In this issue: 1.WELCOME TO 2023; 2.VCAT DELAYS; 3.STOP THE GREAT WALL OF FRANKSTON; 4.SUNBURY HIGH RISE TO GO TO VCAT; 5.KILMORE BUSHFIRE EVACUATION ISSUE; 6.BAD NEWS ON THE MORNINGTON PENINSULA; 7. KINGSWOOD GOLF COURSE; 8.477 SYDNEY RD. COBURG – BIKE SPACES, BUT NO CARS PLEASE; 9. PLANNING DEMOCRACY FACEBOOK PAGE; 10. WORLD HERITAGE MANAGEMENT PLAN OVERVIEW; 11. WAR ON PLASTIC; 12.VCAT DECISION – BENALLA VISITOR INFORMATION CENTRE CINEMA AND CAFÉ; 13.REGIONAL VICTORIANS OPPOSED TO DUCK SHOOTING; 14. AMENDMENT C219more – 42 ST PHILLIP ST BRUNSWICK; 15. ADELAIDE DEVELOPERS CRITICISE URBAN INFILL; 16. AUSTRALIA’S FALLING HOME OWNERSHIP RATE; 17. NSW $1.2 BILLION PUBLIC ASSET GIVEN AWAY; 18. LOGGING THE DANDENONG RANGES NATIONAL PARK; 19. MELBOURNE AIRPORT 2022 MASTER PLAN APPROVED; 20. BOROONDARA CYCLEWAY; 21. WATTLE PARK https://candobetter.net/files/planning-democracy-banner-med-vanilla-tiny_1.png
- WELCOME TO 2023.
I hope everyone has been enjoying the summer, with Melbourne’s weather in January being so far more co-operative than it was in December. The Herald-Sun used the quiet time to survey residents about Councils. Residents were in favour of Councils being amalgamated, or having their services taken over by the State Government and scrapped altogether! Those of us who have dealings with Councils won’t be particularly surprised by this result. Councillors and Council officers regularly seem to be pursuing their own agendas rather than representing the views of their residents, and their bureaucracies have grown and become more impenetrable and less responsive over the years.
However, in my view, Council amalgamations, or having State Government take over Council functions, would make the problem of inaccessibility and unresponsiveness worse. Indeed, I think a considerable part of the current problem lies at the door of the 1990s amalgamations. Prior to that time the smaller Councils were far more responsive, and had much less bureaucracy, than they have now. Handing over Council powers to the State Government would suit property developers and large corporations, but not help ordinary residents.
The Age also got in on the act, reporting on the Victorian Ombudsman’s findings that 3 outer Councils (Casey, Hume, and Whittlesea) and 2 inner Councils (Merri-bek, formerly called Moreland, and Darebin) were Victoria’s most complained-about Councils during the 2021-22 financial year. In Hume, Merri-bek, and Darebin, the most complaints were about how Councils handled complaints!
My take-home messages from these reports are two-fold. First, if Councils expect their residents to protect them from moves by State Government to diminish their role and powers, they need to be more responsive to residents than they are at the moment. They need to stop hiding behind computer screens, and listen to residents’ views, rather than treating residents as a “problem” to be circumvented, as Council planning officers in particular seem to do.
Secondly, residents who are unhappy with Council actions should make a formal complaint to the Ombudsman. They do get investigated and reported on, and are an important accountability mechanism.
One potentially positive development is the State Government’s plan to re-introduce Single Member Wards at the next Council elections. This will reduce the size of wards. I am cautiously optimistic that smaller wards will lead to greater accountability and responsiveness from elected Councillors than we have seen in recent years.
- VCAT DELAYS
The Age also reported during the Christmas period on delays at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). Waiting times are now months and even years. Disputes between landlords and tenants are now taking months to resolve, whereas they used to usually take weeks. The waiting time for building disputes is increasing, with a median delay now of more than 8 months. Needless to say, this is a great hardship for someone who has a dispute with their builder or building authority.
The Planning and Environment Division, which mostly hears cases about property development, has a median wait time of 33 weeks. Mornington Peninsula (88 cases) Yarra (87) and Boroondara (84) had the highest numbers of VCAT planning cases.
It seems to me that if the State Government restricted the right to appeal Council planning decisions to cases where Councils have not followed their own rules, developers would lodge much fewer appeals. This would both reduce the length of time the Planning Division takes to hear cases, and potentially free up resources for VCAT to deal with serious matters such as landlord tenant disputes.
