Archive: Council & Councillor Issues and Performances

Last Updated 17/3/17

 

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Mayor and Deputy Mayor

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Daly Nature Reserve

Hanging Rock

Lancefield Park House

Open Space

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Crisis In Macedon Ranges Shire

 

 

 

NEW  Outcome of Macedon Ranges 8 March Special Council Meeting For Rescission Motions 

(17/3/17 - C)  Cr. Jukes' rescission motion, to reverse Council's decision to withdraw support for Council's expired equine strategy, was defeated 8-1.  Cr. Mees' rescission motion to reverse approval of a 2 lot subdivision and 2 dwellings in Woodend, was carried   Equine file  Red Alerts

There was a large gallery at the 8th March Special Council Meeting, which was called to deal with two rescission motions arising from the 22 February ordinary council meeting.  Many in the gallery represented equine interests supporting Cr. Jukes' rescission motion.   Mayor Jennifer Anderson began the meeting with a clear explanation of the purpose of the meeting, agenda items, what the results might mean, local law protocols, and expectations for gallery behaviour. 

 

Cr. Mees' rescission motion (seconded Cr. Radnedge) was carried 5-3, reversing previous approval of a permit application for 2 dwellings and a 2 lot subdivision at 129 High Street, Woodend.   Mayor Anderson declared a conflict and left the chamber while the motion was considered (Cr. Bill West temporarily took the chair).  In support of her rescission motion, Cr. Mees cited the quality of the development outcome and impacts on heritage and character within a heritage precinct, adding the Macedon Ranges Protection Advisory Committee's report's emphasis upon protecting heritage values created a need to stop and think about heritage and character in the Shire.  She added that the applicant has indicated a willingness to work with council to resolve remaining issues.  Cr. Jukes opposed the rescission motion, seeming to think it meant a more 'mock heritage' outcome was sought.  He said although the development was approved on 22 February it was still open to being brought back to council for changes.  Cr. Mees then closed debate saying the rescission wasn't about wanting 'mock heritage' but new development being sympathetic to the heritage precinct and character, and the rescission motion allowed remaining issues to be resolved, before approval.  

 

Next up, Cr. Jukes' moved his rescission motion to overturn the 22nd February motion to withdraw the Equine Strategy and Equine Centre as strategic and funding priorities.  For a long moment it looked like he might not get a seconder until Cr. West did the honours to allow discussion.  Defending his rescission motion, Cr. Jukes argued the original motion was bad for council, and lacked consultation and transparency.  He spoke of costs, how important the 5 year [equine] plan was, and added that work on protection of Macedon Ranges will bring in equine.  He referred to claims that 'mainly horsey people' were involved in consultation on the equine program, then said many community facilities, including pools, had been driven by clubs associated with those activities.  He said the 22nd February decision totally lacked transparency, because no-one knows where it comes from.  He added that to remove a 5 year plan (i.e. the 2012-2016 Equine Strategy) from the planning scheme was not heard of before, then closed by announcing an Olympic champion was present at the meeting in support of the rescission motion.

 

Crs. Twait and then Gayfer spoke against the rescission motion, between them raising points including that there appeared to be some mis-understanding of Council's 22 February motion - it didn't mean undoing what had already been done;  equine's recreational and economic contribution was and would continue to be recognised, particularly leisure activities which seemed to have been missing out and warranted being fully addressed in the Shire's Leisure Strategy;  acknowledging work done but concerns with the equine feasibility study; and noting careful consideration is needed of all aspects of Council functions, particularly after the Macedon Ranges Protection Advisory Committee's report.  In closing Cr. Twaits reminded the gallery Council is presently inviting community comments and feedback for the Council Plan.

 

The vote was taken and Cr. Jukes' rescission motion was defeated 8-1.  The 22 February motion stands.

 

MRRA Says:

 

Well done to the eight councillors who voted to remove the expired 2012-2016 Equine Strategy from Council's strategic and budgeting priorities, a move that reflected the views of the majority of Macedon Ranges Shire residents who definitely didn't want the equine centre, or ratepayers footing the bills, or Council's continued single-minded focus on it. 

 

 In simple terms, the equine centre mainly benefited a relatively small group of interests and businesses within the Shire - and interests external to the Shire - while the option chosen by the previous council failed to provide promised facilities for local recreational riders.  This council's decision re-aligns council's focus from 'equine' to 'equity', and puts 'equine' in a Shire-wide context:  while horses are an important activity and interest, they are neither the only nor the most important activity or interest in the Shire.  The decision will now see MRSC's request for $40 million funding for the equine centre through the 2016 Loddon Mallee Prospectus withdrawn, opening up new and more opportunities for funding applications for projects benefitting the broader Macedon Ranges' community.  

 

Cr. Jukes' arguments for supporting his rescission motion deservedly fell flat, and little wonder.  

 

No-one knew where the original (22nd February) motion came from... 

 

Seriously?  Firstly, even the tremulous Equine Centre Feasibility Study recognised an equine centre as a significant financial risk, with potential to harm existing Shire businesses. 

 

Many might also say there were some wee clues in last year's Community Satisfaction Survey where the community caned Council for what it was doing, or when the community voted for dramatic change with 7 new councillors out of 9 last October, or just out there in the community where, over the past few years, residents were saying they didn't want the equine centre almost as often as they said they hated the Council pushing it - and that was pretty much all the time.  Broad community opposition was unmistakeable and un-missable, to those who looked and listened.

 

No consultation...  

 

Could this be the same Cr. Jukes who dismissed community calls for consultation on the 2015 Kyneton Development Plan for a 341 lot subdivision?  Who thought one meeting run by the developer, and consultation about five years earlier on a different development plan, was sufficient consultation?  Who said 'the community had been consulted and those who want to know, know about it'? 

 

Not transparent...  Removing a strategy from the planning scheme without consultation hadn't been done before...  

 

Not a smart move going here.  Lack of transparency?  Let's talk about how the Equine Strategy got into the Macedon Ranges planning scheme in the first place.  The draft Equine Strategy was exhibited over Christmas 2011 with submissions closing mid-January 2012, timing that automatically rings alarm bells.  By the 28 March 2012 council meeting, the Strategy was up for adoption as agenda item PE7 but was moved up the agenda and adopted in a hefty 'en bloc' motion (no debate) at the start of the meeting.  Just as well, really, because after that, up bobbed a motion at item PE4 for council to send Amendment C84 to a planning panel.  Amendment C84 was said to be a policy-neutral reformatting of, but surreptitiously rewrote, the Macedon Ranges planning scheme.   And guess what?  Even though adopted only a few minutes before, the Equine Strategy was already in Amendment C84, both as a reference document and in policy saying implement it. 

 

Subsequently, the planning panel to which Amendment C84 was sent said 'no' to the Equine Strategy.  It hadn't been exhibited with - and wasn't part of - Amendment C84, so take it out.  But the council of the day disagreed and made no such change, saying exhibition of the draft Equine Strategy (over Christmas, before its adoption by council) was sufficient consultation to justify putting it in the planning scheme - and saying 'implement it'. 

 

The C84 planning panel again said 'no', and that "the implications of responding to 'planning constraints' identified in the [equine strategy] could be significant.  It is not appropriate to indicate in the MSS that this un-exhibited document will be implemented in the planning scheme."    Although the Equine Strategy ended up being included in the planning scheme as a reference document, the main policy that said 'implement it' was removed.  Undaunted, the previous council implemented the Equine Strategy anyway, using it amongst other things to launch the equine centre, and as a primary justification for Amendment C110 - the rural living carve-up along the Shire's southern boundary and at Romsey and Kyneton.  Implementation on steroids!

 

And you could only call the claim, that strategies hadn't before been removed this way from the planning scheme, a walk on the very wild side!  The previous council turned this practice into an art form throughout the many iterations of Amendment C84 - adding and deleting dozens of strategies and reports from the planning scheme with, or without, consultation or exhibition.  This feast of arbitrary changes made it almost impossible to understand what was in, what wasn't, and why.  The council of the day also declined to implement a C84 planning panel recommendation that would have assisted transparency and accountability with these documents.

 

The surprise is that, even though he voted for it, Cr. Jukes seems to have overlooked all of this.

 

That just leaves us to mention that some equine interests are blaming MRRA for the new council's decision (oops, heavy overtones of 'shooting the messenger' there!), and also that ex-councillors Letchford and Hackett were at the rescission motion meeting.  Ex-councillor Letchford also attended the 22 February meeting, aligning himself at both meetings with equine interests.   What can we say but amen... rather them than us. 

 

 

CURRENT  22nd February 2017 Council Meeting:  Welcome To The World Of Changing Council Priorities

(6/3/17 - C)  Cr. Jukes lodges rescission motion against Council withdrawing formal support for the Equine Strategy - Special Council Meeting Wednesday 8 March, Gisborne, 6.00pm.  Equine File   Red Alerts

 

The Council meeting on February 22 was something to behold - with some surprising alternative motions, this new Council is doing things differently (and better).

Councillor Jukes (the only councillor who voted against the motion to delete the Equine Strategy, Equine Centre and associated funding and priorities for same, has lodged a rescission motion to overturn the 22 February Council decision. 

 

A Special Council meeting will be held on Wednesday March 8 at 6.00PM at the Gisborne Administration Office, and is open to the public.

 

MRRA Says:

 

This 'difference' is what the community voted for last October, and it's beginning to be reflected in some significant Council decisions.  At last, more thought, questioning, research, consistency, accountability, transparency, higher standards, strategic thinking, compliance with the planning scheme, and a much better grasp of wider community perspectives and priorities.

 

The day after the Council meeting (and the 8-1 vote on the Equine Strategy), the Bendigo Advertiser somehow ran the headline "Macedon Ranges Shire councillors divided over equine centre".  Divided??  8-1??  Wait.  Cr Jukes was well-quoted in the story... OK, that works in making sense of why anyone would say "councillors divided".

 

 

CURRENT  Decision To Allow Ed Sheeran Concert ON Hanging Rock Breaks Faith And Process, And Totally Disrespects The Rock

(25/2/17 - C)  Macedon Ranges Shire may have new councillors but this decision - apparently without approval from new councillors - shows the rot at Council still goes deep   Hanging Rock file 

Ed Sheeran's recent gig in Macedon Ranges Shire made history - by violating the cultural and environmental values of Hanging Rock with a concert ON the Rock itself.  Other artists that have performed "at Hanging Rock" have in fact performed on the East Paddock AT Hanging Rock. 

 

Someone at Council approved it, ignoring undertakings given to the community that concerts would only be held at the East Paddock, ignoring the Hanging Rock Strategic Advisory Committee, and ignoring the State-government supported strategic and environmental planning currently being done for Hanging Rock.  The event would have taken time to organise, but those in the know kept their secret, even from councillors.  

 

A recent letter to the Midland Express asked all the right questions about the concert, then finished with "one fundamental question that needs to addressed: "Who is running the Macedon Ranges Shire Council, the council officers or the newly elected councillors?"    What a most excellent question.

 

MRRA Says:

 

Some say because it was Ed Sheeran, it's OK.  We say it's not.  It's Ed Sheeran today, but there have been so many other examples - Daly Nature Reserve,  the Equine Centre, etc., and who will ever forget Council's gross development proposal to commercialise Hanging Rock, without community consultation?  The common thread with these is that even the most basic principles of governance and accountability were ignored to indulge in behaviour that is not acceptable under any circumstances.  What happened with the Sheeran concert cuts to the core of the relationship between a Council and the community it is supposed to represent.

 

Previous councillors gave the Shire's CEO delegated authority to finalise the contract with Frontier Touring for concerts at the East Paddock.  After what's happened, either the finalised contract somehow included concerts ON Hanging Rock without a resolution of council, or didn't include them and Mr. Sheeran's foray onto the Rock itself is a breach of that contract.  Either way, the contract with Frontier Touring must now be made public, as must those who authorised the Sheeran event.

 

The arrogance of not putting the matter before the new councillors for decision is yet more evidence of the dark culture that remains in the Council's administration, symptoms of which seem to include a preference for decisions made in corridors and corners instead of chamber, operating and making decisions without proper (or any) process and light, and disdain for community, policy and environment.   Nor does Frontier Touring emerge from the Sheeran 'coup' unscathed - why should the Macedon Ranges' community feel confident the company will behave in a transparent and respectful way in future?

 

When trust is gone, heads and delegations - if not contracts - must roll.

 

 

 

CURRENT Last Council Meeting Of The Term Shocks:  Mayor Says "What This Council Has Done, Can't Be Undone"

(27/10/16 - C)   It seemed a familiar enough pattern:  yet another house in the Farming zone; 75% of the agenda items approved "en bloc";  a councillor or two absent; self-congratulations; CEO and staff executive praised, community criticised.  Then came the pointers to where and what the rot is on council. 

 

At last Wednesday's council meeting in Gisborne, there weren't many in the public gallery.  Three of the four items for decision on the agenda were approved together at the same time in the controversial "en bloc" motion so favoured by council (on this occasion moved Cr. Letchford, seconded Cr. Ellis).  Councillors Anderson (attending council business elsewhere) and McLaughlin were absent. 

 

Despite council being in caretaker mode, at this meeting - only days before current councillors went out of office - decisions were made that bind an incoming council.

 

Contracts Awarded:

 

Five contracts were endorsed to be awarded under officer delegation (approved in the "en bloc" motion), including a contract (C17.840) to "establish a panel of suitably qualified and experienced contractor/s for the provision of sports ground maintenance and associated works" within the Shire (this is a 2 year contract, with an option to extend for an additional year). 

 

2015/16 Annual Report: 

 

After its adoption in the "en bloc" motion, the Annual Report was applauded (Cr Jukes)... and applauded (Cr Hackett)... and applauded (Cr Letchford).  All launched into grandiloquent* acclamation, with effusive appreciation of the council executive, and the Auditor-General's report (also adopted as "noted" in the "en bloc" motion). 

* (synonyms: pompous, bombastic, magniloquent, pretentious, ostentatious, high-flown, high-sounding, rhetorical, orotund, fustian, florid, flowery)

 

Cr. Jukes said the Annual Report was a very, very good document, a great outcome for council and Macedon Ranges Shire, and another great achievement: "give it a big wrap", he said.  He rambled off a raft of statistics, pausing to focus on the Kyneton saleyards, and waste management (he said this last would be a "challenge"), before announcing council was already working on next year's budget.

 

Mayor Hackett scrolled through even more statistics, saying the Annual Report Summary booklet is a "great little document" as is, of course, the larger Annual Report.  He commended council, executive, staff, and people working under them. 

 

Cr Letchford thanked Crs Hackett and Anderson for being on the Audit Committee before saying the Victorian Auditor General's Office (VAGO) commends the document;  that it has a lot of substance, and shows a lot of activities that have been done.  He especially mentioned the Environment Strategy; monitoring flora and fauna;  planning documents representing "monumental" work over 4 years: "a large body of work, and incredible thinking";  economic development, and Hanging Rock is still moving forward, which points to council doing good work looking after the Rock.  He applauded both the Manna Gum centre, and the strong positive leadership of the CEO.  He finished saying the Annual Report was a "fantastic document", recommending it to the community.

 

 

Item PE1: House in the Farming Zone  

 

Cr. Connor moved, and Cr. Jukes seconded, an alternative motion that overturned the officer's recommendation to refuse a permit.   The alternative motion to issue a permit was also supported by Crs. Hackett, Letchford and Ellis.   Crs Piper and Mowatt opposed.  The basis for approving yet another dwelling in a Farming Zone in a potable water supply catchment was that the dwelling was needed on this 8ha property to supervise 5 brood mares, 10 agisted horses, unspecified miniature horses and a small flock of sheep, an orchard and vegetable garden. 

 

It was argued there were sufficient "Red Dots" (representing existing houses) in the Farming Zone in this area to justify another house, despite there being larger farming properties in close proximity (as pointed out by the officer).  In addition, approval of a dwelling would help clear up the property's considerable gorse.  The argument was again bandied around that a house might have been put there 20 years ago, and the same "rights" would apply if only the planning scheme hadn't changed to what it is today. 

 

Cr Connor gave a history of the owner and ownership of the land, the owner's current location (oil-rig west of Perth) and current residence (Swan Hill).  In Cr Connor's mind, the previous Rural Land Review (2002) wasn't comprehensive.  The Farming Zone didn't prohibit a house, and approval of a dwelling and intensive animal husbandry gives the opportunity for the applicant to "become a part of the Macedon Ranges community and his children a chance for a rural lifestyle".  He said the applicant had built a $25,000 shed [and had a tractor?], and that was a reasonable investment in infrastructure, sufficient to support the application.  He referred to the current planning scheme as a "dream crusher", stating (with reference to an article in the local press on 22/9/16) that approving this dwelling was an opportunity to extend the "This Farm Needs A Farmer" project which received funding from local member Mary-Anne Thomas and the State government.  He closed by saying council "needed to look beyond the square to help get these people into this area".

 

In supporting the dwelling, Cr. Letchford commented there were "Red Dots" (existing houses) all around already that were doing this agricultural pursuit [i.e. horses], emphasising "it [i.e. horses] is an agricultural pursuit".  He also said the Rural Land Review is coming, and he hopes it picks this up;  with the 2003 "back-zoning", this has always been flagged.   Cr Jukes said "there is no right or wrong, a house can go where council believes it should go".  Crs. Mowatt and Piper considered the proposal was hobby farming, not farming, and opposed the motion.

 

UPDATE:  Cr. Anderson has lodged a rescission motion which means this matter will come back for a new decision by the new council. 

 

End of Term Speeches: 

 

The last council business having concluded, councillors then spoke in recognition of the end of the 2012 - 2016 council term. 

 

Cr. Mowatt said 4 years had gone in the blink of an eye.  There had been significant visionary change, and significant investment outcomes for South ward [listed them].  He praised the skills of the council executive, and wished retiring councillors McLaughlin, Piper and Connor all the best for the future. 

 

Cr. Jukes thanked Peter [Johnston] and the team for the last 8 years, saying what a great privilege it had been to represent West ward and Macedon Ranges, plus 2 terms as Mayor.  He said a highlight of the journey was the start of council's strategic work - the Settlement Strategy got underway with the help of councillors.  He noted there is a certain group contributing nothing to the community.  He said the future is growth although there are some who give direction to the Planning Minister for zero growth.  He said our towns are set up to continue to grow, and we will see people come here to "live the dream", and Macedon Ranges is held up as a template for how to do it [strategic planning].  He spoke of the Kyneton saleyards [i.e. how council retained them], and of Kyneton airfield which he said had sat idle since 2002/03 with just complaints and no direction.  He worked towards getting it moving, and there is still considerable work to do.  Negativity in papers - he said the group working on the airfield vision were very put off by the negativity of those saying there had been poor consultation.   He closed by saying this council "has left a good legacy for the Shire".

 

Cr. Letchford said it had been great to be there for the last 4 years, although disappointing that some retiring councillors would not be returning, which broke the continuum.  He spoke of the Settlement Strategy - a lot of negativity but Macedon Ranges was the first to come up with a Settlement Strategy.  The Environment Strategy - council is forging ahead.  Recycling/waste management.  Hanging Rock - an iconic entertainment area - East Paddock.  It had needed income generation.  Well thought-over plans are underway.  Council needs independent sources of income to support public places.  Regarding council's sister-city relationship with Tokai, he said the Japanese ambassador held Macedon Ranges and its natural environment in high regard. The Loddon Mallee Regional Growth Plan - we need to be sure we have strategies ready for the future, that ensure we direct our growing communities to the right places.  Kyneton stock yards - these, which were destined to go, now are blooming.  This council had done some of the big and hard decisions - closed the caravan park, then supported the Manna Gum centre.  He said "we do it well".  Thanks to officers.  Had barrages of negativity from negative people who never come up with the solutions.  He thanked families of councillors, and the Mayor, noting it was unfortunate Cr. Anderson was not there but - this is her dedication - she was representing council elsewhere.

 

Cr. Piper announced she wasn't going to go on and on.  She is inspired by the new breed of candidates.  She had taken an ethical approach to good governance, and said at times it had been lonely.  She thanked two standout people, her husband, and her mentor, Deb Dunn. She looked forward to the election process.

 

Cr. Eliis said he had only been there 2 years.  It was great working with everyone.  Officers were always helpful, and he hoped he gets the chance to continue.

 

Cr. Connor said he was going to miss the team.  Congratulations to the CEO, officers, customer service team.  Thanks and all the best.

 

Cr. Hackett, the Mayor, thanked councillors, executive, managers, gallery and candidates.  He said being a councillor wasn't an easy job, it had been four years of learning curve, with more still to learn.  He said there had been some fantastic times, but it was sad to have 3 people retiring, and he was hoping at least 3 new councillors are elected.  He is really looking forward to starting the new term, and said what a fantastic job the the CEO had done.  

 

Cr. Hackett then said the Shire has 600 volunteers and if the organisation wasn't working well it wouldn't have them;  that more people in the Shire like council than don't like it, and there are only 4% that council has to worry about, who make negative comments.   He went on to say, why should we lock the Shire up?  We need to make it available to everyone, and [something about] new people can't just move in and change the goalposts.  Everyone wants to live here and they shouldn't be made to feel they are intruding on those who already live here.   He finished by saying, "what this council has done, can't be undone".

 

Following this binge of back-slapping, the meeting closed at 8.35pm.

 

 

MRRA Says: 

 

Stunning stuff - utterances at this meeting from some past-their-use-by-date councillors are illuminating in identifying why and where it has gone wrong, and what's in store if they are re-elected. 

 

This apparently includes continuing on with:

Turn to the much-touted Annual Report Summary booklet which lists council's achievements, failures and intentions under each of the headings of "An Inspiring Place", "An Empowered Community" and "A High Performing Organisation" (many would say the last two headings are seriously off the mark while the first is endangered).  Keep going, because at "An Empowered Community",  in the "Future Priorities" section, you will find a priority for "applying for funding for a full business case for the Macedon Ranges Equine Centre"; and the utterly ambiguous priority of "Finalise a business case and seek funding for planned commercial development in the east of the shire."  What does that mean - Hanging Rock?  The Equine Centre?  Clarkefield?  Or is it still a council secret?

