Brunswick Resident Network Newsletter January 2023

Welcome to our first 2023 newsletter. Read on (apologies for the clunky format) for news on level crossing removals, VCAT decisions, some great local history tales and more, or read nicely formatted here

Brunswick Residents Network News:
November 2022

We start the year with tales of complaints and corruption; Level Crossing feature; VCAT battles over height levels; Pokies versus kitsch heritage

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Council wins bronze medal – for number of complaints

Once again, Merri-bek Council has gained the dubious distinction of winning the bronze medal for the number of complaints to the Victorian Ombudsman’s office.

In her annual report, Ombudsman Deborah Glass declared Casey, Hume, Merri-bek, Whittlesea and Darebin as the watchdog’s most complained-about councils in the 2021-22 financial year.

Merri-bek is the ninth-largest municipality in Victoria, with a population of 174,000, but ranked third in the number of complaints to the Victorian Ombudsman’s office. With 124 complaints in 2021-22, we only missed top spot after Casey with 159 complaints and Hume with 154 (this is not great company for Merri-bek, given Casey Council is currently under investigation over allegations of corruption and developer influence by IBAC – Victoria’s independent broad-based anti-corruption commission!).

The greatest number of complaints to the Ombudsman were about how Merri-bek handed complaints, followed by decision making, correspondence, fines, planning and development and enforcement action.

Merri-bek councillors are concerned that people go straight to the Ombudsman without going through Council’s own complaints procedure – but they should be more concerned about the high number of residents who walk away after complaining, without gaining satisfaction or resolution of concerns from councillors and staff.

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Perceptions of corruption in local government 

Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) conducts regular surveys on perceptions of corruption in the state. Their latest survey was completed in 2022 amongst 12,000 state and local government employees, Victoria Police employees, suppliers and the Victorian community.

This update survey follows a detailed study on local government, completed in 2021, entitled “Corruption and integrity: Perceptions of Victorian local government employees”.

This report provides an overview of local government employees’ perceptions of corruption and integrity. While perceptions of councils’ ethical culture have improved, respondents still expressed a desire for increased training and education about appropriate workplace behaviour, professional conduct and corruption risks.

IBAC reports that “respondents consistently raised concerns around procurement processes and practices, in the form of abuse of power, and the acceptance of gifts, benefits and hospitality. This was particularly the case for planning and development related procurement.”

The 2002 update survey covered all levels of government and the Victoria Police. On local government specifically, 62% of Victorian local government employees agree that “corruption is a problem in Victoria” (24% strongly agree and 37% somewhat agree), though 80% felt “my direct supervisor would be supportive if I chose to report corruption or misconduct.”

Victorian perceptions of corruption survey 2022
https://www.ibac.vic.gov.au/publications-and-resources/article/victorian-perceptions-of-corruption-2022

The 2021 research report also looked at the behaviour of elected councillors in local government, noting: “Respondents perceive improper conduct by councillors to be an increasing corruption risk, particularly when interacting with property developers, business owners and constituents. Further, there is a perception that councillors’ political interests may influence decision-making.”

Given the shift to single member wards at Merri-bek’s next Council elections, and allegations of vote rigging against former councilllor Milad el-Halabi during the 2020 Council elections, these issues of transparency, accountability and community engagement are all the more important.

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Ink on your fingers

Were you lucky enough to get a print edition of the Brunswick Voice newspaper in your Christmas stocking?

The first print edition of our local (usually digital) newspaper hit the streets in December, and there’s still a few copies at the Brunswick Library. If you missed out, however, you can check out the Summer 2022 edition online.

And if you have a few bucks spare, please support editor Mark Phillips and make a donation to keep this wonderful initiative moving ahead . . .

Feature article:
Brunswick Level Crossing Removal

rail bridgeDuring the 2022 State election campaign, the Andrews government announced that the Level Crossing Removal Project (LXRP) will proceed with the removal of another eight level crossings along the Upfield Rail Line. With no community consultation, the announcement set out plans to remove eight level crossings in Brunswick by 2027. The next few years will see massive changes in our suburb and it’s time for the community to have a say in the project.

We urge you to find out details about this project, join the discussion and let the authorities know how you and your neighbours will be affected. Sign up for updates to the Merri-bek Council consultation, sign on for LXRP updates, and access your local Brunswick Skyrail Facebook Group (see below).

