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In this month's e-news: Council's planning processes scrutinised; heritage building under threat; Planning panel hearings on Brunswick master plan; Council to determine developer contributions
 
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Brunswick Residents Network newsletter, February 2015

Audit of Council planning processes

A long-running battle over a major project at the John Fawkner Hospital site gives some insight to poor Moreland Council planning processes. An internal Council audit has found that “the principal matter could have been handled better and lacked a degree of ‘political judgement’ and ‘resident focus.’”
 
A resolution will go before Council this week to determine the cost of employing an external (rather than internal) auditor to re-evaluate the process. 
 
The story is long and complex, but in summary: in late 2011, Healthscope Ltd applied for a planning permit to undertake substantial building works at the John Fawkner Hospital site at 269-275 Moreland Road, Coburg. Part of the site is protected by a longstanding covenant affecting heritage and building size, and this was one of the grounds raised by local residents who opposed the redevelopment. When the issue first ended up in VCAT, the tribunal eventually ruled the hospital extension breached the covenant. However residents were angered by the failure of Council staff to raise this aspect when they were arguing their case before the tribunal.
 
Healthscope Ltd. later lobbied the Victorian Government Minister for Planning and in May 2014, the Minister varied the covenant on the title by Ministerial Amendment.  Healthscope duly reapplied to Moreland Council for a planning permit largely based on their original 2012 application.
 
At the full Council meeting of 12 November 2014, the officer’s report recommended that “Council’s submission to VCAT be that a planning permit be issued.”  However Councillors rejected the recommendation on the grounds that “the proposal is not in line with the heritage interface, insufficient room is available for service vehicles, traffic and parking issues need to be addressed and that the proposal is not within neighbourhood character.” 
 
After angry residents raised concerns about the process in question time at December’s Council meeting, Councillors appointed an internal audit. The report analysed a number of elements which affected the process, such as: “Planning officers allocated the file going on leave, development engineer’s report not being available in writing at the time that the report to the Urban Planning Committee was drafted, the matter exceeding the 60 day statutory time limit.”
 
Internal auditor Ian Thomas made a series of recommendations to improve Council processes, noting that “in the opinion of Internal Audit, the principal matter could have been handled better and lacked a degree of ‘political judgement’ and ‘resident focus.’ 
 
The audit dodged the question whether Healthscope Ltd, a major donor to the Liberal Party, had an inappropriate relationship with the then Victorian Planning Minister, noting “Moreland Council is not in any position to comment.”
 
The issue continues, with a motion at next Wednesday’s Council meeting seeking a report from Council staff on “the scope and financial implications of employing an external auditor to review the process for planning applications MPS/2014/498 and MPS/2014/550 relating to John Fawkner Hospital.”
 
There are lessons for Brunswick, with a series of major projects underway or in the pipeline.

Heritage building to be transformed?Coppin Hall

In Brunswick, we have our own heritage building under threat, with a proposal to re-develop the former Coppin Masonic Lodge into a 4-storey building with nine apartments. Despite a heritage overlay protecting the building’s facade, the original building will be partially demolished.
 
The building in Weston Street, Brunswick is adjacent to but outside the Lygon St transport corridor. The proposed height level exceeds the neighbourhood character guideline of two storeys (it will be nearly as high as the four story “Tip Top” building immediately adjacent to it, as projects spill beyond the Lygon Street corridor).
 
Notice for the proposal MPS/2014/698 was posted during the two weeks before 18 December (nice to see developers and Council staff working hard just a week before Christmas!).
 
The building is well over 100 years old and was originally a Methodist Church. The Freemasons refurbished the building after purchasing the title in 1908 for £225 using “Hoffies” (bricks made at the Hoffmans Brickworks in Brunswick). These bricks can be seen filling the arched window spaces of the original bluestone church building. A foundation stone dated 1928 was laid in the façade and signified the opening of the refurbished building.
 