- STOP THE GREAT WALL OF FRANKSTON
We are supporting the campaign by the Protectors of Public Lands and local groups – the Port Phillip Conservation Council, Frankston Beach Association, Kananook Creek Association, Long Island Residents Group and Mornington Environment Association – to stop developers turning the Frankston foreshore into an ugly imitation Gold Coast.
Frankston Council voted 5 to 4 in favour of a 14 storey high-rise at the waterfront. Other plans already at Council seek 14, 15 and 16 storey high rises at the waterfront. The Draft Structure Plan for the City Centre proposes no mandatory building height limits. If all this proceeds, the enviable beachside character of Frankston will disappear under a wall of glass and concrete.
How can you help?
- Sign the Change.org petition https://www.change.org/p/stop-the-great-wall-of-frankston. Note that any contribution on the petition page goes to Change.org and not to the sponsoring groups.
- Volunteer your time or provide a contribution to fight developers at VCAT by contacting Jennifer Young at [email protected].
- Seek endorsement of this campaign from your organisation and let Jennifer and Michael Petit, Protectors of Public Lands ([email protected]) know. It would be helpful if you could provide them with a contact person with a phone number or email address for updates as the campaign progresses.
- SUNBURY HIGH RISE TO GO TO VCAT
Peter Gavin and other Sunbury residents are appealing the decision of the Hume Council to allow the first five-storey apartment building in Sunbury. If it goes ahead the building will set a precedent for a transformation of Sunbury from a largely single level country town into an urban centre.
After Hume made its decision, residents obtained a copy of the Urban Design Report prepared for the 52 O’Shanassy Street development (the “Blades Report”). The Report recommended that the height be reduced to a maximum of 4 storeys, and made a number of other recommendations for change to the application. It is unclear whether these changes were incorporated, and unclear whether Councillors saw this Report prior to making their decision.
It is, however, absolutely clear that residents did not have access to this Report before the decision, and that Council did not follow the recommendation to reduce the height to 4 storeys. These failures are likely to strengthen the residents’ case at VCAT, which already has strong grounds due to Council ignoring its own rules concerning the town centre.
- KILMORE BUSHFIRE EVACUATION ISSUE
I have previously reported on the efforts by the Kilmore and District Residents and Ratepayers Association (KADRRA) to prevent housing development on land which was owned by Council and was handed over to the Kilmore Racing Club in mysterious circumstances.
One of the concerns of KADRRA has always been that the land at 15-35 East Street is a designated “Neighbourhood Safe Place – Place of Last Resort” in the event of a wildfire. However, the area has now been fenced off by the Kilmore Racing Club, with padlocked gates.
KADRRA President Vyvienne Whitehurst has written to the Mitchell Shire, asking what plans Council has to enable Kilmore residents to evacuate to a safe place in the event of a fire emergency. She says an allocated area in Kilmore, rather than in a neighbouring town, is essential. Previous fires have made roads to Lancefield, Broadford, Seymour, Tallarook, Wandong and Wallan inaccessible.
- BAD NEWS ON THE MORNINGTON PENINSULA
VCAT has over-ridden the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council, Green Wedges, and local residents, to approve a Ryman Health proposal for a retirement village and residential aged care facility at 60-70 Kunyung Road Mount Eliza. The site is on Green Wedge land, and residential development like this is unacceptable. VCAT and the developer have taken advantage of a loophole concerning the siting of “Places of Worship” on Green Wedge land. It is time this loophole was closed.
I have read the VCAT decision. It has numerous flaws. Its consideration of the heritage significance of the existing buildings was perfunctory. It attacked Council’s heritage witness for being “emotive”. Are we to conclude that VCAT does not have a heart? Surely heritage is an emotive issue. Without emotions, would anyone care about heritage? The attack suggests VCAT is ill-equipped to deal with heritage issues.
I thought the failure to order the preparation of a Bushfire Emergency Management Plan, in a region of designated bushfire risk, had a “she’ll be right, mate” tone which is inappropriate. I also thought VCAT was too relaxed about the car parking requirements for the new development, essentially assuming that older people don’t own or drive cars. The likely consequence is a substantial increase in traffic and parking congestion in the Kunyung Road area.
I understand Mornington Peninsula Council is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court. It would be great if the Ryman Health development did not proceed, and Mornington Peninsula’s Green Wedge received the protection it deserves.
