Boroondara Planning Scheme Amendment | Sue Pennicuik

Boroondara Planning Scheme Amendment

I rise to speak on the motion moved by Mr Davis that planning scheme amendment 251, which was tabled on 17 October, to the Boroondara planning scheme and that applies to land at 3 and 10 Markham Avenue, Ashburton, be revoked. That land is otherwise known as the Markham public housing estate.
Wednesday, November 15, 2017 - 9:30am
Sue Pennicuik

MS PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — I rise to speak on the motion moved by Mr Davis that planning scheme amendment 251, which was tabled on 17 October, to the Boroondara planning scheme and that applies to land at 3 and 10 Markham Avenue, Ashburton, be revoked. That land is otherwise known as the Markham public housing estate.

It is unusual to see revocation motions before the Legislative Council. Many planning scheme amendments are tabled every week in this chamber, and it is very rare for them to either be disallowed or for a revocation motion to be moved. It is a significant legislative instrument to invoke, and it is important for Parliament to scrutinise planning scheme amendments and in particular those that are put forward by the planning minister to appoint himself or herself as the responsible authority for a development if the Parliament does not believe that would be in the public interest.

I want to begin by correcting the record with regard to some of the remarks made by Mr Leane. Firstly, he said that it has been something like 60 years since a planning scheme revocation motion had been put forward. In any case he also said that if they had wanted to, Labor, when in opposition would have put forward revocation motions. In fact they did. On 29 August 2012 Mr Tee put forward a motion to revoke planning scheme amendment C102 to the Port Phillip planning scheme, which was to revoke the taking over of Fishermans Bend by the then planning minister, Matthew Guy, which we all know has been an absolute disaster. That motion was put forward by Mr Tee and supported by the Greens, as it should have been; however, it was not successful in that the government at the time had the majority in this house.

Also on 12 March 2014 I put forward a motion to revoke planning scheme amendment C190 of the Stonnington planning scheme, which was in regard to the tower in Chapel street and the deal that was done between the developer and the government that the developer build an extra facility at Melbourne High School. In return the developer received planning permission from the minister for a 94-metre development, which was 38 metres higher than the preferred height at that site. So it is not unheard of, and as I said, it is unusual, but it is a very important legislative instrument. It is part of the Planning and Environment Act 1987, in section 38(2), that planning scheme amendments can be disallowed by either house of Parliament. That is an appropriate check on the executive in the case where the planning minister makes himself or herself the responsible authority for a development.

There were a couple of other points made by Mr Leane. He said in his summing up that it is a sad day that it has come to this.

Well, it is regrettable that it has come to this, but it has come to this due to the behaviour of the government. Mr Leane called the proposal to redevelop Markham Estate — and I will go into the detail a little further on in my contribution — a public housing project. It is not a public housing project. It used to be a site that was 100 per cent public housing. The proposal put forward by the government is not a public housing project; it is a project to sell off around 75 per cent to 80 per cent of that site to the private sector, and the remaining 25 per cent, maybe even less than that, will be for public housing. So it is not a public housing project; it is a development project with a small amount of public housing in it. That is what it actually is — so it is a sad day.

Mr Leane talked about the consultation: six meetings between the minister and the council — over two years, I should say. This has been going on since September 2015. In fact the announcement came out in September 2015 and then there was six months of absolute silence; no-one heard another thing. Then the community had the proposal dropped upon them: that was 190 private units at the time and an increase from 56 to 60 in the public housing units that were previously on the site. Then that went up to 250 units on the site.

Mr Leane said Mr Davis goes around winding up the community. Well, the community was wound up when it saw that. The community was appalled when it saw what was going to be proposed for this site on Markham Avenue, as was council. It took six months from the announcement about what it was going to look like for the proposal to be released by Places Victoria, as it was at the time, and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Mr Leane mentioned that there was some pop-up information sessions. There were; there were a couple of those. I went to one of them at the library in Ashburton, and all it was was just boards with an artist's impression of what it was going to look like, and what it was going to look like was not supported by the community or the council. That is why there has been a campaign over the last 18 months by the council and by the community, led by the Ashburton Community Residents Association group, and I pay tribute to the enormous amount of work they have done in going through all the documentation and keeping this issue in the public realm, because it is a very important vanguard issue. So the community was not wound up by anybody; they were wound up by the proposal that was actually presented to them.

