Monthly Archives: March 2012

GESAC – What’s the Date

Following on from our earlier posting (8th February – refer to the GESAC Topic heading – you may need to scroll down to access it) on the largest single capital works project ever undertaken by Glen Eira Council, i.e. the $50+m Glen Eira Sports and Aquatic Centre (GESAC) we thought it important to advise residents and ratepayers of the current state of play.

Although we believe that those bearing the bulk of the financial burden of the facility (i.e. ratepayers, residents and GESAC Members) should be kept informed of the facility’s progress Council does not.  Instead of following the principles of “open, transparent and accountable governance” and, despite residents’ concerns being recorded in the local media and on the GESAC website, Council continues to provide either scant information or silence.

To continue on the sorry GESAC saga –

  • At the 13 December Council Meeting it was announced that “further delays” would result in an “after the end of January opening date
  • A Leader article, 17th January, 2012 indicates that “after the end of January” has become “in March, 2012”.
  • At the first Council Meeting for 2012, (7th February, 2012) no update on GESAC progress is presented, however, a $0.5m GESAC revenue loss is recognised for December, 2011.  Please note, the limited information provided in the minutes does not enable us to determine reduced GESAC expenses which would offset the revenue loss.
  • At the 28th February, 2012 Council Meeting an end of March opening date is announced.  The GESAC website is updated with an undated letter from Cr. Michael Lipshutz, Chairman of the Pools Steering Committee (i.e. the Committee appointed to oversee GESAC project) stating that “GESAC will open as soon as possible but that is unlikely to be before the end of schools’ Term One (30 March)”.
  • At the 20th March, 2012 Council meeting no update on GESAC progress is presented (where are the minutes of the Pools Steering Committee Meeting of 8th March!!!), however a $1.3m GESAC revenue loss is recognised (Council Minutes, 20th March, 2012 – Item 9.9 Financial Report for period ending January, 2012 – page 6).  Again, limited information does not enable the determination of an offsetting reduction in GESAC expenses.

The end of March is nigh and no opening date has been announced. Although, the GESAC website and the Glen Eira News, April 2012 feature pictures of the various areas within GESAC,  no opening date is given.  The comment that the centre “is nearing completion” is all that is mentioned.      

Residents, ratepayers and GESAC members can be forgiven for wondering

  • if there is any significant difference between the previous “after the end of January” vs. the current “is nearing completion” and
  • what it means for their ability to access the facility.

This is the result of Council’s failure to provide any significant information on the progress of GESAC.

While the construction/ outfitting and commissioning delays may raise questions about Council’s project management skills, there can be no doubt that Council’s handling of communication regarding delays in the project, falls way short of “open, transparent and accountable governance”.  At best it has been, and is, inadequate.   While the primary responsibility for this failure in communication can be directly attributable to those elected officials on the Steering Committee (i.e. Lipshutz (Chair), Esakoff and Magee), this failure is also shared with the other Councillors for their unquestioning and unanimous acceptance of whatever was presented and their long term failure to listen to their constituents.

This inadequate communication continued today, when an article (signed by Andrew Newton, CEO) appeared on Council’s website.  The last bullet point indicates an April, 2012 opening date.  Less than 5 weeks until the end of April and still no mention of an actual date.

On behalf of all concerned ratepayers, residents and GESAC members and potential users, GERA will be pressuring Council to

  • designate an actual date
  • provide a critical path analysis (with timeline) for expected completion.
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Update – GERA Planning Forum, March, 2012

GERA thanks the 70 + residents, Cr and Mrs. Lobo, Mr Forge for attending Thursday night’s (15/3) GERA planning forum – your attendance and discussion contributions made for a successful and informative evening.

We had planned for two guest Speakers, Cr Serge Thomann (Port Phillip Council), and Cr Rosemary West, OAM (Kingston Council).  Unfortunately, circumstances beyond his control prevented Cr Serge Thomann (Port Phillip Council) from attending,  however, Cr. Rosemary West raised many issues that resonated with residents and gave an insight into the way Kingston Council approaches these issues.

