Candidates answer our questions

SOUTH WARD CANDIDATES VIEWS ON PLANNING, TRANSPARENCY, TRAFFIC AND MORE….

On 11 October, the Brunswick Residents Network hosted a meeting for candidates standing for election to Moreland Council in the South Ward. See our previous post for videos of introductory statements by the candidates.

Following the meeting, a series of follow-up questions on topics including planning, accountability, open space, traffic, CCTV, and environment were sent to all candidates.    

As of 23 October, seven of eight candidates from South Ward have sent in responses to the questions (below) – this list will be updated if the other candidates send in responses in coming days. Election day is 27 October.

1)    Do you support mandatory height controls for Brunswick, and enforcement of maximum height limits on new projects?

DERHAM GROVES:     Absolutely.

LAMBROS TAPINOS:  Yes and have moved motions in the chamber to introduce mandatory controls.

SAMANTHA RATNAM, LIAM FARRELLY and NARELLE GRAEFE:     Yes. The Greens support setting height limits in consultation with the community in order to provide more certainty for residents. We will also advocate for the retention of third-party appeal rights across all planning matters.  We believe that residents need more certainty in the planning process and this is an important way of providing more of it.  We support the maximum height limits proposed in the Brunswick structure plan as these were determined after community consultation.

MICHAEL CARMODY:  I’m a strong supporter of mandatory height limits. And when I say mandatory, I mean exactly that: mandatory. For too long, limits proposed by council have been treated as discretionary, and residents of Brunswick and its surrounds have made it very clear that’s not acceptable.

MARTIN FORSTER:  Yes – I believe that the Brunswick Structure Plan includes a number of height limits at the 4-7 storeys and given this plan has been endorsed by council and the council should adhere to these. I agree there is a problem with the planning minister approving the higher developments and developers who know the loop holes and often want to take the development out of councils immediate control. I will be pushing for a meeting Matthew Guy to set the record straight.

2)    Should major high-rise or multi-unit development projects seeking a planning permit go to the Urban Planning Committee of 7 councillors – as currently occurs – or do you think they should go to full Moreland Council instead?

DERHAM GROVES  Major high-rise and multi-unit developments should be debated by the full council.

LAMBROS TAPINOS:  Personally, I support abolishing the UPC committee and introducing an extra council meeting per month to deal with only planning matters. This was all councillors must attend and take part in the decision making about planning matters.

SAMANTHA RATNAM, LIAM FARRELLY and NARELLE GRAEFE:     We would like to see improvements made (or attempted) to the current system of planning permit reviews, prior to trying to restructure the system. The Urban Planning Committee has 9 members currently, which is almost all Councillors.  Not all are regular attendees though.  We believe that it is more important that the Committee members are willing to work to understand the planning scheme, and what the criteria are for decision making, than it is to have all of them on the Committee.  Good quality informed decision making is critical to this process and we would advocate for an improved process that raises the quality of decision making and increases accountability and transparency. We would support a restructure of this system if it was found that the current system could not be improved in these ways.

MICHAEL CARMODY:  High density, high rise developments are those which the community are most concerned about, and for good reason. It seems to me that consideration of these developments should be core business for council, and every opportunity should be made for the community to have their say. So I would support full council having a role as a means of increasing community participation in decision making.

MARTIN FORSTER:  In theory if the 7 councillors represent the sentiment of the residents and have adequate knowledge to understand the implications 7 should be fine. However you just need to look around to see that this is not happening and so I think that we need to have the full Moreland Council look at this issue and to develop effective strategies.

3)    Currently if Moreland Council receives 10 or more objections to a planning proposal, it goes to the Urban Planning Committee. Otherwise the decision is delegated to a Moreland City Council officer. How many objections to a project should trigger review of planning permits by the full Council? (To compare against another councils: in Nillumbik, it takes only one objection to trigger a council decision).

DERHAM GROVES  That is far too many. Two sounds right to me.

LAMBROS TAPINOS:  I think ten objections is high., I would be happy to consider a number between 5-10 objectors. However I believe we need to add other criteria as well like if it does not meet any planning scheme clause, it should come to the committee.