The original bluestone Methodist Church may be the one mentioned in the history of Brunswick on the Moreland Council website: “Gold was discovered in Victoria in 1851 and the quickest way to the fields in Ballarat and Bendigo was through Brunswick. A camp was set up opposite the Methodist Church where people on the way to the fields could rest and organise themselves for their journey. Next to the church was a 'Rag fair' where clothes and goldfield equipment were sold. More shops and hotels opened, including the Brunswick Hotel in 1852 and the Edinburgh Castle and the Sarah Sands both in 1854.”
 
The proposal will come before Council’s Urban Planning Committee in March or April.
 
Brunswick community fights development plans for former Coppin Masonic Lodge”, Moreland Leader, 6 February 2015.

Panel hearings start on Amendment c134

 
Planning Panels Victoria will begin formal hearings on Monday 23 February into Amendment c134. This amendment to the Moreland Planning Scheme will implement the Brunswick Structure Plan on a permanent basis, covering much of Brunswick, Brunswick East and Brunswick West.
 
Copies of Expert Witness Reports are to be circulated by noon on Friday 13 February, and can be obtained from the Planning Panels Victoria website.
 
Formal hearings under Michael Kirsch and Suzanne Barker start on Monday 23 February at Planning Panels Victoria, Hearing Room 2 (Ground Floor, 1 Spring Street, Melbourne), and continue over the next two weeks. The Panel will hear presentations from Moreland Council, planning experts and representatives of developers.

More information and documents are available on the Council website

Report slams high-rise policy vacuum

Leanne Hodyl is the co-ordinator of city plans and policy at Melbourne City Council. Last year, while on a Churchill Fellowship, she compared developments planned in two City of Melbourne blocks, with what’s allowed in other cities famous for sky-scraper living.
 
Her report, released yesterday, found that high-rise apartment towers in central Melbourne are being built at four times the maximum densities allowed in some of the world's most crowded cities, including Hong Kong, New York and Tokyo.  Her report tabulates how the Melbourne blocks studied have many more people, more apartments, cover more of the ground and fill more of the above-ground space than is allowable in other cities studied
 
The report argues that Melbourne must establish far tighter CBD density controls; greater separation between towers; and far stricter apartment design standards. The city must also introduce "density bonuses" so developers can get "hyper-dense" apartment tower approvals only if they offset them with new open space or other benefits.
 
Ms Hodyl said that rather than focusing on height, more important was the number of people living in a tower, whether apartments were high quality, and access to good parks and community services.
 
(Based on The Age report  which contains a link to download the full report)
 
In the City of Moreland, developers regularly pay an Open Space contribution to Council, in lieu of providing real open space. Although developer contributions from Brunswick should pay for open space near that project, in reality they are spent by Council for open space  anywhere in Moreland. Brunswick Residents Network and local residents groups have long argued that developers should not be able to buy their way out of providing open space.

Pictured: Model of the 14-story Brunswick Heart development approved for Albert Street west of Sydney Road.

FEATURE ARTICLE:

Developers don't want to pay contributions

This week’s Council meeting will discuss a resolution on the Moreland Development Contributions Plan (DCP), which sets the framework for payments by developers for infrastructure related to their projects (such as roads, drainage, planning services or community infrastructure like public toilets and neighbourhood houses).
 
The DCP was first exhibited in 2013 and reviewed, with corrections and amendments, by a State Government Planning Panel. The plan proposes that new developments will meet 100 per cent of the capital cost of scheduled infrastructure, both on-site and shared off-site infrastructure.
 
During the Planning Panel, some developers expressed concern over the level or process of determining the contributions, and sought (unsuccessfully) to be exempted from paying levies to add to community infrastructure.
 
Grange Development Group Pty Ltd (developing a seven-storey site with over 200 apartments at the former Sires factory at 48 Albert Street) questioned whether there should be an exemption for developments with a permit prior to the introduction of the DCP. Benson Property Group (with a permit for a seven storey building with 100 apartments and a second permit for a 104 lot subdivision of the land in Frith Street Brunswick) sought an exemption from the payment of levies under the DCP.
 
Shayher Properties Pty Ltd (which has owned part of the former Pentridge prison site since 2013) sought to be excluded from the scheme but this was refused by the Panel. Public Transport Victoria sought to exclude VicTrack land from the calculation of the net developable area within the DCP. However the panel ruled that if VicTrack land (e.g. along the Upfield Rail Corridor) is redeveloped into housing, it should be included in the DCP.