 

In passing, MRRA also notes that this year's MRSC Annual Report shows, at page 134, that Cr Juke's Kyneton business, Bridgestone Tyres, again received a council contract in the past year, this time for $74,422, bringing the total paid by council to this Bridgestone Tyres business over the past 5 years to some $278,000.  2015/2016 MRSC Annual Report 

 

Another cause for concern at the meeting was the smirking, almost nod and a wink, references to a waste management project.  Hello, hello.  Are residents about to be lumbered with another economic development brain-fart?  Let's see... could it be a high temperature incinerator at Mount Macedon?  Or turning Macedon Ranges into the 'waste' capital of Victoria?  Or even providing a new location for Wheelie Waste (currently in Woodend), possibly on public land as council is prone to do?  Outrageous you say?  With this council, nothing, absolutely nothing, would surprise!

 

Planning!  What wouldn't we all give for some informed councillors when it comes to planning!  For the record, the land where the dwelling was approved was in the Rural Zone in 2000, which became the Farming Zone in 2006 after the State government deleted the Rural Zone from the Victorian planning system and replaced it with the Farming Zone.  That's not "back-zoning" or a hard luck story, councillors!

 

And what about the Mayor's comment?  Threat?  Promise?  Wishful thinking?  "What this council has done, can't be undone".   Oh, yes it can.  Despite this council's concerted efforts to bind the next council to the way it operates, the way it spends money, and its skewed priorities, the new council can change things.  Bring, bring, bring it on!

 

Finally, MRRA wears with pride the intended slur of being included in the negative, solution-less 4% council has to worry about.  Having apparently got thoroughly under the skin of such sub-standard councillors, we will regard this slur as "success".   We also say thanks for council's appalling behaviour which has triggered a scale of community engagement in the current council election like never before.  Truly, nothing really does exceed like the excesses this council has arrogantly indulged in, and with just a teensy bit of luck, those responsible for those excesses - and the environmental vandalism of selling off the Macedon Ranges "farm" - will soon be history.  Now that's a prospect to which MRRA says a resounding "YES".

 

 

CURRENT Recent VCAT 'Red Dot' Decision About Existing Use Rights At Carlsruhe Reveals More Than Just Another Mistake At Council

(15/9/16 - C)  You will want to see this: Macedon Ranges Council employee found to not be a credible or reliable witness   Equine file  Red Alerts

 

The VCAT decision deliberates the validity of an existing use right for a property at Carlsruhe, formerly known as West Rock Farm, now Hedge Farm.  Specifically, whether a permit and consents granted in 1996 to previous owner Athol Guy remain valid or whether the uses allowed by the permit ceased for 2 or more years, causing the permit to expire.  In 1996, under the Kyneton planning scheme, the land was in the Rural General Farming zone B, and the uses allowed by the original permit were not prohibited.

 

Much of the VCAT decision is occupied with a technical interpretation of planning law and planning scheme provisions specific to this case.  VCAT's findings are of sufficiently high interest and precedent to legal and planning circles, they are made a VCAT 'red dot decision', which means people throughout the State, and beyond, will read it.  The decision can be accessed at Seers v MRSC VCAT 16 August 2016

 

However, VCAT's legal interpretation isn't the only matter of outstanding interest.  For Macedon Ranges Shire residents, so too are the 'players' for Council, and their relationship/s with and within Macedon Ranges Shire Council.

 

Immediate past owners of the (West Rock Farm) property were Colleen Lethbridge and Leanne Davey.  

During their ownership of the property, Colleen Lethbridge and Leanne Davey were also business partners in West Rock Farm, who continued the uses allowed by the original permit.  However they became insolvent c2007 and their companies (Equus Promotions Pty Ltd and West Rock Property Pty Ltd) were deregistered. 

 

Two years later the farm was sold at a mortgagees’ auction, as a going concern (i.e. with the permit still in play), to the existing owners.  Colleen Lethbridge and Leanne Davey were unsuccessful bidders for the property. 

 

In the years since that sale, Macedon Ranges Council has taken a position that the original 1996 permit had expired, apparently based on advice from Leanne Davey and Colleen Lethbridge that  the uses allowed by the permit had ceased for more than 2 years during their ownership of the property. 

 

Helen Gibson (Vice-President of VCAT) found, amongst other things, that MRSC employee Leanne Davey was not a credible or reliable witness (Assessment of Evidence, paragraph 26 and onwards, page 10 of 27).

 

"27 In terms of whether use of the land ceased during the period February 2007 to September 2009, I prefer the evidence of the Seers that the use did not cease for the following reasons.

28 I did not find Ms Davey to be a credible or reliable witness.  I found her responses to questions to be vague, self-serving and, at times evasive. 

 

29 In addition, my attention was drawn to the fact that during the lunch break on day 1 of the hearing, whilst still on oath and under cross examination and despite my specific direction to her not to speak to any council officer or solicitor, which would mean having a solitary lunch, Ms Davey nevertheless had lunch with a council officer who was attending the hearing.  Whilst Ms Davey said she did not understand my direction and only spoke about general things, I nevertheless consider that her disregard of my explicit direction lessens her credibility and the weight to be placed on her evidence."

 

Ms. Gibson also determined that based on evidence before her, and on the balance of probability, the uses allowed by the original permit had not ceased, as claimed, and the permit remains valid. 

 

 

MRRA Says:

 

By implication, this VCAT finding invites the question of whether the previous owners continued trading while insolvent, a matter raised in the VCAT evidence of the current owners.

 

As for the rest, we can't help thinking some aspects of this decision reflect problems besetting this Shire, and will sound familiar to many residents. 

 

Discussion in the decision makes reference to claims of Council withholding information and documents, and being biased against the current owners because of personal relationships involving Colleen Lethbridge and Leanne Davey - respectively, the mother, and employee, of Council's Economic Development Manager, Kylie Lethbridge.

 

Insights gained from the decision aren't confined to character, performances and relationships at Council. 

 

Both Colleen Lethbridge and Leanne Davey have undeniable interests in equine-related activities.  Colleen Lethbridge’s blog also confirms her "daughter [Kylie] is mad about horses”.  (1 April 2015 entry).  http://handctv.com.au/colleen-lethbridge/ 

 

The elephant in the room now is, has the intricacy and strength of these relationships and interests influenced Council's extravagant promotion of and priorities for equine-related policies and funding?  Questions would also include whether sufficient 'arm's length' professional objectivity has underpinned Council decisions and direction; and has there been/will there be any personal or commercial benefit to those involved in these relationships if the Equine Centre and other equine-related activities, such as the commercial equine precinct proposed near Kyneton racecourse, go ahead? 

 

The personal relationship between Ms Kylie Lethbridge and former mayor and current councillor/West Ward candidate Roger Jukes adds another layer of complexity to the situation.  Neither are known to have made public declarations of any conflicts in their workplaces in regard to their own, or other, close relationships.

 

Council Strikes At The Heart Of The Ranges With Its Latest Hare-Brained "Economic" Plans For Macedon and Mount Macedon

(15/9/16 - P)  Keep it "small scale" at Mount Macedon?  Deleted before the council meeting. Then our esteemed Councillor majority authorised officers to make more (unseen and unknown) changes before rolling out planning scheme amendments for these two settlements  Macedon/Mount Macedon File 

No surprises at the August 24 Council meeting when the 'black hats' at Council (only Anderson and Mowatt opposed; McLaughlin was absent) endorsed starting yet another two planning scheme amendments (bringing the total amendments in the past year to 11), this time under the guise of "improving" Macedon and Mount Macedon with "Design Guidelines", and rezoning from Rural Conservation to Special Use Zone at Mount Macedon (Agenda Items PE7 and PE8).

 

With its usual disdain of accountability and transparency, the resolution approved by Councillors (as above) empowered officers to make changes without community consultation or bringing changes back to Council for approval, before sending the new Macedon and Mount Macedon amendments to the Minister for Planning for authorisation to exhibit them.  Here's what those Councillors approved:

“To encourage the use and development of the Mt. Macedon Village Centre for a range of tourist, and local small scale community, tourist community and retail uses that respect the character of the surrounding village and natural environment.”

MRRA Says: 

 

No care!  No responsibility!  This Council couldn't help itself from binding the next Council to new amendment processes, just before the Council election 'caretaker' period kicked in.  It has become an established Council process to regularly authorise officers to make changes - sight unseen - once Council has rubber-stamped a resolution adopting/approving a document.  The community doesn't know what it's going to get until it gets it, and over time the 'unseen' changes made after Council has passed a resolution have proven to not be small or unimportant.  Begs the question - who is setting policy?  Under the Local Government Act, it's supposed to be Councillors (er, you know, democratic representation of the community's interests, and all that).

Remember, this is the Council that, in its submission to the Macedon Ranges Protection Advisory Committee, said it didn't know what "protection" meant but in any event already had enough of it (in the planning scheme it has fashioned).  And surprise, surprise -  a group of developers' consultants, the list of which included a planner who recently worked for Council, told the Advisory Committee it heartily endorsed that sentiment.

 

The Association has written to the Minister for Planning (copy to Mary-Anne Thomas) pointing out that Council's approval of the amendments pre-empts the upcoming Council election and approval to exhibit the amendments at this time pre-empts any decisions a new Council might make, and also pre-empts protection measures the State government may shortly introduce.  All amendments need to be measured against that protection.  Here's the response we received from the Minister's office.

 

Council Meeting On 16 December Didn't Disappoint - So, So, So Many Reasons To Sack And Investigate A Council

( 22/12/15 - C)  What a farce our "local government" has become.  Why are Macedon Ranges' residents still waiting for someone to take action?   16/12/25 Council Meeting Report 

There wasn't even standing room as over 100 people packed the small Norma Richardson Hall last Wednesday night. The gallery wasn't allowed in until 6.55pm and then found, even before the meeting began, most of the 'boys' (male Councillors) huddled together in chamber, apparently sorting out tactics, which held up the start of the meeting by 10 minutes. 

 

On this occasion, nine agenda items (all of them reports to Council, including Council's Investment Policy) were approved all at once via Council's dubious "en bloc" motion (i.e. approved in a single motion, no debate allowed).  That left only six planning issues and two notices of motion to be dealt with in Chamber. 

 

Even though Council apparently has around a dozen Economic Development personnel, it apparently only has the one Governance Officer, and he was on holidays.  As a result, CEO (Peter Johnston) announced amendments to draft minutes and read out "en bloc" agenda item numbers; Council's Director of Finance (Glenn Owens) took the meeting minutes.

 

The first planning issue dealt with, Item PE1 was recommended for approval:  a two storey boundary-to-boundary commercial and retail development and waiver of all planning scheme requirements for parking and loading, at 65 High Street near the proposed Coles supermarket.

 

The applicant spoke to the meeting, saying she had already signed a Section 173 agreement with Council to pay for parking elsewhere (at Collier Street, a block away).

 

Coles had objected to the proposal over parking (Coles had met all parking requirements for its supermarket) and particularly the proposal's failure to provide loading requirements for deliveries.  Coles' representative asked if Council has a formal requirement in its planning scheme that allows cash-in-lieu transactions for parking.  [Council doesn't.]

 

Cr. Jennifer Anderson moved an alternative motion (seconded Cr. Piper) to refuse the application on the grounds of it not satisfying parking requirements; impacts of commercial on-street parking on residents; and lack of off-street delivery provision.

 

Cr. Jukes thought it was a fine development and Council needed to consider commercial viability, but Cr. Piper thought the car parking arrangements may not be suitable.  Cr. Anderson pointed out Amendment C98 (Woodend Town Structure Plan) proposed a Design and Development Overlay over the site which requires parking provision to be maximised. 

 

Crs. Anderson, Piper, Mowatt, Connor and Hackett voted for the alternative motion to refuse.  Crs. Ellis, Letchford, McLaughlin and Jukes voted against.  The application was refused.

 

The second planning issue, Item PE2, was an application for (another) house on rural land, once again associated with keeping horses, this time in a Farming Zone at Goldie. 

 

Officers recommended the application be refused.  Council officer  Rick Trafficante advised a key sticking point was the lack of infrastructure to support the proposed "farming" (equine) activity, which was needed to connect the dwelling to "farming".  He advised Council that despite the argument that there were other houses in the area, once this proposal was approved there was no chance of reversing rural land fragmentation.

 

The applicant spoke, then was questioned by Councillors, which revealed she did not live in Macedon Ranges, didn't own the land, wanted to run a business, participated in eventing and agricultural shows, and had 2 breeding horses.  During this discussion, Cr Ian Ellis revealed he had helped the applicant with her application, and advised that the applicant was aware of an alternative motion [i.e. to approve] for this proposal.

 

The meeting was then suspended to allow the 'boys' group to again huddle while they apparently worked out how to assist the applicant.  Remaining Councillors and the gallery waited.  After about a 15 minute delay, most of the gallery - already reeling from the conflict of interest admitted by Cr. Ellis - was thoroughly disgusted by proceedings. 

 

The meeting resumed with Cr. Ellis moving a motion that the application be deferred (seconded Cr Letchford), saying the applicant had agreed to discuss the application further with planning officers and opportunity existed that the matter could be resolved amicably.  Cr. Letchford pontificated about eventing and showing horses being agriculture, also stating twice that the "war was over" in that area re minimising housing, and it would be natural justice to allow a person to have a say. 

 

Cr. Piper spoke of the inappropriateness of delaying the meeting to discuss this application, saying Cr. Letchford's comments were ridiculous, and she objected to the delay when Councillors already had a full meeting in front of them. 

 

Council officer Rick Trafficante's advice, and Cr. Anderson's comments, that Amendment C110's conversion of so much land to small lot rural living was intended to stop further housing approvals in rural land, fell on deaf ears.  Cr. McLaughlin acknowledged Cr. Piper's irritation, and while agreeing the proposal was more suited to Rural Living, said Council wasn't there yet.  He said the applicant needed to work with Cr. Ellis and planning staff to see if the application can be considered - then let's look at it again. 

 

The motion to defer the application succeeded on the votes of Crs. Ellis, Letchford, McLaughlin, Connor, Hackett and JukesCrs. Anderson, Mowatt and Piper opposed.

 

The third planning issue, Item PE3, illogically and inappropriately rolled 5 Town Structure Plan planning scheme amendments into a single agenda item, a single recommendation and a single decision.

 

Called "the omnibus  amendment" by Council, this item addressed Amendments C98 (Woodend), C99 (Kyneton), C100 (Riddells Creek), and C103 and C105 (both Kyneton).   This meant that Councillors could only vote on all of these amendments at once, not individually.   Council's Responses to  Submissions (244 total submissions) in the item's attachment were likewise presented as a single "omnibus" agenda attachment, necessitating having to search through all of the amendments to find each specific one.  Apparently the CEO determines agenda items, and although Councillors could have voted to address each amendment  individually, they didn't.

 

All three West Ward Councillors - Anderson, Connor and Jukes - declared a conflict of interest and left the Chamber. 

 

After referencing "chain emails", Cr. Letchford moved an alternative motion (seconded Cr. Mowatt) that the amendments be forwarded to a panel, and that Council resolves to:

Reverse proposed C99 rezonings from Industrial 1 zone at two locations in Kyneton, and (to an audible intake of breath and groans from the gallery)

"Request that the Panel give serious consideration to the following item:  (a) C98: Key issue K, submission 53 [i.e. Villawood's submission] - The benefit of resolving the long standing issue of potential development of the land north of Golf Course Hill through a reconfiguration of existing titles." 

 

After again supporting Villawood over community interests (as he has on two previous occasions), Cr. Letchford stated Council will continue to work with the community.  

 

See MRRA Davies Hill Archive  1. The Stench Of Villawood Assaults Woodend Yet Again With Yet Another (Amendment) Development Proposal Outside The Town Boundary  and 2. Woodend Community Prevails As Council Rejects Villawood's Latest Development Proposal On 7 to 1 Vote

 

 Cr. Piper expressed disappointment the motion was not split so Councillors with conflicts for one amendment could have voted on other amendments, and said she had major issues with making policy on the run.  She said because of the motion's changes Council will now have to spend more money defending its strategic work when it should have been a developers' battle, not a Council battle.   She saw no point in last minute changes. 

 

Cr. Mowatt said he had to be open-minded.  Council had already rejected three rezoning requests for the land.  He felt reconfiguration of existing titles was not unreasonable, although the applicant would have to argue at a panel to get it.

 

Cr. Letchford said the changes had been discussed in the briefing and the alternative motion had been submitted on the day of the Council meeting, adding there had been an "email chain" from the "town of no" and negativity towards Council but despite detractors and negative people, the result was well-crafted and well thought out.

 

 Crs. Letchford, Mowatt, McLaughlin, Ellis and Hackett voted for the amended motion, Cr. Piper voted against.  With that, the motion to forward the amendments to a panel [and to have Council once again work on Villawood's behalf] was carried.

 

As the excluded West Ward Councillors again took their seats a member of the gallery, Dr. Max Winchester, asked the Mayor to hear a point of order relating to the inappropriateness of alleged coercion used against those Councillors who declared conflicts of interest, saying under the Local Government Act there was no conflict of interest.  The Mayor refused to hear Dr. Winchester's concerns and he was 'shouted down' and told he would have to leave the meeting, which he did.   Dr. Winchester subsequently lodged a letter of formal complaint calling for an investigation, also raising Cr. Ellis's conduct, with various offices of the State government.

 

The fourth planning issue, Item PE4, related to seeking authorisation to exhibit Amendment C109, a re-hashed version of elements of a previous amendment (C89) plus new "minor amendments", one of which rezones Daly Nature Reserve in Gisborne.  

 

In Amendment C109, Council disregarded its resolution at the very first meeting of this Council's term (November 2012) to apply an appropriate conservation zone to the Reserve.  In C109, Council instead treats the Reserve, which has high conservation and cultural values including a species listed on the Flora and Fauna Guarantee, as a recreation space by proposing a Public Park and Recreation Zone. 

 

Cr. Jukes moved (Cr. Letchford seconded) the officer's recommendation to seek authorisation to exhibit, as is, saying it was a simple amendment of minor amendments to the planning scheme. 

 

Cr. Mowatt moved an amendment (seconded Cr. Piper) to Cr's Jukes motion, the amendment being that the proposed Public Park and Recreation Zone [PPRZ] for Daly Nature Reserve be changed to Public Conservation and Resource Zone [PCRZ].  Cr. Mowatt argued that it was a unique piece of bushland and there was support in numerous formal documents for it to be recognised as such and protected. 

 

[Prior to the meeting, there was talk that the Reserve couldn't be zoned Public Conservation and Resource Zone because it would detrimentally affect the operation and potential expansion of the scout hall on the Reserve.  There were also claims that the hall, being a Place of Assembly in planning terms, was a prohibited land use in the PCRZ zone, but it's not.]

 

Cr. Mowatt said the alternative PCRZ zone would have no effect on the hall, Council is the public land manager, and that the scout group had a lease until 2035 and fully supported the alternative PCRZ zoning. 

 

Cr. Anderson agreed with Cr. Mowatt, saying this was an opportunity to get the zoning right. 

 

Cr. Letchford countered saying he understood the principle but asked on whose advice PCRZ was put forward.  A difficult-to-follow ramble followed where he [somehow] considered the old i.e. Shire of Gisborne zones less prescriptive than today.  He said although the scout hall would have existing use rights, it may find it had to go somewhere else if the Public Conservation and Resource Zone was applied.  He said the officers' views were more plausible and until Council found more planning tools, it needed the Public Park and Recreation Zone. 

 

Cr. Piper endorsed Cr. Mowatt's comments, and to Cr. Letchford, said the Reserve is a conservation area. 

 

When initially put to the vote, Crs. Anderson, Piper, Mowatt, Connor and Hackett supported Cr. Mowatt's amendment, while Crs. Jukes, Letchford, Ellis and McLaughlin opposed. 

 

When a division was called Crs. Ellis and Letchford switched sides and instead supported the amendment motion, leaving only Crs. McLaughlin and Jukes opposed.

 

The amended motion then became the substantive motion (i.e. it replaced Cr. Jukes original motion to support the officer's recommendation).  Crs. Anderson, Piper, Mowatt, Connor, Hackett and Ellis for, Crs. Letchford, Jukes and McLaughlin opposed. 

 

Consequently the motion to change Daly Nature Reserve rezoning from Public Park and Recreation to Public Conservation and Resource Zone in C109 was carried.   [Note:  the Council's draft minutes have Cr. Letchford supporting the (final) substantive motion, although on the night the division called appeared to place him with those not supporting.]

 

The fifth planning issue, Item PE5, related to the State government's Hanging Rock Review and the Hanging Rock Environmental / Fire Management Plans. 

 

Council's Director of Planning, Sophie Segafredo, put forward a revised recommendation, in light of the Minister for Environment's media release that day and the release of the State government's Review report into Hanging Rock operations.   She said a key correction to be made to the recommendation was that the new Environmental and Fire Management Plans' recommendations would supersede only the Environmental and Fire recommendations in the 1993 Loder and Bayley Hanging Rock Management Plan, not the entire Loder and Bayley document.

 

Cr. John Letchford moved (and Cr. Jukes seconded) Ms Segafredo's amended motion.  Cr. Letchford couldn't help himself, and said [the Review] had been a bit of a witch-hunt (Cr. Anderson called a point of order objecting to Cr. Letchford's depiction of the State government - Cr. Letchford withdrew the statement). 

 

Cr. Letchford then claimed the Review report vindicated Council's actions with glowing reports on its management of Hanging Rock, that Council had been and will continue to be the Committee of Management and Council could now get on with delivering and look again at commercial development to supplement Hanging Rock's financial position [met with groans from the gallery]He finished by saying he would have had a question re costs [of the Review, presumably] but it was best left until another time.   The amended motion was supported unopposed.

 

The sixth planning issue, Item PE6, related to adoption of a Development Plan at Kyneton near Village Green Drive, for 341 lots including 200 m2 lots.  

 

Director of Planning Sophie Segafredo advised a previous Development Plan had been approved for this land some years ago, but had since expired.  Councillors had engaged with the community and Councillors had been briefed.  She further said there had been substantial consultation with this locality (i.e. with the previous Development Plan), and the Planning and Environment Act did not include requirements for third party consultation on Development Plans.  In this instance there had been no community consultation by Council - officers understand what community requirements are. 

 

Cr. Mowatt said there had been consultation of 50 - 60 people [by the developer], with some Councillors (including himself) present.