Brunswick Residents Network (BRN) held an online meeting on 5 December to gather community views and concerns related to the proposed Brunswick LXRP. More than 60 residents highlighted a range of issues that will affect the community, during and after the construction phase. These included: impacts on people living next to the railway line, possibly requiring relocation during construction or acquisition of properties; construction noise and movement/storage of equipment in narrow spaces in Brunswick; heritage and neighbourhood character impacts; impacts on Sydney Road and the Upfield shared path; traffic flows through residential streets, and more.

  • Read a full report of BRN’s December meeting, plus links to groups and resources, on our website.
The meeting highlighted the current lack of detailed information, with several issues that still require urgent clarification, including:
  • The widespread rumours that there will only be two stations, rather than retaining the current three (Jewell, Brunswick and Anstey)
  • Whether future road closures could be considered, to prevent minor east-west roads attracting even more traffic.
A formal LXRP consultation process on the project will begin in coming months. Council consultation has already begun, to “inform their advocacy position”. This will include a public meeting in February, as well as a round-table co-ordinated by Councillors Tapinos and Panopolous.

Meanwhile, Brunswick locals have begun flagging issues that can be raised with the State Government, the LXRP authority, and Merri-bek Council.

Brunswick residents are also benefiting from the experience of our Coburg neighbours, who’ve been through this already:

A major concern is the impact on Sydney Road and residential streets during the regular closure of the Upfield shared path. This has already begun: as part of site investigations for the project, a section of the Upfield bike path was closed for five days this week between Hope Street and Victoria Street. Get ready for years of pedestrian and bike detours and traffic diverted through residential streets!

Given the level of disruption in the next few years, will the government also take this opportunity to address other longstanding transport issues on these key north-south public transport routes (e.g. fixing tram stops, bike lanes and parking in Sydney Road or duplicating the Upfield rail line north of Gowrie station)?

At the December meeting, there was opposition to the idea of reducing the number of stations from three (Anstey, Brunswick and Jewell) to two, reducing the proportion of residents within walking distance of a station. Participants in the meeting argued that increased distance between stations would make it harder for people living with disabilities and the elderly to access public transport (especially given the ongoing failure of the State Government to address disability access for the Route 19 tram on Sydney Road, and the lack of disability access tram stops on this major transport route).

This issue was referenced in Merri-bek Council’s December resolution, which acknowledged “the growing community concern about the possibility of two new stations instead of three, and seeks information from the Level Crossing Removal Project to assist community understanding and inform Council’s advocacy position.”

Station design will also be crucial, raising issues such as the number of lifts, escalators or ramps, which will be affected by cost and space considerations.

Acknowledging benefits from the project such as increased open space, many residents raised concern about the potential destruction of heritage assets along the rail line, including station facades and historic rail junction boxes – community assets described in this 1990 study:

So what’s next?
Merri-bek Council officers have undertaken initial technical assessments of the project and outlined “Issues and opportunities” in a discussion paper, which was presented to Councillors at their December 2022 meeting. From late January to late February, Council staff say they will be “out and about on the streets of Brunswick, hearing directly from the community including commuters, cyclists, Sydney Road shoppers, local businesses and more, through a range of pop-ups and face-to-face surveys.”

You can read Council’s “Issues and opportunities paper” and send in your feedback on the Conversations Merri-bek website:

As noted above, there is little detailed information from LXRP and the State government about the project. Despite this lack of transparency, you can follow their spin here:
LXRP’s “community consultation” for the earlier level crossing removal in Coburg was token, and we must ensure that this fiasco is not repeated this time. BRN will be working with a range of community groups and local businesses in coming months, to ensure that we come out of this process with improved transport, accessibility and safety for all, not just for motorists who won’t have to stop at level crossings.

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Protecting community heritage from the pokies

Moreland Hotel statuesLocated on the corner of Moreland and Sydney Roads in Brunswick, the Moreland Hotel has been serving local residents since 1890, when it was first built for then Mayor of Brunswick Donald Fraser.

Today, bring your sunnies to look at the interior of the hotel’s bistro, which features an imaginary Italian piazza, complete with a domed roof, miniature Colosseum and Statue of David. It’s a great piece of community heritage, after the pub has been rebuilt many times over the last 130+ years.

Now more than 1,840 locals have signed a petition calling on the hotel owners, Australian Leisure and Hospitality Ltd (ALH Group), to refrain from destroying the interior, apparently to put in more pokies!

ALH Group is a branch of Endeavour Group, the third largest gambling enterprise in Victoria, after Crown and Star casinos. Carved off from Woolworths, the company is the largest poker machine operator in the nation. ALH now owns more than 330 venues and are ecumenical in their donations to political parties, kicking in to the war chests of ALP (federal and state) and Liberal (federal and state).

