Brunswick Residents Newsletter: April 2020

Welcome to our April newsletter. We’re hosting local councillors in a public forum, online, on Saturday afternoon. We analyze the VCAT decision to reject plans for a Park Street monster building. And we give a sneak preview o some of our survey results.

Read on for the clunky version copied  from our email. Alternatively, read it in neater formatting, here.

 

Brunswick Residents Network News,

April 2020

Residents Forum on COVID-19:

What Moreland Council is doing

Join our Brunswick Residents Network online community forum with Moreland South Ward Councillors – Mayor Lambros Tapinos, Cr Jess Dorney and Cr Mark Riley.

Our representatives will update us on Council strategies to assist residents during the COVID Stay-At-Home period, and answer your questions on the impact of the pandemic on community affairs and other issues. There will be ample time for questions.

The meeting will be online, on Saturday 2 May, 3PM–4PM, via Zoom. You’ll be able to enter from 2.50pm.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. (We’re not publishing the links here, to help keep the meeting secure). Only people who have registered can attend.

If you haven’t used Zoom before, you can download the app at zoom.us. We recommend you have a look at it beforehand and maybe check out a tutorial online.

Any queries: Contact us on brunswickresidentsnetwork@gmail.com

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Support services in Brunswick during the pandemic

Moreland City Council is helping the community during the COVID-19 pandemic through a range of measures including financial relief, community grants, support for businesses, increased home support services and online and over-the-phone additions to existing services. On Wednesday 25 March, Council resolved to commit to a number of hardship and community relief measures to assist individuals, businesses and organisations suffering hardship in our community as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For details, go to: What Council is doing to support you during COVID-19

Beyond this, however, many Council facilities are closed because of physical distancing requirements. Moreland libraries, pools, galleries, playgrounds and the Oxygen Youth Space are all temporarily closed. Some essential Family Care and Aged services are still being maintained.

An updated list of services that are operating or closed can be found on the Moreland Council website

Community language information on coronavirus (COVID-19)

  • Moreland Council has produced short factsheets with information about COVID-19 in Greek, Italian, Arabic, Chinese, Turkish and Urdu, which you can download.
  •  SBS Radio has also produced news and information about the coronavirus and COVID-19 in 63 languages

State and federal government 

If you believe you or a family member have symptoms of COVID-19, call the coronavirus hotline on 1800 675 398

If you need assistance to sort out problems with JobSeeker or JobKeeper, your local MPs are:

Impact on Brunswick residents

As at 27 April, Moreland has seen 51 confirmed diagnoses of COVID-19 – ranked 8th out of Victoria’s 73 local government areas.

Here’s one tale of a Brunswick resident who came down with the illness – as he says himself, it’s a cautionary tale of someone putting his own health and that of his family and friends at risk:

‘I felt deeply apologetic’: how one man’s bucket-list trip put a community at risk of Covid-19, The Guardian, 21 April 2020

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FEATURE ARTICLE

A glimpse of our Stay-At-Home lives 

Last week, Brunswick Residents Network issued a short survey to local residents, asking for information about how the pandemic was affecting your well-being, work and home life. Thanks to the massive 188 people who filled out our quick on-line survey about how your lives have changed. The responses are thoughtful, interesting, and provide a snapshot of our lives at this time. Because of the huge response, we are still working on our detailed report. Today we preview your responses to the first few questions.

Major impacts

Q. What has been the major impact of the stay-at-home rules for you?

The responses to this question listed widely varying impacts. A few common threads were: working from home; missing friends, and seeing family less.

Negatives

Q. What have been the negatives?

“Worrying about others, especially who lost casual work or are not permanent residents who can’t pay bills and rent. Worried for younger people’s futures.”

“. . . the uncertainty cuts into every part of your life.”

“Boredom with only being able to see friends/family via internet – it’s not the same and it’s kind of tiring. Stuck with boarder in my small house now spending more time together in the same space.”

“Unable to go out for lazy brunch. People looking wary as they sidle by”

“Work invading life. Juggling kids needs with work requirements and feeling like neither is getting enough attention.”

“Financial insecurity and stress about the future of my business, and providing for my staff and being able to do the right thing by our suppliers.”