 

When questioned about the cost of the bridge (over the Campaspe River) Ms. Segafredo responded costs hadn't yet been determined and there was no absolute requirement at this time for the bridge but should the rest of the land be developed, there would be.   A contribution of $5,000 per lot had been negotiated with the developer [i.e. $1.7 million towards the bridge].  She estimated the bridge cost at around $10 million.  Funding would come from other developments and Council was working with State and Federal government as well.  A bridge study would be undertaken in the next 12 - 18 months.  There would be a shared contribution between community [groans from gallery] and developments.  

 

Cr. Anderson put a series of questions: 
What consultation had occurred?  Ms. Segafredo said  community meeting/s, site visit/s, stakeholders of all varieties, and there was substantial discussion about development in this vicinity in the Kyneton Structure Plan. 
Was the consultation developer led?  Ms. Segafredo said Council had people there. 
As Council had tonight moved Amendment C99 forward to a panel and (because she wasn't in Chamber at that time), Cr. Anderson asked if any changes were made to Clause 21.13-2 Objective 10, or to the DPO1 schedule?   Ms. Segafredo said none other than as already in the PE6 Attachment.  
What zone did C99 put on the land:  GRZ1 or GRZ5?  Ms Segafredo said GRZ1.
What Character Precinct was the land in, was it Modern Residential?  Ms. Segafredo said she would have to look it up.
What was the average lot size in the Development Plan?  Ms. Segafredo said it has a a range of lot sizes. 

 

At this point, Cr. McLaughlin objected, saying it was unfair of Cr. Anderson to ask questions of the officers about things they might not know. 

 

Cr. Jukes then moved, and Cr. Letchford seconded, the officer's recommendation to approve the Development Plan. 

 

Cr. Jukes said:

It was a long-standing application before the community with lots of consultation over the years, and a previous permit [sic] had already been issued but had now lapsed.  Officers had taken the opportunity to bring it up to current standards. 

There had been community consultation at the Kyneton Mechanics Institute, jointly run by the developer and Council, buses with people taken out to the site;  the application had been part of the community for some time. 

The development plan was something new, not seen in Macedon Ranges before.  We now have built form - already seen in New Gisborne - not just land being broken up.  Had lots of emails about the 200 m2 but the development has 800 m2 in the outer areas.  The land is in proximity to the town, and transport, pedestrian and cycling interconnected.

It is also fantastic that Council is getting $5,000 per lot, which is 341 times $5,000 coming into Council's coffers, and that contribution isn't part of the planning scheme, the developer doesn't have to pay, he could even take Council to VCAT, but is paying anyway. 

RobertsDay is the backbone of what we are looking at now.  It's a fantastic company and he had had the opportunity, on his own initiative, to look at one of their projects.  He said this [the development plan? or the company?] was part of Kyneton's growth into the future.  This is the future.

 

Cr. Anderson agreed a lot of work had been done but disagreed it included consultation, and said: 

C99 lays out what should be done, and Council has endorsed that amendment as being what Council believes.  C99 says infill and development in the Modern Residential character precinct should, [amongst other things], relate to Kyneton's rural town character and be predominantly single storey.  The plan before Council doesn't fulfil the Objective 10's requirements. 

The State government's Practice Note 23 for applying development plan overlays stresses the need for community consultation before applying the Development Plan overlay and approving Development Plans, and consultation being appropriate from the start. 

She was always concerned about the small lots proposed - this [sized lot] isn't Kyneton, and remained concerned that consultation was developer-led, and that the C99 Development Plan Overlay schedule 1 that Council had just endorsed to go to a panel said Council will consult the community for two weeks about Development Plans but now Council was ignoring its own instructions. 

This proposal was about the whole town, not just individuals, and Council needed to bring the Kyneton community on board.

 

Cr. Connor stood and said $3.4 million, that's what the developer was contributing.  He said he and his wife had once had a beloved larger property, had sold and moved to 600 m2, and now found even that too much to manage.  The Development Plan proposal was fantastic, gives a chance for older people and for kids to buy a house, brings the community together.

 

Cr Piper said the development ticks all the boxes from health and well-being perspective but her main concern was that consultation was a long time ago, and there was now a lot of angst.

 

Cr. Jukes closed by saying: 

This was development within the town - modern development, not like Bluestone Rise and he didn't want to go there again.

This Development Plan for Kyneton has all the linkages - has it all - and we won't see it again, not in this town. 

The community has been consulted and those who want to know, know about it. 

It creates diversity, aging in place.  It's not just a subdivision, has open space, etc. 

He had received a few emails over the last few days, but couldn't say these represented broader community views; a group had sent out emails to oppose the proposal, but Council is above that.

 

Crs. Jukes, Letchford, Connor, Hackett, McLaughlin, Ellis, Mowatt and Piper voted to approve the Development Plan.   Cr. Anderson opposed.

 

Question time, scheduled for 7.45pm, wasn't conducted until 10.00pm, after Item PE6.  By that late hour, around half of those who had lodged questions had left; their questions were not read out.  The meeting finished around 10.15pm.

 

MRRA Says:

 

OK.  Let's stop throwing up for a moment, and take stock of what we've got here: 

Have we missed anything?  Well, there was the gall of Councillor Letchford at one stage sending the gallery into peals of loud, derisive, prolonged, deserved laughter.

 

It must have been convenient for some having all three West Ward Councillors out of the Chamber on Item P3 - the Structure Plan amendments.  Villawood's land is in the West Ward. 

 

The issue with Villawood's land is that the Woodend Town Structure Plan identifies it as a "Future Investigation Area", which consequently sets the land aside for investigation for long-term urban growth.  This creates major difficulties for doing anything else with the land  - unless the "Future Investigation Area" designation is removed.  Back in September 2013, Villawood wanted this designation.  That's when Cr. Letchford moved and Cr. Mowatt seconded an amended rescission motion that rewrote Woodend policy in Amendment C84 to include Villawood's (north-western area) land as a "Future Investigation Area" in the Woodend Town Structure Plan.  Crs. Morabito, Hackett, McLaughlin, Connor, and Jukes also supported the changes, but Crs. Anderson and Piper didn't.  In a classical example of be careful what you wish for, on that occasion Villawood got what it wanted, but now that the Structure Plan doesn't identify Villawood's land as first cab off the urban development rank, the company finds its land is tied up and unable to be developed for many years.   Villawood's C98 submission (#53) wants the "Future Investigation Area" designation removed, supposedly to allow reconfiguration of its existing lots, but that's something that could be done now under the planning scheme.  What removing the "Future Investigation Area" designation will really do is free the land up for future amendments to rezone/subdivide/develop in the short term.  And that's what Council has supported in the motion it approved at last week's Council meeting. 

 

Hanging Rock. What can you say?  WHAT CAN YOU SAY?  As the State government wants more transparency and accountability, and other significant improvements from Council, Cr. Letchford apparently read the wrong report, or didn't pay attention to what was in the right one.   It's interesting that he's banging on about the commercial development again.  Wonder who he knows?

 

As for the "email chain" references; a group opposing approval of the Kyneton Development Plan; that old chestnut "town of no" (or KNOW, as we like to think of it), of having received a few emails - Bwahahaha!   Now that's funny.  Insulting, but funny.

 

Poor didums!  MRRA is blamed, of course. That will be because MRRA read the meeting agenda and picked up on the dirty deal for community that was going down on this Development Plan with no community consultation and teensy lot sizes, and publicised it on our website, on our Facebook and Twitter pages, and via email alerts to our networks including asking residents to email all councillors, copies to Mary-Anne Thomas and the Minister for  Planning, saying don't approve the Development Plan, consult the community instead.  

 

From the crocodile tears and snide remarks in Chamber, it seems Crs. Jukes and Letchford didn't like being reminded they are elected to represent community interests.  Their defensive, and at times aggressive and dismissive, responses are tell-tale signs they received PLENTY of emails and messages, and ignored them all. 

 

 Both Councillors sent emails to MRRA President, Brian Whitefield, almost but not quite demanding to see the email/letter MRRA had sent around.  Cr. Letchford also sent emails to some residents who had sent emails to Councillors, asking them for a copy of MRRA's big, bad email/letter (there wasn't a letter).  He then tripped up again by sending another email to MRRA President Brian Whitefield.  See what the Councillors said to MRRA, comprising now expected but still utterly inappropriate comments from a Councillor.  See also Cr. Letchford's earlier response to MRRA's submission to the Equine Centre Feasibility Study

 

You know, the situation at Macedon Ranges Shire Council isn't just that some Councillors are acting extremely badly;  it's not even that some at Council are totally disinterested in what the community thinks.  It's much worse - deeper - than that.  What we have is a Council that is, with only a few exceptions, actively and punitively at war with its community. 

 

 

This Council could well be defined as Macedon Ranges Shire Council Pty. Ltd.: Developments, Investments, Real Estate and Land Deals.  In its hideous rush to 'sell off the Macedon Ranges farm' before the next Council election, it no longer even pretends to be democratic government, or hide who its friends are. 

 

Where do we as a community go from here?  Unless someone in higher authority acts, there isn't a thing any of us can do about it except wait for the next election to roll around.  Let's hope by then it's not too late to save ourselves, our democracy or this place.

 

Some Outrageous Moves At Council Meeting 16 December Woodend: ALERT TO ALL RESIDENTS - It's A Full Agenda.  And We Do Mean "Agenda". 

(13/12/15 - C)  Structure Plan amendments, yet another new amendment (C109), Daly Nature Reserve, a massive subdivision proposal in Kyneton, Hanging Rock Environment Mgt Plan...

At next Wednesday's Council meeting, the last for 2015, there's almost something for everyone: 

Be at the Council meeting next Wednesday at the Norma Richardson Hall,  15 Buckland Street Woodend (behind St Mary's Anglican Church, near the primary school), 7.00pm.

 

MRRA Says: 

We know Council hasn't responded properly to our submission on C99 at Kyneton, because part of Council's response is talking about the Riddells Creek amendment, C100.  Plenty remains wrong with both of these amendments, but Council doesn't want to know about it.

 

Council has at least admitted population figures at Riddell and Kyneton were manipulated/manufactured, but it still hasn't reinstated policy that Kyneton is a District Town now, growing to a Large District Town in 2036 (that will be because Council wants Kyneton to be much, much, much more than a piddly old Large District Town...)

 

 

CURRENT  Uh-oh...  What's Going On With The Amendment C107 Commercial Rezoning In Woodend?

(2/11/15 - P)   We don't know... but Council's strange behaviour certainly raises eyebrows and questions   Woodend Structure Plan File

At last Wednesday's Council meeting, Amendment C107 was on the agenda at item PE2.   The decision before Council was where the amendment went next.  MRRA objected to this amendment, and is apparently the only objector.

 

Here's the background:

Council adopted the Woodend Structure Plan in October last year.  That Structure Plan said "over the next 15 years" the town would need 1.1 ha of new commercial zoned land, and identified options that could be considered. The Plan also said apply a Design and Development Overlay to the town's commercial zone to ensure the town centre's character is protected in future development. 

Council then prepared Amendment C98 to put everything in the Woodend Structure Plan into the Shire's planning scheme - everything, that is, except the commercial rezoning which Council instead transferred to a separate amendment (Amendment C107).  The problem with this is that the Design and Development Overlay to be applied to this land isn't in Amendment C107 - it's in the main C98 amendment, which will take longer to get into the planning scheme.

MRRA objected to this arrangement because, as the commercial rezoning is proposed well in advance of Amendment C98, the new commercial land won't have the Design and Development Overlay needed to protect character until C98 is finally approved.  MRRA asked for the Overlay to be included with Amendment C107, or for Amendment C107 to be transferred to the main C98 amendment, but Council hasn't done this.   

Council is running 6 amendments related to town Structure Plans at the moment, and they are all going to the same planning panel hearing in February 2016 - except Amendment C107.  Council has a separate panel hearing for C107 in January.   MRRA met with a Council officer, and asked Council in writing to transfer Amendment C107 to the same panel hearing as the other five amendments.  

Council claims it needs to 'accelerate' the commercial rezoning in Amendment C107 so it can refuse to extend an existing planning permit for units on part of the land.  But as the commercial zone allows units, rezoning the land from residential to commercial doesn't give Council an advantage.   The solution to Council's 'problem' remains the same as it is now:  just say 'no' to another extension of the permit.

At last week's council meeting, the Mayor put forward a motion to move Amendment C107 to the same panel hearing as the other five amendments, but 7 of 9 Councillors voted that down before voting to forge ahead with a separate planning panel hearing for Amendment C107.  

 

In the debate in Council chamber over this agenda item, Cr. Letchford apparently observed that the objection was 'typical MRRA', asked who in MRRA is a qualified planner, and accused MRRA of being a secret society, of not operating democratically, of being totally opposite to democracy, of being run by a dictator who doesn't consult, and of not having minutes.  He apparently had some support from Cr. Jukes.  MRRA was also blamed for causing Council to have to run a separate planning panel which, it was claimed, would cost ratepayers in the order of $10,000 - $20,000 - including expert legal and planning advice Council would need to pay for.   

 

Quite apart from the obvious vote of no confidence in Council's planning staff this represents, there is no set fee for a planning panel - costs depend on the nature of the amendment.  As a single issue amendment, C107 would likely take no more than a single day ($2,000 - $3,000?), and even those costs could have been avoided by simply sending Amendment C107 to the same panel hearing as the other five amendments.  As Council has decided to run this commercial rezoning as a separate amendment, with a separate planning panel,  any additional costs to ratepayers are Council's responsibility.

 

MRRA Says:  

 

Some at Council seem to think MRRA operates the way Council does.  Not so - that would require a significant reduction in MRRA's standards.  We do have minutes, and we do take collective decisions and actions, but we are at a complete loss working out why a community group or anyone else in the community needs to have/be a qualified planner before Council will consider and respect their views.

 

With this latest example in a long history of personalised and often vitriolic attacks on various members of the community he disagrees with, Cr. Letchford has again demonstrated a deep misunderstanding of the role and responsibilities of a Councillor.  If he cannot desist from these attacks, how can he be considered an appropriate person to be a Councillor? 

 

As for Amendment C107, only Council knows the real reason process is being bypassed to fast-track this commercial rezoning ahead of the planning controls for it in Amendment C98. 

 

Cr. Letchford's Response to MRRA's Equine Centre Submission

(13/4/15 - C)  No obvious connection in the Councillor's harangue to the Local Government Act's Section 76BA (c) requirement for councillors to "treat all persons with respect and have due regard to the opinions, beliefs, rights and responsibilities of... other persons"   Equine File

MRRA put in a submission to Council on the Equine Centre Feasibility Study, and copied it to all Councillors and MLA for Macedon, Mary-Anne Thomas.   MRRA received polite acknowledgements of receipt of the submission from Crs. Mowatt, Piper and Anderson (these last two also confirmed they value community consultation and participation).   In contrast, we received this response from Cr. John Letchford

 

It's not the first time the Councillor has vented on MRRA (we hear others in the community have been similarly treated for voicing an opinion, particularly one that doesn't correspond with the Councillor's position).  This type of harassment and bullying behaviour against members of the community - be it by email or in chamber - falls well outside State law governing Councillor behaviour.

 

Councillors are required to bring an open mind to decisions, otherwise they can be said to be conflicted, and can't vote.  While his Councillor colleagues gave no indication of where they stood on this issue, Councillor Letchford's comments and defence of this proposal point to someone who has already made up his mind on this issue - he surely can't intend to claim he brings an 'open mind' to the matter when it comes before Council, can he? 

 

Will Councillor Letchford act appropriately by forfeiting his vote on this proposal? 

 

MRRA Says: 

Back around 2005/2006, MRRA used have a record of events - called the Letchford Files - on this website.  Some are now saying it's time to dust it all off and update it.   Tell us what you think  mrra.sec999@gmail.com

 

Ian Ellis elected new East Ward Councillor for Macedon Ranges 

(24/11/14 -C) Policeman from Romsey.  http://www.elliottmidnews.com.au/story/2717511/councillor-declared/?cs=1227

 

Cr. Joe Morabito Resigns From Macedon Ranges Council

(25/10/14 - C)   Countback of Cr. Morabito's ballot papers, not a new election (by-election), will decide a replacement Councillor   Morabito File   

Macedon Ranges Council's website says Cr. Morabito resigned on Thursday 23/10/14 (almost exactly two years into a four year term).  Reports are that ill-health is the trigger, which would not be surprising as many have noted and commented that he has not looked well for some time.

 

The Councillor's resignation triggers an electoral countback process, in which defeated candidates at the 2012 East Ward election are invited to participate.  A by-election will not be held unless a replacement Councillor cannot be produced by the countback.  Only the votes which elected Cr. Morabito (i.e. Cr. Morabito's votes) will be re-distributed to eligible countback candidates.  This countback process is now recognised as not sufficiently democratic because the result may produce a winner who didn't get many votes at the original election.  Electoral reforms put forward recently by Petro Georgiou propose that ALL votes be included in future countbacks, not just those of the retiring Councillor, as now.  For information about East ward candidates and preferencing, see MRRA's 2012 Council Election Archive.   Also see the Victorian Electoral Commission's website www.vec.vic.gov.au for information about countback processes.

 

The Good "People Of The Town Of No" Set The Record Straight

(6/10/14 - P)   Residents know it should be the Town of KNOW, not NO, you know...   LPS file  C89  Red Alerts

 

At the September 24 Council meeting, Cr. Letchford called members of the Macedon Ranges' community "the people from the Town of No".  Why?  Because those people (i.e. most of the submissions to the exhibited Localised Planning Statement, and MRRA) did not support Council's damaging LPS and instead wanted Statement of Planning Policy No. 8 to be retained, au contraire to the Councillor's pro-LPS stance.  That and other nasties at the Council meeting have attracted some seriously uncomplimentary observations about the Councillor and the Council as a whole.  However, there are some who insist the Councillor's slur on the community has been misinterpreted, and what he actually said was "the people from the Town of KNOW", as follows:

  

"I thought there was a reference at Council to the good citizens of the town of KNOW – the people who know:

MRRA Says:

 

It's the knowing, and what you know, that makes all the difference.

 

Donald Rumsfeld (former United States Secretary of Defense - Bush administration), when once asked about the lack of evidence linking the government of Iraq with the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups, responded:

"As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know." 

The known knowns in Macedon Ranges Shire are that the people know what's going on at Council. 

The known unknowns include not knowing what and/or who motivates Council to behave in the rock-bottom way it does.  

The unknown unknowns - while unknown - could be anticipated to be just as bad as those known knowns and known unknowns we already know. 

Council may think it knows (who knows?), but when it comes to knowing what counts to the community, the community knows Council doesn't know.   Y'know?

 

Macedon Ranges' Last Defence Against Over-development Removed As Council Adopts Its Damaging Localised Planning Statement

(1/10/14 - P)   Outcome predictable, but Cr. Letchford 's derision of opposite community views went way past unacceptable   LPS  Red Alerts 

At last Wednesday's (24/9/14) Council meeting, Councillors Letchford, Jukes, Connor, Mowatt, Hackett, Piper, and McLaughlin voted to adopt Council's substandard and damaging Localised Planning Statement.  Cr. Anderson opposed.  Councillors Letchford moved, Jukes seconded.  Cr. Morabito was absent. 

 

 Cr. Letchford proved a vociferous proponent of the deficient and damaging LPS, and did most of the talking.  His opening and closing speeches constituted the majority of the debate and included him saying he felt privileged to be part of the LPS document; it was out-of-the-box thinking and better than Mornington Peninsula's LPS;  it represented higher level thinking, and its adoption was a quintessential moment. 

 

In relation to most community submissions on the exhibited LPS calling for Statement of Planning Policy No. 8 to be reinstated, Cr. Letchford attempted to quote Einstein, "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds", adding some [supporting SPP8] are so out of touch they think there is only one way to go;  that those opposing and making melodramatic statements (shock and awe) just don't get it; and those still wanting SPP8 were "people from the Town of No".   See also the Amendment C89 report.

 

In relation to Statement of Planning Policy No. 8, Cr. Letchford said when it was introduced people didn't want it;  things had moved on from there - when SPP8 was introduced there were no mobile phones, a Valiant Charger won Bathurst [MRRA note: the Brock/Samson LH Torana actually won in 1975]; and Sunbury and Melton are no longer satellite towns.  This LPS covers two areas not just one, and it delivers the State government's promise. 

 

Cr. Anderson said while an improvement over the original, the LPS was not in keeping with community views.  She added that the Mornington Peninsula LPS, not available when Macedon Ranges exhibited its LPS, had now been adopted by the Minister for Planning and contained the type of prescriptive language and policy Macedon Ranges' officers had said could not be included in Macedon Ranges' LPS.  The LPS had not been subject to dynamic, interactive consultation, needs more workshopping, and doesn't reflect what the community wants, she said. 

 

Cr. Mowatt said it would cost Council hundreds of thousands to retrofit Statement of Planning Policy No 8 into the planning scheme if is retained.  The LPS, plus existing planning scheme controls, was an improvement on SPP8 because there were no planning controls when it was introduced.

 

Cr.Jukes reminded councillors that the Minister had extended time but wanted the adopted LPS by the end of the week (Friday).

 

MRRA Says:

 

Over to you, Minister Guy. 

 

There are similarities to the Hanging Rock controversy here. 

 

Council's defiant position (and spin), and Cr. Letchford's highly inappropriate attack on and dismissal of community puts the government (and for that matter, the State opposition) in a difficult place.  The risk is that support for Council's LPS will be seen firstly as favouring a detested Council over community; secondly, as support for Cr. Letchford's position (which is remarkably similar to former Mayor Noel Harvey's and former Planning Minister Justin Madden's 2008 position); and thirdly, as the government not delivering the protection it promised - i.e. an LPS as State policy, retaining Statement of Planning Policy No 8.  The government's 2010 promise did not include changing or deleting Statement of Planning Policy No. 8, shrinking its policy area or excising towns and rural land from its policy area, as Council's LPS does. 

 

A promise is a promise, and anything less or other than SPP8 applied in full to all of its existing policy area, as State policy, is a broken promise.

 

The minimum, urgent requirement is SPP8 applied to its policy area.  The preferred outcome is replacement of Council's real estate/tourism brochure cum investment prospectus parading as "protective" policy with SPP8, applied to the entire Shire.

