Will Council Listen?

At the recently well attended Community Plan Consultations the Mayor, Cr. Jamie Hyams, made a point of emphasising the importance of the Community Plan.  This Plan represents the community’s views and aspirations for Glen Eira’s future growth and development.  As such, it provides the framework for the Council Plan which outlines the means/actions Council will undertake to ensure that residents’ aspirations are achieved.

Cr. Hyams outlined the views expressed by residents at the last Community Plan Consultations (2008) and showed how Council had listened and incorporated those views in the resulting Council Plan.   To illustrate how well Council listened to residents, the example of Open Space was used. The Glen Eira Municipality has long been recognised as having the least available open space in the Melbourne Metropolitan area  (VEAC – Metropolitan Melbourne Investigation – Discussion Paper, page 185)  – as housing density grows, Glen Eira’s open space per capita continues to fall.

As per Cr. Hyams, Glen Eira Council heard the “more Open Space” and used the below points to outline what Council had achieved.  Theses actions, together with comments from GERA, are as follows:

 1.      Dog off leash area distance from play ground decreased from 50m to 20m.

GERA questions how moving a “virtual” boundary in existing parkland achieves “more open space” or improved open space.

 2.      Council and the Melbourne Racing Club (MRC) entered an agreement in which the MRC will undertake landscaping for the centre of the Caulfield Racecourse Reserve (estimated cost $1.8m).

 When Queen Victoria agreed to the creation of the Caulfield Racecourse Reserve (1885), the reserve was set aside for three equal uses – that of racecourse, public park and public recreation area.  While there may be some disagreement (thorough bred racing activities vs. public access) about some of the reserves access restrictions, the centre of the racecourse has always been a public park and recreation reserve.  Therefore the centre of the racecourse has always been legally regarded as open space. The proposed ‘development’ of the centre does not in fact add any additional open space to the city and its residents.

 Over the years (including recent years) Council has done little to ensure that the centre of the racecourse has been maintained for its intended purpose.  Indeed, the area in the centre of the racecourse has been whittled away (taken by training tracks and facilities) and much neglected.

 That the MRC has now seen fit to do something about landscaping the centre is related to Council’s approval of the MRC’s proposed development of the nearby MRC freehold land (between Station Street and Normanby Road, Caulfield North).    Housing an expected 2,500, this development, without increased open space will cause Glen Eira’s per capita open space ratio to fall further.   GERA does not believe that Council’s inclusion of landscaping the centre of the racecourse can be seen as an ‘achievement’ which expands on already existing open space.

 3.  Purchase of two house lots which jutted into Packer Park and their incorporation into parkland.  (112 & 118 Oakleigh Road, Carnegie – cost $1.92m)

 While GERA applauds this purchase, GERA is aware that Council’s original proposal to acquire the properties provided for funding the purchase by selling the former Packer Park Bowling Green (2743 sq m) for multi-unit development.  Fortunately, as a result of resident outcries and adverse publicity, Council dropped the proposed Bowling Green sale and  converted it to parkland. (Leader, 18th August, 2009).

GERA is aware also that Council is not charging multi-unit developers the full  Public Open Space Contribution/Levy.  This Contribution is capped, by the State Government, at 5% of land value (payable at the time of subdivision into separate property titles or strata titles).  This levy is to provide Councils with funding (from developers) for the acquisition of new parkland and improvements to existing parklands.

 Unlike other Councils (e.g. Port Phillip – 5% across the board since 2011, Manningham – 5% since 2006), the Glen Eira Open Space Contribution/Levy, (DPCD – Glen Eira Planning Scheme) established in 2006, is summarised as follows

  • The number of lots in the subdivision capable of containing a dwelling.

2 lots – not listed

 3 lots – 2%

4 lots – 2.5%

5 lots – 3%

6 or more lots – 3.5%

             Location increments are

  • If the site is in McKinnon, East Brighton, Ormond or Bentleigh – 0%
  • If the site is in Carnegie, Murrumbeena or East Bentleigh – 0.25%
  • If the site is in Caulfield, Caulfield North, Caulfield South, Caulfield East, Glen Huntly, Elsternwick or St Kilda East – 0.5%

 Council’s 2010-2011 Annual Report – Financials, page 146, show Open Space Contributions for 2011 as being $1.630m and 2010 $1.664m.  Conservatively, GERA estimates that had Council charged the full 5% this revenue would have doubled.

 By not changing the Open Space Contribution/Levy to 5% in 2006 and 2008, (which is a zero cost option), Council failed to listen to residents “more open space” and the result is higher profits to multi-unit developers and increased parkland acquisition and maintenance costs to ratepayers.  The cumulative lost revenue (effectively a ratepayer subsidy to developers) is mind-boggling.

 Clearly Cr. Hyams list of  ‘achievements’ needs to be seriously questioned when it comes to open space and what progress this council has made in actually ‘listening’ to residents.

The big question is will they listen any better in 2012?

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