Once again, as the quotes illustrate, there is a wide spread of responses. Many people are missing family, and friends. Many are missing entertainment and restaurants, and socialising with others. Others find working from home a huge challenge; or have difficulties shopping.

Positives

What have been the positives?

“I LOVE the Christmas Day traffic levels; the increased number of people out walking at all times of the day; the creative way cafes and other businesses have responded to the rules. Loads of people smile – the sense that we all know what we have to do and are doing it while acknowledging the strange situation. Social connection through social distancing! ”

“Can finally get sleep Thursday to Sunday with no nightclubs, hotels open, no drunks, no parties”

“Slowing down, appreciating home and the garden. Gratitude for having a garden to be in.”

“Less traffic, less pollution, quieter streets. Lots of good co-operation and aid for those in need in our local area (doing shopping, making meals etc for those who can’t go out at all). Being able to help our neighbours.”

These quotes all mirror common themes. There are more shared responses in the answers to this question. Many people mentioned the slow-down in our lives and having more time, including time saved commuting; and quiet streets. People appreciate time spent with family (at home or online). Many commented (as above) on an increase in friendliness and a sense of community, with neighbours speaking to each other and building community networks.  People are spending time on home, garden, and other “projects”.

Activities

(We posted a list of activities and asked people whether they were doing them more, or less. The list below reports activities which at least 30% ticked.)

  • For “More” the top 7 were:  talking or meeting by video, cooking, walking for exercise,, watching TV or videos, gardening, talking to neighbours, and shopping locally.
  •  For “Less”: using public transport, driving, and exercise..
Mixed responses

Several activities had a mixed response, presumably reflecting how people’s lives have changed in different ways.

  • Shopping locally: 35% more and 19% less
  • Home delivered food: 23% more, 14% less
  • Bike-riding: 17% more, 20% less
  • Exercise (general): 23% more, 30% less

Activities overlooked by the survey-writers

Many people are doing more reading. And there were a lot of dogs mentioned!

There’s much more to come. Our forthcoming report your responses to having less traffic in our streets; and how you see Brunswick’s future affected in the longer term (lots of people expressed concern for the unemployed and the potential collapse of small businesses). We’ll also give lots more interesting detail on responses to the questions reported above.

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Planning for our suburb

Parking policy deferred

New parking restrictions proposed for parts of the municipality under the Moreland Integrated Transport Strategy (MITS) will be delayed until after the COVID-19 pandemic. The planned changes to parking restrictions in the Brunswick and Coburg activity centres have been postponed, at least until after the scheduled Council elections in October. At present, you do not need to apply for a parking permit to park in your street at this time, as Council parking officers are not enforcing timed restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Apart from the current COVID-19 crisis, the deferral comes after a sustained campaign against the new parking policy during this year of Council elections, with ALP members critical of the Greens councillors, and lots of criticism through social media sites like Fair Parking Moreland.

Park Street project bites the dust

In our February newsletter, BRN reported on the long-running battle over plans for a major apartment complex at 699 Park Street (just south of Brunswick Road on the border of Moreland and the City of Melbourne).

In a major victory for residents and Moreland Council earlier this month, VCAT issued its final ruling, refusing a planning permit for developers JW Land Development Pty Ltd: “There are multiple matters we find have not been satisfactorily addressed in the Amended Plans for the development. These matters cannot appropriately be addressed by permit conditions. In these circumstances, we determine that a permit should NOT be granted.”

JW Land Development Pty Ltd v Moreland CC (Corrected) [2020] VCAT 354 (2 April 2020)

The resident group Protect Park Street Precinct noted in response to the ruling: “VCAT, in their final submission, set out details of the many non-compliances, the unacceptable treatment of the heritage sub-station and other issues. This is a tribute to all the hard work of this group, our community and Moreland Council who also vigorously opposed the development.”

The developer had a series of opportunities to address concerns raised by residents, by Moreland Council and by VCAT itself. In an interim decision issued on 30 April 2019, VCAT found some positive features in the proposal but identified a number of unacceptable elements. After originally proposing a 12-storey building, JW Land put in revised plans in July 2019, now proposing a mixed-use development comprising three buildings ranging in height from three to ten storeys over two basement levels. The revised development would contain 214 dwellings and include alterations to a heritage building.

