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.

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