Monthly Archives: February 2013

LOST OPEN SPACE OPPORTUNITY & GOVERNANCE

This is a brief update on our 9th February, 2013 posting. In addition to outlining Council’s failure to purchase the 487 Neerim Road, Murrumbeena property and or discuss the potential purchase, the 9/2/13 posting also raised pertinent questions on Council’s decision making process, namely

o who made the decision?
o what information was provided to ensure an informed, impartial decision was made?
o did Councillors have some input into the decision or were they advised after the decision was made?

The answers to questions 1 and 3 above are answered via the belated inclusion of the the Records of Assembly+ in Council’s just published agenda for next Tuesday’s (26/2/2013) Council Meeting – extracts of Agenda Items 8b i and 8b ii. 

The relevant minutes for the assemblies of 11th and 18th December, 2012 make no mention of any discussion on the acquisition of the 487 Neerim Road property occurring at either assembly. Ergo, the decision (implicit in Council’s 14/12/2012 letter to GERA) not to purchase the property was not made by Councillors and Councillors had no input into the decision.

Given

  • the significance that residents have been placing on Glen Eira’s limited open space in every community/council plan and State Government “Satisfaction Survey” since 1998 – and vocally reiterated in the 2012-2013 Community Plan, and
  • Council’s abysmal performance in acquiring additional open space (since 2003 only the two Packer Park house lots have been acquired for $1.9m.  Yet, for the same period, Council received $12.8m in Open Space Contributions from high density developers).

The failure to discuss with, or involve Councillors in, this open space issue (in either an open Council Meeting or an assembly) raises serious questions on how governance is practiced in Glen Eira.

  • Who makes decisions and on what information is the decision made?
  •         How are decisions communicated to Councillors and residents?
  • What weight is given to the community’s expressed values?
  • Councillors may delegate authority to act on their behalf, however, the responsibility for the actions taken remains with Councillors. How are decisions made under delegations reported to them? What ability do they have to question administrative actions or to raise residents issues at Council (i.e. with other Councillors and the Administration)?

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Footnotes:

+ An “Assembly of Councillors”, as defined in the Local Law, is an in camera briefing session, involving both the Administration and Councillors, to enable the Administration to report day to day activities to Councillors and inform (or highlight to) Councillors of current and future significant issues – particularly issues that are likely to be contentious.   As per Local Law decisions are not permitted to be made at Assemblies, decisions can only be made at Ordinary (open) Council Meetings.

 * Delegations of Authority – Delegations of Authority (ie. the instruments which confer on the Administration the authority to act, on behalf of the elected representatives, when undertaking the day to day administrative activities associated with the Municipality)

The Delegations of Authority, Councillors have given to the Administration are wide ranging.   Reporting to Councillors of administrative decisions made, under delegations of authority, is at the discretion of the administration.

Links

To make it easier for readers, GERA has included relevant extracts of the Records of Assembly included the referenced Agenda for the 26/02/2013 Council Meeting.   For those interested, a full copy of the Agenda is available from Council’s website – the relevent Agenda Items are 8b i and ii.

CORRRECTION

GERA’s above posting and our earlier (9/2/2013) posting regarding Council’s decision not to purchase the 487 Neerim Road property incorrectly states that Council did not respond to our 15/12/2012 email.  This is incorrect – the Mayor’s response  is dated 24/12/2012 and GERA apologizes to Council, Members and Readers for this omission.

While GERA accepts responsibility for this omission, GERA contends that the points raised in our various postings for considering purchasing the property remain valid and seriously questions Council’s decision making process and Councillor input into that process.

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LOST OPEN SPACE OPPORTUNITY – UPDATE

GERA has delayed updating our earlier postings urging Council to acquire the rare and unique 3142 sqm property at 487 Neerim Road, Murrumbeena, until Council and/or individual Councillors responded to our 15/12/2012. GERA’s 15/12/2012 was the last in a series of correspondence with Council commencing on 06/12/2012.  Regretably GERA reports no further response from Council.