In November 2022, ALH was hit with 62 charges from the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission (VGCCC), for allegedly failing to comply with their legal obligations to protect patrons from gambling harm (potential fines amount to $1.3 million!). ALH allegedly operated 220 gaming machines that didn’t have mandatory pre-commitment technology (YourPlay) installed. At the time, Annette Kimmitt, the VGCCC chief executive officer said: “We have decided to prosecute ALH as the alleged breaches constituted serious and significant non-compliance across 80 per cent of all ALH’s Victorian venues.”

For historical background on this venue, check out this great article by Elisabeth Jackson, a former Mayor of the City of Brunswick and president of the Brunswick Community History Group.
On local attempts to save the pub:

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Residents gain concessions in VCAT rulings

In recent months, residents have won partial victories by campaigning to improve apartment projects, before and during hearings at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

Two recent cases at VCAT saw residents organise to improve two planning permit applications for buildings above the “preferred maximum” height, with developers loosing a storey from their original application, and agreeing to improved setbacks and other features.

In both cases (linked below), VCAT treated the “preferred maximum” height as a rough indication rather than a general rule. Both these cases illustrate the need for clear, detailed and mandatory height rules, rather than the existing situation where developers pay lawyers to argue for concessions, in a system where the ‘rules’ give insufficient guidance. The outcome can be currently be determined by many random factors, such as: the luck of the draw in the VCAT member allocated the case; how much the developers spend on lawyers; whether the Council’s “expert witnesses” lose their nerve under savage cross-examination by the developers’ Senior Counsel; and whether VCAT members seriously address resident concerns.

The cases below also show that if residents can put in the time, there can be important wins even where the outcome is not ideal.

251 Lygon Street
Pace of 3057 Pty Ltd v Merri-bek CC [2022] VCAT 1393 (20 December 2022)

VCAT approved construction of a seven-storey building and a four-storey building above two levels of basement car parking at 251 – 265 Lygon Street and 1A Pitt Street Brunswick East. However, the original plans sought eight and five storeys, and the developer bowed to local concerns to address height and setbacks in amended plans, with some benefits for locals. The VCAT ruling also addressed the provision of a loading bay on Lygon Street, to avoid the use of a neighbouring laneway.

Merri-bek Council opposed the granting of a permit, notwithstanding the substitution of amended plans. However, ruling on application MPS/2022/4, VCAT granted a permit for the project rising to an overall height of 24.9 metres in a site with a preferred maximum height of 17 metres, allowing seven storeys for the main building (the street wall height will vary between 14.8m and 15.6m). Car parking for 109 vehicles is permitted with vehicular access located off Evans Street (a narrow residential street that is effectively a two-way single lane).

Both Council and residents appeared at VCAT, with residents represented by planning expert Stephen Rowley. A key debate focussed on the status of properties in a Mixed Use Zone, and whether this zone alone served as sufficient transition between tall apartment towers and single storey dwellings.

In their decision just before Christmas, VCAT approved the 109-dwelling project in Lygon Street, but ordered the building’s height should be reduced from a maximum of eight storeys to seven. The Pitt Street building will be four storeys high.

Residents and small businesses gained some concessions. VCAT ordered increased setbacks to reduce shadowing to the south and east of the site – important for the adjoining local plant nursery in Lygon Street – along with some other minor design changes.

55 Albert Street 
55 Albert Street Pty Ltd v Merri-bek CC [2023] VCAT 23 (13 January 2023)

Earlier this month, VCAT approved another contentious multi-level project – in Albert Street on the corner of Cross Street, opposite Fleming Park – but ordered the developer to reduce its height from six storeys to five with increased upper-level setbacks (residents successfully campaigned for a three rather than four storey wall facing Albert Street).

VCAT notes, without irony, that “It is clear the area has and is experiencing change with progressively large building forms becoming present in the neighbourhood.”

VCAT rejected resident concerns that the project will overshadow Fleming Park, and serve as a precedent for other larger projects: “the objectors were concerned about precedent created by the proposal. However, I am not concerned because the extent of overshadowing of the reserve is limited and future redevelopment is unlikely to create impacts to an extent that the use of the open space area would be significantly diminished.” (Note that a similar building to the north of this one would in fact throw a larger winter afternoon shadow on the park).

Dods Street proposal

Residents of Dods Street Brunswick are urging Merri-bek Council to reject a proposed seven-storey apartment building they fear could be a “stalking horse” for even more high-rise development in their neighbourhood.