 

With regard to claimed costs of 'retrofitting' SPP8 into the planning scheme: Statement of Planning Policy No 8 is included in and is the basis for the Shire's existing planning scheme (and planning schemes before it).  Consequently, having SPP8 as State policy in the Localised Planning Statement would not incur any additional costs with the existing planning scheme.  The 'planning scheme' Councillor Mowatt refers to is Amendment C84.  Council's admission that SPP8 would need to be 'retrofitted' into Amendment C84 confirms that Amendment C84 is not a policy-neutral translation of the existing scheme, as Council has always claimed.  Further, as adopted by Council, Amendment C84 removes the "existing planning controls" Cr. Mowatt relies upon.

 

 

Amendment C89:  Council Does Everything It Can To Avoid The Scrutiny Of An Independent Panel

(1/10/14 - P)  And Cr. Letchford attacks and blames MRRA.  Wrongly.  Again.   C89  

At last Wednesday's Council meeting, Councillors (on a 5-3 vote) decided to not refer a revised Amendment C89 to an independent panel but straight to the Minister for Planning for approval.

 

Council considers C89 to be a minor amendment which corrects anomalies in the Macedon Ranges planning scheme, changing zones and heritage overlays for more than 141 parcels of land.  It is said to be needed to keep the planning scheme up to date and to remove impediments to development produced by scheme errors.  Some of C89's changes respond to written and verbal requests for change from individual landowners. 

 

Council received 19 submissions to the exhibited amendment, with several (including MRRA's) requesting changes.  In this situation Council is obliged to either make the requested change, abandon all or part of the amendment, or refer it to an independent panel.  Council opted to avoid a panel by abandoning several of C89's proposed changes; deleting another change (apparently an error); and making a late change to reduce an existing Heritage overlay and include a reference to an Incorporated Document, actions that were not part of the exhibited amendment.  Council also requested the Friends of Daly Nature Reserve and others to withdraw their requests for C89 to rezone the Reserve to a conservation zone (as per Council's resolution of December 2012).  When they didn't withdraw, Council declared their requests not relevant to C89, and a change not able to be included in the amendment at this late stage.  With these actions Council achieved its objective of removing all grounds for Amendment C89 to be referred to an independent panel.

 

The main reason cited by Council for avoiding a panel was costs - claimed to be $10,000 for C89.

 

Cr. Letchford went further and claimed a C89 panel would cost Council $20,000, a cost incurred because of the "Town of No people" and the "people from the Town of No" [i.e. MRRA].  He said the amendment is a no-brainer, and If it went to a panel, ratepayers would be asking why this money couldn't be spent elsewhere.  He said MRRA's submission defies sense, but Council could now move to the next round and make submissions public.  People, the community, would be able to have a look [at MRRA's submission] and ask why this money could not be spent elsewhere. 

 

Cr. Letchford in closing agreed with Cr. McLaughlin that Council business costs Council money (Cr. McLaughlin supported moving C89 to a panel), but then derided MRRA saying everything else had been resolved except this one submission and, seriously, it was about changing a word, or an overlay.  The public can now have a look at the submission, and see the cost of a panel to the public purse is needless.  Cr. Letchford made particularly scathing remarks about a C89 change (rezoning the Carlsruhe Freeway to RDZ1) he claimed was being abandoned as a result of MRRA's submission.

 

 He went on to say If there were errors in the amendment, due diligence came into play through DTPLI (the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure) and the Minister, and if C89 is wrong, the Minister can shoot it back [presumably to Council].  Cr. Anderson (who supported sending C89 to a panel) pointed out Council's position on late changes was inconsistent. Council supported late changes to Amendment C92 (Macedon Restructure Overlay) but was now saying it couldn't do the same with rezoning Daly Nature Reserve.  Cr. Letchford countered Cr. Anderson by saying that C92 was a different process, different information; with C89, Council just wanted to get it correct.

 

Cr. Anderson questioned the officer present about the proposed Council resolution, which included delegating authority to officers to make changes to C89 after Council voted.  The officer responded that the delegation meant only minor changes could be made, such as wording changes, but nothing material.

 

The motion to partly abandon Amendment C89, delete a change, alter another and forward the amendment to the Minister for approval was moved Cr. Letchford, seconded Cr. Mowatt.   Cr. Anderson requested a division:  FOR Crs. Letchford, Mowatt, Connor, Hackett and Jukes;  AGAINST Crs. Anderson, McLaughlin and PiperCr. Morabito was absent.

 

MRRA Says:

 

We thought everyone knew the Planning and Environment Act requires submissions to an amendment to be publicly available.  The good Councillor's threat to 'expose' MRRA's submission was not only inappropriate, but unnecessary.   It's also eyebrow-liftingly interesting that Council is apparently not seen as having a role in the exercise of due diligence.

 

MRRA met with Council officers to discuss C89, and although documentation provided to MRRA helped clarify some issues, it also raised new ones.  MRRA's concern with this amendment is that many corrections aren't or aren't sufficiently substantiated as genuine errors;  the amendment itself contains errors; and some changes introduce new errors.  Council officers partially acknowledged this by proposing to withdraw some changes for further consideration, and to add an additional (overlooked) planning control to another.  Council's at-adoption withdrawal of a proposed Heritage Overlay change suggests yet another error.  The Association was not comfortable with nominating winners and losers (doing so would still not have avoided a panel), or confident agreement reached with officers would survive the politics of the Council chamber.  MRRA did not withdraw its submission, as requested by Council, because the amendment isn't reliable, and would benefit from the independent assessment and scrutiny only a panel would provide.

 

Council responded by abandoning most changes MRRA requested be withdrawn (Council officers had already recommended three of these be abandoned), assuming other concerns were resolved, and abandoning another change MRRA did not request be withdrawn - the Carlsruhe Freeway rezoning.   Cr. Letchford wrongly criticised and blamed MRRA for this change being abandoned when the decision to abandon was Council's, and Council's alone.  MRRA thinks it knows why Council chose to abandon.  Council exhibited part of the proposed Road Zone [RDZ1] zone in the wrong place and was corrected by VicRoads, but there's more wrong.  While C89 rezones the freeway itself to RDZ1, C89 fails to remove the existing Public Acquisition Overlay which was applied before the freeway was built to identify land required to be purchased for its construction.  As proposed, C89 would leave the Carlsruhe freeway with both RDZ1 zoning, and a redundant Public Acquisition Overlay.  C89 also fails to rezone declared local roads constructed with the freeway, leaving them zoned Farming with the redundant Public Acquisition Overlay also still in place.  A panel may have been able to correct this, but now Council will have to start all over again.

 

Several of the C89 changes Council is sending to the Minister for approval contain errors: remnants of zones being removed are left behind; one change is already the subject of a panel recommendation for it to not move ahead; a road rezoning exceeds the title, as does rezoning for another change;  evidence has not been provided of private ownership of public-zoned land being rezoned to private zones;  a wrong Heritage Overlay is being removed; one piece of land is left with two zones; and the late inclusion of reference to an Incorporated Plan in the Heritage Overlay schedule to protect trees pre-empts inclusion of that Incorporated Document in the planning scheme (it's not there now, and it's not proposed as part of C89).   We wouldn't approve C89, for some obvious reasons.

 

A couple more things... 

 

MRRA asked Panels Victoria about the cost of planning panels, and they kindly sent us a list of indicative panel fees.  There is no set fee (such as $10,000) for a panel.  Costs depend entirely upon the nature of the amendment.  Council says C89 is minor amendment, but even using fairly generous expense estimates for a single member, two day panel hearing for C89, our calculation of potential panel costs fell short of $4,000 - a long way from Council's claim of $10,000 and Councillor Letchford's $20,000.  Council needs to disclose contributory costs and justify these claims.

 

The Mayor's failure to intervene while Cr. Letchford belittled if not bullied community members in Council chamber reinforced already-strong community concerns about poor standards and process at Council meetings.  Even if in attendance at the meeting, victims of such inappropriate behaviour do not have a right of reply - the Mayor has previously stated members of the gallery can be evicted if they speak. 

 

As for Cr. Letchford, someone recently described the councillor as a bloviater (one who bloviates).   Google throws up various dictionary definitions for bloviate, including:  to talk at length, especially in an inflated or empty way.  To speak or write verbosely and windily   To discourse at length in a pompous or boastful manner.  A key attribute to those that sell. To pretend to understand technical subject matter and sell it to others even dumber then oneself.   While anyone can get it wrong at times, he seems to consistently excel at being misinformed, and in Chamber couples this with a belligerent and disrespectful attitude to any who hold a different view, behaviour which is noted as contributing to this Council's deplorable reputation.  See also 1/10/14 Localised Planning Statement  report    

 

 

Pigs Still Flying and Council Still Lying About Amendment C84

(1/10/14 - P)  Adoption of Panel recommendations - Council's nose just keeps getting longer     C84  Red Alerts 

In its July 2014 Shire Life newsletter (page 5, "Settlement Strategy: Amendment C84 adopted"), Macedon Ranges Council claimed "All of the [C84] panel's recommendations and revised wording were adopted by Council.". 

Council grudgingly admitted that statement was not true in its September 2014 Shire Life newsletter (page 7, "Amendment C84 Update"), 

clarifying that "Council adopted the amendment document attached to the Panel's report, but it was not practical to adopt some of the additional recommendations for reasons included in the Council report of 28 May, 2014."   That statement isn't true either. 

 

Panel Direction in the amendment document attached to the Panel's report: "Provisions relating to Rural Living areas, which are currently addressed in Clause 22.15 should be inserted, pending revision after adoption of a Rural Living Strategy", and "Identify Rural Living Policy area on the Rural Framework Plan".  (page 9 of 84, Recommended MSS, Final Panel Report).

 

Council's response?  Council deleted these Panel directions from the C84 Panel amendment document adopted by Council on 28/5/14 without telling anyone, including Councillors apparently. (Page 9 of 86, PE1, Attachment 5, Council Agenda, 28/5/14 Council meeting). 

 

Panel Direction in the amendment document attached to the Panel's report: "Provisions relating to Rural Living areas/rural residential development, which are currently addressed in Clauses 22.17, 22.18. 22.15 should be reinstated, pending revision after adoption of a Rural Living Strategy."  (page 31 of 84, Recommended MSS, Final Panel Report).

 

Council's response?  In the document adopted by Council, this direction is crossed out and replaced with "Additional provisions relating to rural living will be included following adoption of Council's Rural Living Strategy."  (Page 31 of 86, PE1, Attachment 5, Council Agenda, 28/5/14 Council meeting).

 

MRRA Says:

 

Deleting and replacing these Panel directions - in the Panel's document - removes existing rural land planning controls from the Macedon Ranges planning scheme, without the hassle of going through the proper process to do so.  That's something 'Council' isn't telling the community or even, it appears, Councillors or the Minister for Planning.  

 

 

MRRA Calls For Community To Reject Council's Localised Planning Statement: It's Not Statement of Planning Policy No. 8, And It's Not The Protection The State government Promised Us

(13/7/14 - P)  Get to Council's "information session" on Monday July 14, 6.30 pm, Gisborne Council Chambers and inform Council you don't support this Localised Planning Statement... LPS file   Red Alerts 

The Scenario: 

Council's draft Localised Planning Statement condemns Macedon Ranges to far less 'protection' than it has now - less than it had when we asked for more!  It must be rejected.  Macedon Ranges needs State policy that says protect this place, not develop it.    MRRA Letter to Editor, local newspapers, July 2014   Bellarine Peninsula is also exhibiting a draft LPS, and even though Bellarine Peninsula doesn't already have a Statement of Planning Policy as Macedon Ranges does, its draft LPS seems more sincere if not protective than Macedon Ranges' LPS.  Comparing Bellarine and Macedon Ranges, it also becomes clear that there is an LPS template, and restrictions on language that can be used, which doesn't necessarily allow what needs to be said, to be said.  

 

What You Can Do

Government's 2010 policy for protection 

Statement of Planning Policy No. 8 - Policy

MRSC draft Localised Planning Statement

Bellarine Peninsula draft LPS

 

MRRA Says:

 

People of Macedon Ranges, you are being shafted in all of this.  Don't let it happen.  This Macedon Ranges Council would like nothing better than to get rid of the "impediment" of Statement of Planning Policy No. 8, and this LPS is doing it.  Do everything you can to stop that from happening.  Without SPP8, Macedon Ranges as we know it will cease to exist.

 

Brazen As You like, Council Lies Again To The Community - If Not The Minister For Planning

(13/7/14 - P)  Grab your July copy of Shire Life, and frame it as evidence that nothing is too low for Macedon Ranges Council  C84 

The July 2014 edition of Council's Shire Life newsletter gives us Council's deceitful account of Amendment C84 (page 5). 

 

At paragraph 3, Council says "All of the [C84] Panel's recommendations and revised wordings were adopted by Council."    What a whopper of a bare-faced lie, and demonstrably so.  Council did not accept all C84 Panel recommendations. 

 

For example, those Panel "directions around rural land use" Shire Life refers to are:

 

 Panel Direction: "Provisions relating to Rural Living areas, which are currently addressed in Clause 22.15 should be inserted, pending revision after adoption of a Rural Living Strategy", and "Identify Rural Living Policy area on the Rural Framework Plan".  (page 9 of 84, Recommended MSS, Final Panel Report).

 

Council's response?  Not only were these Panel directions not acted on, they were deleted without notice from the version of C84 presented to Council for adoption on 28/5/13 (Page 9 of 86, PE1, Attachment 5, Council Agenda, 28/5/14 Council meeting). 

 

 Panel Direction: "Provisions relating to Rural Living areas/rural residential development, which are currently addressed in Clauses 22.17, 22.18. 22.15 should be reinstated, pending revision after adoption of a Rural Living Strategy."  (page 31 of 84, Recommended MSS, Final Panel Report).

 

Council's response?  Council ignored the Panel direction to reinstate existing policy, and responded "Additional provisions relating to rural living will be included following adoption of Council's Rural Living Strategy."  (Page 31 of 86, PE1, Attachment 5, Council Agenda, 28/5/14 Council meeting).

 

Council has also not implemented other Panel recommendations, including not reinstating policy and a reference document for Riddells Creek.  And that's before you get to the game-changing policy changes that butcher existing rural land policies.  Council told everyone C84's 'review' of the MSS was policy-neutral; that's another Council lie. 

 

As for C84 being "subject to a two-stage panel hearing process", yes it was but that's not the full story. In Stage 1, Council's C84 document was so bad the Panel uncommonly issued an Interim Report (September 2012) to give Council a chance to get it right.  In Stage 2 Council's subsequent C84 (Version 8?) apparently failed to cut the mustard again, because in an almost unheard-of move, the Panel itself rewrote the entire MSS (April 2014) to ensure its earlier recommendations finally got into C84 and to correct some fairly basic planning and drafting errors.

 

MRRA Says:

 

This Shire Life article is another example of what the community knows as Council's lies - deceitful, twisted, and serious misrepresentation of fact.  Is it what Council is telling the Department - and the Minister for Planning?

 

The bottom line?  As the Macedon Ranges' community will tell you, YOU CAN'T AFFORD TO BELIEVE A SINGLE WORD THIS COUNCIL SAYS.  We've seen the lies, and blaming everyone else for what goes wrong, over and over again - bullying didn't happen, or if it did it was the media/community/female councillors' fault;  Hanging Rock runs at a loss, when Council's own figures show it doesn't; Council's abysmal 2014 Community Satisfaction Survey results are just a temporary blip, people were surveyed at the wrong time; Council hasn't made up its mind to put an early years hub at Daly Reserve, but Council isn't investigating other sites and the Daly Reserve Environmental Management Plan included a site for the early years hub;  100 people at a community rally calling for the CEO's resignation and investigation of Council means the rest were happy with Council; and on and on it goes. 

 

Will no-one rid us of this pestilence?

 

UPDATE  Woodend Township Structure Plan - Cr. Letchford Rescission Motion

(9/6/14 - P)   Pressure sees Councillor withdraw motion to overturn adoption of the Structure Plan    File

Following the 5 to 3 vote at the 28/5/14 Council meeting to adopt the Woodend Township Structure Plan (over the objection of Crs. Letchford, Hackett and Morabito - see earlier report), Cr. John Letchford lodged a rescission motion against the resolution to adopt.   The rescission motion attracted community outrage, particularly as the interests it appeared to serve were not those of the Woodend community. 

 

Council's original 28/5/14 (adoption) motion now stands, and the Woodend Township Structure Plan 9 is officially "adopted" by Council.

 

MRRA Says:

And the winners, by a long way, are...  community, and integrity.  

 

Community Disbelief As Cr. John Letchford Lodges Rescission Motion To Overturn Council's Adoption Of The Woodend Structure Plan

(3/6/14 - C)   The South Ward Councillor apparently thinks Woodend needs new greenfields rezoning for more growth.  That's not what the Plan, West ward councillors, the community and others say, but 'SNAP', it is what Villawood says.  So whose interests is Cr. Letchford representing?   File

 

The scene:  Last Wednesday's (28/5/14) Council meeting.  A large public gallery.  Item PE2: Adoption of the Woodend Township Structure Plan [WTSP].

 

South ward Cr. John Letchford stood and waved around what he called a 'secret' document - the Structure Plan's land supply analysis - saying it hadn't been put before Councillors.  He argued that adoption of the Plan be deferred in the interests of transparency so Councillors could consider the 'secret' document. 

 

Cr. Hackett then stood and pretty much said what Cr. Letchford had said.  He called the land supply analysis a '"new and uncirculated" document ("new evidence"), and somewhat surprisingly (but with great gusto) heavily underscored the need for transparency, truth and honesty. 

 

Cr. Letchford said some think the document grossly over-estimates the available land supply in the town; was concerned about use of overlays to identify constraints; said the town boundary hadn't been tested; and the Structure Plan wasn't consistent with the Amendment C84 panel recommendations (which is what developers like Villawood say).  A local press article indicates Cr.Letchford supports revisiting expansion of the town boundary, and greenfields development (which is what developers like Villawood want). 

 

Crs Jukes, Anderson and Piper defended the Structure Plan, praising the time and consultation in its preparation, and noting wide-spread community support for the Plan.

 

The Woodend Township Structure Plan concludes there is enough vacant 'unconstrained' existing residential zoned land in the town to accommodate 18 years' "infill" growth (i.e. filling in existing gaps) - without needing new greenfields rezoning or expanding the town boundary.  Note:  The Plan's land supply only counts 'unconstrained' vacant land.  It doesn't count any potential future subdivision of currently developed lots (WTSP page 21), development of 'constrained' land (WTSP page 21), or medium density unit development - these are all additional options for accommodating growth.

 

Councillors who voted to approve the Woodend Structure Plan were Jukes, Anderson, Piper, Mowatt and Connor - to loud applause.

 

Councillors who voted against were Letchford, Hackett and Morabito.  (NB Cr.McLaughlin was an apology).

 

See 28/5/14 motion (with amendments) approved by Council.

 

Cr. Letchford is not taking no for an answer and has lodged a rescission motion forcing the matter back to Council for another decision, with potential for the Plan's adoption to be overturned.  If the five councillors who already voted to approve the Plan stand firm, Cr. Letchford's rescission motion will be defeated and the Plan will move forward.  If not, Villawood gets what it wants, courtesy of politics not strategic planning.

 

MRRA Says:

Ah.  Cr. Letchford.  He who supported Council's Hanging Rock development right up until the Minister for Planning intervened, and moved the motion to overturn a Panel recommendation to abandon Amendment C92.

 

It's not the first time Cr.Letchford has acted in a way which has given an advantage to Villawood.  At a Special Council meeting last September he successfully moved a motion to rescind Council's adopted Amendment C84 policy for Woodend and replace it with new policy (a change subsequently strongly supported by Villawood's representative at the 16 December 2013 reconvened Amendment C84 Panel hearing).  Minutes show only Crs. Anderson and Piper opposed Cr. Letchford's motion.

 

Our 'smell a rodent' meter is running red hot on this.   Let's see:

  1 28/5/14 Council meeting, Item PE2 Attachment 2 Summary of WTSP Submissions & Council responses. 

 

Villawood (or more properly Davies Hill Pty Ltd) know this Structure Plan is the last throw of the dice.  If it can't get what it wants in the Structure Plan, its huge speculative greenfields proposal is over.  

 

So what's the final count?  On the one hand, support for infill development and/or the existing town boundary (i.e. no greenfields development or expansion of the town boundary) comes from:

On the other hand, Cr. Letchford, and Villawood supporters, say Woodend needs greenfields development and an expanded town boundary.

 

Yukko - makes your skin crawl!  Definitely, definitely NOT a good look for the 'boy in blue', Cr. Letchford.  Who of the other councillors will support his rescission motion? MRRA will be watching the outcome intently, with an eye to lodging formal complaints with multiple authorities.

 

Footnote 1: At the 28/5/14 council meeting, both Crs. Anderson and Letchford declared they had met with developers (Cr. Anderson voted to adopt the Structure Plan, Cr. Letchford voted to defer and when unsuccessful, lodged a rescission motion).

 

Footnote 2:  Someone is saying all 15 community representatives on the WTSP Community Reference Group were MRRA members.  That's news to us (and would also be to the real estate and Villawood interests on the Group!), and completely false.  Two people on the Group declared an affiliation with MRRA when they nominated, but they nominated as residents, not MRRA representatives.  What they said or did was up to them.

 

Rally Against Unacceptable Council Behaviour Sees Community Groups Unite

(31/3/14 - C)  Rally says: No confidence in CEO, call for Minister for Local Government to intervene

 

Bad Council Behaviour Sparks Community Rally, Wednesday 26 March, Gisborne

(25/3/14 - C)   Combined community action stirs against a Council that no-one likes  

 

Black Spot Funding at Straw's Lane

(25/3/14 Update - C)   Road Safety, Or A $186,000 Federally Funded Advantage For Council's Hanging Rock Proposal?

 

Council approved giving itself a planning permit to remove 11 trees for this project at its 18/12/13 ordinary meeting,where an officer couldn't produce accident figures for the intersection, and one 'pro' councillor  accused a dissenting (female) councillor of misleading the chamber, and being mischievous, in revealing there had been only 4 injury accidents at the intersection in the past 20 years.

 

 Now Council (or an investor) doesn't have to foot the bill to improve this part of the road as a development cost.  Nice work if you can get it.

 

The funded project's description at the Federal government's Black Spot funding projects webpage http://investment.infrastructure.gov.au/projects/ProjectDetails.aspx?Project_id=048030-13VIC-BS is:

 

"Widen and seal the shoulder,

seal intersection approaches,

remove an embankment and tree;

to install line marking and signage; and

to complete drainage works",

 

which isn't an exact match to how the Council report described the works:

 

"It is proposed that the tree removal [i.e. 11 trees] will help to improve sight distance,

as well as allowing for the shoulder widening to both sides of Romsey Road, to the east and west of the intersection. 

