After two years of deliberation the City of Melbourne (COM) decided on 1 September to ignore the residents extensive objections and submissions in relation to the planning application for this site. The objections were supported by reports of relevant experts. This was manifest by the COM issuing a notice of decision to grant a permit to Christ Church Grammar School to operate a primary school in the Victorian residence on the corner of Toorak Road West and Leopold Street.
The Councillors who approved the “Goodrest” planning application were;
Those who opposed the “Goodrest” planning application were:
It was an extraordinary decision for a number of reasons and another meeting where once again, ratepayers and their interests were treated by several councilors in a discourteous manner at best and with disdain at worst. The meeting was conducted in a manner such that most presenters were not given the opportunity to respond to questions and at times facing some councilors who were talking amongst themselves and not concentrating on the presentation being made.
Firstly, the decision.
1. For two years council engineers and planners have been considering and rejecting the school’s application and the school has been making and amending its submission.
2. This rejection was chiefly because of the difficulty in dropping off and collecting 170 young children and the enormous impact that would have on traffic and parking in that already busy part of Toorak Road. The impact would particularly affect local residents in Leopold Street which is unidirectional towards the school and very narrow.
3. For two years local residents have been objecting and submitting expert traffic reports explaining these difficulties in clear terms.
4. Then, within the past few weeks, the school amended its application once again by removing two pedestrian gates in Leopold Street and, to our surprise, negotiating with VicRoads for the provision of five additional parking places on the SOUTH side of Toorak Road outside the Senior Citizens building – approximately 240 metres away. A substantial walk for young children (some pre-school age) and requires crossing an arterial road. There will be additional competition for those new spaces by the pre-existing kindergarten at that very location. It is difficult to fathom that this practically irrelevant provision tipped the Council engineers into support!
5. The removal of the gates does not change the fundamental, and in our view, unresolvable, traffic and parking problems and neither do the additional parking spaces that are unlikely to be used because of the danger of getting young children across the busy road.
6. Nevertheless, for reasons that are in our view unsustainable and unexplainable these two additional and irrelevant changes were enough to persuade those engineers and officers to completely change the view held for the previous two years and recommend approval of the application notwithstanding that in their evidence they were far from confident about the outcome
7. As the officer’s report made it plain that it was these two changes that overcame two years of opposition, an understanding of this and the history would lead any responsible body to the inevitable conclusion that these changes were irrelevant, that the recommendation should not be accepted and that the application should be rejected on the basis that the use of the property for this purpose was unworkable in this residential area.
8. It was the responsibility of councilors to protect residents and reject this application “unless there is a net benefit to local residents and the local community”. It has been plain from the very outset that this activity will cause nothing but difficulties for local residents and that the only member of the local community to benefit will be the school. The application should clearly have been rejected and once again the City of Melbourne has failed in its obligation to residents.
Secondly, the ratepayers.
Over 50 residents attended the council meeting, all except 2 of whom where objectors. Fourteen objectors made verbal submissions. As has been the case on previous occasions, several councillors paid little attention to residents making their submissions and generally gave every indication that what residents were saying was of little relevance or interest to them.
There is an expectation from ratepayers and those presenting at such a meeting that councillors will remained focused and attentive to the task at hand and that chatter between councilors, moving about the room and interacting with portable communications devices is prejudicial to the satisfactory performance of that duty. .
When the offending councillors did have the opportunity to speak to the meeting, it was not to deal with the critical traffic and parking issues but to raise irrelevant issues or make a disparaging remark or implied threat about losing resident parking rights if their opposition went any further. Local residents were justifiably concerned about the issue, had given the matter substantial thought and responded carefully. Regrettably however, several councillors treated them disgracefully.
Residents left the meeting unhappy and angry not just about the decision but about the dismissive and discourteous way they and their views were treated. While the Mayor regularly warns those in the audience about treating speakers courteously, the same rule seems not to apply to councillors.