last twenty years have demonstrated, unfailingly, the community wish for Frankston to be a place that reflects its seaside location, to be low scale.
And to be a place that is attractive, relates to the community, and is, you know, desirable for people to move around in - in fact, a beautiful place. Now that has been demonstrated time and again. I was at the meetings. I was at the community sessions, and that is a fact. And it is very sad that this has led on to where we're at now, where decisions have been made that will allow buildings to become very high and effectively kill the real coastal atmosphere of Frankston City Town centre.
[Audience member interrupts and asks Glenn to introduce himself to those who don’t know him.]
Sorry, I haven't done that. I was a counselor with Frankston City Centre for 17 years, Mayor in 2006 and 2007, Deputy Mayor twice. Glenn Aitken. I formally represented the southern area. Sorry, I should have mentioned that. In introducing other people, I forgot to introduce myself.
What again is of key concern to all of us here today and is extremely relevant, and Council needs to take note - and I addressed Council recently on this issue - is that urban fragmentation is happening, and thousands of allotments - tens of thousands of allotments -throughout Melbourne are being broken up for closer settlement.
The initial impetus for Transit cities in Frankston was -, we were put over a barrel and Council was told, ‘Well you have to accommodate,’ - and we actually were given a figure. ‘You have to accommodate ‘x’ number of people being placed or included into Frankston, to meet the requirements of Melbourne 2030.’
Well, Melbourne 2030, the plan, has largely been and gone.
Then it was Melbourne at 5 million, then it became Melbourne at eight million. And just recently, I understand it, they’re considering Melbourne nine million, so that the goalposts keep changing. And that is not how you have good planning outcomes - by constantly changing the goalposts.
What should have happened is that Council looks at its city, looks at its people, consulted with it - which it did many times, get the flavour and the view that people held about their area and outline sensitive and caring plans for a great city.
And that just hasn't really happened to be quite honest, just hasn't happened. So, I think that's somewhat regrettable, and that's something that needs to be corrected before it is truly too late.
I'd like to say one thing too, is that I have heard a few comments saying, ‘Oh, this is just a number of people in Gould Street who are complaining about their own area.’
[Audience protests loudly.]
And I’m going to address this head-on because I like to address issues, head-on. That is utter rubbish. It is utter rubbish. Anyone who says that is very uneducated and they haven't got their head on their shoulders correctly because the design and outcome of Frankston Town Centre is relevant to all of us in this city. We all have ownership in the broader landscape. It's not just what happens is, right near us. If there is a big structure that's really totally out of context, it is sinfully ugly, like this [points up at the South East Water building] – that’s a matter of interest for all of our community - not just someone who may live nearby. So, I'm going to make that very clear right here and now.
I look at some of the signs here: Total Eclipse of the Heart of Frankston; A Room With a View; Cashed up for a cashed-up view; Protect our Beech/ Creek; Do not Shadow Frankston; Stop the Great Wall; Don't ruin our Waterfront; and Concrete castles Sand castles; Our Coast not Gold Coast; Habitat not high-rise; Don't turn Frankston into Legoland. I love that.
I think that one of the underlying issues here that needs to be touched upon is, I think. That Frankston council at the moment is in a corner. They've actually ended up in a corner. And I say that respectfully because this whole process has gone on over a number of years with changes to the planning scheme, pseudo consultation with maximum government and bureaucratic interference to get the outcome that Professor Buxton pointed out.
I think today, the situation at the minute, is that Council is getting planning applications for buildings along that strip, and they rightly - or wrongly - must consider that the South East Water building is somewhat of a precedent and that, that, that is actually a bit of a furphy, a very big furphy, because the circumstances surrounding the construction of this building, some of which are probably closed and I still can't mention, were entirely and utterly abnormal. Absolutely abnormal. So, I don't think it's a very good measure to say, oh, well we've got a precedent. What there is a precedent in is the Council, the previous Council to this one, approved of the ah – I think it’s the [?farmer or pharma] site - the site just over there - for a multi-story building. So that where Council’s at now - and this is really important to all of us - to understand how best the community can activate … Council is now in the corner. They see that there's a precedent. They are very concerned that if they just start refusing hands-down the applications coming in, that there will be ministerial intervention and planning controls taken away.
And that is that is a concern, I think, that Council has has got. So they feel they're now in a corner.
Well, the community is here to help them get out of that corner and put great pressure on the bureaucracy.
Because the bureaucracy has been behind all of this and that's where ultimately a call from counsel to the Department of planning and the minister, assisted by the community to change the state of affairs. That is the way forward politically. That is the strongest point to get an outcome and I’ve been around a long time. And that's the way to work at this, to somehow join forces with Council and collectively say, ‘No!’ and get that message back to Melbourne.
[An audience member talks of how, at a community meeting about plans for an Arboretum, a new plan was presented by councilors present, instead of what the community thought they were meeting for. She concludes by mentioning acid sulphate soils.]
I will make a brief mention of the acid suphate soils. That is a fact and acid sulphate erodes concrete, and that in the future could be a major problem for buildings that are constructed in the immediate coastal areas. Thanks very much for making that point. Also, the Arboretum is not progressing in the way that was intended. In fact, I see the latest thing that's advertised near the Seaford football ground is a sign saying intended works is putting in a wide concrete path. Has that been done?
[Audience says that is has been done.]
Yes, which is an impermeable surface. It was not warranted because they already had the other track over the railway line, a stone's throw away. I think that was very regrettable.
The other point that I want to make, and this is a really, really important comment. Some years ago, I challenged a law in Victoria and I fought and I fought and I changed legislation in this state. I did that on my own with the valuable assistance of a rather older lady in Melbourne. Between us, we changed that law. The message therefore to you - and again I've been in many situations which were considered quite impossible, and through Endeavor and through crafts and skill, I made those situations change - the message to you is that in each and every person there is a storehouse of strength. Never feel powerless. If you feel powerless, you will be powerless. If you feel empowered, you will make changes around you.