SAMANTHA RATNAM, LIAM FARRELLY and NARELLE GRAEFE:     The criterion for determining which planning proposals come to the Committee requires a number of considerations to be balanced.  The current system allows any application to come to the Urban Planning Committee if a Councillor requests it regardless of the number of objectors.  As there are 1500 applications a year, it would be unrealistic for the UPC to decide all of them. The current process is that a single Council officer doesn’t determine any application, rather there is an internal process that ensures all decisions are reviewed by senior staff. However, If there was community concern that the existing process needed review (including a call to review of the number of objections to trigger for UPC referral), we would support a review of the system of objections to ensure that we have a system that provides residents with more adequate information, time and opportunity to be consulted and have their views heard in planning decisions.

MICHAEL CARMODY:  Too many important issues – especially planning issues – are being delegated to council staff. Naturally, councillors have limits on their time, and it would be counter-productive to overburden them, and to slow down the essential workings of local government. However, good planning is so much at the heart of how we will manage the changes that we are experiencing, I fully support increased decision making by full council, and therefore would support a trigger with fewer than 10 objections.

MARTIN FORSTER:  Ten is far too many. We need a clearer process and for the MCC officers to raise all the objections to Council. This could be via a web page where councillors are alerted to any objections not just the ones with 10 people objecting. My mother brought a property and was about to be overshadowed and had to alert all the other neighbouring properties however because it was a low rise, low density area people she only managed to get 6 people. Six people overshadowed by a block of flats is to many when simple design changes could have been implemented which would not have greatly impacted the developer or the Council. In terms of a number of objections to trigger a review I think the number should be in proportion with the number of surrounding properties. Research is required to ascertain an exact number.

4)    Do you support Moreland City Council publishing all planning applications on-line, in spite of the cost and time involved?

DERHAM GROVES  Yes. More transparency is what is desperately needed in Moreland.

LAMBROS TAPINOS:  Yes. As I said the new system should be able to do this – it’s a matter of resources. I would prefer to have more letters sent to residents informing them of proposed applications, including letters in other languages.

SAMANTHA RATNAM, LIAM FARRELLY and NARELLE GRAEFE:     In the current system, all applications are placed on-line to allow residents to check what applications are in the system.  However, the details of the application (plans, reports etc) are not on-line.  We support increasing transparency and access for residents across planning issues and also acknowledge the issue of costs and time that are important matters for a council with limited resources and pressure to manage costs down.

In order to balance these things, we would consider options such as a developing a process where full application details are made available based on requests from the community. This could be a way of managing costs while ensuring residents have access to more information for planning applications that raise greater community concern.

In addition, there are still significant numbers of residents who don’t have access to online information.  It may be of use to have extended office hours one day a week, and all plans available at all the service centres, to make it easier for residents to view them. We would be prepared to explore options like these to improve access and transparency across planning matters.

MICHAEL CARMODY:  This is a no-brainer to me. Council needs to move into the 21st century, and to make sure that it works for residents. Any initiatives that make it easier for residents and ratepayers to get involved in decision making – such as publishing important information such as this online, for easier access – is something I support.

MARTIN FORSTER:  Yes. Information for people is critical. I have been thinking about this and if there is a digital lodgement of the applications (as most architects use computers) then these plans could be posted online with minimal cost/impact. A number of councils such as Melbourne and Stonnington also ask developers to submit a “wire frame” or “sketchup” these can easily be placed on the internet via google earth another simple but effective tool. I believe that we need to use the technology as well as communication through consultation.

5)    What other steps will you take to improve transparency and accountability on Council?

 DERHAM GROVES  As I mentioned the other night, what is needed are Councillors who understand the architectural and urban planning implications and ask the difficult questions of Council and Council managers. At the moment, the Council seems to simply accept what it is told. That’s not good enough.

LAMBROS TAPINOS:  Elected Councillors should be making the decisions not staff members. Decisions make in a public forum.