At the start of her discussion Cr. West clearly outlined the legislative roles of  local  government :

  • Councillors report to the ratepayers/residents
  • Council Administration reports to Councillors

For good governance reasons, it is critical that these vital responsibilities are observed at all times by Councillors and by the Council Administration – at all levels.  It is not just good governance, it is also the Law.  Council should always welcome ratepayers/residents views and act in accordance with those views.  Ratepayers and residents should be active in ensuring that their views are sought and heard – residents should not be “put off” by the paperwork and processes involved.

When it comes to planning issues, the following is a listing of items/issues raised, and an outline of the ensuing discussion (GERA’s and residents comments are presented in italics).   Cr. West believes residents should be aware of these issues and should be actively questioning their Councillors on them.

  • Structure Plans* are clear and tightly worded plans, developed in consultation with the community, to ensure that
    • all aspects (including flow on impacts) of development are considered by planners, and
    • development proposals are managed in line with the community’s  aspirations and that the community knows what is to be  built where.

(* For a more detailed outline of structure plans refer to GERA’s posting under the “Structure Planning” topic).

Cr. West believes structure plans are essential for each municipality and each activity centre/urban village/neighbourhood centre within the municipality.  At a minimum residents should be demanding these plans include height controls, traffic and parking management plans and buffer zones between high density developments and minimal change areas.  Cr. West said Plans and Planning schemes need to be clear and tightly worded to minimise VCAT’s ability to overturn Council decisions.

Please note that Glen Eira does not have any comprehensive Structure Plan/s, despite Councillors and the community demanding them.  Consequently, there are no specified height controls or analytical traffic and parking management plans or defined buffer zones.  Glen Eira’s plans and planning schemes are not clear and tightly worded – hence are frequently overturned by VCAT (the state government planning tribunal).

  • Delegations (of Authority) are the instruments used by Council to legally enable the Administrative Officers to handle the day to day affairs of the Municipality.  Delegations of Authority are presented for Council approval.  Responsibility for the operation of Council remains with Councillors, as does responsibility for ensuring that the delegations are appropriate and are complied with.  Cr. West emphasised the need for Councillor awareness of the implications of delegations.

Planning Permit Approval Process  

In most Councils, via delegations, approximately 95% of planning permit approvals are approved by Council Officers.  The process is as follows

    • Planning Officers review each planning permit application against the planning scheme.  Planning Officers may approve, deny or request further information or amendments.  The Planning Officer may or may not require a development to be advertised.  If the development is advertised and no objection is received the Planning Officer can approve the development.  If an objections is received or if the Planning Officer considers the development contentious the permit is sent to the Delegated Planning Committee (DPC)
    • The Delegated Planning Committee, (which in Glen Eira comprises three planning officers) , reviews the referred permits.  The DPC may decide to approve the permit, deny the permit or, if the number of objections received are determined to be “reasonable”, refer the permit to a planning conference which is chaired by a Councillor.
    • After the planning conference, the permit application is presented at a Council meeting for Councillor approval, denial or amendment.

What distinguishes Glen Eira Council from other Councils, is that Glen Eira Councillors do not have the ability to “call in” a planning permit.  A “call in”, usually arises when residents have requested a Councillor to seek a formal Council review of the permit. Glen Eira Councillor’s do not have this ability because they have delegated it away, most other Councils (including Kingston) have not done so and Councillors can “call in”  permit/s.

Cr. West advised that in Kingston when a “call-in”” occurs the officers’ reports, attached to the permit application, are questioned.  If the questions are unable to be resolved at the Council Meeting, the permit decision will be delayed until the answers to questions have been included in the officers’ reports.

         Planning Permit Extension Process 

Cr. West advised that Kingston found only 40% of approved planning permits were built within the prescribed  period.  The remaining 60% were given “rubber stamped” extension periods – no  consideration was being given to what had been happening with applications for nearby residences since the original permit application.  Kingston Council revised their delegations of authority to prevent “rubber stamping”.

Glen Eira delegations of authority currently allow this “rubber stamping” practice and needs to be revised accordingly. 

  • Planning Conferences

Cr. West advised that Kingston Council views their Planning Conferences (arising from objections to planning permits – refer above) as an opportunity to bring the various parties (Councillors, Planning Officers, Residents and the Developer) together to gain a consensus.  Kingston has found that consensus is generally achievable (e.g. 6 storeys objectionable but 3 storeys is acceptable).   At planning conferences Developers are asked to respond to residents’ concerns by presenting potential solutions which will be acceptable to most.

