After over more than two intensive and constructive years of working with the community, Banyule Council has failed its first test since the Interim Planning Controls were granted in November.
Despite the rhetoric from Council officers and local Councillors, residents have been duped into assuming the Council would strongly defend the new planning guidelines through the Interim Planning Controls and in assessing planning applications against Council’s adopted Structure Plan.
VCAT has just approved a development at 1065 Heidelberg Rd that failed to meet the Ivanhoe Structure Plan Design and Development Overlay Guidelines in 6 keys areas.
- The overall height and visual bulk was considered excessive for the site
- The proposal did not meet urban design principles for higher density residential development
- The proposal did not respect the preferred scale and character of the Ivanhoe Structure Plan in relation to heights and setbacks. The proposal failed to provide an effective landscape buffer to soften and screen the rail corridor and visibility of the development
- The proposal did not meet vegetation protection guidelines. Provision had not been made to replace vegetation to replaced trees proposed to be removed
- The encroachment of balcony over a road reserve was inappropriate
- The proposal is an over development of the site
Despite this, VCAT approved the development application at 1065 Heidelberg Rd.
The result is a building that will be 4 metres higher than the guidelines, reduced setbacks, less parking than Council guidelines and removal of trees from the rear of the property that will not be adequately replaced.
The decision has set a precedent in the area that falls well outside the guidelines. There is currently a development applications for the adjoining property which also falls outside the guidelines for heights and bulk.
The decision on 1065 will inevitably be used to strengthen its case, and undoubtedly any future planning applications within the Ivanhoe Activity Centre.
While Council is not responsible for VCAT decisions, they are responsible for the initial review and the granting or refusal of planning applications. In this particular case (and also for 55 Lower Heidelberg Rd) Council failed to rule on the development application in the allotted time so the case went straight to VCAT.
It is perplexing that Council has treated such developments in this way given the sensitivities in the community, and the enormous amount of resources (money, time, people) Council invested in working with the community regarding future development of, and within, the Ivanhoe Activity Centre.
Council is also responsible for providing suitable representation at VCAT hearings. In the case of 1065, Council failed to provide proper briefing to their representative regarding the Ivanhoe Structure Plan, Interim Planning Controls and the strong planning principles and community support behind the plan’s guidelines.
It is extraordinary that Council failed to do this - why Council wouldn’t employ someone familiar with the Ivanhoe Structure Plan, such as Rob McGuaran, to defend their position given the importance of the decision?
So despite all the effort, time and money expended in the preceding two years, and the granting of Interim Planning Controls, Council has failed it’s first real test.
In effect, the work done by Council with the community has been ignored.
This Monday night Council will consider the submissions regarding the proposed planning scheme amendments to support the Structure Plan, and the recommendations of Council officers for the next steps.
Essentially the recommendations are for Council to ask the Independent Review Panel to consider the five developer objections to the Planning Scheme Amendments.
These objections are essentially asking for the guidelines regarding height, setbacks and landscaping to provide ‘more flexibility’ for developers – ie more height, less setbacks and landscaping.
The Panel will then make recommendation to the Minister regarding the proposed planning scheme amendments.
Given Council’s investment in consulting and working with the community since its first draft plan was rejected in 2011, we would have expected Council to strongly and proactively defend the guidelines at VCAT, to drive through the design and development planning scheme amendments (and including the Municipal Strategic Statement) that it adopted, and ensure compliance with the Interim Planning Controls for current planning applications
However based on recent experience, we lack confidence that this will be the case.