Council accountability

 
For their Christmas reading, Moreland Council has been studying Catch-22. In a major revamp of Council policy, Councillors must submit resolutions more than 10 days before a Council meeting. But residents can only read what’s on the council agenda a week before the monthly meeting. So what happens if you want your Councillor to put up a resolution in response to an agenda item?  Bad luck – you’ve missed the 10-day deadline for motions to be submitted!
 
At its December 2014 meeting, in yet another step away from community engagement, Council abandoned its previous policy of rotating monthly meetings between Brunswick, Coburg, Fawkner and Glenroy. All meetings of Council and the Urban Planning Committee are now held at the Coburg Town Hall. In the guise of “efficiency” and “cost effectiveness”, this looks like yet another example of Council’s reluctance to seriously engage with people in the South Ward.
 
With the retirement of CEO Peter Brown after 12 years in the job, there was hope that a new corporate culture might develop to address longstanding resident concerns. Incoming CEO Nerina Di Lorenzo, who began work at the end of January, previously worked at Moreland Council as Director of City Infrastructure – we hope she takes up the issues of transparency and accountability with greater vigour.

Route 96 tram

Construction for the redevelopment of the Route 96 tram along Nicholson Street is likely to begin in the middle of the year. Route 96 is one of Melbourne’s busiest tram routes and after consultations last year, Public Transport Victoria (PTV) has decided to move the tram terminus in Brunswick from the corner of Nicholson and Blyth Streets to the northern side of Blyth (nearly 5,500 people a week board at this stop).
 
PTV is also planning to change the location of stops as the tram begins its journey through Brunswick, introducing a smaller number of super-stops with full level access (currently less than half the stops on Route 96 have level access).
 
For more information, go to the PTV website

Bunnings is coming

The former Spotlight site (opposite Mitre 10 in Sydney Road south of Victoria Street) is being renovated to re-open as Bunnings. The planning application to Council in June, for a timber retail outlet, was not under the Bunnings name. It only got 9 objections and was approved by Council staff rather than being referred to the Urban Planning Committee. It will apparently be mostly retail rather than timber.
 
BRN wrote to ask Council where customers will park, and what is being done to stop more traffic coming through our residential streets. The Mayor replied – apologising for a 7-week delay – saying that the 49 two-hour parking spaces in the carpark south of the building were considered adequate, and that "traffic considerations . . . was [sic] considered to be acceptable by Council’s Development Engineer, subject to permit conditions restricting the size of trucks”.
 
Debate raged on our Facebook page with over 4500 views and dozens of comments. Clearly this is a sensitive matter – so in line with Council policy should have been referred to Councillors for decision. Instead the debate occurred after the decision had been taken in November.
 
Here's a sample of residents' views: the Facebook discussion is well worth a look!
  • Bad news! Apart from the traffic issues, what will happen to the excellent hardware shop which has been across the road for decades?
  • Of course, what we need is Spotlight back.....
    . . . I could live with this if bunnings diversified into fabrics but don't think that'll be happening!
    . . . Haha let's start a petition for that
  • I can't stand Bunnings and their effect on smaller retailers. But the usual criticism is that they set up outside activity centres. It's a bit rough to say no when for once they're building within an activity centre and without a sea of car parking.
  •  Always worth remembering permits issue to the land, not a person (or corporation). . . . Should planning really be value judgements about the worthiness of applicants?
  • In my opinion what would be useful in this area (more so in Coburg) is a decent organic and wholefood supermarket. This site could be perfect. Please open one someone
  • Stop your complaining tram right at the front another great business in the area...good for the community get over it
  • Aren't there any planning incentives that could have been used to make better use of the upper floors? [The first floor will be closed off]

Moreland bike count: volunteer call

On Tuesday 3 March, Moreland Bicycle Users Group (BUG) will conduct the annual bike count on behalf of Moreland Council.
 
BUG volunteers collect information on bicycle movements at specified intersections to help planners and Councillors cater for cycling and build more bicycle infrastructure where we need it most. Counters gather information on the gender of the cyclist, the direction of travel through the intersection and other useful data.
 