The so-called consultation has not been consultation. Mr Leane talks about the community having been consulted. The community has been talked at; it has been given information but at no stage has there been any real or genuine desire on the part of Places Victoria, of DHHS or of either the Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing or the Minister for Planning to actually listen to what the council was saying and what the community was saying about this particular site. That is actually how we got here. It is regrettable that we are here, but we are here because what is being proposed at numbers 3 and 10 Markham Avenue, the former Markham estate, is an overdevelopment of that site and is not a public housing project.

While officially outside the public housing renewal program that the government is proposing on its Development Victoria website — and that involves estates in Brunswick, North Melbourne, Heidelberg West, Clifton Hill, Brighton, Prahran, Hawthorn, Northcote and Ascot Vale — it is the first following the Kensington and Carlton estates to be based on the model of redevelopment of a former site, be it those nine sites or this site, which were 100 per cent public housing or are still 100 per cent housing, by selling the majority, 70 per cent to 75 per cent of the site or more, for private development, with the minority to be developed for public housing, with only 25 per cent to 30 per cent of each site and only a 10 per cent increase in the number of public housing units. It is a one-size-fits-all approach, which is being driven by a profit motive and not by the long-term need for public housing.

I spoke at length about this particular proposal in May in response to a motion moved by Mr Davis. That motion requested that the government listen to the community and the council and the concerns they were raising about the proposal and that the government make the Boroondara council the responsible authority for the site, which we support and which council wants to be. But the government has not listened to any of that.

I mentioned earlier the forerunners of this model that the government is using in its public housing renewal program, and they are the Kensington and Carlton redevelopments. At the Kensington site there were 694 public units, of which 486 — all of the walk-ups and one tower — were demolished. These were replaced by 205 new public units. There are 224 in the two remaining towers. The new build at Kensington is 30 per cent public to 70 per cent private. At the Carlton estate 192 walk-ups were demolished and replaced by 246 public units — an increase of 54. But the walk-up flats were all three-bedroom and the replacement units are mainly one-bedroom.

It has been estimated by academics led by Dr Shaw from Melbourne University that the total decline in public tenants on the Carlton estate is 146. It was argued by the Department of Health and Human Services that the three-bedroom units at Carlton were under-occupied; however, since the leases were not renewed the baseline data immediately prior to the development was not correct. The new build component at Carlton is 24 per cent public to 76 per cent private, with a clear reduction in the overall as well as the proportional number of public tenants on the estate. Given the government is saying that one of the drivers for this public housing renewal program model is a social mix, it has also been found that the social mix in both areas, at Kensington and Carlton, has decreased.

The Greens are very, very concerned about this model. We have a public housing waiting list with 35 000 applicants on it. We have a public housing renewal program, and the Markham estate redevelopment proposal before us aims for a 10 per cent increase in the number of public housing units on the nominated sites. On the Markham estate that is an increase from the 56 units that were there to 62, but in terms of the number of bedrooms and therefore the number of people able to be accommodated in those public housing units it is actually a decrease. So what we have is a model for selling off public land to a private developer for no increase in the number of people who can be accommodated on the site in public housing.

I knew the Markham estate before the units were demolished. It had of course been there for decades. It was covered by gardens, and people in the adjoining community walked through the site on their way to the vegetation along the side of Gardiners Creek and on their way to the parkland that abuts the site on the eastern and southern sides. So it was in fact integrated into the community, and as Mr Davis said, the community wants to see that site for public housing. The community is very supportive of that site being redeveloped for public housing, as is the council, and that is what the Greens want to see too.