Toorak-based Bespoke Development Group Pty Ltd wants to build the 11-apartment building on a site at 20 Dods Street, which is currently occupied by a single storey early-20th century weatherboard house. The area has a 20-metre discretionary height limit but the proposed $4.9 million project would be 24.6 metres high.

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Open space and greenery

Shady trees

As we hit the occasional sunny day this summer, the joys of shady streets are clear. For shade, fresher air, slowing traffic and improving the urban environment, you can’t go past a tree.

But as the climate transforms, we need to protect and extend the tree canopy across Merri-bek. As houses with gardens are replaced by townhouses and units built to the boundaries, there’s a need to increase the planting of trees in streets and open space around the neighbourhood.

A 2018 Department of Environment study found Moreland (now Merri-bek) had just 10.2% tree cover – comparable to neighbouring Darebin (10.5%), but half the amount of leafy eastern suburbs like Banyule (20.8%) or Boroondara (20.6%). Granted, we’re doing better than new outer suburbs like Hume (5.3%) or Brimbank (6%), but there’s still a way to go to green our neighbourhood.

In BRN’s 2021 survey ‘Walking in Brunswick’, we posed the question “I would walk more often if…”. The answer “More shady trees” was selected by more than half those responding (871 responses).

Ben Rossitor of Victoria Walks notes: “Older walkers, people with disabilities, families with young children all tend to walk slower, they need shade because they’ll be out in the sun longer. In disadvantaged areas, people have fewer transport options so walking is really central and if walking is unappealing, they lose options for social connections but also they can’t get to schools, work and shops.”

Merri Creek seating

Last year, BRN joined other community groups to put in a joint submission to Moreland’s “Community Budget ideas”, asking for $130,000 to place 35 seats along Merri Creek, to provide resting spots for people using the trail. Council accepted the proposal, granting $87,000 for 25 seats.

In this joint proposal, BRN joined in the successful bid with Walk on Moreland; Friends of Merri Creek; Sustainable Fawkner; Friends of Coburg Lake and Surrounds; and Neighbours United for Climate Action.

Now, starting in February, Merri-bek Council will be installing 20 park seats with back and armrests along the Merri Creek Trail, at a maximum spacing of 400 metres between them. Council has developed maps to view the approximate locations proposed for the Merri Creek Trail Seating in the Brunswick East/Fitzroy North area.

Please contact Vince Andreana at Merri-bek Council if you have any comments about seat locations or require more details of the project (Phone 8311 4386 or email openspace@moreland.vic.gov.au).

Mobility and accessibility

When BRN conducted its 2021 ‘Walking in Brunswick‘ survey during the pandemic, hundreds of people helped identify 56 pedestrian “hot spots”, that had problems for mobility, safety and accessibility.

Now Council is seeking further information about accessibility barriers in Merri-bek. This includes the many barriers to easy movement you’ll find in activity centres, open spaces, and local neighbourhoods: no footpaths, no access ramps, difficulties in crossing the street, dark streets, dangerous areas for kids, narrow footpaths, etc.

Using a map on the Conversations Merri-bek website, more than 200 people have already identified a location where it is difficult to get around.

Have your say today at:
https://brunswickresidents.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/brn-report_walking-small-final1.pdf

Council will hold face-to-face focus group sessions in March 2023, and you can register your interest in participating before 20 February on the Conversations Merri-bek page.

Melville Road shopping strip upgraded

As part of Merri-bek Council’s Shopping Strip Renewal Program, the Brunswick West Shopping Strip in Melville Road has had an upgrade.

There’s a fresh coat of paint for the Campbell Turnbull Library, new garden beds have been added with flowering plants, and a new installation of sky-blue diamond shapes has been attached to the wall in a pattern.

The Federal Government contributed funding for the $1.2 million improvements, which include upgraded footpaths, new artwork for Campbell Turnbull Library, new street furniture, garden beds and a rain garden.

On Wednesday 1 February, there will be a small ceremony to celebrate the completion of this project. Free face painting for kids and coffee will be provided by local businesses.

WHAT: Shopping Strip Upgrade Celebration
WHERE: Campbell Turnbull Library carpark, 220 Melville Road
WHEN: Wednesday 1 February, 11:30am to 12:30pm

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History corner

Secrets of theatres in Brunswick and Coburg

In the July 2021 BRN newsletter, our feature article for the month looked at “The glory days of movies in Brunswick.” It described some of the historic theatres and movie palaces near Sydney Road in the early 20th Century: the Empire Theatre (294 Sydney Road), Hoyts Padua Theatre (624 Sydney Road) or flea pits like the Alhambra Theatre (828 Sydney Road).