A final two days of VCAT hearings took place on 24 and 25 February 2020, limited to debate over whether the Amended Plans responded to the issues of concern set out in VCAT’s interim decision.

On 2 April, VCAT issued its ruling, finding that:

  • JW Land’s proposal to retain the heritage transformer station within the tower building is not acceptable.
  • The balcony sizes of multiple apartments (more than 70 of the 209 apartments) do not meet the clause 58 standard.
  • The plans failed to achieve 40 per cent of apartments with effective cross ventilation.
  • There was loss of natural daylight to ends of communal corridors by reconfigured apartments.
  • Although the Amended Plans provide a dedicated pedestrian path separated from the vehicle access, VCAT was not satisfied with the proposed layout.

In their ruling, however, VCAT disagreed with ongoing resident concerns about the overshadowing of Princes Park and the ongoing bulk and height of the revised application.

It seems that the developers overplayed their hand. The revised plans failed to deal with many concerns and created new problems. The Tribunal members were clearly snarky that the developers were refusing to take the hint from VCAT in its interim report of April 2019. Their ruling phrased this more diplomatically: “The issue of an interim order, as observed by the applicant, is infrequently given by the Tribunal and is seen as a valued opportunity to address issues of concern. As set out in these reasons, there are multiple matters we find have not been satisfactorily addressed in the Amended Plans for the development.”

In other words, VCAT is always ready to split the difference between resident concerns and a developer’s masterplan, if the developer will only play the planning game! With the State Government refusing to grant mandatory planning controls for activity centres in Moreland, VCAT will continue to give developers most, but not all, of what they want.

You can see this in another ruling by VCAT earlier this year. The developer wanted permission for a narrow eight story building at Black Street, Brunswick (pictured left). Council wanted six storeys, residents asked for five and changes to design. VCAT approved seven!

Mazza v Moreland CC [2020] VCAT 111 (5 February 2020)

More planning applications in the pipeline

In February 2020, the number of planning permit applications in Moreland rose by 52 per cent: there were 61 permit applications in January and 93 in February, compared to the Melbourne metropolitan average of 72.

It will be interesting to see the data for March and April when it’s released by the State Government. Has the coronavirus pandemic halted new applications, or are developers getting their applications into the system at the same rate?

There are worrying signs that developers and employer organisations are using the pandemic as an opportunity to push for deregulation of planning controls. University of Melbourne business economist Ian Harper, chair of the Federal government’s 2015 competition review, has called for the number of zoning and urban planning laws to be slashed: “We don’t want planning and building rules developed in a pre-COVID world to restrict what’s possible in a post-COVID world.”

At the same time, State Planning Minister Richard Wynne and Treasurer Tim Pallas will oversee the Building Victoria’s Recovery Taskforce, which will “investigate planning and investment opportunities to boost Victoria’s building and development industry over the short, medium and long term…. The Taskforce will initially focus on overseeing the fast-tracking of planning approvals using Ministerial powers, where decisions have been delayed due to coronavirus related impacts on the Victorian Planning System.”

Residents will need to be vigilant to ensure that regulations for good design and energy efficient buildings are not sacrificed on a bonfire of red tape.

Redesigning cities after the pandemic

One notable feature of the BRN survey (above) is that despite problems of personal isolation and unemployment, many people appreciate the quieter streets and the opportunity to move safely around the neighbourhood, especially as a cyclist or pedestrian. This is a phenomenon around the world, and some urban planners have seized the opportunity to start a discussion on post-pandemic planning, the use of public space and transport design.

Cities as diverse as Mexico City, Oakland, Vancouver and Toronto are already opening up their streets for walking and cycling during the crisis. Milan and Brussels – both notorious for their traffic-clogged roads – have announced bold schemes to prioritise walkers and cyclists in their city centres. Currently, around 60 per cent of the road network in Brussels is already a 30kph zone, but central Brussels will become a 20kph zone from 1 May, giving full priority to pedestrians and cyclists everywhere in the city’s historic heart.