RECAP

Tallow Wood

Tallow Wood – Neerim Road Entrance

Acquisition of the property (and recognised significant vegetation+ – pictures) would which have resulted in a 40-50% increase in the Riley Reserve, Murrumbeena – a reserve located equidistant from, and within easy walking distant of, the Hughesdale and Murrumbeena Housing Diversity Housing Areas (targeted as high density development areas) – for a cost more favourable than the acquisition of 2 house lots in Packer Park (acquired during the 2008-2012 Council term). On 20/12/2012, the property was auctioned and sold for development. Although the property is located in a Minimal Change Area, in 2009 (and despite receiving a significant number of objections) Council granted a planning permit for 2 two storey buildings (23 dwellings) on the site (as a result of a developer appeal to VCAT site intensity was later increased to 3 stories and 26 dwellings) – Extract from Council Meeting Minutes – 30th June, 2009.    Residents are now extremely concerned that site intensity will be further increased and that Council actively enforces vegetation protection measures lodged/proposed on the site in 2009*.

THE CONTINUING STORY

GERA’s 15/12/2012 letter was in response to Cr. Jamie Hyams letter of 14/12/2012  which, without explicitly stating that a decision not to purchase the property had been made, outlined Council’s reasons for not acquiring the 487 Neerim Road property. In addition to re-iterating the open space benefits the property presented, GERA’s  15/12/2012 letter also requested an opportunity to discuss acquisition of the property and clarification of a number of points raised by Cr. Hyams. Even though Council “responsiveness goals” includes a commitment to respond to all correspondence from residents, GERA has yet to receive a response from either Council or any individual Councillor (all Councillors were copied in all correspondence from GERA). It should be noted that although GERA’s sent copies of all it’s letters to all Councillors, Cr. Hyams’s letter does not show that copies were forwarded to each Councillor.

As mentioned in many previous posts, Glen Eira has the least amount of per capita open space in metropolitan Melbourne. Glen Eira’s per capita open space at 1.4 hectares per 1000 is half of the average for Melbourne and is falling even lower as development intensifies in Housing Diversity (high density) Areas and the expansion of pavilions and associated car parking consumes open space.

Given the significance that residents have been placing on Glen Eira’s limited open space in every community/council plan and State Government “Satisfaction Survey” since 1998, this lack of response (both from Council and individual Councillor’s) is disconcerting. This lack of response is reminiscent of Council’s adoption of silence rather than informing residents of GESAC opening delays. As result GERA must question Council’s

decision making process

o who made the decision?
o what information was provided to ensure an informed, impartial decision was made? The information presented should have been extensive and have included, but not be limited to, Council’s current and future financial position, project population growth for the Hughesdale and Murrumbeena Housing Diversity (high density), projections of future open space availability and costings across Glen Eira, potential economies in parkland maintenance, costs of purchase and rehabilitation of the property.
o did Councillors have some input into the decision or were they advised after the decision was made?

Possible acquisition of the 487 Neerim Road was not discussed at the Ordinary Council Meeting of 18/12/2012 – the property was auctioned on 20/12/2012. The Records (ie. minutes) of the Assembly+ included in the Minutes of the 18/12/2012  are prior (4/12/2012) to GERA’s initial correspondence (6/12/2012) recommending Council consider purchasing the property.

At last Tuesday’s Ordinary Council Meeting (5/02/2013) – the first for 2013 – again no mention was made of 487 Neerim Road property. Nor were any Records of Assembly, for the intervening period (05/12/2012 – 05/02/2012) presented to the meeting.

Under the wide ranging Delegations of Authority*, Councillors have given to the Administration, the decision not to purchase the property may have been made without Councillor input (who were informed after the decision had been made). Reporting to Councillors of administrative decisions made, under delegations of authority, is at the discretion of the administration.

Please note that the above questions are not only pertinent in this instance.   GERA regularly receives these questions from residents on a range of issues – from planning permit approvals, tree felling, concrete plinths in parks to traffic and parking management. Increasingly residents report feeling that decisions are made by the Administration with little or no input from Councillors.

the addition of two implied conditions to open space acquisition (neither condition being raised during any community consultation) included in Cr. Hyams response

o “New open space may well be of even greater priority than enlarging existing open space” .   Such a statement not only lacks justification but also implies a limitation on the parkland opportunities that will be considered rather than assessing each opportunity on it’s own merits.