SAMANTHA RATNAM, LIAM FARRELLY and NARELLE GRAEFE:     Increasing transparency and accountability on council is a key priority for the Greens. Here is what we propose to improve this:

i.          improve the way residents are consulted on Council decisions with a review of existing communication processes;

ii.         Increase notification time to residents of agenda items for Council meetings;

iii.        advocate the enfranchisement of non-citizens such as permanent residents and Permanent Protection Visa holders to enable them to vote in Council elections;

iv.        advocate for constitutional recognition of the powers and responsibilities of local government, and for a referendum to be held with the 2013 Federal election;

v.         advocate for amendments to the Local Government Act that:

a.         support the reinstatement of Brimbank Council as a matter of priority;

b.         provide for all Councillors to be paid a living wage to enable greater representation and accountability;

vi.        mandate that all council committees – internal, external and community –present minutes of the committee and a covering report to the Council, and hence the public record, annually or more frequently;

vii.       restructure existing Council – community committees to allow more direct decision-making;

viii.      continue to support the policy of providing childcare for all council meetings and major functions, and the policy of providing translators on request;

ix.        introduce a new system for the selection of the Mayor and Portfolio Councillors to ensure those appointments are based on merit, including holding a public forum where all aspirants will detail what they will be seeking to achieve in the role within the coming 12 months;

x.         improve consultation including the use of social media and other mechanisms and support the ongoing allocation of adequate resources to Councils social media unit;

xi.        improve transparency by ensuring the following are all accessible on the Council website:

a.         details of all Councillors’ allocated responsibilities;

b.         details of all Councillors’ expenses;

c.         agendas and minutes of all Council and Committee meetings since Moreland’s inception (1996);

d.         agendas and minutes of all committees – internal, external and community based.

xii.       Improve access to documentation for council meetings such as separate downloadable documents for each topic or item on the agenda.

MICHAEL CARMODY:  I want to want to restore a culture of responsiveness by Council staff and Councillors, embedding this again into Council’s work practices and systems and into how Councillors conduct themselves. That is why so I have developed a a “Charter of Responsibilities” for Councillors that articulates precisely how they should seek to genuinely represent residents and the broader community. I want to work to see this Charter formally included in Moreland Council’s Councillor Code of Conduct. I genuinely believe that better outcomes would be achieved if all Councillors adopted this charter.

MARTIN FORSTER:  I would start with moving for an audit of the budget – we need to know where the rate payers money is going. I would then be asking the heads of the departments to justify the budgets which they have allocated. I would move for major expenditures to be signed off by a budget committee and have open consultation with the people.

6)    In our recent survey of residents, access to open space was rated as ‘very important’ by 9 out of 10 respondents. What will you do to increase the amount and quality of open space in Brunswick?

DERHAM GROVES  Making open spaces safer will increase access, especially by senior citizens. “Safer” includes better footpaths through open spaces. More seating in parks. Recently the Council “splurged” on street benches (it appeared like the money had to be spent by a certain time), however look at some of the ridiculous places they erected these benches! Certainly not in open spaces, where we could have done with them. Does the Council understand how people use our open spaces? It seems not to me. Once again, there is a lack of dialogue between residents and the Council. “Take that” is Council’s current attitude.

 LAMBROS TAPINOS:  We must use developer contribution not only to maintain parks and open space but to develop new parks and open space as well.

SAMANTHA RATNAM, LIAM FARRELLY and NARELLE GRAEFE:     More open spaces is a high priority for the Green candidates for council.  There are a number of initiatives that we are proposing to increase the quantity and quality of open spaces in Moreland.

i.   Implement the Moreland Open Space Strategy 2012-2022 with priority to the following:

a.  the open space requirements identified in the Coburg, Brunswick and Glenroy structure planning processes, including high quality urban design;

b. an ongoing commitment to the provision and maintenance of a minimum level of public open space per person based on proximity and population density;

c.  a more active promotion and encouragement of the health benefits of open space;

d.  enhancement of the existing green links along all the creeks and the creation of green links along some of the main east west links and the Upfield railway line;

e.  removal of fencing around sporting facilities that excludes the use of the facility for passive recreation and general use;

f.  prioritising the implementation of children’s playgrounds;

g. reflection of the permanently reduced rainfall scenario.

ii.   Actively seek shared use agreements with local schools to meet the deficiencies of open space, including with the Glenroy Special School and the Glenroy West Primary Schools.

iii.   Preserve existing natural assets, including all street trees.