As one report notes: “Some of the schemes are temporary reallocations of road space from cars to people on foot and on cycles, so that key workers can keep moving and residents in coronavirus lockdown stay healthy and active while socially distancing. But there are also indications that some of the measures may be kept in place even after the pandemic has passed, as locals come to appreciate the fresh air and silence of calm, traffic-free roads.”

What happens to cities in Australia as we emerge from COVID-19 restrictions? The Planning Institute of Australia is preparing a “COVID-19 Response Plan”, but planning networks like Planners Declare argue that: “the response should include how planners can form solutions around the lack of public and social housing and renting stress….effectively returning to ‘business as usual’ is a lost opportunity. This will simply further entrench the dynamics around ecology, social isolation and health and wellbeing that exacerbate the impacts of disasters and pandemics.”

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Changes to Local Government laws

 

On 24 March, the new Local Government Act 2020 received royal assent and entered into law.

Controversially, the Act requires the introduction of new ward systems to elect councillors and will be introduced across Victoria in stages. For the 2020 local government elections, 10 councils (including our neighbour Darebin) will be changing to a single-member ward structure – but Moreland is not one of them.

Moreland City Council will retain its current multi-member wards for the 2020 Council elections, but is obliged to introduce single member wards for the 2024 elections. This is a retrograde step, designed to benefit the major parties and disadvantage community independents (BRN prefers multi-member ward systems over single-member wards, with detailed reasons set out in our December 2019 newsletter).

Under the new Act, which replaces legislation from 1989, Councils will have to introduce a number of new policies over the next year, covering: Mandatory candidate training and Councillor Codes of Conduct; Governance Rules; Expense and Gift Policies; Community Engagement Policy; Delegated Committees and Asset Committees; Audit & Risk Charter and Committee and Public Transparency Policy.

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Culture Corner: music, kids, books

Moreland support for musos from Brunswick Music Festival

Brunswick is the song-writing capital of Australia (yes, look it up), so it’s great to see that Moreland Council has shown its support for the local cultural community after the cancellation of the Brunswick Music Festival in March.

Moreland City Council have confirmed that because artist fees were already accounted for within Council’s festival program budget, all musicians featured on the 2020 Brunswick Music Festival line-up have been paid their fees in full. Council will not seek the return of 50 per cent of the artists and crews’ deposits, and has even paid them the remaining portion of their fees.

With many musicians and performers around Melbourne losing their livelihoods, and many in the gig economy unable to access JobKeeper, that’s one good piece of news, and has been widely acclaimed by performing artists. Moreland Mayor Lambros Tapinos said: “We recognise the importance of a thriving arts and cultural sector as being the lifeblood of our local community, with a range of benefits including economic, health and wellbeing and building social cohesion.”

If you are in a financial position to do so, you could donate to Support Act, a music charity providing crisis relief services to artists, roadies and music workers who are directly affected during this time.

Stuck at home with children?

If your kids are stuck at home and running out of things to do, get them to make a Heath Robinson machine (Americans know them as a Rube Goldberg machine).

The ABC has tons of online material for students and for younger pre-school children
For secondary students stuck in isolation, here’s a great resource to learn more about our neighbours in the Pacific islands and their geography, culture and genealogies. Damon Salesa from the University of Auckland has launched “Pacific Level Up”, an online series of lecture videos about Oceania, designed for high school students. Salesa, and a number of students from the University of Auckland, had been working on a Pacific studies textbook for high school students for the past 18 months because there is currently not one available in New Zealand. With many students now in lock down, they’ve gone online:

Reading our city

Under lock-down, some people have a bit more time on their hands. Here’s a few suggestions of interesting books on urban design, planning and culture. For planning and design nerds, there are a number of books with alternative visions about appropriate urban density or creating cities that are safe for cyclists and pedestrians. (Please send us suggestions of other ideas for future newsletters).

Planning on the fringe

There’s a need for more housing density in the inner city to protect the green wedges and farmland on Melbourne’s peri-urban fringe.

These landscapes are some of the world’s most vulnerable areas to over development. Although they are often thought of simply as land awaiting development, these landscapes retain important natural resources and make valuable contributions to agriculture, water use, biodiversity conservation, landscape preservation and human well-being.