Additionally, this emphasis placed on “new open space”, which references the Booran Road Reservoir Park (formerly the Glen Huntly Reservoir), raises a question on Council’s priorities.  Council’s at-no-cost acquisition of the land was first mooted in the late 1990’s, Council’s first community consultation on the proposed park occurred in March, 2008, yet rehabilitation works will not be commenced until 2017 and will not be completed until 2019/2020.

o “Council’s priorities will be to adopt and implement a prioritized and costed plan to meet the communities need for public open space”.   Such a statement lacks clarity as it implies focus on events that can be planned and costed (eg maintenance of existing parkland, pavilion developments) rather than recognising the unexpected nature of real estate opportunities.

 It also adds strength to residents arguments that Council hold a specifically designated fund (eg. the Open Space Levy paid by developers – which has generated $12.8m since 2003) in reserve to enable Council to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. Residents should also note that since 2003 Council acquisition of additional parkland has been restricted to the 2011 purchase of 2 house lots abutting Packer Park for $1.9m. This purchase was an “enlarging of existing open space”.

With the impending review of Council’s Open Space Strategy (last updated in 1998) residents should

objectively evaluate Council’s performance in meeting the community’s very vocal open space objectives against the previous strategy, and

actively participate in the impending review to ensure that their objectives are truly reflected in the new strategy and that the

o manner and means for Council to achieve the objectives are clear cut and unambiguously defined.
o quantifiable unambiguously defined performance measures are included
o regular reporting of Council’s performance to residents, with defined content, is included.
o date of next review is stated

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* Significant Vegetation – pictures.   GERA representatives and residents confirm that the vegetation mentioned in the below extract are still exist on the site and are healthy.   Extract from above referenced June 2009 Council Minutes – “The current application seeks to retain 14 significant trees on the subject site, including 3 significant Tallow Woods and 2 Washingtonia Palms … Council’s Landscape Assessment Officer has confirmed that, subject to the careful implementation of tree protection measures, all significant trees can be retained.

… Before the commencement of the development, the owner of the land at 487 Neerim Road, Murrumbeena, must enter into an Agreement with the Responsible Authority pursuant to Section 173 of the Planning and Environment Act 1987, to the satisfaction of the Responsible Authority, with covenants relating to:
• Implementation of the Tree Management Plan during the construction phase of the development; and
• Ongoing maintenance of trees and landscaping in accordance with the Tree Management Plan by the future residents of the competed development.

… A memorandum of the Agreement is to be entered on Title and the costs of the preparation and execution of the Agreement and entry of the memorandum on Title are to be paid by the owner of the land to be developed under this permit”

+ An “Assembly of Councillors” , as defined in the Local Law, is an in camera briefing session, involving both the Administration and Councillors, to enable the Administration to report day to day activities to Councillors and inform (or highlight to) Councillors of current and future significant issues – particularly issues that are likely to be contentious. As per Local Law decisions are not permitted to be made at Assemblies, decisions can only be made at Ordinary (open) Council Meetings.

Assembly meetings are usually held every Tuesday. In the event of an Ordinary Council Meeting being held on the same day, the Assembly occurs prior to the Ordinary Council Meeting.

As the Christmas/New Year Holiday period falls within the 4/12/2012 – 05/02/2013 timeframe, it is acknowledged that Councillor Assemblies may not have been held on a regular weekly (Tuesday) basis. However, Assemblies would have been held and the absence of these records is disconcerting and, as previously mentioned, is as disconcerting as it was during the GESAC opening delays.

Although the records/minutes containing minimal information (ie. attendees and topic headings), they do advise residents that the issue was raised at the Councillor level rather than handled solely by the Administration. Unfortunately, due to the absence of Records of Assembly since 4/12/2012 to the 5/02/2013, GERA is unable to advise residents if Councillors were involved in the decision not to purchase the property or the extent of their involvement in the decision.

** Delegations of Authority – Delegations of Authority (ie. the instruments which confer on the Administration the authority to act, on behalf of the elected representatives, when undertaking the day to day administrative activities associated with the Municipality)