Tag Archives: Community Participation

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.

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?

GESAC – Let’s have some real transparency.

From day one, the Pools Steering Committee (which oversees the Glen Eira Sport and Aquatic Centre – at $50+m it is the largest capital works project ever undertaken by Council) has been deservedly criticised for scant reporting.  Typically, the only information available to residents on the progress of GESAC has been the headings only reports/minutes of the Pools Steering Committee.  GERA believes it is time this changed.

The following is an outline of information presented to residents re the delay in the GESAC opening:

  • The 20 September, 2011, Council Minutes includes the Pools Steering Committee Report of 8th September (Section 8.a.iii).  For the first time the Pools Steering Committee Report (Section C.ii) mentions “Update on Liquidated Damages”.  No details beyond these  4 words were provided.  The verbage (not included in the minutes, which accompanied the report presentation) of Cr. Lipshutz (Head of the Pools Steering Committee) emphasised that GESAC would open as scheduled in December, 2011 and that Council Staff were “on top of the work”.
  • At the 22 October, 2011, Council Meeting Minutes, GESAC is not mentioned.
  • The 2 November Council Meeting Minutes includes (Section 8.i) the Pools Steering Committee Report of 5 October, 2011.  This report is again headings only and no mention is made of Liquidated Damages.  And again the verbage (not included in the minutes, which accompanied the report presentation) had Cr. Lipshutz stating that  GESAC was on schedule for a December opening.
  • The 22 November Council Meeting Minutes include (section 8.a.i) the Pools Steering Committee Minutes of 3 November, 2011.   The minutes include an outline of progress, a delay in the opening date and estimated $1m liquidated damages.  Again not recorded in Council Minutes, the verbage that accompanied the presentation of  the Steering Commitee Minutes, included Cr. Lipshutz stating that comprehensive details would be provided to Council at the December Council Meeting.
  • The 13 December Council Meeting Minutes include (Section 8.a.iv) the Pools Steering Committee Minutes of 1st December, 2011.  These minutes include “further delays to the Gym and Stadium”.  A delay in the opening date was belatedly and officially announced, however, no anticipated opening date was given other than “after the end of January”.  No details, beyond that included in the Steering Committee Minutes, were provided.  The inclusion of a statement that the next meeting of the Pools Steering Committee will be “depending on the progress of the work, the Chair agreed to call the next meeting for some time in January”,  does not indicate a high management priority. 

Since the December Meeting Council has provided little information on GESAC despite an article and letters appearing in the local Leader newspaper  (17 January, 2011 – which mentioned a March opening) and resident/member dissatisfaction being recorded on the GESAC website (which doesn’t have a construction update beyond October, 2011).

At last night’s Council Meeting (the first for 2012 – 7 February) GESAC was only mentioned in relation to the negative impact the GESAC lost revenue had on the financial results in December (-$0.5m).  Even though GESAC construction resumed on 16 January, no update on progress or the cause of the delay and no anticipated opening date was given.

GERA genuinely hopes that Council’s belief in the financial and social success of GESAC comes to fruition.  However, given the magnitude of the GESAC project and it’s potential impact on Glen Eira finances, GERA is extremely concerned at the lack of information being provided.  This lack of information is not in line with Council’s claims of open, transparent, accountable governance*.  Surely, Glen Eira residents and GESAC members deserve more than silence.

* Refer to our original posting on Governance and what constitutes good governance – our apologies but you will need to click on “Governance” in the topics section (right hand side of the screen) and scroll to first posting shown – it is entited “Governance”

Community Consultation

Consultation –Principles and Practice

One of GERA’s most important concerns is the necessity for effective advertising of Council activities  and consultation between Council and the community it serves. Council’s public  statements on this are encouraging but its actions do not back up its public statements

An example is from the Glen Eira Council website – Community Engagement Strategy

“Community engagement provides an avenue for the community to become involved in local decision making and encourages collaboration from all members of the Community.  Based on the principles of democracy, social inclusion and accessible government, we are actively seeking to involve members of the community in our decision making processes.  

… We will work on an ongoing basis with the community to ensure that community ideas, concerns and aspirations are listened to and understood, and that community knowledge is harnessed for the benefit of all.”

We, more often than not, see inadequate and segmented consultation, along with scanty  information.  The most recent example is the Melbourne Racing Club’s Caulfield Village Development (also known as C60).

On some issues (usually minor) Council consults reasonably but on others (usually large) its performance is extremely  poor – advertising is inadequate or late; obviously concerned organizations are not directly  informed; the volume of mailed notifications to residents is inversely related to the magnitude of the project – restricting the volume and quality of feedback.

Although the Glen Eira News frequently states that “community consultation is a vital part of Council’s  planning and decision-making processes”,  such consultation appears too often to come too late in the process.  “Community consultation” is treated as a mechanism to inform the  public of what has already been agreed upon – to collect comment and to explain away why  there is no need for amendment. Council does not appear to appreciate, except in rare cases, that consultation is a two way process of exchanging views and explaining the  reasons for them. Consultation needs to come first for effective investigation and good  outcomes.  Putting consultation last is a waste of resources, time and community patience.

We make a strong plea to Council to reconsider the importance of this “vital part of  Council’s planning and decision making processes”, and to recognize this in Council  statements and actions.  We also make a  strong plea for Council to put consultation in its proper place and to adopt principles that can apply to all its planning decisions.  This will strengthen both the Council and the  community.