But what’s happening on the peri-urban fringe, and what are the drivers for mal-development on the outskirts of Melbourne? A fascinating new book by Andrew Butt and former RMIT planning professor Michael Buxton explores the history, policy and practice surrounding peri-urban areas, as well as their value.

Michael Buxton, Andrew Butt: The Future of the Fringe – The Crisis in Peri-Urban Planning

(CSIRO Publishing, April 2020), Paperback – $59.99. (Looks as if libraries can buy an e-book).

Images of Inner-City Street Art

For aficionados of street art in Brunswick, the alleyways behind Rathdowne Remnants are an ever-changing gallery of images.

Dean Sunshine has documented this work in “Land of Sunshine”, a softcover book of 300 pages featuring his photographs taken over the period 2010-2012 in Melbourne. The book includes profiles of twelve prominent Melbourne street artists with photos of their work and written/drawn Q&A: Kaffeine, Adnate, Slicer, Drab, CDH, Heesco Urban Cake Lady, Makatron, Phoenix, DEB, Suki, Be Free.

The follow up book “Street Art Now” is a hardcover of 200 pages featuring photographs taken by Dean Sunshine over the period 2012-2014 in Melbourne and beyond.

  • Street Art Now (this page also links to “Land of Sunshine”, and Sunshine’s photo galleries)
Alternative urban visions

“Soft City” by David Sim is about ease and comfort, where density has a human dimension, accommodating the pleasures of everyday life. How do we move from the current reality in most cites—separated uses and lengthy commutes in single-occupancy vehicles that drain human, environmental, and community resources—to support a soft city approach?

Walking around town

American planner Jeff Speck proposes 101 rules to improve walkability in the built environment. His book “Walkable City Rules” covers everything from selling walkability, to getting the parking right, escaping automobilism, making comfortable spaces and interesting places.

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Email us!

Please note our email address:  brunswickresidentsnetwork@gmail.com. And write to tell us what you think of the newsletter. We love feedback. 

If you are able to offer some time to volunteer to help organise our campaigns, and support our work, please get in contact. Our work includes organising meetings, leafleting and letter boxing, graphic design and publicity, and research; on planning, greening Brunswick and traffic management.

[Wondering why this email comes to you from nfip@optusnet.com.au? Our Mailchimp email service doesn’t like a gmail sender’s address, so we use a member’s address. Add this address your contacts so our emails don’t get filed as spam, but don’t write to it)

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Moreland Council stuff

All Council meetings – held on the 2nd Wednesday of each month –  are normally held at: Council Chamber, Moreland Civic Centre, 90 Bell Street, Coburg. 2020 dates are:

  • Wednesday 13 May 2020
  • Wednesday 10 June 2020
  • Wednesday 8 July 2020
  • Wednesday 12 August 2020
  • Wednesday 9 September 2020
  • Wednesday 14 October 2020

Meeting details are posted at the Council website.

Council meetings can be watched online, either live, or later – you can find details here along with the agenda for the next Council meeting when it’s posted on the Friday before the monthly meeting.

There is no public question time because of COVID-19 rules, but you can submit a written question through a link on the website page above.

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Contacts for our local councillors

Lambros Tapinos (Mayor)

Mobile: 0433 419 075

Email: ltapinos@moreland.org.au

Jess Dorney

Mobile: 0419 560 055

Email: jdorney@moreland.org.au

Mark Riley

Mobile: 0499 807044

Email: mriley@moreland.org.au

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MAILING LIST AND FURTHER INFORMATION

Welcome to new readers! To contact organisers of the Brunswick Residents’ Network, or to offer help with future activities, please email brunswickresidentsnetwork@gmail.com. (This gmail is our preferred address, rather than replying to this email).

Please forward this e-letter to other Moreland neighbours who’d like a say in the way their community is changing. It’s easy to sign on, or edit your details to include your interests – just go to http://eepurl.com/VX4a9.

For meeting details, survey and newsletter archives, go to: https://brunswickresidents.wordpress.com

Check out our Facebook page for a range of lively discussions: Brunswick Residents Network. Help us reach more people by liking our page, commenting, forwarding this newsletter, and tweeting it using the links below.

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