The project also includes minor drainage works running from north to south along Straws Lane,

installation of a traffic island as per VicRoads standards to the southern side of Straws Lane and

the installation of rumble strips to Straws Lane to the north and south sides of the intersection.    Council Agenda, 18/12/13, Item PE1

 

Council Agenda, 18/12/13, Item PE1:  "This tree removal is proposed as part of a Macedon Ranges Shire Council Engineering project that is funded by VicRoads under the "Black Spot‟ program. This intersection was identified as a Black Spot intersection / has been identified as a Black Spot intersection by VicRoadsas there have been a number of serious injuries at and near this intersection." 

Criteria for Black Spot Funding can be found at http://investment.infrastructure.gov.au/funding/blackspots/

 

"Black Spot projects target those road locations where crashes are occurring." 

 

What makes a site eligible for funding?  

"For individual sites such as intersections, mid-block or short road sections, there should be a history of at least three casualty crashes over a five-year period."

 

"The Black Spot Programme also recognises that there are road locations which could be considered as 'accidents waiting to happen'.  Therefore,  some programme funds may be used to treat sites where road traffic engineers have completed a Road Safety Audit and found that remedial work is necessary."

NB:  No mention of Road Safety Audit in the report to Council on 18/12/13.

 

Council Wants "Black Spot" Straws Lane / Romsey Road Intersection Upgraded, Applies To Itself For A Vegetation Removal Permit 

21/10/13 - C    Wouldn't have anything to do with getting free road upgrades for all that increased traffic to Council's 'wish-list' over-development proposal at nearby Hanging Rock may create, would it?

 

Council is removing native vegetation from the road reserve at Straws Lane and Romsey Road:  Why?  Why does any vegetation need to be removed?  You can sit in the middle of Straws Lane, and only occasionally will need to move to let a car go by.  Photos of trees included with Council's permit application (Spear Reference No. S037925J, lodged 27 June 2013) say (1) there isn't a proposed design for whatever Council is doing yet, and (2) that tree removal offset will be proposed with the new Hanging Rock works in the eastern paddock.  And this was in June, well before Councillors made their 5 to 4 decision to exclude community  consultation... 

 

One more thing, rumour has it that the tree removal and "works" at Straws Lane/Romsey Road have Black Spot funding.  SURELY NOT  - why would anyone waste Black Spot funding upgrading a rural intersection that rarely has cars, let alone accidents, and no known fatalities?    Wouldn't have anything to do with Council's secret plans for Hanging Rock and the traffic that humungous development would create, would it?   More Council lies?   Not a green Council - thinks it's OK to demolish valuable native vegetation at Daly Nature Reserve as well...

 

Lancefield Park Community House 

(17/11/13 - C)  Or rather, former Community House

Add this to the growing list of examples of Macedon Ranges Council ignoring the community.   Late 2013.  Community wants to keep community house.  Council wants to demolish it.    Council says the house needed $60,000 of work.  Community says not so, and 60 of them protested at the house (some shutting their shops to attend).   Council remained deaf to community voices, and demolished the house. 

 

MRRA Says

Wouldn't have anything to do with a land grab for housing, or some still secret economic development opportunity, would it?  The question is, did Council actually have ownership or any right to demolish the house?

 

There is some fiddling around going on with this land in proposed Amendment C74 where its aboriginal heritage overlay schedule entry seems to be deleted, and the former house site is instead added to the overlay over the Lancefield Park.  Council is asking the Minister for Planning to approve Amendment C74 without notice and without exhibition.  Hands up who guessed that means Council doesn't want anyone to know or have a say on the several mysterious things its doing in Amendment C74?  From what MRRA has seen of the proposed amendment, no wonder.

 

Wooo...  Crs. Sally Piper And Jennifer Anderson Go For it With Notices Of Motion For Tonight's Council Meeting At Gisborne

(21/5/13-RA-C)  But why do they even need to ask? 

Well, great to see the two "girls" on Council standing up for community interests (but where are the "boys"?).  These are highly significant notices of motion, asking for actions most people would consider should already have been taken.  That they appear not to have been That it appears it hasn't raises all sorts questions about Council administration and how Council is being run (and for whose benefit).   Check out the Notices Of Motion here.

 

You can access the agenda for tonight's council meeting here:

http://www.mrsc.vic.gov.au/Council_the_Region/About_Council/Meeting_Dates_Agendas_Minutes/Meeting_Agendas_Minutes/22_May_2013?doc=agenda

 

Council Spends OUR Money Changing OUR Website Then Tells Us About It After The Fact

(23/4/13-RA-C)  Official records removed, Shire logo and website content changed: was there any point at which Council thought the community should be consulted?

Seen Council's new orangey-yellowy-browny website?  The one which links Macedon Ranges to the Fast Train instead of Hanging Rock, and has what some people are interpreting as carrots, rocks, or even dog droppings for the Shire's new 'logo' [sorry, 'brand'].

 

All Council meeting agendas and minutes from 2003 - 2010 (inclusive) and agenda attachments have been deleted without notice, and only records from 2011 onwards remain.  It won't surprise if other documents which belong in the public realm - such as council policies, reports, studies - have also gone missing, or are almost impossible to find.

 

While it's not clear who made these decisions, what many suspected is finally officially confirmed (new website says so): officers make most of the decisions, under delegation, because not much would get done if councillors made the decisions:

"Elected Council

Our Council is a legal entity composed of its members. It can only act in one of two ways: by resolution at a Council meeting, or through Council officers acting on its behalf.

Most Council decisions are not made at Council meetings.  Effective functioning of local government would not be possible if they were. Instead, most decision-making is supported by formal delegations."

 

Unfortunately, costs for changes don't stop with the new website and logo.  All Council 'livery' (e.g. signs, nametags, letterheads, etc.) also have to be changed, and just in case we couldn't pick out Council vehicles, they not only get a new 'logo' but also carrots/rocks/droppings all over the back of them. 

 

MRRA Says:

Council seems to have mistakenly thought the Shire's website is its personal property.  It's not - it belongs to the ratepayers.

 

No problem in principle with improving website performance, but this is MAJOR and FUNDAMENTAL change in formatting, content and philosophy.  It changes what Macedon Ranges stands for, and how it represents itself to the world.  It has been changed at the community's expense but without consulting the community.  We hope rumours that these changes were deliberately kept confidential aren't true because then we would need to look up the definition of 'democracy', to see if it changed overnight.

 

Complaints about the new website include not being able to find things (some give up), to it being impossible to read to the end of documents.  The site also seems a bit 'touchy' and can crash if asked to do something like... open a document or page.  Some wish it didn't read quite so much like a real estate ad, and there are thousands of links on Google to pages that no longer exist on Council's website (might have been more professional to use redirect pages).

 

Removing a decade's worth of official Council meeting records is disgraceful, and even worse because (a) no-one was told this was happening and (b) residents now have to ask Council if they can access these (bound) records, and there is a cost for getting copies of them.  This loss of access to historical records adds to the still unexplained 'loss' of over 10 years of planning permit application records which disappeared overnight when Council switched from Greenlight to the almost useless SPEAR program. 

 

It all creates an image of a Council with something to hide. Come on guys, surely Council isn't so afraid of being open and accountable for what it does that it wants to hide the records?  Both council meeting and planning records need to be put back on the website, in the public realm, ASAP.

 

As for officer delegations, many in the community are looking to the Shire's new Council[lors] to rein in excessive delegations (not least the CEO's delegated authority to award contracts up to $1 million without consulting Council).  The way these have operated has fallen well short of acceptable transparency and accountability standards, and has seen major change - often contrary to community wishes and values - without consulting Council or the community. Reducing and restricting delegations is long overdue.

 

Tell us your thoughts on Council's website:  mrra.sec999@gmail.com  Does it work?  Can you find what you are looking for?  Should the community have been consulted before making changes and spending rates?

 

 

Macedon Ranges' Council And Community Wins VCAT Decision On The Romsey Hotel Proposal: NO POKIES FOR ROMSEY! 

(19/11/09 - P)  First the Supreme Court, and now VCAT, say social impacts and community well-being really, really do count.  Link

 

Council Decision On Green Waste Charges Shows No Leadership On Environment And Sustainability

(2/4/09 - C)  Disappointment continues as Council decides free green waste disposal is too expensive

An opportunity to show leadership and empathy with community values went begging at the March 25 Council meeting when Macedon Ranges Council resolved to only allow residents to dispose of green waste free of charge for 3 months of the year.  And what months they are:  November, December, and May.  It seems the worst fire months when people try to keep their properties free of litter - January, February and March - aren't on Council's radar. 

 

The decision to only support residents for 3 months of the year was made after a motion by Cr. Henry McLaughlin to make green waste disposal permanently free of charge was defeated, apparently receiving support from only 3 councillors:  McLaughlin, Benson and Manning.

 

MRRA Says:

 

As we understand it, Council would lose some $30,000 in fees currently paid by residents by making the service free. On the other hand, Council apparently recoups more than that through sales of mulch made from the green waste provided by residents.  Wouldn't making it a fee-free service simply make it cost-neutral for Council?  There would be plenty of other benefits in doing it as well: free disposal would encourage residents to keep their properties tidy and reduce bushfire fuel, reduce smoke from burn-offs, and the more green waste Council receives, the more mulch it could sell. 

 

One explanation put forward for choosing May is that's when residents burn off (deciduous) leaves on Mt. Macedon, causing air pollution.  That's fair enough, but what about the air pollution caused by bushfire, and burning off litter accumulated over summer once the fire ban period is lifted?  If there is genuine concern for air pollution, we say embrace all elements of the problem, not just the easy ones.

 

Odd, isn't it...  Here's a Council that appears to not be prepared to subsidise a service to the value of $30,000 to reduce impacts from bushfire and to reduce the Shire's environmental impacts from burn-offs - and make money from it too, but does seem prepared to subsidise from rates $250,000 - $500,000 annual loses racked up by indoor swimming pools. Or is the reason Council is baulking at green waste because with the Kyneton pool, it just wouldn't be able to afford anything else?

 

Absolute Shocker As Council Appoints MRRS Ltd Director To Audit Advisory Committee

(12/3/09 - C)  Rejected by voters, but Fritz Boegel makes it onto Council committee via a vote held behind closed doors, and then Council unanimously approves a contested application to expand the Clock and Beaver restaurant.  

 

Details are sketchy but advice from Council, in response to a question put by MRRA, is that Fritz Boegel, secretary of Macedon Ranges Residents Secretariat Ltd, has been appointed to be a community representative on Council's Audit Advisory Committee. 

 

Draft Council Minutes for the February 25 Council meeting include Item CS.5, Appointment of Community Representatives on Audit Advisory Committee.  At this item, according to the Minutes say that the Officer Recommendation was to consider the matter "at the conclusion of that part of this meeting open to the public." ..."as this report concerns matters which Council considers would prejudice the Council or an (sic) person..."  The motion to move behind closed doors was moved Joe Morabito, seconded Rob Guthrie and carried. There is no record in the Minutes of any resolution resulting from the sojourn in camera, and as far as MRRA is aware, neither has any public announcement been made of the appointment/s. 

 

The next item on the agenda was CS.6, the appointment of Councillor Delegates on the Audit Advisory Committee.  That is, which Councillors would be on the committee.  The Mayor is automatically appointed.  According to the minutes, it was moved Cr. Guthrie, seconded Cr. Relph and carried that Cr. Joe Morabito be appointed as the Councillor delegate on the committee.

 

MRRA Says:

 

Rumours that Audit Committee appointees may be of interest started filtering in, so we followed it up with Council. 

 

Three things really stand out here. 

 

First, in 2008 when the company, MRRS Ltd, began splashing itself over local papers claiming to be a community group, MRRA wrote to Council requesting confirmation or otherwise of any Council involvement with MRRS Ltd.  The answer we received was 'none'.  An election later, it seems Council now has a very definite involvement with MRRS Ltd! 

 

Second, the secrecy surrounding Mr. Boegel's appointment.  Why did Council seal itself off behind closed doors to make a decision?  What was so private it couldn't be considered in public, or the outcome announced in public?  Is it a case of Councillors being brave enough to 'do the deed' but not having the guts to tell anyone?  Hmm?  Because we wouldn't be surprised if that's what some people are going to say it looks like.

 

Third, Council's decision on who was appointed to the committee is not recorded in the Minutes.  All that is recorded is the motion to make the decision behind doors.  Yet Section 93 of the Local Government Act at subsection (6) says that "the minutes of a meeting of the Council or a special committee must - (a) contain details of the proceedings and resolutions made...".   So how does what is in the Minutes (or not in the Minutes, in this case) sit with the requirements of the legislation?

 

We don't know which Councillors voted for the appointment (seems that's a secret too), but at a minimum a majority of 5 Councillors did.  Maybe they all did!  Being anonymous could be helpful - when we asked a couple of people if they had heard anything, they expressed horror at the thought of MRRS Ltd having anything to do with Council.

 

The appointments are, we understand, for a year.  The makeup of the committee appears to be Cr.Morabito, Mr. Boegel, Mr. Barry Sutton (who may have an affiliation with the Macedon Ranges Landowners Group), Mayor Letchford, and another community representative who, as told to us, has a background in financial matters.

 

When we look at this, and the Kyneton pool debacle, Council definitely isn't off to a good start, is it...  And we've got 4 more years of it to look forward to. 

 

Click here to see the MRRS Ltd. file, including the current item on the application before Council for a rather large expansion of the Clock and Beaver restaurant in Macedon, in which Mr. Boegel has an interest. 

 

NOTE: Council last night voted unanimously to approve the Clock and Beaver application to expand the venue from 20 seats to 100, and partially waive car parking requirements.  We understand 9 objections were received. 

 

Lucky Mr. Boegel, he certainly seems to have a Midas touch when it comes to Council these days!

 

Decision On Gisborne ODP Deferred - Unanimously!

(6/10/08 - P)  High level of difficulty in major backflip to 9-0 vote on Gisborne ODP rescission motion from 5-4 the previous week

At a Special Council meeting in Kyneton last Wednesday, those in the gallery could have been forgiven for doing a double take.  Far from the split 5 to 4 vote the week before at Romsey to move Amendment C59 (Gisborne ODP) forward to a panel, this time around Councillors voted unanimously for a rescission motion reversing the 5 to 4 decision taken the previous week. C59 will now NOT move forward at this time. 

Councillors who changed their minds were Noel Harvey, Geoff Neil, Helen Relph, John Connor, and Sandra McGregor

 

Those who originally voted against moving the amendment forward at Romsey, and again on Wednesday night, were Henry Bleeck, Rob Guthrie, Tom Gyorffy and John Letchford.

 

The rescission motion was lodged by a quick-thinking Cr. John Letchford at the 24 September meeting at Romsey, on the grounds of allowing Councillors more time to read the large number of submissions on the amendment.

 

A second part to the rescission motion was also passed on Wednesday night, although the motion carried differed substantially from that originally proposed by Cr. John Letchford. 

 

The original part two motion related to Council calling for the Minister for Planning to provide strategies for the Calder corridor and towns in Macedon Ranges, to re-instate the principles and strategic direction of Statement of Planning Policy No. 8 in the Gisborne ODP, provide state protection for Macedon Ranges through special state level exemptions, and that the 2005 version of the Gisborne ODP be adopted as interim policy for Gisborne pending completion of these other actions.  

 

However, this version of the second part was left "in abeyance", and a new second part substituted:  "That Council having regard to the diverse range of submissions received resolve to review the proposed planning controls relating to Amendment C59 by mid December 2008 and the Submitters be advised accordingly and the Minister for Planning be kept informed of Council's actions."  The vote on this was almost unanimous, but not quite.  Cr. Geoff Neil voted against, giving an 8 - 1 result.

 

Industrial Relations Commission's Decision: Council Performances Condemn Ratepayers To More Expense

(29/9/08 - C)  $40,875 awarded to unfairly dismissed Shire employee, and it may not stop there

The Australian Industrial Relations Commission's decision ([2008] AIRC 1191, 12 September 2008), through Commissioner Lewin, has criticized Macedon Ranges Council and highly criticized a current Shire employee for events and their roles leading to the unfair dismissal of David Brown.  The Commission's decision follows an earlier direction that both parties consider reinstatement of Mr. Brown.  It is clear in this decision that not only didn't Council wish to reinstate Mr. Brown, but the Commission found reinstatement would likely be detrimental to Mr. Brown's interests. 

 

The Commission found that through Council's actions, Mr. Brown lost $683,436.11 in remuneration.  The amount awarded against Council ($40,875) is the statutory maximum amount of compensation the AIRC can award.  The Commission further notes that this amount relates to lost income, but not to "any issues of shock, distress, humiliation or other analogous hurt suffered by Mr. Brown as a result of the termination of his employment". 

 

You can access the decision by clicking on http://www.airc.gov.au/decisionssigned/html/2008airc1191.htm

 

MRRA Says:

 

Dear oh dear.  At least another $40,000 to be found from a budget that has no slack, thanks to the Kyneton pool, and those Councillors who favour it over prudent financial management.  Where will the money come from? 

 

To refresh your memory, Crs. Noel Harvey, Helen Relph, John Connor, Henry Bleeck, and Geoff Neil voted for the pool.

 

Live Game Hunting Proposals Refused By Council

(11/9/08 - P)  Details are sketchy, but it seems at least 2 Councillors voted against refusing these ghastly applications

At last night's Planning Committee meeting in Gisborne, an officer's report recommended refusal of two applications for live game hunting facilities in the Cobaw area.  The applications have already been taken to VCAT based on Council's failure to make a decision within the prescribed time, so the 'refusal' was a catchup position where Council indicates to VCAT that if it had made a decision, it would have refused the applications. 

 

The Council vote saw the officer's recommendation to refuse get up, despite Councillors Henry Bleeck and Sandra McGregor voting against the refusal. (Note: Cr. Noel Harvey was absent).

 

MRRA Says:

This jogs our memory of the 2005 Council election, where both Councillors Bleeck and McGregor were supported by the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia (of which Association we understand the applicant for these proposals is also a member).  If so, it would make us wonder if there might not have been a conflict of interest situation (although no interests were declared).  Click here to see the SSAA's letter to its members in 2005 urging a vote for these two Councillors.

 

Is It A First?  A Controversial Council Budget Scraping Through On The Casting Vote Of The Mayor?

(16/7/08 - P)  Can we now say it really is Noel Harvey's pool?

Togetherness is a wonderful thing. 

 

Take the togetherness Macedon Ranges Councillors exhibit over the Kyneton pool, for example.  There's always a 5 to 4 divide.  The five who vote for it, and the four who vote against it. 

 

But at the meeting where Council made a decision about whether to adopt next year's budget, that togetherness slipped, and what emerged was... ownership.  

 

Cr. John Connor (who until now had voted consistently to move the Kyneton pool forward) was absent on the night Macedon Ranges Shire Council voted on its 2008/2009 budget.  That meant only 8 Councillors would be present.  That meant that if voting went along 'traditional' lines, the vote on the budget would be tied 4 to 4.  It would take a Mayoral casting vote to decide.  And that's exactly how it happened. 

 

Crs. Noel Harvey, Geoff Neil, Helen Relph and Henry Bleeck voted for adopting the budget which contains a $3 million loan, part payment for the Kyneton pool. 

 

Crs. Rob Guthrie, Sandra McGregor, John Letchford and Tom Gyorffy voted against adopting the budget with a $3 million loan, part payment for the Kyneton pool. 

 

So Mayor Noel Harvey cast the deciding vote - in favour of putting the Shire into deep debt to deliver the Kyneton pool.  What's more, we believe he said he was immensely proud of this budget - yep, the same one that starts the downhill financial slide for all residents of the Shire...

 

MRRA Says:

 

Actions can speak louder than words, don't you think? 

 

Even blind Freddy could pick what we are going to say next. 

 

Please don't reward this disgraceful performance by voting for any of the Councillors who voted for this budget.  Make sure you put them right down the bottom, because that seems to be where they put you.

 

Macedon Ranges Council Brings The Roof Down - Literally!

(12/7/07 - C)  Was it the usual table thumping, clangers, hot air or overdose of testosterone?  Is it a portent of things to come?  Whatever, the roof literally fell on Council at last night's Council Planning Committee meeting.

Details are sketchy at this stage, but it seems even the Town Hall may have had enough of the garbage and posturing that usually goes down in chamber!  MRRA hears that a chunk of the ceiling fell into the Council chamber, behind Ms Veronica Schilling, Council's Director of Sustainable Development.  And then another...  We also hear that, thankfully, no-one was hurt but it may mean ratepayers' will have to dig a bit deeper.  We sense a repair job of sizeable proportions coming up here.

 

Macedon Ranges Council: MRRA Asks Residents Is It Time For The State Government To Step In?

(22/8/06 - C)  We live in a darkening democracy but the government won't act unless you say 'Enough'!

As community concerns and demands for 'something to be done' about Macedon Ranges Shire Council build, MRRA this week issued a press release calling on Macedon Ranges' residents to speak up, to say if they think the time has come to get outside help.  That is, to call on the State government to intervene and take action to pull Council into line and put an end to the unacceptable behaviours that are angering the community.  Those actions could include suspending, investigating or sacking the Council, and calling a new election.

 

MRRA Says:

From community feedback MRRA has had to date, it seems unlikely 'doing nothing' will be an option available to the State government.  MRRA is coming under increasing pressure to act, and to call public meetings; some residents are already saying they will march in the streets.  This is becoming a serious situation; it must be resolved in the best interests of the broader community, of open and transparent government, and of democracy.

 

What's happening in Macedon Ranges isn't new.  The behaviours of ‘behind closed doors’ decisions, a Council trying to write its own rules; damaging development approvals, and not genuinely consulting or listening to the community are characteristics of a culture that has infected our Councils over time.  That doesn't mean every Councillor or officer has had the disease, or that in recent years the culture didn't recede.  However, with this latest Council, that culture has surfaced as a re-energized, destructive force, that some see as a festering sore upon our democracy.

 

Minister for Local Government, Ms. Candy Broad, recently said in a Ministerial Statement delivered to the Legislative Council:

 

"We [the Bracks government] said we would make local government stronger, more democratic and more transparent.... I am proud to say we have delivered."  and 

 

"We have enabled local government to be more accountable and responsive to local communities."  and

 

"The Bracks government...amended the Local Government Act to establish clear accountability principles to better inform the local community and encourage community consultation.  We are working with the peak bodies to promote a culture of responsibility, accountability and sound governance..."

