Apologies for not being able to ‘blog’ this week’s Council meeting. A few issues arose from the meeting that are worth covering in a slightly different way.
I’ve already written about the Notice of Motion seeking a policy for dealing with complaints about the CEO, and my uncertainty about how this proposal integrated with state-wide standardised guidelines, laws and processes that currently exist.
It’s difficult to know what are the gaps in existing processes without knowing the nature of complaints the motion was seeking to accommodate (ie there are already clear provisions in the Local Government Act for certain complaints against the CEO; and the Ombudsman has wide jurisdiction for maladministration; and there are administrative matters into which councillors are prohibited from interfering).
Perhaps the second part of the motion could have been worded similarly to the first part to make this clearer.
There were some further controversies at the meeting: a) 15 Clarence St; and b) the sale of some land in Airport West.
15 Clarence St
This appears to be a very complex issue – but importantly, and to clarify some other reporting on social media, there was no resolution passed by Council with respect to the property. Cr Marshall moved a motion that was alternative to the officer’s recommendation. This motion was lost. But no other vote on the matter was taken.
Subsequently, the matter remains such that the owner of the property has a planning permit, approved unanimously by Council in February, but no consent for the demolition of the building has been granted and the suspension remains in place.
To try to summarise the situation, on 26 February 2019, officers recommended to Council that a permit be granted for 15 Clarence St. No heritage issues were raised, despite the property being under consideration in the Gap Study. The ward councillors moved the recommended motion and did not raise major issues of heritage in the debate. The permit was approved unanimously.
Two days later, on the 28 February, the Moonee Valley 2017 Heritage Study was finalised recommending that 15 Clarence St be given status as a contributory building in a new Heritage Overlay for Clarence and Marshall Streets in Newmarket.
I didn’t cover the 12 March meeting as I had been at VCAT the previous week and needed a break! One property, 55 Brewster St, was highlighted by officers as a demolition request had been received. There was no mention in the report of any other properties being the subject of planning permits, decisions etc.
“The application of the interim heritage overlay for 55 Brewster Street, Essendon is in response to Council having received a demolition request on 15 February 2019.”
Council has explained in its report to the meeting this week that sometimes permit holders don’t act on permits and so there was no need to highlight 15 Clarence St, or address the conflicting heritage advice, as the owner may never have acted on the permit.
This seems entirely unsatisfactory.
On the one had, councillors, residents and the owner were all given advice from MVCC, and its heritage expert, that there were no heritage issues in the demolition of 15 Clarence St, and a permit was issued on this basis.
At the very same time (two days later on the records, but officers were surely advised progressively by the consultants), officers receive heritage advice that 15 Clarence St was contributory and would be included as such in the Amendment for interim and permanent heritage protection.
The fact that councillors, objectors and the owner were not alerted to this on 26 February when the decision to grant a permit was made appears to be an outstanding error on behalf of council officers.
It’s also not clear why objectors were not immediately notified of the change to the planning scheme as it applied to the property on the 12 March when Council approved the Amendment be lodged with the Minister. Objectors, and the owner, would have had an opportunity at this point to lodge an objection with VCAT so that an assessment of the permit could have been made applying the interim heritage protection.
Pardon my French, but this seems a complete balls-up by council officers.
The motion this week to retrospectively scale back the assessment of the property to non-contributory in light of the fact the permit applicant did exercise their rights and act on the approved permit, also seem an entirely unsatisfactory solution. Residents in Clarence St were rightly angered by this.
Cr Marshall’s motion to write to the Minister to confirm the contributory status was lost, and I’m not entirely sure it would have solved the problem from Council’s point of view as, I imagine, the owner would have marched Council off to court.
As no vote was taken, the matter remains unresolved, but the house will remain and no demolition can take place.
Surely Council officers should have alerted councillors on 26 February of the likelihood of 15 Clarence St being included as a contributory property in the report that was dated 28 February and was voted on by Council two weeks later.
The inconsistency between Council’s heritage advice with respect to the permit, and the heritage advice with respect to the Gap Study is astounding. What are councillors expected to do when in receipt of completely contradictory advice presented by their own officers?
I would not be surprised if this either ends up in court or on the desk of the Ombudsman.
Sale of Land in Airport West
The land sold by Council this week appears to be a regular block, ripe for housing and across the road from large swathes of public parkland. The Council vote was divided, but the ward councillors for the area were comfortable with their assessment of the land no longer being required for residents as public parkland, with the money raised for the sale better spent to purchase open space in other areas in Airport West.
Myrnong Ward councillors all voted against this decision and it would be interesting to know what locals in the area thought. Not all open space is equal and locals are usually well placed to know the value of a space for locals, wildlife and the planet 🙂
Location of Flemington Community Hub
While not an issue that arose at the Council meeting, I received a response to my Freedom of Information request with respect to correspondence about the location and funding for the Flemington Hub. I had sought correspondence between two council officers and DHHS between February 2017 and July 2018 when the position of Council with respect to the location of a new Hub changed various times.
I only received one piece of correspondence as a result of the FOI query – a letter date 27 February 20017 to Council from DHHS noting Council’s interest in investigating the redevelopment/relocation of the Flemington Community Centre.
The letter says DHHS will consider “possible relocation within the Flemington estate”, but that legal and financial structures of “a transaction between the parties” would need to be investigated.
One month later, on the 28 March 2017, Council voted to support the relocation of the Community Centre proximate to Racecourse Rd, presumably on the basis of the report stating that DHHS had “indicated agreement” to locating the community centre at this location. This seems at odds with the correspondence received through the FOI process.
FNAG Meeting minutes
Another issue that has arisen this week, although not at the Council meeting is with respect to the minutes of the Flemington Neighbourhood Advisory Group. Members received the confidential minutes this week and they included a large number of direct quotes from participants at the meeting – in quotation marks.
It seemed a bit odd to include in the minutes “direct quotes” from participants at what was meant to be a confidential meeting. As the meeting was not audio recorded, it also seemed as though the “direct quotes” had not been verified in any way.
I raised some queries and was, rightly, told that I needed to raise these at the next FNAG meeting when the minutes were approved. But, seriously, who like a pedant who raises issues with the minutes!! Don’t we all juts rely on note-takers to be fair and accurate and not include “direct quotes” unless the have been checked?
Additionally, some of the quotes were arranged to seem as though they were from multiple people, when they were from the same person. Just seems all very unsatisfactory.
Should Flemington and Travancore return to the City of Melbourne?
This has been an ongoing issue since 1996 and I’ve set up a ‘survey’ of sorts to gauge what the local interest is. While there seem few supporters at this stage, there are plenty of views expressed on the Facebook page – thanks to all for engaging in the debate and sharing different options. The survey can be found here.
After this week, it was a debate I felt like having!