- KINGSWOOD GOLF COURSE
It’s not just fire we need to take more seriously than we have in the past, it’s also floods. The Save Kingswood Group has been opposing plans by Australian Super for a 823 dwelling development on the former Kingswood Golf Course at Dingley. The proposal received 8000 objections. The Kingston Council and local and Federal MPs also oppose the proposal. The proposal is currently in the hands of the State Minister for Planning.
The Save Kingswood Group Inc. is opposed to rezoning, opposed to subdivision, and opposed to residential over-development. Kevin Poulter, President of the Group, has pointed out that the Golf Course is on a Flood Plain. La Nina weather patterns in future could result in Dingley Village being highly susceptible to flooding if the proposed development proceeds.
- 477 SYDNEY RD. COBURG – BIKE SPACES, BUT NO CARS PLEASE.
I have joined the Coburg Historical Society in objecting to Planning Permit Application MPS2022/773 at Merri-bek Council concerning 477 Sydney Rd Coburg. The present building was the home of the Bendigo Bank’s Coburg branch, and is a 2 storey building at the front and a single storey at the rear. There are car parking spaces at the rear of the building.
The proposal is for a 7 storey plus rooftop terrace building. There will be 20 new dwellings, ten 2 bedroom apartments and ten 1 bedroom apartments. The full height of the building will be over 23 metres.
The proposed height puts it right out of scale with the adjoining buildings. It is out of scale and out of character with the Coburg Shopping Centre streetscape. The maximum height of the building exceeds the Council’s preferred height in its Activity Centre Zone 1. What is the point of Council spending a lot of money, and residents spending a lot of time, developing planning rules, if they are simply treated as optional, or as minimums, by developers?
I particularly object to the proposal that there be no car parking spaces at all, but provision for 42 bicycle spaces. One might expect to find this in the script of a satirical send-up of Merri-bek Council, but not in a serious planning application.
For the past 20 years there has been an unholy alliance between property developers, whose sole motivation is to maximise profits, and the anti-car political left, to undermine the reasonable proposition that residents should have off-street spaces for their vehicles, and use those spaces. This unholy alliance has not succeeded in reducing car ownership. All it has delivered is traffic congestion and reduced liveability.
The latest new car sales in Australia for 2022 show new car sales in 2022 were 1,081,429, or a new car bought every 30 seconds. This represents a 31% increase on the sales figure 20 years ago, in 2002, which was 824,000. The reason why car ownership in Australia has grown relentlessly, despite the futile efforts of planners to stop it, is hiding in plain sight. During that 20 year period, Australia’s population grew from 19.7 million to 25,978,935 (30 June 2002 to 30 June 2022), an increase of, you guessed it, 31%.
Urban densification has simply not delivered the environmental benefits which are routinely claimed for it. Objections to this application can be posted to Kate MacLaren, Urban Planner, Merri-bek City Council, Locked Bag 10 Brunswick 3056, or sent online, by Jan 26.
- PLANNING DEMOCRACY FACEBOOK PAGE
The Planning Democracy Facebook Page is gradually taking shape. I have put posts on it concerning 477 Sydney Rd Coburg, the World Heritage Management Plan for the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens, Hume Council’s approval of the 5 storey development in Sunbury, and the Ryman Health 6 storey application on the Lionsville site in Essendon. More to follow.
- WORLD HERITAGE MANAGEMENT PLAN OVERVIEW
As I reported previously, the final draft Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens World Heritage Management Plan has been released for public comment. It’s 174 pages, a length which will deter all but a few from reading it in full, and you wonder sometimes whether this is deliberate – the appearance of serious and detailed work being used to deter real scrutiny from the public in general and journalists in particular.
Fiona Bell, President of Protectors of Public Lands, says there is a range of shortcomings in the way this World Heritage area is presently managed. There are no Steering Committee meetings open to the public, and no reports of Committee Meetings available to the public. She points to the City of Melbourne and Museums Victoria having conflicts of interest at the site. She says the protections around the site have failed to prevent major developments such as the Shangri-La Hotel, Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery, and Besen development at 1-9 Gertrude St Fitzroy. She and Margaret O’Brien, from the Friends of Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens, would like to see a single authority focussed solely on world heritage, with a designated budget and staffing, without conflicts of interest and other responsibilities.
Submissions concerning the Plan should be emailed to [email protected] or posted to the Steering Committee via Heritage Victoria at PO Box 500 Melbourne Vic 8002, by 17 February.