 

MRRA says, that's not how it is working in Macedon Ranges.

 

Although called upon to act in 2000 and 2002, the Bracks government has historically declined to intervene in planning and governance issues in Macedon Ranges, viewing intervention as "usurping a democratically elected government".  Most would agree that under 'good' or even 'normal' circumstances, to "usurp" would be wrong, and the government's position to be the correct one.  Yet, these aren't those circumstances.  How democratic is a Council that denies residents their democratic and legislated rights, and does not consistently act responsibly, with due diligence, with propriety, with transparency and accountability?   Where a code of conduct is seen by some as 'voluntary'?

 

If you think it is time for the State government to step in, tell your State politicians.  Click here for contact details. 

 

MRRA also needs your feedback, so send us your comments by email on: mrra.sec999@gmail.com  or by post: PO Box 359, Woodend, 3442; or by phone 5427 1481, 0411 580 363.

 

Roll Up, Roll Up - Get Your Subdivision Now.  Macedon Ranges Council Is Giving Away Free Lots!!!

(28/4/07 - P)  Mmm... this one had almost everything - muddled meeting process (again), changing votes, outlandish statements, a couple of bombshells, and of course the usual "blame someone else" and "throw the planning scheme out the window" events - and an old-fashioned land deal

What a tangled web they are weaving...   Here's some background on this subdivision application in Melton Road, Gisborne.

 

This was originally an application for 9 lots - lots which met the size requirements in the Gisborne Outline Development (ODP) adopted by Council.  After later finding that some 7000 square metres would need to be set aside as a reserve to protect significant native vegetation on the land, back came a revised application to Council's 11th April meeting - this time for 12 lots (including the reserve).   At that meeting, however, the application was found to be missing a vital ingredient - a development plan (which must be approved before Council can even consider issuing permits), so the whole shebang was deferred off to the next meeting on 18th April, 2007.  

 

With now 11 lots and a reserve proposed, the residential lots, of course, are much smaller - as Cr. Tom Gyorffy (West) later pointed out, the ODP cites 4000 square metres as the desirable lot size in this area, with a minimum lot size of 3,000 square metres, but the revised application had only one of 11 residential lots bigger than the ODP's minimum 3,000 square metres size.

 

Here's where it starts to get interesting.  At the 18th April meeting, Council's Director of Sustainable Development set the ball rolling by saying the latest (12 lot) application wasn't compliant with the Gisborne ODP.  Whereas the original plan had lots just under 4000 sq m, the revised plan has lots less than the minimum lot size contemplated by the ODP. 

 

Are you ready for the first bombshell?  The officer's written report to Council said that didn't matter.  More than that, the officer's report retained its earlier assessment of the original (9 lot) plan against the planning scheme's Development Plan Overlay (DPO) requirements, even though the application was now for 12 lots.  Huh?  But the topper was the officer's comment that Council didn't need to be too fussy about the application complying with the planning scheme's Development Plan Overlay requirements as long as --- the application complied with the Gisborne ODP.  Huh?? 

 

Cr. John Letchford (South), rather than defending his hometown's ODP quickly shafted it by asking Ms. Schilling its status, and she replied the ODP doesn't pass the test of being a seriously entertained document. In essence that meant it didn't have to be taken seriously. 

 

First off, Cr. Rob Guthrie (South) reiterated his request from the previous week that a condition be added requiring the subdivision to be sewered before it can proceed.  It was agreed such a condition could and would be added. 

 

Cr. Noel Harvey (West) moved the officer's recommendation to approve a permit (as amended above) but also wanted some changes of his own.  Those having been agreed to, Gisborne's Cr. John Letchford (South) seconded the motion.  Getting to his feet, Cr. Harvey quickly said the issue is balance.  He was surprised at Ms Schilling's comments about the ODP but said they strengthened his argument for approval.  He said that if Council could give a bit in other areas he believed Council had an obligation to do so.  The native vegetation area set aside in the subdivision will become an important part of vegetation links in the township.

 

The next bombshell came from Cr. Geoff Neil (East) who said he had no dispute with Cr. Harvey's comments, but...  The native vegetation reserve had come about through referral of the application to the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE), who said it wanted more land than in the originally proposed reserve. Cr. Neil said this latest plan had that, and another 11 lots. Cr. Neil then waxed lyrical about how this was an extraordinary subdivision - a prime piece of real estate which will yield maximum dollars for the proponent.  However, he had an issue with protecting native vegetation, saying the best people to do that would be DSE.  If Council took it on it would be regarded as an open space contribution.  He said he felt Council should be able to have its cake, and eat it too, and pointed out that Council doesn't have a development contributions plan.  He said he believed that since the reserve contained native vegetation, Council should give it to the people with the expertise (i.e. DSE) and so remove the onus from Council.  Council should also be saying to the developer that he is a lucky ducky, getting 3 extra lots, and so he should give Council  5% of the value of the land in cash (as well as handing over the native vegetation reserve to DSE).  He flagged an amendment to the permit conditions to include his ideas, which Cr. Sandra McGregor (East) alone supported.

 

The Mayor Cr. Helen Relph (South) at this stage advised Council it was dealing with both Cr. Neil's amendment and the original motion.  However as Cr. Rob Guthrie (South) began to speak against the proposal, Cr. Noel Harvey (West) called a point of order, saying Council couldn't follow such a process.  The Mayor then said Council could only consider Cr. Neil's amendment at this stage to which Cr. Harvey responded with the statement that Cr. Neil's proposal was nonsense.  He went on to say that the State government couldn't look after the land it already has, and it was an insult to ask the applicant to provide another 5%.  Cr. Henry Bleeck (East) didn't support the amendment either, also giving the State government a serve by saying State government land is a disaster, the State has a history of not looking after reserves and was incapable of looking after the new reserve.

 

Cr. Geoff Neil (East) summed up saying it was interesting how much Council was saying about how hopeless the State Government is at looking after land.  As it stood, Council would have to look after the land for something that wasn't its responsibility (i.e. native vegetation) all because DSE said the reserve had to be created.  Council was forced into it by a referral response, and shouldn't forego the extra 5%.  The motion was lost when only Cr. Geoff Neil (East) and Cr. Sandra McGregor (East) voted in favour, the other 7 Councillors voted against.

 

Debate then returned to the original motion (as amended earlier by agreement).  Cr. Rob Guthrie (South) resumed speaking, saying the application was fatally flawed, as was the process.  He expressed strong concerns that Council was again attempting to approve a "development plan" (which extinguishes residents' rights to be notified of and object to future development) without consulting the community.  He said if Council was about open, transparent government, it needs to say to Gisborne - hey, if we approve this it takes away your rights, have a say now.  Sounding exasperated, he pointed out that Development Plan Overlays (DPOs) have now been applied in most towns, and the process Council undertakes in dealing with them has implications across the Shire.  He referred to recent unfavourable experiences for Council at VCAT for failing to get DPO processes right, quoting VCAT's Helen Gibson "It does not appear that the council has a practice of separately endorsing plans as approved development plans under the Development Plan Overlay as recommended in the Planning Practice Note, Applying the Incorporated Plan Overlay and Development Plan Overlay".  He also pointed out that if Council supported the officer's recommendation, it would (on paper at least) be adopting a development plan for all of DPO Cell 4b, when it only had a development plan for this particular property, which is only a small part of Cell 4b, in front of it.  He asked, where is the development plan for the whole cell?  He reminded Council of the recent $4,500 costs awarded against it for issuing a permit without having an appropriate, approved development plan to hand.   He said Council couldn't move the application forward because it didn't have a development plan for all of DPO Cell 4b.

 

Cr. Tom Gyorffy (West) opposed the application on the basis that it didn't meet the requirements of the draft Gisborne/New Gisborne Outline Development Plan [for which Council is preparing a planning scheme amendment]. The land is located at the gateway to Gisborne. Cr. Gyorffy referred to Cr. Neil's impassioned plea last week to not allow two units at the gateway to Romsey, and said this land was just as important and this subdivision was as out of character as the Romsey application had been.  Cr. John Letchford (South) on the other hand said the Outline Development Plan was dead.  It had been around for 10 years and had never been finalised.  The application was the best outcome for the land and was in the best interests of the community.  It was a prime piece of land.

 

Cr. Noel Harvey (West) closed the debate saying the ODP wasn't a seriously entertained document - Councillors could shake their hands as much as they liked but it shouldn't be considered.  The proposal accorded with the planning scheme. This is a good outcome, don't be distracted by the ODP. 

 

At this point Cr. Geoff Neil (East) leapt to his feet, saying he was distressed and wanted an adjournment to discuss a matter with officers before Council made its decision.  The Mayor denied his request and proceeded to call for the vote.  A division was called which showed Crs. Noel Harvey (West), Henry Bleeck (East), Sandra McGregor (East), Helen Relph (South), John Letchford (South) and John Connor (West) supported approval, Crs. Geoff Neil (East), Tom Gyorffy (West) and Rob Guthrie (South) opposed.

 

MRRA Says:

 

We'll obviously have to come up with an alternative to 'dog's breakfast', because we can't keep using it all the time!  Nevertheless it goes some way to describing what has happened with this application, although we feel something stronger is called for. 

 

Now let's see.  This is what it looked like happened. 

 

DSE said save the trees, which it has the power to do.  That meant that roughly 17% of the land was given over to a Protected Vegetation reserve, responsibility for which would be Council's.  The thinking then seems to have been that carving the rest of the land up as per the ODP's 'large lot' requirements wouldn't yield enough financial return.  So, essentially, be blowed to the ODP, be blowed to good planning outcomes, be greedy instead.  And all but two of our Councillors (Guthrie and Gyorffy) fell for it, with two (Harvey and Neil) publicly promoting it, hence Cr. Harvey's comments about 'believing Council had an obligation to give a bit in other areas' [apparently in return for saving the trees], and Cr. Neil's comment about the developer being "a lucky ducky, getting 3 extra lots" and so should give Council money as well as land.  In other words, some of our Councillors knowingly and publicly acknowledged a deal was being done, contrary to planning requirements, that helped the developer. 

 

A couple of other items caught our attention as well:

 

For starters, the Gisborne Outline Development Plan HAS NOT been around for 10 years as Cr. Letchford claimed, consultation processes for it began in 2005.  It has $25,000 of State government money in it and is starting to look like a stop-start-stop disaster - well, at least in the hands of Macedon Ranges Councillors and the Department's office at Bendigo.  MRRA would like to know why a document which Council voted to move forward to an amendment to the planning scheme (C59) only 2 months ago, is now NOT a seriously entertained document.  We've asked it before, and we'll ask again, what's going on with the Gisborne ODP?  Who doesn't want it?

 

We got the distinct impression from Cr. Harvey's closing comments that he may not be entirely clear on the difference between an ODP and a DPO. 

 

What's an ODP?  It's a strategic framework, a plan, that sets out a vision and future directions for an area or town.

 

What's a DPO?  It's a statutory provision in planning schemes, an overlay that must be complied with, which is (usually) applied to undeveloped land and triggers a requirement for a development plan to be prepared and approved (showing in detail how the land will be developed) before any permits can be approved to develop the land.

 

Not knowing the difference just cost Council $4,500 at VCAT.  So when Cr. Neil said he was distressed, and wanted to talk to officers, how much do you want to bet that the penny had finally dropped that Council was doing it again?  Still, there aren't any objectors to this proposal as far as we know, so Council is likely to get away scot-free on this one.

 

Cr. Neil's comments that native vegetation wasn't Council's responsibility were extraordinary, to say the least!  Where has he been while the world changed?  And far from defending Gisborne's gateway as he had the week before Romsey's gateway, alas Cr. Neil did not bring forth an alternative motion to refuse this application.  Seems, as we suspected, refusals only apply in Geoff's home town of Romsey. 

 

And lastly, did Cr. McGregor change her vote?  It seemed she voted against the proposal but when a division was called, voted for it.

 

Not happy with how your Councillors are performing?  Then start thinking about who will replace them in 2008.

 

First Planning, And Now Democracy, Crash In Macedon Ranges

(9/4/07 - C)  The way this Council is going, are there any takers on how long it will be before 'Finances' joins Planning and Democracy in the 'not working' bin?

It is pretty well established by now that most of our current Councillors don't seem to know about planning or care about getting good development outcomes (look at how they overturned Panel recommendations on C47, approved Macedon Lodge, etc).  And we know they don't seem to have quite caught hold of the concept of accountability (look at the Code of Conduct adopted late last year).  So, how are they on consulting the community?   No, there's not much joy there either because now most of our Councillors have officially decided that listening to the community is just getting too much like hard work.

 

At last Wednesday's Council committee meeting most of our Councillors took another step away from 'commitment to the community' when they voted 7 to 1 to set up a 3 Councillor committee to hear community submissions on Council issues (under Section 223 of the Local Government Act).  Up until now, those community submissions (e.g. on the budget, land sales etc) had been heard by full Council.  Now, what the community has to say will be filtered back to the other Councillors via the Mayor of the day, and one Councillor from each other ward (and don't we all wonder who they might be?).  MRRA's information is that only Cr. Rob Guthrie (South Ward) opposed going down this path.  NB  Cr. Tom Gyorffy (West Ward) left the meeting early and was absent for this vote.

 

Terrible Report Card For Macedon Ranges Council As VCAT Awards $4,500 Costs Against It

(9/4/07 - P)  A reasonable Council wouldn't have done it, says VCAT.  Council comes a cropper and cops a caning - fundamental errors become yet another cost to this community.

Sloppy, stupid, stubborn - those are the messages between the lines of the VCAT decisions (P2263/06 & P2434/06) that ultimately saw Council have costs awarded against it earlier this year.  It happened this way...  Someone at Council made the extraordinary decision to say the Gisborne Outline Development Plan, a piece of purely strategic planning work, satisfied the STATUTORY requirements of the Development Plan Overlay (which stipulates that there must be an approved development plan before permits can be approved for land affected by the DPO).  Council was warned it was making a monumental mistake but pushed on regardless, saying the ODP was good enough for it to issue a permit for a 12 lot subdivision at 147 - 159 Aitken Street Gisborne.  VCAT said, not on your nelly, and took the permit away.  It's rare for VCAT to award costs, but VCAT member Philip Martin's exasperation with Council is unambiguous (and the language unusually blunt) in these extracts from the 20th February 2007 VCAT order for costs.  No doubt many Macedon Ranges' resident will mutter 'been there, done that' as they empathise with the member's frustration... 

 

"19    In these circumstances, I consider that "clear warning bells" should have been ringing with Council, and I would have expected a reasonable Council to have obtained legal advice from its specialist lawyers on this whole issue.

 

22    In summary, I consider that Council took a reckless and cavalier approach in failing to come to terms with the clear and repeated warnings from Mr and Mrs Woolley that there was a major due process problem with Council’s support for the subdivision process vis-a-viz the procedural requirements of the DPO.  I also consider that it does not make the Tribunal’s task any easier when Council fails to meet a very sensible request by the Woolleys that the relevant Council minutes be tabled at the hearing before me.  In my view, if Council had properly investigated the situation in the period after the lodging of the Application for Review (and had properly responded to the abovementioned correspondence from the Woolleys), the correct status of the Gisborne Outline Development Plan would have been clarified at an earlier stage and the 23 November hearing could have been avoided.

 

23    Relying on my findings above that the Council acted in a reckless and cavalier manner, and that the 23 November 2006 hearing might otherwise have been avoided, these findings weigh very heavily against Council in relation to:

24     This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that when Maddocks solicitors on behalf of Council did provide me with its 8 December 2006 opinion on the status of the document endorsed by Council on 13 September 2006, Maddocks (quite properly) did not even attempt to justify this situation as meeting the requirements of the ODP [sic].  Could the correct position have been any clearer?"

 

Cr. Geoff Neil Pleads For Vote To Stop Medium Density In Romsey

(17/4/07 - P)  In the flip of a lip, the man who said the planning scheme's rural policies were "cobblers" begs for support for non-existent policy to save Romsey

You could have been excused for wishing you'd brought the box of Kleenex to last Wednesday's (11th) Planning Committee meeting where an excruciatingly 'nice' Cr. Geoff Neil almost got down on his knees trying to convince other Councillors to refuse an application for two units in Reynolds Grove, Romsey.  So intent on convincing them was he, the man who seems to usually not want a bar of anything in the planning scheme (except where it says 'not prohibited') actually hung his argument on POLICY.  Well, sort of.  More like he hung his hat on policy that isn't yet policy but might be, one day.  The sight of Cr. 'Cobblers' Neil holding up the still-in-its-infancy Romsey Outline Development Plan map that showed the subject land outside the boundary of where units will be considered - well, it really did take the biscuit.  The things we do...

 

MRRA Says:

My, how the worm turns.  The side-splitter in all of this is that it is Cr. Neil himself who slams others for 'selectively' picking out just the bits that support their arguments!   Seems one day policy doesn't count, the next day it does (but only in Romsey it seems).  Thanks for such a shining example of what you are talking about, Geoff.  The application deserved to be knocked off because it was plain old bad planning, not because of Cr. Neil's almost Academy-award winning performance.

 

It will be interesting to see if Cr. Geoff goes in as hard on and applies the same policy principles to an application coming up on Wednesday 18th, where a 12 lot subdivision proposal in Melton Road Gisborne, which conflicts with the much-further-along Gisborne Outline Development Plan, will come before Council.  Our money says that, because the proposal is in Gisborne (i.e. not Romsey), Cr. Geoff won't be moving a motion to refuse, won't be pleading with other Councillors to say 'no', but will be back playing his more regular role of the character who pooh-poohs policy and merrily promotes if not drives approval of applications - as long as it's not in Romsey!   What do you reckon?

 

 

Cr. Geoff Neil Says Macedon Ranges Planning Scheme Is 'A Load Of Cobblers'

(28/3/07 - P)  East Ward Councillor demands to know what it will take for some Councillors to approve houses on rural land

It's a little while ago now but at Council's 14 February Planning Committee meeting there were some noteworthy comments made by some Councillors in debates over applications for permits for yet more houses on small lots in rural zones.  There were three applications before Council (two in drinking water catchments), all with officer recommendations to refuse. 

 

Cr. John Connor put forward an alternative motion to approve the first application, in a Farming zone in Fagan's Lane, Goldie, but Council deferred making a decision pending negotiations between the applicant, Council and objectors (Crs. Tom Gyorffy, Rob Guthrie and Noel Harvey opposed).  Crs. Noel Harvey and John Connor put forward an alternative motion to approve the second application, in a Farming zone east of Malmsbury, which saw the application approved against the officer's recommendation (Crs. Tom Gyorffy, Rob Guthrie and John Letchford opposed).  The third, in a Rural Conservation zone at Hickey Road Woodend (next to Campaspe Reservoir) was again the subject of an alternative motion to approve put forward by Cr. John Connor.  However the application was deferred off for some further negotiation between Council and the applicant. The motion carried by Council was moved Cr. John Connor and seconded by Cr. John Letchford that "the matter be deferred to the next Ordinary Council meeting and Officers be requested to bring forward conditions to enable Council to consider approval of the permit". (Note: this third application was subsequently refused by Council at its 28th February meeting).

 

The noteworthy part comes from the fact that both Crs. Noel Harvey and John Connor admitted in debate that they knew approval of the applications wasn't supported by the planning scheme, with Cr. Connor adding, re the third application, that planning should be about people, especially people who have done the right thing.  Cr. Geoff Neil's frustration with planning controls was visible when he said after the first application was deferred that he had "heard all the words about how the proposal is contrary to the scheme" - he then pointed to the notice paper in front of him and said "these statements [from the scheme] are a load of cobblers".  His frustration become blatant when he stood after the second application was approved and said he would like to know what it would take for those who oppose to support houses on rural land.

 

MRRA Says:

It perhaps hasn't occurred to Cr. Geoff, Cr. Noel, Cr. John C. and others that there are people out there wondering what it's going to take to get some of our Councillors to start treating the planning scheme as the legally binding document it actually is.  What is it going to take for some Councillors to not approve every application for a house on a rural lot, particularly in drinking water catchments where every new house is another nail in the coffin as far as having catchments that produce lots of clean water go. 

 

What some Councillors don't seem to understand is that the three applications before them for refusal constituted only a small proportion of the total applications made, the rest of which were presumably approved. 

 

It's not unusual at planning committee meetings for at least one ('wanting to approve') Councillor to say 'we (i.e. Councillors) have discretion'.   MRRA would desperately like someone who knows the difference between discretion and open slather to explain to these people that approving everything that comes across the desk is NOT exercising discretion... to explain that just because something isn't prohibited doesn't give it an automatic right to be approved...  to explain that "the applicants are nice people" isn't a sound or acceptable basis for giving someone a planning permit.  We don't let people drive on the wrong side of the road because they are 'nice'.  Why then do some of our Councillors think they can run their own show and make their own rules - and exceptions - when it comes to planning?

 

MRRA Presentation and Deputy Ombudsman's Submission Fall On Fallow Ground:  Code Of Conduct Hijacked For Some "Simplification" As Most Councillors Baulk At Prohibition On Meeting Privately With Developers

(14/10/06 - C)   Isn't this the type of behaviour that led to Royal Commissions in Queensland and NSW?  How much longer do residents have to put up with Councillors who seem to think they can do whatever they want?  Doesn't the Bracks government care?

In a move that perhaps sums up what's wrong with Councils under the Bracks' government's watch, at last week's Council Policy and Issues Committee meeting, five Macedon Ranges' Councillors decided they weren't having the revised Councillor Code of Conduct presented for adoption.  Note: Cr. Noel Harvey (West) was absent.

 

After MRRA's oral presentation (Click here), Cr. Rob Guthrie (South) moved, and Cr. Tom Gyorffy (West) seconded, a motion to adopt the Code. Cr. Helen Relph (South) opposed, kicking off the debate.  It soon became clear others weren't buying it either.  They tip-toed around, avoiding an outright 'no', before falling back on that old standard, "let's send it off to a sub-committee of Councillors". 

CE Ian Morris made it clear at the outset that for the Code to have any meaning Councillors needed to agree to it by consensus - a split vote would not be enough.