MICHAEL CARMODY:  I agree that open space is a key issue – not just for individuals, but as a means of fostering community. I want to ensure that infill developments afford adequate open space for residents, and I’d also look to increasing developer contributions to improve and increase the amount of open space in the community (especially given how low the proportion of open space there is in Moreland compared with other LGAs). I would also work to support and improve relationships with sporting groups – by developing easy to understand processes and forms, not increasing fees during times of stress (such as the drought a few years ago), and taking more responsive approaches in dealing with infrastructure and tenure.

MARTIN FORSTER:  Open space is key to lieveability. There are a number of things the council can do:

  • Put in place an openspace amendment. The City of Melbourne and Moonee Valley have both introduced an Amendment to the planning scheme make to ensure that all new developments contribute 5% or 8% , either as a percentage of the site value, a land contribution or a combination of both. The applicable rate has been decided to reflect the anticipated growth. (see: http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/BuildingandPlanning/Planning/planningschemeamendments/Pages/AmendmentC209.aspx)
  • There are ways for Council to also be creative there are any unused sites which can be cost effectively transformed. I am currently working with residents at Brunswick train station.
  • Some sporting facilities remain “locked” to the public I believe in unlocking public spaces, I led the residents group for the Friends of Gillion Oval and we now have a beautiful and accessible park. There are others in Coburg and surrounding neighbourhoods.
  • I also believe in working to beautify our streets I Cofounded the Adopt A Tree program which is all about allowing residents to create micro openspaces. However I believe Council can do more there are many opportunities for “pocket parks” these are small parks to be dotted within our neighbourhoods they can be created from road reserves and small land purchases.
  • We need to also work on the management of the spaces and to take pride as residents and Council workers.

7)    What’s your attitude to increased use of CCTV in Brunswick, in light of concerns over safety and security in the suburb?

DERHAM GROVES  CCTV is all very well after the event. What we need to focus on is trying to improve safety in the first instance. I admit it is not easy. But better lighting of streets is one thing that the Council could do fairly easily. Too expensive? If Moreland Council can waste $23 million dollars on the failed (and flawed) “Coburg Initiative,” it can affort to light the streets.

LAMBROS TAPINOS:  We should investigate installing CCTV cameras. It is not the only answer to the problem, we need more lights, better planning outcomes, more police etc

SAMANTHA RATNAM, LIAM FARRELLY and NARELLE GRAEFE:     The recent tragic events in Brunswick have renewed calls to improve safety in the city. While the use of CCTV cameras has been shown to increase community perceptions of safety and have played a role in helping to solve crime, the research evidence suggests that they are not effective in preventing or reducing crime. We would like a community safety approach to be adopted to improve safety by reducing and preventing crime in the city.  Moreland City Council had a community safety plan from 2007-09, but does not have a current policy. We would like to push for a new community safety plan to be developed in consultation with the community.

This plan could include options such as:

1. Improve lighting on major pedestrian and bike pathways (including the Upfield bike pathway)

2. Improving lighting in major activity centres

3. Better liaison between the police and residents (this includes crime information and reports in the area being easily and readily publicly accessible)

4. Advocating for longer operation hours for public transport so people have more options for safe transport

MICHAEL CARMODY:   I want the community to be involved in a fresh conversation about the use of CCTV in Brunswick and Moreland. Clearly many private businesses are currently using CCTV as a way of deterring crime, but if there is a push for council itself to further add to this, then, given the privacy and civil liberties issues this raises, I think the community has the right to play a role in formulating any fresh policy in this area.

MARTIN FORSTER:  I am researching the effectiveness of CCTV at the moment at this stage I believe that we need to create vibrant spaces with passive people based surveillance over cameras. If we encourage the use of spaces public and private then we can create a safer place to live. At the moment we have close proximity between residents and industrial uses – such as the Sydney Road/Hope Street corner these are not safe environments. CCTV won’t fix it but council can by encouraging change such as extending the atmosphere of Spata Place through our laneways.  Creating an active “neighbourhood watch” amongst our community. I am happy to listen to other ideas.

8)    In our residents’ survey, more than 75 per cent of respondents believe that Moreland Council’s progress in keeping traffic out of residential streets is unsatisfactory. What steps will you take to address traffic management, rat-running and the poor quality of footpaths and pedestrian infrastructure in Brunswick?