We cannot support a model where public land that was set aside decades ago for public housing — for people on the public housing list and to take people off the streets who are homeless or living in friends' houses or in cars or on the streets sleeping rough because they are waiting for public housing — is sold off. We cannot have a situation where we sell off public land that has been put aside for that very purpose to the private sector. We do not support that model. The public housing renewal program should aim for the maximum possible increase in public housing, and that is not what is happening.

The developers at the Kensington site made many millions of dollars in profit. Who knows what profit has been made at the Carlton estate, as that has not been released. But the figures with regard to the increase in public housing are very dismal indeed.

The Boroondara council remains very opposed to this proposal. They say that the land is public housing land owned by the people of Victoria and set aside for public housing. The proposal under this planning scheme amendment will see the majority of this public land handed over for private development, with 225 private units or 81 per cent of the total units of the site and 62 public units or 19 per cent. The council and the community want to see more public housing on the Markham estate. This has been at the forefront of the campaign by the council and the community for a much better outcome for the estate than is being put forward by the government. The redevelopment should be within the local planning scheme.

I would like to correct Mr Leane, as he seemed to have the figures wrong about what is actually happening on that site. He and Mr Davis referred to some changes that have been made — should I say, after 18 months of continuous campaigning by the council and the community. There have been some changes from the original proposal of 250 units on the site. It has been reduced to 225 units, which is still four times as many units on the site as were originally on the Markham estate, which was 56 public housing units. So it has been reduced from 250 to 225, not 170 as Mr Leane said, and the number of public housing units will be 62, up from 56 — but, as I said, with less bedrooms. So it is a very, very large development to put on the site. A 10 per cent increase in public housing, if you go by the number of units, is a trivial increase in the context of the public housing waiting list we have in Victoria.

The council did welcome that slight decrease from 250 to 225 in the number of units, and they did welcome that there would be no seven-storey buildings on the site, but there still will be five-storey buildings. The site is zoned general residential and the mandatory height limit is 13 metres or three storeys, so it is still two storeys above the actual allowed height limit on that site according to the Boroondara planning scheme.

If you look at a map of the site and if you are familiar with the site, which I am not sure Mr Leane is given his contribution, you will know that on the east side is parkland, sporting ovals and a community garden and on the south side is remnant bushland abutting Gardiners Creek. On the west side and the north side are some single dwellings, some 15, and in that area the government is proposing to put 225 units — on a site that is about as big as 13 house blocks. As I said, on the former Markham housing estate of 56 units there were a number of buildings with gardens and pathways in between. That is not what is going to be put up there. There are going to be 225 units squashed onto that site of up to five storeys, with a complete loss of public open space.

The council remains very concerned about that, and as I said, they are very concerned about the lack of public housing on the site. They are in need of around 2000 more public housing units in the municipality, and this development will go nowhere near achieving that. The council also says that it remains disappointed that the minister is choosing to make himself the responsible planning authority. They would prefer to be the planning authority. There is no reason that I can see why the council should not be the planning authority for this development.

They are also uncertain about the extent of native vegetation that will be retained, and the impact of the development on the remaining vegetation is both unresolved and an important issue for the council. I am led to understand that of the 82 established trees that are on the site, 76 will be lost, so 6 will remain. That is a loss of 76 established trees on that site, including river red gums and other native trees that attract native birds and of course intersect with the bushland that is on the southern area, which has been nurtured by the Boroondara council as a very precious asset for the people of Boroondara.

This will be totally impacted by this site. I will say this: of all the public housing renewal projects ahead of us, including this one, it is amongst the most ludicrous because it is huge for the area. It is a very quiet area on a very narrow street and it is very small site. But it is just the formula that the government is proposing.

If I could just go briefly to some of the things in the planning scheme amendment explanatory report where, in the answer to 'Why is the amendment required?', it says:

… the need for social housing is critical.

It says it is part of:

… the government's commitment to renew social housing … and better match the current … demand for smaller dwellings …

And it says:

… it will provide much-needed social housing …

Well, that is not the case. It is not going to provide much-needed social housing or public housing, because it is not going to increase the number of people who can actually be accommodated in the public housing section of the proposal.