 

Cr. Rob Guthrie (South) said the Code was an excellent document.  He referred to extensive email traffic between Councillors in the days prior to the meeting, and knew of some concerns expressed about the content but said they were management issues.  Some Councillors had concerns with 9.2 (the section of the Code that said no private meetings with developers) but council needed to say to people these are the standards. For example, if your next door neighbour puts in an application, just tell them you can't discuss it without compromising your position - real friends won't do that to you.  This is a standard for ourselves.  He said submission comments were excellent and adopting this Code would be the outstanding achievement of the Council year, adding he had received calls from around the State - people were watching what this Council did.  Council could lift the bar and the community would be pleased if it did. 

 

Cr. Helen Relph (South) likewise said the Code was excellent but... she had problems with Planning Application Conference [PAC] guidelines being included in the Code, citing that if the guidelines changed the Code would have to be changed, so it would be better to leave them out of the Code in the first place.  There were a couple of things but she didn't want to go into detail.  A couple of little things needed to be tweaked. 

 

Cr. Henry Bleeck (East) said he was concerned with the PAC processes - he wasn't going to be a puppet to Council officers [the Code says an officer, not councillor, should chair PAC meetings] and asked who was running the show, Councillors or Council officers.  He added he represents the view of ratepayers and their view is that he is ethical. 

 

Cr. Tom Gyorffy (West) spoke at some length, firstly reassuring Cr. Bleeck that Council is a corporate body where officers carry out policy, who's running it is irrelevant.  He said the Code had its genesis in the OEDC Code for Officers, which had been created so there would be confidence in how Officers performed. He referred to ICAC [Independent Commission Against Corruption], a body in NSW, and an equivalent organisation in Queensland, that were set up after corruption inquiries in both states and said how ICAC aimed to achieve proper and ethical standards in government.  He told Councillors to first get a Code; the aim of having a Code is to avoid situations the Code describes.  He responded to criticism of there being too much information in the Code by saying it was better to find all rules in one document, and added he would like to see an officers' Code as well.  He urged Councillors to understand that the Code needed to be a contract between Councillors and the community, 'our' agreement with them and what they expect. He said in planning, Council deals with the private rights of individuals; it needs to act clearly at arm's-length and must also be seen to act that way.  He assured Councillors that setting standards [by adopting the Code] was not a slight on their character; adopting the Code is simply saying that the community can have confidence in how Councillors will act.  Cr. Gyorffy confessed that he personally thought a harder line should have been adopted - no meetings with developers at all - but having to have an officer present at such meetings was a compromise he could live with.  He added that the problem isn't just having meetings, it's also what is said at the meetings, and having a witness provides protection for all Councillors; it makes it an open  process.  He endorsed Cr. Guthrie's comments and urged his colleagues to present something to the State of Victoria that is a shining light of this year, to go with the Code as something that could be promoted to other bodies.

 

Cr. John Letchford (South) said there were glitches and mis-matches and there are other concerns that still have to be done. The Code needs work.  He flagged he would move an alternative motion to form a working party to review submissions and bring the Code back to a Councillor briefing session.  Like Cr. Relph, he also didn't support PAC Guidelines being included in the Code, saying a PAC is a separate process from policy.  He said if a friend has a development application, it can be covered under declarations made at the beginning of meetings [declarations of conflict of interest].  He said the Code was becoming a sea of words and was over-stated if a Councillor was acting honestly.  The Code was missing the salient points and was a whole list of rules and regulations; it was clouded, and had glitches and mis-matches.  He finished by saying the Code needs to be streamlined, so pull up a committee of 3 Councillors and look at alternatives.  There were a whole lot of other things that could be thrown in - such as natural justice - but the Code needed to be clear and concise and give guidance to community members.

 

Cr. Geoff Neil (East) said you're either ethical or you're not - that's what he believes. He refuted - wholeheartedly refuted - the intimation that if people didn't sign the Code they were crooks.   He didn't have problems with the Code, it just needed a bit of polish.  He thought looking at it would be a good thing, a couple of issues need to be cleared up, but he couldn't accept it in its current form. That wasn't a rejection, it just needs further enhancement.

 

The quote of the night came from CE Ian Morris when he took issue with Cr. Bleeck's comments about officers, and ended saying he wouldn't have a bar of decisions made in the backroom. 

 

Cr. Guthrie closed saying it had been interesting listening to the discussion.  He had hoped there would be consensus.  He recommended the Code, as is, to all saying if it is referred to a Councillor committee, there might not be much left of it when it came back, as had happened with another policy (Dwellings in Rural Areas).  He finished by saying the Code was an excellent document and he intended to abide by it.  

 

Cr. John Letchford objected to Cr. Guthrie's comment about the Rural policy (Cr. Letchford was a member of the committee that 'reviewed' that policy).  Note:  Crs. Letchford, Relph and McGregor "simplified" Council's Dwellings and Subdivision in Rural Areas policy.  Click here to see MRRA's report on what was left of the policy after the Councillors turned their attention to it.

 

The motion to adopt the Code  was put, and was supported only by Crs. Guthrie and Gyorffy.  Cr. John Letchford then moved his alternative motion, seconded by Cr. Helen Relph, that  the Code be shipped off to a 3 member committee, and that all submitters be thanked.  The motion was carried. 

 

Crs. Letchford and Relph nominated to be on the (sub-)committee.  Cr. Gyorffy made a late nomination and became the third committee member.

 

MRRA Says:

 

In our oral presentation to Council, MRRA said to the Councillors:

 

"You asked people to trust you when you asked them to vote for you.  The very least you owe your constituents is to pledge in writing to act accountably and to meet standards acceptable to the community.   You can do that by adopting the revised Code, here tonight."

 

But they didn't.  Is that a sign of the low regard most of our Councillors have for the people who voted for them, and for the principles of accountability that matter to the broader community?

 

Cr. John Letchford asked the only question of MRRA.  He wanted to know how MRRA operated, if we had a Code of Conduct.  We said that as an incorporated association, we don't have a Code such as the one proposed for Council but do operate under the Associations' Incorporation Act.  Cr. Letchford then asked if it wasn't therefore equally sufficient for Council to simply operate under the Local Government Act and not have a Code.  We told the Councillor he was hardly making an apples-for-apples comparison, and he backed away.   In MRRA's mind, the question was out of order in the first place.

 

Is it just MRRA, or is there is something a tad "off" with someone in that position trying to compare the operating processes of a not-for-profit community group with those of a Council, and apparently attempting to justify Council not having a Code because the community group doesn't have one? 

 

In any event, anyone who knows anything about incorporated associations would know it is mandatory, under the Associations' Incorporation Act, for an association to have adopted Rules before an association can even be registered. Those Rules must contain specified elements such as dispute resolution processes and processes for taking action against those who breach the Rules or bring the association into disrepute.  Come to think of it - maybe incorporated associations have to meet higher standards than this Council seems to want to!  And that's in addition to having to hold elections EVERY YEAR.  Now there's a mouth-watering thought...

 

 

Is Council About To 'Come A Gutser' As A Fatal Flaw In The Original Gisborne Call Centre Permit Is Exposed?  Permit Under Formal Legal Challenge - Applicant Could Be Forced To Start Again

(30/9/06 - P)  But no sense of danger as "back-flip with pike and double-twist" by Crs. Letchford and Relph ensures Mayor's rescission motion gets up and the trail of Council blunders continues.

 

The Gisborne Call Centre debacle continued at last Wednesday's Council meeting.  Examples of Council 'dropping the ball' are already substantial (e.g. no community consultation, a rolling series of significant amendments, behind closed doors decision-making, councillors walking out, a late objection ignored, a meeting without standing orders, minutes opposed as incorrect, etc.), but the clanger Cr. Rob Guthrie (South) dropped out last Wednesday produced the same shocked, absolute silence the passing of a death sentence does.

 

Background:  Two weeks ago (13 September), an attempt to move this mess forward by fobbing off responsibility for Permit Amendments 3 and 4 by delegating decisions to Council officers fell over when Crs. John Letchford and Helen Relph (both South ward) abandoned their previous support for the development and voted (with Crs. Gyorffy, Guthrie and McGregor) to advise the developer that Council required a new permit process if he wanted to go as far as Amendment number 4. See earlier MRRA reportMayor Geoff Neil (East), who opposed the "starting again" motion, subsequently whipped in a rescission motion to overturn the 13th September motion, and the rescission was up for approval last Wednesday night. 

 

Wednesday 27th September:  Enter Crs. Letchford and Relph with their award-winning backflip, with Cr. Letchford in sensational form as he seconded motions to firstly consider the Call Centre application, and then to rescind the 13 September 'start again' resolution (er... a resolution he also seconded!).   Mayor Geoff Neil (East) said the 13 September motion was flawed - i.e. Council couldn't instruct the applicant to resubmit the application, and it didn't state what type of advertising process would be done.  Cr. Tom Gyorffy (West) replied saying there is no need to specify the advertizing process because Section 52 of the Planning and Environment Act follows as a matter of course, and the motion was perfectly OK.  He added that Council could simply say 'NO, you're not getting Amendment 4 - you put in a new application'.   He defied anyone to tell him where this permit was up to, and said Council was considering bits without looking at the whole.  He, along with Crs. Rob Guthrie (South) and Sandra McGregor (East), opposed the rescission but it was approved on the votes of Crs. Letchford (South), Relph (South), Harvey (West), Neil (East), Bleeck (East) and Connor (West).

 

Having got rid of the motion to 'start again', next came a motion to crank the Call Centre forward again: Part A of the motion in the circulated meeting papers dealt with Amendment 3 and the permit for it issued in August without considering an objection Council had received. It included a recommendation to cancel that permit at VCAT and issue a new amended permit after 'considering' the objection (Note: Part A also included the new amended permit for approval).  Part B approved Amendment 4 (without resolving Amendment 3).  Part C said that if an appeal is lodged at VCAT Council would adopt Amendment 4 as its position.

 

The Mayor stepped up to the plate and moved yet another alternative motion, that Part B alone of the officer's recommendations be adopted, and he was seconded by Cr. Noel Harvey (West).  The Mayor told Councillors they didn't need to debate the merits, they just needed to determine Amendment 4 which was substantially better than Amendment 3 (Council had had legal advice). 

 

Cr. Rob Guthrie (South) opposed, and dropped a bombshell.  He began by saying he had been going over what Council had done.  There were 3 permit triggers - Use, Parking, and amending a development plan.  In December 2005 Council looked at refusing 14 shops on the site but instead deferred making a decision.  When that application later came back to Council, changes had been made and the shops were approved with stringent conditions on the development plan.  He couldn't find those conditions on the permit issued in May 2006.  He couldn't make sense of the May Planning Committee minutes either - until he read the officer's recommendation, Part A of which was to change the development plan from that approved in December, and Part B the permit that was to issue.  However on 24 May, Council had received an alternative Part B on the night that didn't include Part A (the necessary change to the development plan).  Council went on to approve the permit (Part B), but not Part A, the changed development plan that needed to be approved before Council could issue a permit. That is, unless Council changed the development plan it couldn't issue a permit.  Cr. Guthrie said the development plan had not been amended since December and so Council shouldn't have issued a permit in May.  The permit was illegal.  As for giving notice, planning scheme exemptions from giving notice didn't apply to the Use or development plan permit triggers, so the argument that Council didn't need to give notice are flawed.

 

Cr. Tom Gyorffy (West) stood and said all permits (amendments) were invalid - if it doesn't comply, you get nothing.  He said he had been sending emails around to Councillors telling them the permit was invalid.  There were also problems with parking - it was less than half what the planning scheme wants.  The whole thing was a disaster because all the way through people had only kept an eye on getting 300 jobs in Gisborne.  He thundered that Council was here for the planning scheme, not an economic scheme, and still hasn't asked the public what they want.  He said the situation can only be fixed by starting again. The permit is illegal, the motion is not supportable, and Council shouldn't continue down that path.  Cr. Gyorffy then asked if the legal advice obtained by Council, which said Council could approve Amendment 4, had been made in the knowledge that Council had failed to amend the development plan in May, and was told no-one knew.

 

The room was very quiet as the Mayor spoke, awkwardly trying to justify the shortfall in parking spaces, saying legal opinions vary (Cr. Gyorffy told him to make sure he picked the right one), and saying one of the reasons he liked the call centre was because it would give the Gisborne business sector renewed life. He urged Councillors to endorse Part B as a way forward that was supported by officers and legal advice.  And he got that endorsement from Crs. Noel Harvey, John Letchford, Henry Bleeck, Helen Relph and John Connor.

 

Crs. Tom Gyorffy, Rob Guthrie and Sandra McGregor opposed.  

 

The Mayor then moved another, previously unannounced motion, that Council give delegated authority to Ms Veronica Schilling to consider and amend the permit Council had just voted to issue - minor amendments only, nothing of substance.  Cr. John Letchford seconded the motion.  Cr. Tom Gyorffy opposed, quickly standing and saying it was outrageous to consider even more changes.  He said there were 'hundreds' of problems with the proposal - carparks, bits of verandah overhangs that would be taken off by trucks and so on.  How many more goes was the applicant going to get?  He said it was a joke, and the applicant should be told there would be no more chances without going through hoops. 

 

Nevertheless, the same old voting block - Letchford, Relph, Neil, Connor, Bleeck, Harvey - passed the motion to delegate, and the same Councillors opposed: Gyorffy, Guthrie McGregor.

 

MRRA Says:

 

If it wasn't so serious, it would be Keystone Kops, wet-your-pants funny...  

 

The amended 'permit' so courageously approved by six Councillors after Cr. Guthrie's comments reads like a 'to-do' list. 

 

The applicant still has to amend plans to change the facade of the building; find more on-site parking spaces by rearranging the internal site layout or reducing office and retail floorspace; find a way to overcome the problem of some cars in the first floor carpark having to reverse out of the building and site; fix the loading bay problems (on the plans, the truck is significantly larger than the loading bay); and all signs need another permit.  Minor changes?  Nothing of substance?  To fix all these problems should need a complete redesign - and a completely new permit!   And all of it being done without community consultation, under officer delegation. 

 

What are the ramifications for Council if Cr. Guthrie's position is upheld by the formal legal opinion he asked the Chief Executive to obtain?  Well, for starters, the applicant doesn't have any permit except the one issued last December for 14 single-storey shops.  Secondly, Council could face being sued by the applicant. 

 

And what about the lone objector?  Through its dodging and weaving approach Council has failed to deal with Amendment 3 at all even though by its own admission it has incorrectly issued a permit, and has a legitimate objection to it.  It seems this is to be ignored as, it appears, is the objector.  Although if reports MRRA is getting of the objector being 'heavied' to withdraw his objection are true, there might be a whole other chapter unfolding.

 

But all is not lost.  Last Wednesday night Council issued a Notice of Decision to Grant an Amended Permit.  THAT MEANS THERE ARE 21 DAYS IN WHICH TO APPEAL COUNCIL'S DECISION AND THIS NOW OPENS THE DOOR FOR THE COMMUNITY TO TAKE THIS FIASCO TO VCAT.  BECAUSE THERE IS A WRITTEN OBJECTION, ANY PERSON WHO IS AFFECTED BY THE PROPOSAL CAN APPLY FOR LEAVE FROM VCAT TO HAVE COUNCIL'S DECISION REVIEWED.  

 

We are a very long way from the end of this, but isn't it already time for heads to roll, including the heads of some Councillors?

 

"Pull Up The Drawbridge, Flood The Moat" - Council Dives Back Into The Bunker Of Behind Closed Doors 'Briefing' Sessions

(30/9/06 - C)  Seems some Councillors just can't cope without them

It seems some Councillors are blaming the horrid things that are going wrong at Council on not being well-enough briefed.  The charge to take Councillors (well, those that attend briefing meetings) back behind closed doors was led by Cr. John Letchford (South) who put up a motion to overturn Council's reluctant decision earlier this month to go with only one all-afternoon briefing meeting each month.  He wanted 3 all-afternoon meetings a month.  Mayor Geoff Neil (East) seconded the motion.   Both said having briefings would make for better and more informed decisions.  Cr. Letchford argued that going back to having briefings was one way of deliberating.  It was part of a Councillor's commitment to attend and Councillors owed it to the officers, it would allow flexibility.  He said that with the Gisborne Call Centre, if Council had had longer briefing sessions everyone would have been up to speed.  Council needs to look at things in a reasonable and relaxed time.  Cr. Helen Relph (South), supporting the motion, said briefings were the only way of being informed, if Council wasn't informed how could it make informed decisions?  Cr. Noel Harvey (West) said briefings were part of getting informed, and he was never fully informed from briefing meetings.  It was a way of discussing the pros and cons and forming a decision/position. Councillors should be prepared to put the time in.  Cr. Rob Guthrie (South) said his commitment when he stood for Council last year was to the program in place at that time, as approved by Councillors in 2004 and on 4th September 2006.  When he ran for Council he was committed to that program and knew exactly what he was taking on.  Others are trying to change it.  He pointed out that the Policy and Issues, and Finance and Operations, committees were in fact briefing meetings open to the public; if others wanted an afternoon briefing as well, Council may as well get rid of the committees, and do it now.   Cr. Tom Gyorffy opposed as well, confirming that the committees were briefings held in public and that the others were missing the point.   He holds particular concerns that afternoon briefings are being used as a substitute for Council meetings. Also that briefings are held on the same day the decision is made.  He said it was a nonsense to have more briefings - half the Councillors aren't there anyway, and he doubted if Councillors got more from them than they were getting now - if Councillors read their notice papers.

 

The motion was carried, with the additional proviso that the three all-afternoon Wednesday briefings be held on an "as required" basis, with the support of Crs. Geoff Neil (East), Noel Harvey (West), John Connor (West), John Letchford (South), Helen Relph (South) and Henry Bleeck (East).  Crs. Tom Gyorffy (West), Rob Guthrie (South) and Sandra McGregor (East) opposed.

 

The motion was carried, with the additional proviso that the three all-afternoon Wednesday briefings be held on an "as required" basis, with the support of Crs. Geoff Neil (East), Noel Harvey (West), John Connor (West), John Letchford (South), Helen Relph (South) and Henry Bleeck (East).  Crs. Tom Gyorffy (West), Rob Guthrie (South) and Sandra McGregor (East) opposed.

 

MRRA Says:

From what we see at Council and Committee meetings, it's doubtful if 10 briefings a month would improve the quality of decision-making processes - or decisions.  If you don't get it, you just don't get it - right? 

 

What we have seen walking into the chamber is an agreed position - agreed between those who attended the afternoon meetings.  All you have to do is watch faces.  Who knows, and who doesn't.  Eye contact here, the lift of an eyebrow there. Out roll the changes and alternative motions made as a result of the afternoon briefing: agreed positions.  Out rolls the bombastic posturing.  Then there's the principle applied by some that making the decision is all-important - e.g. plough on, a bad decision is better than no decision.  How do briefing sessions change the 'gotta-make-a-decision' mentality?  

 

There's not a lot of democracy or merit in how decisions are being made, particularly when only some Councillors attend the briefings. The fact that dealing with issues in public makes so many of our Councillors uncomfortable says something too.  And as for Cr. Letchford's recent argument that briefings help Councillors avoid asking stupid and moronic questions in chamber - nice thought, but will it work?  We aren't holding our breath...

 

Those Councillors who supported "pulling up the drawbridge" again put up arguments that were fairly pathetic and just a teensy bit see-through and self-serving.  From the rhetoric in chamber in recent weeks, it might not be difficult for a reasonable person to form a view that what this is really about is hiding ignorance, protecting images, maintaining power blocks and controlling outcomes - and that works better behind closed doors.  Or at least some think it does.  NB  The Gisborne Call Centre is just one example of what goes wrong when what should be done in public is done behind closed doors.

 

Crs. Gyorffy, Guthrie And McGregor Accuse Other Councillors Of Making "Secret" Council Decisions At Behind-Closed-Doors Briefing Sessions:  "We Aren't Being Consulted About 'Council' Decisions"

(12/9/06 - C)  Council is dysfunctional, says Cr. Gyorffy - Council should operate in public so everyone knows, not make decisions at afternoon briefings behind closed doors.

It got a bit lively at last Wednesday's Council Committee meeting over claims decisions are being made at 'secret' briefing meetings only some Councillors attend. 

 

As Council considered its briefing meeting cycle Officer Stephen Mahon explained that at an earlier facilitated meeting on Council's Code of Conduct for Councillors, management of business had been addressed and the proposal before Councillors responded to core issues raised.   It was proposed to have no briefings on Policy and Issues, and Finance and Management, Committee meeting days (1st Wednesday of the month);  on Planning Committee meeting days (2nd Wednesday) briefings would be tailored to accommodate matters to be addressed; and on Council meeting days (4th Wednesday), briefings would start at 3.00pm.

 

Cr. Tom Gyorffy (West ward) wanted more information on the wording of a recommendation that Council meet on Planning Committee days...' to receive presentations from other parties', asking what was contemplated.  Mr. Mahon replied past practice was to accept presentations from developers at briefing meetings, and from time to time, presentations on other issues are also made.

 

Cr. Geoff Neil (East) wanted a change to the recommendation to include the Mayor being consulted in relation to scheduling meetings for the budget - he wanted discretion for Councillors as well as the Chief Executive.  He asked other Councillors if the recommendations allowed enough time to address all the issues.  A surprised-looking Mr. Mahon said that at the earlier Code of Conduct Review,  legitimate issues had been raised about timing and briefings and sharing information amongst Councillors, and he thought it had been agreed this was the way to go.  The Chief Executive, Ian Morris, explained that a starting time had not been assigned to planning days to allow flexibility, but briefings would probably start at 1 or 2 pm, and the proposed changes related to starting times for Council meeting days (3pm), and only having two briefings a month. 

 

Cr. Noel Harvey (West) said that was far too prescriptive - briefings may need to start earlier.  He had no problems with the principle of 3pm but setting a starting time meant the meeting couldn't start before then.  He also objected to being restricted (on the 3rd Wednesday, when formal meetings are usually not held) to being restricted to dealing only with "Ward based community engagement and consultation" and wanted it changed to include 'any other matters as required'.   The CE explained scheduled meeting times provide a framework for officers to schedule other meetings.  Cr. Noel Harvey (West) then moved the officer's recommendation with changes he wanted, Mayor Geoff Neil (East) seconded, if a change was made to allow the Mayor to be consulted about the CE's scheduling of some meetings. Cr. Harvey (West) said he was happy with that, arguing there was no flexibility without the proposed changes, for example today started at 5, could have moved it back to 4.  He didn't want restrictions on what could be dealt with on the 3rd Wednesday - he had put aside Wednesdays as "Council Day".

