Must read: Stonnington Mayor’s BOLD statement on Ministerial intervention, developers and open space.

590 orrong road armadale

Councillor Stubbs didn’t hold back in a passionate speech Monday night.

The following is from Stonnington Mayor, Cr Adrian Stubbs. He delivered this frank assessment of planning in Victoria at a Council meeting this week. It is worth reading.  

I refer to the article that appeared in the Age on Saturday 15 February 2014.

I was surprised by the tone of the article as it did not reveal the true and complete level of injustice this Ministerial intervention has perpetrated on the Stonnington community.

I can confirm that Council was only advised of the decision by the Planning Minister to approve the development, known as 661 Chapel St, on Friday 7 February.

This was only after the Minister used his intervention powers under the Act to make changes to the Stonnington Planning scheme.

I have some difficulty with this as I fail to see how this was done in an open and transparent way.  Council was not involved in any negotiations between Melbourne High, the developer or the Planning Minister, Matthew Guy.

To add to our sense of frustration my fellow councillors and I met with the Planning Minister on 5 December to, discuss a range of planning matters. Council officers, the Member for Prahran Clem Newton Brown and the Treasurer Michael O’Brien also attended.

During our discussions, the Minister assured us that he had no interest in intervening on individual sites, so it is particularly disappointing that he has decided to “change his view” without recourse to us, and in a manner which allows a development that is so contrary to Council’s objectives for the site.

Of great concern is the requirement for the developer to provide no more than two per cent public open space contribution when the Stonnington Planning Scheme requirement is for 5 per cent.  We currently have an amendment due to go to Panel to increase that to 8 per cent.

It is outrageous that the Minister has approved a 2% open space contribution for this developer when open space is such a precious commodity in Stonnington.

We have the second lowest percentage of any Victorian municipality. I argue that the Minister is taking money owed to the whole Stonnington community by his action.

We only received the complete documentation concerning the amendments made to our planning scheme late on Friday, and only at Council’s continued requests.  These changes, made directly by the Minister, now allow a 94 metre development. It is important to note that the original planning application was for a height of 80.5 metres (so this has now allowed a increase of 5 storeys)

The Minister justified this Amendment, saying that it was required because the education centre and the student accommodation are “contractually and conceptually linked” to a proposal for a 94 metre tower on a site where the preferred height limit is 38 metres.

Does this mean that the developer would not release the land required to build the education centre unless he is allowed to build his tower. If true, this would break all the existing rules we have in place for the site.    If true, is the developer effectively holding the Stonnington community, and you could argue, the Minister to ransom under the guise of being altruistic?

It appears that the situation in short, is as follows:

In exchange for selling a part of his land to the Melbourne High Foundation at cost price –let me be very clear about this, the developer appears to have received the following extremely favourable decision from the Government:

  • A reprieve from a costly VCAT hearing;
  • Approval to build a 94 metre tower where 38 metres is the preferred height; and
  • A 60 percent reduction in the open space contribution due, to the Stonnington community.

The ONLY concession the Government could argue that the developer has made in this arrangement is to give Melbourne High Foundation the option of buying the land at “cost price”. In exchange for that, the Planning Minister has made a decision that arguably provides a significant financial benefit for the developer at the communities cost.

If the Government considered the requirement of Melbourne High to be so important, why hasn’t it funded this activity (Melbourne High is after all a select entry State Secondary School) or acquired the land to allow Melbourne High to build its “Gifted Education Academy”.

Of significant disappointment is the fact that Council went through a lengthy (2005 -2008), costly and transparent Planning Scheme amendment process to articulate its objectives and desired design outcomes for this site and the immediate surrounding precinct.

These provisions were tested and assessed at Panel in a public environment, with Melbourne High being an active participant.  They were ultimately signed off at Ministerial level.  These provisions were in place and public knowledge prior to the developer purchasing the site.

Despite the matter being listed for open debate and consideration at VCAT (a hearing date had been set for April), the Minister has chosen to make the decision in other than an open and transparent manner, one could say “behind closed doors” with no concession to due process.

It appears his decision relies on a narrow design consideration undertaken by the Victorian Government Architect Design Review Panel, which has no statutory weight and no regard for Local Planning Objectives.  So whilst the Minister encourages Councils to pursue Local Planning Objectives, in this matter he seems to exempt himself from respecting and honouring them.

What is most galling is that the Minister has been delaying signing off on other planning scheme amendments we have before him that are crucial to us delivering quality outcomes to the people of Stonnington. In one instance, this delay, which breaches his own guideline for sign-off timelines, has resulted in a most disastrous outcome for the residents of John Street East Malvern as VCAT was unable to consider Stonnington’s objectives for a neighbouring site because the amendment had not been approved by the Minister despite numerous requests!

So while it takes months, and in some cases years, to sign off planning scheme amendments requested by the Council, when a developer is involved, it seems that process can be done virtually overnight!

This Government was elected on a platform of transparency in planning after what it highlighted, when in Opposition were the then Labor Government’s myriad planning controversies. However, given this recent event, Stonnington residents could be forgiven for believing that nothing has changed!

I stand before you tonight to give you my pledge and the pledge of this Council that we will continue to use all our resources to fight for good planning outcomes for the people of Stonnington. We are not to be disregarded or taken lightly by our State colleagues.

If they are in any doubt about that I urge them to remember the Council’s Clearway campaign.

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