It's interesting and not too difficult! If you can help out between 7am and 9am (and get a free breakfast afterwards!) please contact Ross Millward, BUG Deputy Convenor, 0407 321 803.

Pictured Moreland's Bike Counter. From Treadlie

Parks and playgrounds

Construction has begun on the new Wilson Avenue public space and urban bouldering wall, at the intersection of Wilson Avenue and Sydney Road 9close to Jewell Station). Construction is scheduled to finish in late May with a formal launch in June.
 
Moreland Council is currently reviewing its Playground Strategy, which is the key guide for Council for the development, maintenance and provision of quality play spaces for the community. It also informs Council’s capital program for playground renewals. So if you’re into slides or have a number of young tackers, have your say via the Council website!

The old Grandstand in Fleming Park will linger longer, with Moreland Council yet to make a decision on its future. The Master Plan for Buildings at Fleming Park was endorsed by Council in May last year, with the demolition of the old sports pavilion due to occur during the next few months. However some friends of Fleming Park want the Grandstand retained, and it will simply be made safe and remain fenced off to the public until a final decision determines it fate.
 
Council has been undertaking some changes around the park: new park fencing has been installed along Albert Street, the fence between the old nursery site and the park has been removed and the old nursery grounds have been converted to a car park. Any future work on major building proposed in the Master Plan – a potential multi-million cost – will have to await availability of finance.

Culture

The Brunswick Music Festival, Australia’s inner-city festival of folk, roots and world music, is coming to local venues this March. The two-week program features a diverse mix of multicultural folk artists from around the corner and across the globe.  The Sydney Road Street Party launches the festival on Sunday 1 March, followed by two weeks of local and international acts.

Buffy Sainte-Marie will perform on the Brunswick Town Hall stage on Wednesday 4 March, and there are other major shows from Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson (two of Scotland’s finest traditional musicians); Icelandic multi-instrumentalist, Sóley; DJ Spooky and hip-hop performer L-Fresh the Lion.  Check the program and details at www.brunswickmusicfestival.com.au

Free speech in Brunswick

During the Depression in the 1930s, campaigners waged ‘free speech’ fights in Brunswick, with Noel Counihan locking himself in a cage in Sydney Road to avoid arrest by police. The struggle is commemorated by a monument in Sydney Road, but the debate remains current.  On 18 March, Melinda Barne from the University of Melbourne Archives will speak at the Brunswick Library about Counihan and 1930s Brunswick.
 
WHAT: Talk on Noel Counihan and Brunswick Free Speech fights
WHEN: Wednesday 18 March, 7.45pm
WHERE: Brunswick Library, Dawson Street

Also worth seeing is the 22-minute Youtub video from an interview with waterside worker Ted Bull (1914-1997), who was arrested during the free speech protests where he reflects on the 1933 Brunswick protests, saying: 

“You’d get half a dozen words out and you’d be arrested. Not only arrested but the coppers would take you behind the Town Hall and they’d give you a bloody ‘doing over’ – and a good ‘doing over’ too”.

Next Moreland Council meetings

All Council meetings, on the 2nd Wednesday of each month, and Urban Planning Committee meetings, on the 4th Wednesday of each month, will now be held at: Council Chamber, Moreland Civic Centre, 90 Bell Street, Coburg.
 
Wednesday 11 February 2015 - 7 pm
Wednesday 11 March 2015 - 7 pm
Wednesday 8 April 2015 - 7 pm
Monday 27 April 2015 (to consider the proposed budget) - 6 pm
 
  • Check for updates at the Council website
  • Hint: If you go to an evening meeting at 90 Bell Street and find the doors locked, you can probably get in through the back door via Urquhart Street

MAILING LIST AND FURTHER INFORMATION:

This edition compiled by Nic Maclellan from members' contributions. Thanks to Jo, Terry, Will and Sue for input. Layout and pictures Nancy Atkin.

We love feedback! To contact organisers of the Brunswick Residents’ Network, or to help with future activities, please email albertstreet2020@gmail.com. For meeting details, survey and newsletter archives, go to: http://brunswickresidents.wordpress.com

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