Many comments from the audience revealed that the Kingston example is not current practice in Glen Eira. The overwhelming sentiment was that in Glen Eira the planning conference is designed to merely fulfil the legal requirements rather than providing a means of listening to residents. There was the distinct feeling that decisions, in favour of the developer,  had already been made.  Glen Eira Planning Conferences are not focussed on gaining consensus and do not provide any developer discussion opportunity. 

  • Community Involvement 

Cr. West, stressed that the best way for residents to address the above issues was via active community involvement – contact your Councillors, write objections, attend Council forums, attend Council Meetings, stand for Council and support residents associations and groups.  Commitment to improving your Council will not occur overnight, it is a long term commitment that needs to be started now.  The intended introduction of Code Assess (The Age, 15th March, 2012), ie. the fast tracking of the approval process which reduces residents rights to object in specified areas, makes this imperative – particularly if you are dissatisfied with Councils planning.   Cr. West recognised that current life styles do not readily accommodate this commitment and emphasized the need for supporting local community groups to add weight to their voices.

GERA thanks Cr. West for her presentation and will actively lobby Councillors to listen and focus on the items raised during the forum.  GERA will also work to amend the planning and delegation deficiencies within Glen Eira.  GERA  welcomes resident involvement in these endeavours.

OVERDEVELOPMENT – COMING TO YOU SOON!

Residents Planning Forum

OVERDEVELOPMENT:   How can you protect yourself

Date:            Thursday, 15 March, 2012

Time:           7.30 p.m.

 Venue:         Bentleigh Club, Yawla St., Bentleigh

 Speakers*:    Cr. Serge Thomann  – Port Phillip Council

  Cr. Rosemary West, OAM  – Kingston Council

      Admission Fee

            Members:                        No charge

            Non-Members:               Small Gold Coin Donation     

Glen Eira Council has a bad Planning Scheme. It fails to control over-development. Other Council’s have stringent, hard-hitting controls, so why not Glen Eira? Instead, our Scheme goes easy on developers’ allowing them to build almost whatever they like and then, if Council makes a decision the developer disagrees with, it is easy for the developer  to appeal to VCAT to overrule Council’s decision.

The Council Plan  DOES NOT have:

  • Prescribed (ie fixed) Building Height Limits – anywhere
  • Structure Plans (ie. Detailed plans to control development).
  • Car Parking Plans (to stop our streets clogging up with even more parked cars).
  • Has no clearly defined “Transition” or Buffer zones to protect peopleliving near intense development areas.
  • Full Development Levies to pay for new parkland or amenities.

Worse still,  in Glen Eira huge developments are often approved with:

  • Heavily Reduced car parking requirements
  • Goods loading bays not demanded for commercial properties
  • Inadequate on-site car parking, forcing cars to park in our already clogged streets.
  • Traffic impacts are mostly disregarded, often spuriously declared to be “unlikely to have any significant negative impacts”.  Flow-on impact in local streets is not analysed. 
  • Then there is
    • Overlooking
    • Overshadowing and loss of sunlight caused by nearby high-rise buildings – claimed by Council planners to be “not excessive”! 
    • Trees cut down  (‘moonscaping’) of development sites.
    • Badly maintained drains, leading to local flooding.

SO, HOW SAFE ARE YOU? How safe is your street and neighbourhood?  Do you like the changes that are happening all around you?  Do you like the possibility of your street, your suburb, and your lifestyle being lost to more overdevelopment?   

DID YOU KNOW that Glen Eira Planners are planning for even more high rise towers; and more and more people in less and less space.   DO YOU WANT THIS?  Already 20% of Glen Eira has been set aside as ‘Housing Diversity Areas” ( ie. for High Density and High Rise unit development).  Council then pretends other 80% is a “Minimal Change Area”.  This really means “Minimally Protected Area”.

 WHAT CAN YOU DO? COME ALONG TO THE FORUM MEETING

______________________________________________________

* Speakers

Serge Thomann – A leading figure in the ‘Unchain St. Kilda Movement’ which was successful in putting a halt to the previous St. Kilda Triangle plans and in the election of councillors with a clear commitment to genuine community consultation and accountability in local government.

Rosemary West, AOM – A leading voice in community affairs and ensuring greater involvement by residents. Concerned about local control of planning issues, in particular the ‘green wedges’ proposals.