The explanatory report goes on to say:

The redevelopment will have positive social and economic effects as it will deliver a mix of social and private housing and contribute to housing choice and affordability within the City of Boroondara.

The council and the community do not agree with the statement that it will contribute to choice and affordability, because it is mainly going to be sold on the private market. The council wants to see more public housing on the site, as do we.

As I said, 76 of the 80 trees are earmarked to be removed to make way for the increased number of units, the increased bulk of units and the increased intensity of the units on this site. With regard to urban environments, the explanatory report says the policy is:

To achieve architectural and urban design outcomes that contribute positively to local urban character and enhance the public realm while minimising detrimental impact on neighbouring properties …

Further, the report says the design:

… will ensure that the built form is sensitive to the neighbouring properties in terms of landscaping, appearance, bulk, height and massing of buildings, and setbacks.

Well, the council and the community completely disagree with that statement, and the proposal as people understand it, from the drawings that have been put forward and the plans as far as they go, will not do any of those things.

I also have to say, in terms of the traffic that will be caused in this tiny pocket within the suburb of Ashburton, there is already an issue on the site with traffic. Of course the cycling track will go right across the entry to the proposed development, so cyclists and pedestrians will be competing with cars coming in and out of this proposed development. That is a very risky thing to be happening, and it is just another problem with this development.

The funding model is fundamentally flawed. Public housing sites should be used for public housing, and they should not be used as a way for the government to create super profits, as was revealed, as Mr Davis said, by an email that was released to Mr Watt in the other place which claimed the government agreed that part of the reason for this development was to make super profits out of the site.

There is a lot of talk about developing housing developments with proportions of social housing in them, but we need to remember the difference between this issue and housing developments that are being developed by the Property Council of Australia, for example, on private land — land that has been bought by a property developer to develop with apartments, with the government or the council requiring a certain number of those to be affordable or social housing. That is a completely different issue to what we are talking about here. This is actually public land — public land owned by the people of Victoria for public housing. It is not a private development, and the government is obfuscating the issue and is clouding that issue. We are talking here about public land, and so different responsibilities apply to that. Also in terms of public housing the government should not be selling off any public housing unless it is surplus to requirements. It is clearly not surplus to requirements, because we need so much more public housing.

Just looking at the incorporated document, basically the two things that this planning scheme amendment will do is make the minister the responsible authority and insert the incorporated document into the Boroondara planning scheme. As I said, it says that there will be 225 dwellings, which is four times as many as were previously on the site, but it also says under 'Plans and documentation' that the development must:

i.      meets the objectives of clause 58 (apartment developments) of the Boroondara planning scheme.

I have had a bit of a look through that, and clause 58, 'Apartment developments', is quite extensive, but I just picked out a couple of standards that I know for a fact this development can never comply with, such as standard D1, which says that developments 'must be appropriate to the urban context and the site' and 'must respect the existing or preferred urban context and respond to the features of the site'. D5 says apartment developments must 'enhance local accessibility'. D10 says landscaping must 'be responsive to the site context' and 'protect any predominant landscape features'. And D14 says they 'must respect the existing or preferred urban context'.

Just from picking out some of those you can see that this incorporated document can never comply with the Boroondara planning scheme. It does not provide the community with much-needed public housing. We should be using public housing land for public housing. It is regrettable that the council has to use its legitimate power under the Planning and Environment Act 1987 to revoke this planning scheme amendment. It does not mean that nothing can happen on the site. It just means that the government has to come back with a plan that provides far more public housing. We would prefer 100 per cent public housing on the site, with a proposal that is nowhere near as intense as this one — something like half the number of units that are proposed for the site and the majority of them, if not all of them, public housing. That is the model we should be using across Melbourne and regional Victoria to increase the public housing stock, which is vitally needed, and to do something better on this site without the impacts on the local amenity and the impacts on the local environment and Gardiners Creek et cetera. There is an opportunity to do something so much better on this site, and this proposal falls so far short of it. That is why the Greens will be supporting the motion.