DERHAM GROVES  It is important to look at the strategic installation of things like speed humps in “trouble spots,” around schools, etc. However, we shouldn’t — nor do we need to — pay up to $59,000 per speed hump, which was the cost of ONE speed hump in Park Street.

LAMBROS TAPINOS:  We must take actions necessary to deal with individual streets to stop rat-running, but we must look at the amount of density that Brunswick streets can hold.

SAMANTHA RATNAM, LIAM FARRELLY and NARELLE GRAEFE:     We have developed a comprehensive policy plan to encourage the use of active and sustainable transport and reduce reliance on cars in Moreland.  Here are some of the key aspects of our policy plan to improve walking, cycling and public transport and reduce the need for car use. Our full policy can be found http://morelandgreens.cc.co

Walking: The Greens on Council want to implement the Moreland Pedestrian Strategy 2010-2019 and give priority to increasing funding to implement the strategy and increase the density of walking networks – especially improving footpaths to activity centres such as schools, sports facilities and retail precincts.  We also want to increase pram and wheel-chair access to walking paths, and provide more seats as this has been found to make it easier for elderly residents especially to get out and about.  We would like to see a 40km/hr speed limit for local roads to improve pedestrian safety and an increase in the number and reaction times of pedestrian signals as this improves journey times and reduces the instances where pedestrians walk across signals due to a long wait time.

Bicycles: The Greens on Council want to implement the Moreland Bicycle Strategy 2011-2021 and give priority to ensuring that adequate funding is provided to implement the strategy, continue the creation of safe bike lanes and extending the bicycle pathways to schools, shops and other activity centres. We will also work to link up existing bicycle paths to create a bicycle network and create new routes that run from north-south as there are limited routes at present. We would also like to see greater links between from east-west through the city.  We would like to see existing routes linked up to create a good bicycle network.

Roads and Reduction of Car Use: To reduce reliance on cars, we would like to increase the level of car sharing available, particularly in the northern section of the city and continue to encourage developers to include car sharing within new developments to reduce the need for car parking provision. We also want to see significant development proposals prepare a green travel plan as part of their application We will advocate for a 40km/hour limit in local streets and a 50km/hour limit in main streets to improve safety for all road users.

Public Transport: The Greens believe that good networked public transport is essential for a sustainable city. We need improvements in the number and frequency of services.  We will  advocate in particular for improved services and service levels in the north of the city, with bus frequencies of 15 minutes (maximum) in the peak period and 30 minutes (maximum) in the off peak period.  Improving adequate seating and lighting for bus stops is another way of making it easier and safer for passengers to travel. We would like to see dedicated bus lanes and increased disability access to public transport.

Moreland Council is currently developing an integrated transport strategy that will be important in informing future actions in these areas.  I support an integrated transport approaches to addressing some of these challenges and finding solutions in these areas.

MICHAEL CARMODY:  Council’s spending priorities need to be looked at – one of the most important jobs is to maintain the transport infrastructure, including both roads and footpaths. New developments need to better consider any increases in traffic congestion, and Council must continue to work with the community on transport policy. Bluestone lanes must be preserved, and must not be allowed to be concreted over, since this will only encourage them being used as ‘rat-runs’. Traffic safety around schools is also an important issue, and I want to work towards developing a strong, forceful policy to ensure that parents and children can feel safe around their school.

MARTIN FORSTER:  Yes traffic and transport are problems. I want to create beautiful and safe streets for people to walk, meander and enjoy life – this is why I have been working with residents to this. I think we need to direct traffic to the main roads we can do this through – lowering the speed limits, using vegetation, creating bike lanes and giving them priority (as soon as I ride to the City of Melbourne I feel the difference in the level of priority given). I plan to listen to the community on this issue. I plan to undertake research for example I know there are black spots VicRoads collects the data and publishes this via CrashSTATS. As a result I will be working with council and state authorities to make resolving the pressure areas a priority.

9)    What are your views on having single- ward councillors in the future i.e. one ward for each councillor, so the south-ward will be broken back into three or four wards?