- WAR ON PLASTIC
Neil Sutton has provided a breakdown of the 47 kgs collected at a litter clean up I participated in on 11 December at the K. W. Joyce Reserve, Pascoe Vale. A total of 1924 pieces of litter were removed from the Westbreen Creek and banks. Of this the top 4 categories removed were
*soft plastic fragments/remnants (619)
* polystyrene pieces (602)
*broken glass (158)
* plastic drink bottles (125)
Litter continues to pose huge problems for our waterways, with plastic being the chief offender. I was going through my father’s personal effects recently, and came across a couple of articles reporting him accepting an Award in 1984 from the then Premier John Cain, on behalf of Keep Coburg Beautiful, because Coburg had been judged the Melbourne Metropolitan Winner of the Tidy Town Competition. I have included one of the articles as an Attachment. It’s unfortunate that the war on plastic doesn’t seem to have progressed since my father was engaging in it, and if anything seems to have deteriorated. I don’t know if the Tidy Towns Competition still goes, and it certainly doesn’t receive much profile.
- VCAT DECISION – BENALLA VISITOR INFORMATION CENTRE CINEMA AND CAFÉ
VCAT has allowed the cinema and café part of the Benalla Visitor Information Centre Project. The cinema and café had been challenged by local residents. Applicants David Blore and Jane Rushworth commented that, notwithstanding the approval, serious concerns remain over –
- Benalla Council’s failure to consult with the community in any way in developing this project
- The provision of information in good time – ironically, and correctly, a requirement that Council expected for themselves in the VCAT process
- The longer-term financial viability of the cinema and potential future impacts on the Council’s Budget (no supporting business case has ever been presented to the Benalla community)
- The positioning of the cinema with tiered flooring below the 1% flood level of the adjacent Broken River, where major flooding occurred in October 2022
- The failure to undertake a Cultural Heritage Management Plan specifically for this project to the satisfaction of the Registered Aboriginal Party
- Implications of the proposed café opening hours on the nearly 30 other café proprietors in Benalla.
David and Jane say that the VCAT application enabled them to get access to previously hidden information. They also note that VCAT had some strong words for Council: “It is regrettable that the information regarding the operation of the uses on the land has not been provided to the applicants nor is this information readily available to the public”, and “the lack of information from Council to the applicants is concerning”. Residents hope that Council will now lift its approach to effective and meaningful community engagement.
- REGIONAL VICTORIANS OPPOSED TO DUCK SHOOTING
The Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting have sent me their submission to the Game Management Victoria opposing a 2023 duck season, and I have included it as an Attachment. Apart from the issues of animal welfare, and impact on waterbird numbers, of the duck season, their Submission goes to the impact on residential amenity of people who live close to wetlands where shooting is allowed. Adverse impacts include inability to work from home, inability for shift workers to sleep, noise pollution, distress to children, livestock and pets from shooting, trespass, and safety risks of firearms in public places. New South Wales and Western Australia successfully ended recreational duck shooting a number of years ago.
- AMENDMENT C219more – 42 ST PHILLIP ST BRUNSWICK
I have previously reported on the decision by Merri-bek Council to appoint a Planning Panel to consider removing a State Government restriction on a property to a single dwelling. After both Council and VCAT rejected an application for two dwellings on the site, the developer built a single dwelling adjacent to his property boundary with his neighbours, Steve and Ronnie Whitmore, leaving a space available for a second dwelling and effectively thumbing his nose at both Council and VCAT.
Council now appears to have rolled over, and has asked the Minister for Planning to appoint a Panel to consider the owner’s desire to get rid of the State Government restriction and build a second dwelling.
- ADELAIDE DEVELOPERS CRITICISE URBAN INFILL
Annely Aeuckens has sent me a report from Adelaide where the Urban Development Institute of Australia SA has proposed that there be a reduction in general infill development in Adelaide. “UDIA believes there should be a reduction in general infill development and refocus on strategic infill in identified sites”. Their CEO Pat Gerace said that if general infill housing is relied on too much, it “does create a lot of angst within existing suburbs and communities where you see the impacts that are not catered for in respect to traffic management or where there’s no new open space created”.
I didn’t come down in the last shower, and know that developers are happy to use whatever argument suits their purpose at any given moment. I don’t support their view that the Adelaide CBD be the focus of new residential development. We’ve done that in Melbourne for decades, and it has done nothing for our sustainability or liveability.
Nevertheless, the recognition by the SA developers that urban infill comes with real problems is very welcome. It’s a big improvement on the “missing middle” rubbish that planners and developers spout in Melbourne as they eye off every blade of grass that hasn’t been paved over.