On Wednesday 15 February, Janine Barrand and Dianna Wells will talk about entertainment venues in Brunswick and Coburg, presenting fascinating facts about their history and stunning photography. Come along to Brunswick Library at 7pm for a slice of local history.

WHAT: Revealing Stories – secrets of theatres of Brunswick and Coburg
WHEN: Wednesday 15 February, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
WHERE: Brunswick Library, Dawson Street, Brunswick
INFO:  libraryevents@merri-bek.vic.gov.au

Brunswick hockey turns 100

This year is the centenary of the Brunswick Hockey Club (BHC), one of only two Victorian hockey clubs that continue to exist under their own name.

With three A-Grade Premierships in the 1930s, Brunswick was the dominant team in Melbourne at that time. The club began as a men’s club and originally played in Parkville near the zoo, then moved to Brunswick at Holbrook Reserve, Wylie Park and now on the grounds of the Brunswick Secondary College.

This year, to mark the anniversary of the club’s founding in 1923, club historian Noel Turner is producing a 160-page full colour history of the club, to be released in May. But he needs your help: do you have any hockey players in your Brunswick lineage? Any old photos, paperwork or stories from past players, particularly those connected through families to the first half of last century (1920 – 1970)?

It’s estimated that BHC has had more than 3,000 members over its 100 years, with most born and bred in Brunswick. Now with 500 members, the club is the largest it has ever been. Surnames of older life members in the early days include Cole, Hardie, Stewart, Roberts, Jewell, Seeber, Ellis, Fisher, Barnes, Langridge, Kirner, Marshall, Imer, Low, Kemp, Farmer and Heath. Are there family or friends still living in or around Brunswick that can help Noel with images or information?

The Brunswick Women’s Hockey Club (BWHC) was a separate club which began earlier than the men’s team, affiliating with the Victorian Ladies Hockey Association (VLHA) from 1913. It continued to play until 1937 before disbanding. Forty years later in 1977 women’s hockey became part of the BHC and has continued to be a big part of the club ever since.

To mark the centenary, there will also be a Gala Centenary Dinner on 22 July 2023, to be held at Moonee Valley Racecourse.

Can you help with information, photos or contacts? You can contact BHC at 33 Dawson Street, Brunswick (P.O Box 101, Brunswick, 3056) or through the BHC website at: https://www.brunswickhockeyclub.org.au/

Brunswick’s sporting reputation

Today’s sporting teams in Brunswick are noted for their fair play, but our part of the world had a more measured reputation in years gone by. Media reporting of the Victorian Football Association in the early 1900s shows Brunswick teams and supporters had quite the reputation!

Check out this report from The Bulletin in 1908: “The promising Brunswick tackled the newly-promoted juniors, Northcote, and administered a wallopping to the tune of 121 points to 30. There were no casualties, neither was any umpire treated to a course of road metal or palings. These irregularities occur later on when the players get ‘wet’ and the barrackers are dry with barracking.” (‘Sporting Notions’, The Bulletin, 30 April 1908, p28).

Renting in Brunswick – tenants’ experiences of the Great Depression and post-WW2 housing crisis

The ‘Rental Histories Tour of Brunswick’ is wonderful resource based on research and design by Hannah Garvan. It explores tenants’ experiences of the Great Depression and post-WW2 housing crisis by visiting locations of significance around Brunswick.

Check out this 18-minute YouTube, which looks at issues of affordability, eviction, housing conditions, tenant-landlord relations, and the role of the state. Hannah argues that acts of resistance that occurred in Brunswick led to state responses such as the first Victorian rent relief scheme and the establishment of the Victorian Housing Commission.

You can also take a walk looking at historic sites of unemployed struggles in Brunswick: 

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Merri-bek Council stuff

Get the Council’s regular e-news.

Regular Council meetings – held on the 2nd Wednesday of each month –  are normally held at: Council Chamber, Merri-bek Civic Centre, 90 Bell Street, Coburg (enter from rear).

2023 dates begin with:

  • 8 February 2023
  • 8 March 2023
  • 12 April 2023
  • 10 May 2023
  • 14 June 2023

Further meeting dates and more details are available on 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. You can register there to receive an alert when the agenda is posted.

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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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Contacts for our local councillors

Mark Riley
Mobile: 0499 807044
Email: mriley@moreland.vic.gov.au

Lambros Tapinos
Mobile: 0433 419 075
Email: ltapinos@moreland.vic.gov.au

James Conlan
Mobile: 0409 279 335
Email: JConlan@moreland.vic.gov.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). Thanks to those who have contributed to this edition.

Please forward this e-letter to 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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