DERHAM GROVES  It would be an improvement on the current system. It is too easy at the moment for the political parties to run “non-serious” candidates in order to sweep preferences. We need independent-thinking “stirrers” on Council, not people who are unprepared to “rock the boat” because they are patiently waiting to be tapped on the shoulder for State Parliament, which is currently the case for the Greens and Labor.

LAMBROS TAPINOS:  There are advantages both ways, It will make life easier as a councillor if we had single member wards but I also enjoy dealing with all the complex issues that exist in different parts of Brunswick. I support multi-member wards, but I support all of Brunswick in one ward with 4 councillors.

SAMANTHA RATNAM, LIAM FARRELLY and NARELLE GRAEFE:     The Greens support proportional representation which ensures that a greater range of people are elected.  This works more effectively in multi member wards.  Multi member wards have the advantage that the Councillors, if they work collaboratively, can concentrate on the areas that are their personal strengths/interests and so provide collectively a better response.  The disadvantage is that, if not all Councillors are pulling their weight, it can becomes an onerous task for the one or two that are doing so. We encourage actions to improve accountability of Councillors to residents.

MICHAEL CARMODY:  I’d want the community’s view on this. It’s clear to me that, at the very least, Brunswick is currently disadvantaged by having only 3 councillors compared with the other wards’ four. The most important thing is for the community to feel as though they have representatives that they can talk to, discuss issues, and whom they can trust to advocate on their behalf about the issues that are most important.

MARTIN FORSTER:  I can see some advantages and some issues are location specific however other issues are broader and impact the municipality in total. I need more time to weigh up the pros and cons.

10) What new policies should Council adopt to enhance environmental sustainability in urban design and planning?

DERHAM GROVES   Sustainability should be like disabled access, i.e. It should be a matter of course, in-built into the decision-making process at every level. Currently, there appears to be a lot of insincerity regarding Moreland’s attitude. The “comedy” of emptying garbage and recycling bins into the same truck illustrated the Council’s “what they don’t know what hurt them” attitude.

LAMBROS TAPINOS:  We have a number of programs to help council judge applications against ESD standards. I will be happy to support increased ESD standards in any future design overlay.

SAMANTHA RATNAM, LIAM FARRELLY and NARELLE GRAEFE:     Improving environmental sustainability across all new development projects is a key priority for the Greens.  We are proposing a number of specific actions to achieve this:

i.          Support the Moreland Planning Scheme while seeking to ensure it is implemented in a way that:

a.         produces developments that are of the highest possible standard in terms of environmental sustainability;

b.         respects the solar access of neighbouring properties;

c.         increases the provision of open space

d.         accounts for feedback from residents;

e.         ensures a high standard of permeability;

f.          continues to raise the standard on the delivery of quality Environmentally Sustainable Development, built form and public realm outcomes for the community.

ii.         review the Municipal Strategic Statement (MSS) by 2013 and ensure it will include:

a.         higher Environmentally Sustainability Development (ESD) provision above the current standard;

b.         provision of high quality open space;

MICHAEL CARMODY:  Environmental sustainability is important, but I think one of the most crucial issues is social sustainability. That is, ensuring that urban design and planning has a stronger focus on ensuring that communities are well looked after in terms of social services, infrastructure, open space, transport. We mustn’t allow any longer developments that inevitably isolate residents from each other, but instead must ensure that Brunswick continues to be a vibrant, engaged community.

MARTIN FORSTER:  Council need to adopt policies which promote sustainability such as:

  • Encouraging water harvesting from businesses for the watering of local parks and gardens,
  • Encouraging people to use active transport such as walking and cycling
  • Solar energy use for homes, schools and sporting facilities
  • We need to reduce the urban heat island effect in the summer the streets are very hot we can change this by adding street trees and expanding our naturestrips.
  • We need to consider the impact of decisions – I have been reading and listening to the Stop the Brunswick Terminal Station group and I am prepared to support this group and implement the alternatives.
  • Care for our rivers and waterways.

In terms of urban design we need to

  • Develop guidelines that respect heritage and architectural design
  • Enhance and preserve our laneways.
  • Create places which are for people to walk and interact
  • Preserve the fine scale of our townhouses and confine density to transport infrastructure routes.
  • Mandatory guidelines for developers to achieve 5 star sustainability guidelines.

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