- AUSTRALIA’S FALLING HOME OWNERSHIP RATE
Macrobusiness produced a graph recently of Australia’s slowly but surely declining home ownership rate. In 1994-95 it stood at 71.5%. It is now around 66%. Young people are of course the losers from this continuing decline. And the claim by developers that the problem is planning restrictions and a lack of supply is not borne out by the facts on the ground. We’ve had more supply than ever, and looser planning rules than ever, but home ownership continues to decline.
Young couples go to auctions to bid. But if the land doesn’t have planning or zoning restrictions, they are outbid by a developer who can make money by putting more dwellings on it. In theory the young couple could buy one of those dwellings, but in reality (a) the dwellings might be rented, rather than put up for sale, (b) some apartments are built as luxury apartments, costing just as much as a detached house, and (c) many apartments are sub-standard, and just not a great place to live or raise a family.
- NSW $1.2 BILLION PUBLIC ASSET GIVEN AWAY
In my last Report I discussed Crown Land in Victoria ending up in private hands in mysterious circumstances, with taxpayers having nothing to show for it. But we’d be hard pressed to match this example reported by Michael West in MichaelWestMedia on 5 January.
The NSW Government has spent $1.2 billion to build Sydney’s Northern Beaches Hospital, and surrounding roadworks, on a large and valuable chunk of public land at 105 Frenchs Forest Road West, Frenchs Forest. In 2018 it leased the Hospital for 20 years for $1 per annum (if demanded!) to Healthscope.
A few months later the American finance company Brookfield launched a takeover bid for Healthscope and its 42 hospitals. The Foreign Investment Review Board, which is more aptly named the Foreign Investment Rubber Stamp, approved the takeover, as it always does. So now the Hospital is run by a company controlled by a parent company operating out of the Cayman Islands. The problems with this arrangement are legion. First, the Cayman Islands company has no public disclosure obligations, so we don’t know who is really running the hospital. Secondly, private equity companies have as their first duty to maximise wealth for shareholders. This is just not appropriate for a hospital, whose first duty should be the health of its patients.
- LOGGING THE DANDENONG RANGES NATIONAL PARK
The Victorian National Parks Association reports Victorian Government department Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMV) are working with VicForests to salvage log parts of the Dandenong Ranges National Park. FFMV and VicForests call this fire management and clean up. But the VNPA says “Threatened and vulnerable native wildlife desperately need habitat in forests recovering from storm events. Yellow-bellied and Greater Gliders, Powerful and Sooty Owls are present in and adjacent to the proposed logging areas”. Distinguished forest ecologist David Lindenmayer says “I’ve never heard of this happening in a national park in Australia – it’s entirely inappropriate”.
- MELBOURNE AIRPORT 2022 MASTER PLAN APPROVED
The Federal Minister for Infrastructure has approved Melbourne Airport’s 2022 Master Plan. The Master Plan confirms Melbourne Airport’s third runway will be built in a north-south direction, with “safeguarding” for a fourth runway in an east-west direction in what is known as the “hashtag configuration”. The Master Plan does not represent approval for the third runway. Melbourne Airport says it plans to submit its proposal to build the third runway to the Commonwealth for consideration early this year.
- BOROONDARA CYCLEWAY
Ian Hundley has advised that contractors for Boroondara Council have commenced constructing the first part of a 5 km cycleway which, if completed, will extend through parkland in East Kew, Balwyn and North Balwyn. Ian says Council plans to extend the cycleway through Hays Paddock to link with the Principle Bicycle Network adjacent to the Eastern Freeway. Ian notes that the Boroondara Bicycle Users Group has privileged access to Boroondara Council through Council’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, and is also represented on a North East Link Consultative group. There is no equivalent advisory body for people who wish to advocate for the parks.
- WATTLE PARK
Parks Victoria is proceeding with controversial works in Wattle Park which I have discussed in previous reports. Residents have expressed concern about the bulldozing of the site of the historic Lawler’s homestead for the playscape, whose envelope far exceeds the former playground area. Concern has also been expressed about the cutting down of mature canopy trees, and the erection of twenty-two 6.5 metre high light poles on a diagonal line through the lawn in front of the historic chalet. These lights will be detrimental to the park’s wildlife. Residents have also asked Parks Victoria when the cracked bitumen tennis courts will be re-surfaced, so they can be used by the community.