 

Cr. Tom Gyorffy (West) opposed, saying when council had its facilitated meeting on the Code of Conduct, one thing was clearly understood: briefing = briefing, not back-door meetings.  In the last two months there had often been instances of only some Councillors making decisions before coming to Chamber.  That meant other Councillors had no input into decisions.  Cr. Geoff Neil (East) asked for examples; Cr. Gyorffy (West) said he was coming to that, then added on 12 July there had been an afternoon briefing meeting - while the CE had been on leave - in which restrictions on the number of people permitted on-site at the Gisborne Call Centre - an issue strongly debated in open Chamber in May - were changed from 80 people to 150 people.  That decision never came back to any meeting of Council, and then a permit issued based on the change.  At the last meeting in Romsey, regarding the settlement of the Kyneton Bowling Club matter, there was another afternoon briefing when other Councillors were not present, and they weren't told of the decision that some had made.  These three Councillors asked questions at the real meeting, thinking the matter was under discussion, but the decision had already been made.  Cr. Gyorffy (West) said the previous Sunday he had sent an email trying to fix the permit for the Call Centre (relating to adoption of minutes), but it was discussed in the afternoon briefing, and the motion was put, only no-one told those who weren't at the briefing.  Then when he tried to explain what should be done, it made no difference because what had been decided in the afternoon went through.  Cr. Gyorffy (West) said this Council is dysfunctional, and he couldn't support this meeting/briefing situation.  Council should operate in public so everyone knows, not afternoon briefings behind closed doors.  He referred to the 1999 Hunt Report on Council processes, which found briefings were OK but held well before meetings, not on the same day, and finished saying that as far as presentations by developers to briefings went, that matter was being addressed in the draft Code of Conduct and shouldn't even be on the briefing schedule.

 

Mayor Geoff Neil (East) replied he could easily respond to each point raised by Cr. Gyorffy, but instead insisted no decision had been made in the instances detailed, and there had only been discussions between staff and Councillors on 12 July - and the decision was made under delegation anyway.  He wasn't convinced there was anything not correct or wrong done.

 

Cr. Rob Guthrie (South) responded saying what is discussed at briefings is not public.  He was at the 12 July briefing and the Mayor's recollection of events was incorrect.  He wasn't present at the Bowling Club matter briefing and didn't know the results of the briefings at the the evening Council meeting where he had asked what the settlement was, and no-one could answer.  He didn't know the decision had already been made - and a subsequent email from the CE indicated some sort of decision had been made at that afternoon briefing.

 

Cr. Geoff Neil (East) said it was determined at the briefing to settle the matter, but not a dollar amount.  Cr. Guthrie (South) rebutted Cr. Neil's claim, relating how he got a call from a resident the following day who had been told the settlement amount by a Councillor - a resident knew but he, a Councillor, did not.  He added he would only support briefings as per the 1999 Hunt Report and findings from the 2004 review of that report.

 

Cr. Helen Relph (South) said briefings are value.  Matters should come to Council before meetings; don't limit briefings, we do need to meet.  Briefings are extremely valuable; new information comes in, Council should hear it.  Briefings can also take place by email, if things need to be conveyed, information comes into home.  Briefings provide a chance to get information one-on-one, have discussion, hear each others' views, and be discussing in a valuable way.

 

Cr. John Letchford (South) announced he hates making backdoor decisions.  Back-door decision-making - he hadn't seen it.  He missed one briefing and went around asking the others what he missed - anyone can ask at a Council meeting what happened in the afternoon.  He said he had difficulties gazing into a crystal ball, knowing what's urgent and what's not, and pointed to a late change to an officer's report circulated at this meeting, saying does knowing at the last minute mean we don't accept it?  He said he agreed with Cr. Harvey, need briefings for decision-forming;  don't want Council embarrassing themselves by asking stupid and moronic questions.  He said there was no back-door decision on 12 July, he was there.  As for the Bowling Club matter, it was a notice of motion and several of them gave concern.  It's good to discuss matters in briefings, so when it comes to Chamber, residents want to see smart decision-making, without diatribe - that's what makes for an easier flow.

 

Cr. Sandra McGregor (East) responded saying the Councillor should talk about embarrassment when the papers last week described her as confused at Romsey - she was confused all right!  The decision was made in the afternoon and she wasn't privy to it.  

 

Cr. Noel Harvey (West) closed saying in all his years on Council there had never been a decision made in briefings, that was illegal.  Decisions are made in public.  As for Cr. Guthrie's claim, he didn't believe anyone would tell a resident, he didn't believe Cr. Guthrie, his claim was untrue.  As for the Bowling Club motion, he'd changed it in Chamber so it wasn't a decision behind closed doors.  Anyone saying the decision was made behind closed doors is a misrepresentation. Briefings make for informed decision-making but should be held well in advance of the actual meeting.

 

The motion was moved Noel Harvey (West), seconded John Connor (West), and carried with support from Helen Relph (South), Geoff Neil (East), Henry Bleeck (East) and John Letchford (South).  Crs. Tom Gyorffy (West), Rob Guthrie (South) and Sandra McGregor (East) opposed.

 

MRRA Says:

It's quite clear from relevant documentation that a decision was made at some time on 12 July to vary the Gisborne Call Centre conditions - and it wasn't made at the evening Planning Committee meeting.  The 26 July minutes, where they referred to the 12 July decision, are to be changed to say that decision was instead made on May 24, but there is no record of it in Council's adopted minutes for that meeting.  So when was it made?  Crs. Harvey and Letchford say a decision wasn't made on the 12 July; Cr. Geoff Neil says it was made under delegation; Cr. Rob Guthrie says a decision was made - and so originally did Council's draft 26 July minutes. 

 

Who's telling the truth?  

 

If all decisions were made in public, the question wouldn't even arise...

 

There is something fundamentally wrong with a Council that prefers to make decisions with only some Councillors present (the 'same olds') at briefings the general public can't attend.  The Hunt Report found and condemned the same types of practices in 1999 (a time when Noel Harvey, John Letchford and Geoff Neil were Councillors). 

 

MRRA agrees with Cr. Tom Gyorffy - this Councillor group is dysfunctional.  Who's going to do something about it?

 

Cr. John Letchford Says 'Put The Gisborne Call Centre In The Gisborne Industrial Estate'

(12/9/06 - P)  Sounds easy, until you look at the planning scheme...

It was interesting to see Cr. John Letchford's recent suggestion, in a local newspaper, that what he apparently now calls the 'huge and suburban' Gisborne Call Centre proposal should go into the Gisborne Industrial Estate.  Easy-peasy.  Sadly, the Gisborne Industrial Estate is within an Industrial 1 zone.  Even sadder, that zone prohibits offices with more than 500 square metres of floor space.  Tragically, according to the 24 May 2006 Council officer's report, the Call Centre (on its own) had a floor space of more than 3,000 square metres making it  - oops! - a prohibited use in the Gisborne Industrial Estate.

 

MRRA Says:

Although only 'planning hacks' in Cr. Letchford's eyes, MRRA does read the Shire's planning scheme.  We had every confidence planner John - the rising star - would nut it out too...  Ah well, better luck next time. 

 

Of course the other option would be to 'down-size'  the proposal so it can fit in the Industrial 1 zone.  Now let's see: if there was originally a maximum of 80 people for 3,000 square metres, wouldn't that work out in rough terms at around 20-odd people for 500 square metres' floorspace in the Industrial Estate?   Hmm... maybe not so many people (or jobs?), and not such a good idea, after all.

 

Three Councillors Oppose Adoption Of 26 July  Council Meeting Minutes: Not True And Correct Record

(28/8/06 - C) Is a 'confirmed minute' the same as an 'approved motion of Council'?  The question still remains: are Council's 26 July decisions legal?

At last Wednesday's Council meeting, an attempt was made to sort out the mess created at the 26 July Council meeting when the last half of the meeting was conducted without standing orders.  Under Council's Local Law for Meetings (#5), once standing orders are suspended (as they were mid-way through the 26 July meeting), no motions can be accepted until a motion is passed to resume standing orders.

 

Cr. John Letchford (South) moved, and Cr. Helen Relph (South) seconded, an alternative motion that the minutes up to the resumption of the meeting be confirmed, and that items dealt with after the break "be resolutions of Council and be confirmed".  Cr. Rob Guthrie pointed out a reference in the minutes to a decision made on 12 July about the Gisborne Call Centre was incorrect.  Officer Stephen Mahon confirmed the reference was incorrect; no decision had been made about that matter on 12 July - the decision referred had to have been made on May 24.  He recommended, and Councillors agreed to, a note being added to the minutes to that effect. 

 

Cr. Tom Gyorffy (West) opposed adoption of the alternative motion. Cr. John Letchford (South) said there were a couple of anomalies in the minutes but it was just a procedural matter; the minutes were a true depiction of the meeting.  He added there had been discussion of how to deal with this issue that (Wednesday) afternoon and those Councillors in attendance had agreed the alternative motion was an appropriate way of proceeding.  Cr. Tom Gyorffy (West) proposed an amendment to the alternative motion, saying he had difficulty with 2 points: he asked for the Gisborne Call Centre decision [the one made behind closed doors which resulted in two Councillors leaving the chamber] be deleted from the alternative motion and be brought back to another Council meeting, because the changes made to the permit on 26 July made no sense when married with the 24 May permit.  His second difficulty was that all decisions made after the break on 26 July needed to really be resolutions of Council, not just confirmed minutes, and asked that the wording of the alternative motion be changed from "are resolutions of Council" to "are now passed".  Mover of the alternative motion, Cr. John Letchford (South) said leave it as it is. 

 

After some to-ing and fro-ing, Cr. Gyorffy was advised to move a separate motion to bring the Call Centre matter back to Council.  However Mayor Geoff Neil (East) then waded in, saying Cr. Gyorffy's motion was out of order, that the minutes are a true reflection of what happened at the meeting and the alternative motion should be passed as typed.  Which it was, but opposed by Crs. Tom Gyorffy, Rob Guthrie and Sandra McGregor.

 

MRRA Says:

Well, it's bounced clean out of the frying pan, hasn't it... to where?  It seemed such a little thing to just vote to say all of the actions taken on 26 July were hereby passed by Council (which would have given them legitimacy as decisions of Council), and then confirmed that the minutes were an accurate account of those decisions.  But oh, no... the Councillors who meet in private briefings in the afternoon before a Council meeting had already decided what would happen.   So Macedon Ranges now has minutes of Council decisions which are not supported by 3 Councillors as being a true and accurate record of what happened at the meeting.  Are they legal decisions, or aren't they?  Do they count, or not?

 

Councillors Walk Out As 'Recycleds' Revert To Type On Gisborne Call Centre:  Door Slammed On Community - And Process

(31/7/06 - P)  'Behind closed doors' is back with a vengeance but Crs. Gyorffy and Guthrie say they weren't going there

Something's definitely going on with the planning application for a Call Centre in Prince Street, Gisborne.  Something at least five of our Councillors are privy to but don't seem to want the community to know about.

 

Councillors Rob Guthrie (South ward) and Tom Gyorffy (West) walked out of last Wednesday's Council meeting after five of their fellow Councillors voted to take the Call Centre application behind closed doors to, as it turns out, amend the permit conditions.  Those five were Mayor Geoff Neil (East) who moved the motion to go confidential, and Cr. John Letchford (South) who seconded it, with support from Crs. John Connor (West), Noel Harvey (West) and Helen Relph (South).  Cr. Henry Bleeck (East) seemed to oppose the motion, Crs. Tom Gyorffy and Rob Guthrie definitely did.  Note: Cr. Sandra McGregor (East) was absent.  The Mayor said the application warranted going confidential because it needed frank assessment which couldn’t be done in open chamber; because confidences had been given to him by other parties, and there were significant cost implications on Council and a policy shift.  Before leaving the chamber Cr. Gyorffy (West) told the Mayor he had a conscientious objection to making planning decisions behind closed doors.

 

The Call Centre is collecting quite a history.  It began on 14th December 2005 when an application for 14 single storey shops (floor area 3,253m2), on what is now the Call Centre site, came before Council.  Public notice was given of this application, with one objection received.  Planning officer Bruce Lancashire recommended refusal because parking was insufficient and the development represented poor urban design.  Council instead deferred consideration to allow further discussions with the developer.  The application came back to Council on December 21st, again with a recommendation to refuse.  A late report circulated to Council recommended approval with stringent permit conditions.  The permit said provide 96 on-site car spaces (78 were proposed) and 24 on-street (24 proposed): total 120 spaces to be provided.  The planning scheme says provide 260 spaces.

 

On May 24th 2006, at its ordinary meeting Council considered a new application for the same land:  3 storeys of shops and offices with a floor area of around 7,900 m2, including a Call Centre occupying the entire second floor, plus a basement carpark.  Planning Officer Barry Green advised Council no public notice was given of this proposal because it was not felt it would cause any detriment.  The permit approved by Council restricted the number of Call Centre staff on site to 80, but other permit conditions for this significantly enlarged proposal required substantially less of developers than those applied to the smaller, single-storey development approved on 21 December. See earlier story.   Based on the officer's report, the plan proposed 184 on-site spaces.  Council cut planning scheme parking requirements, finally asking for 183 on-site car spaces and 38 on-street: total 221 spaces.  The planning scheme says provide 398 spaces for this amount of floorspace. 

 

From Council minutes of last Wednesday's meeting (received from Council today), it appears the same five Councillors who voted to go behind closed doors decided, while there, to remove the '80 staff on site' restriction - there is now no limit on the number of people who can be on-site (NB Oddly, the minutes refer to removing a cap of 150 persons - how did the cap go from 80 to 150?).  It also seems the 38 on-street car spaces counted as being provided by the development include car spaces that already exist (i.e. there aren't necessarily 38 new spaces being created), and Council, by allowing the development to claim existing street spaces, is contributing the equivalent of $200,000 to the project.  Ever generous, Council is also giving the developers the option of paying cash for the shortfall in car spaces, or of putting parking spaces somewhere else in the town - well, we at least hope it will be in Gisborne. 

 

You might note elsewhere on this website that Council currently has a cash-in-lieu parking policy out for public comment until August 11 - the policy hasn't yet been adopted by Council, although it appears to be being implemented here.

 

MRRA Says:

 

What next - another job-creating Juvenile Justice Centre (JJC) proposal, like the one that almost brought Council down in 1999, and brought thousands of residents out in protest?  The JJC that gave rise to the Hunt Report, the report that found Council wasn't operating properly?  The report that made all those recommendations for doing things more democratically - things like respecting and consulting the community, not tossing process out the window, and not having an executive style Council where just some of the Councillors made the decisions for everyone?  

 

Crs. Harvey, Neil and Letchford were on Council in 1999.   And they are on Council now.  They surely remember the Hunt Report...

 

There are 3 critical issues with the Gisborne Call Centre:  Denial of rights and natural justice, lack of process, secrecy.

 

The community's legal rights to be notified and to comment on this application have been ignored, while at the same time those behind the development seem to have had the ear of Council.  Not giving public notice, and so getting no objections, means the development approval can't be reviewed at VCAT.

 

Council has side-stepped and short-cut planning requirements and processes to get the development through, for example, it doesn't come within a bull's roar of planning scheme requirements for parking (and long-term, that's going to hurt Gisborne).  Governance processes haven't been there either.

 

Council Almost Goes With Illegal Move On Amendments C47 and C49

(23/7/06 - P) Claims that Department of Sustainability and Environment agreed to recommendations not allowed by Act

At the 12 July Council Planning Committee meeting, Macedon Ranges Council had before it recommendations to send elements of these planning scheme amendments to the Minister for Planning for approval, despite there being submissions objecting to and calling for changes to the amendments.  Under the Planning and Environment Act, a Council has only three options for dealing with submissions asking for changes to an amendment: it can make the requested change, it can abandon the amendment or it can send the amendment to an independent Panel.  The recommendations before Council represented a fourth option: ignore submissions (and the Act).  Someone seems to have confused an amendment process with a planning permit process, and recommendations to forward parts of the amendments to the Minister seemed to have been based on an assumption that there wasn't a lot of opposition, so just approve it (which perhaps gives an insight into how Council views objections to development proposals).  On the night, the Council planning officer present seemed to verbally advise Council that the Department of Sustainability and Environment [DSE] originally supported the 'to the Minister' recommendations but now did not support doing that.  Only two Councillors spoke on C49:  Cr. Rob Guthrie (South ward) read section 23 of the Planning and Environment Act to his fellow councillors, and advised that the recommendation before Council was illegal.  He then moved (seconded Cr. Tom Gyorffy (West)) that the amendment be sent to an independent panel (carried unopposed).  Cr. Noel Harvey (West) advised near the end of the C49 agenda item he had just noticed that Parks Victoria submitted to the amendment and he may have an interest in the matter as he had recently been appointed to the Parks Victoria Board.  The only change in how Council dealt with C47 was that Cr. John Letchford (South) seconded the motion to also move that amendment to a Panel.

 

Note: The C47 amendment proposes various changes, several initiated by individuals looking for site specific rezoning to support future development proposals (including introduction of the Mixed Use zone into the Macedon Ranges planning scheme), while the C49 amendment would rezone a business zone in Riddells Creek to a residential zone to support a residential subdivision proposal.  There were some 33 submissions to C49, and 12 to C47.

 

MRRA Says:

It would be a matter of immense concern if DSE had in fact condoned such a deviation from the Planning and Environment Act's requirements, as represented by the recommendations before Council for these amendments.  It is also of concern that submissions seem to have been misplaced by Council (two were 'found' on the night), that not all submitters seem to have been told about meetings or about the amendments coming before Council, and that no-one from the community addressed Council on agenda items as usually happens at these Planning Committee meetings (the Mayor advised the meeting he did not have a list of speakers).  But the greatest concern of all is that one way or another, poor processes and breaching the Act almost got through the approvals system.  That's not an acceptable situation.

 

Council Reverses Dumb And Dishonourable Decision:  Macedon's Honour Avenue May Now Live

(3/7/06 - P)  One knee-jerk decision follows another as majority of Councillors are shamed into changing their minds

It started at the May 3 Finance and Operations Committee meeting, where Councillors Rob Guthrie and Tom Gyorffy respectively moved and seconded a motion that $12,000 be referred to the 2006/2007 Council budget, and $2,500 to the recurrent budget, to provide an irrigation system along Honour Avenue, Macedon.  Only seven Councillors attended that meeting. Crs. Helen Relph (South ward) and Cr. John Letchford (South ward) were absent.  MRRA understands that, in a 4/3 decision, Crs. Guthrie (South ward), Gyorffy (West ward), McGregor (East ward) and Mayor Neil (East ward) voted for the irrigation system; Crs. Connor (West ward), Harvey (West ward) and Bleeck (East ward) voted against.

 

Three weeks later, at the 24 May ordinary Council meeting, and with Cr. Helen Relph (South) still absent, the vote went the other way.  Cr. Henry Bleeck (East) moved, and Cr. John Letchford (South) seconded, a motion that no further action be taken on the Honour Avenue trees (i.e. let them die and then replace the pin oaks with eucalypts).  The motion was carried 5/3 with assistance from Crs. John Connor (West), Sandra McGregor (East), and Noel Harvey (West).  Crs. Rob Guthrie (South), Tom Gyorffy (West) and Mayor Geoff Neil (East) opposed the motion.  

 

It seems the key factors in overturning the original resolution to irrigate the trees were Cr. John Letchford (South) - absent from the first meeting - who subsequently opposed watering the trees, and Cr. Sandra McGregor (East) who seems to have changed her mind between the two meetings. 

 

Honour Avenue is located in South ward.  Of the three South ward Councillors, Rob Guthrie twice supported saving the trees, Helen Relph was absent both times, and John Letchford seconded the May 24 motion to let the trees die, i.e. not water them. 

 

In the four weeks since the 5/3 decision to not irrigate the trees, public protest has been strong.  Consequently, at the 28 June ordinary Council meeting in Gisborne, Councillors voted unanimously (8/0 - Cr. McGregor absent) not to water the trees but to prepare a management plan to preserve the trees, with Cr. Harvey apparently now in support of using various water sources, not just recycled water.  Funding needed to 'preserve' the trees has not been included in Council's 2006/2007 budget.

 

"Pinball Wizard" Performances As Councillors Go With Top Dollar For Councillor Allowances

(10/6/06 - C)   Silence reigns during MRRA's presentation and the decision

MRRA president Neil Manning and secretary Christine Pruneau appeared before Council at its Finance and Operations committee meeting last Wednesday putting a case for a reduction in the Mayoral allowance, for more information on 'other benefits', and for definition of and community consultation on a Mayor's role.  It was the first time residents in Macedon Ranges had been invited to comment on Councillor allowances, and MRRA's was the only submission.  Council's decision to go with the highest allowances available for Councillors and Mayor sets the scene for the next 3 years (previously Councillors reviewed allowances annually).  So residents are now stuck with top dollar payments until a new Council is elected in 2008.

MRRA Says:

No Councillors had any questions for MRRA at the conclusion of its presentation (note: Cr. Gyorffy was absent).  In fact, it seems no-one was interested in saying anything at all because there was no debate and no objection, with the motion (moved Cr. Harvey, seconded Cr. Letchford) going through unopposed. 

 

We are left to wonder if the decision had been made elsewhere or earlier, and simply played out in stony silence in chamber (although after the vote, Cr. Neil made some suggestion that perhaps people aren't aware of a Mayor's workload and perhaps it should be defined, and Cr. Letchford seemed to suggest Council charge members of the press for meals and drinks to help offset costs of 'other benefits' provided to Councillors). 

 

MRRA didn't get the feeling that our comments were being taken on board as constructive.  Hey, they didn't even want to talk about it.  And Council wonders why people don't bother making submissions... Wonder no more. 

 

The Letchford Comments

 

Cr. Letchford's comments about the press riled Mr. Don Gunn of the Midland Express and Kyneton Guardian, who made his feelings clear in last Friday's Guardian:

Cr. Letchford then took the opportunity to launch an extraordinary attack on members of the press who cover Council.  He pointed out that Council provided food in the form of meals on meeting nights and drinks after meetings, and this was part of the costs council had to bear in its operations.  After the meeting I pointed out to the Mayor Geoff Neil, that as a senior member of the press gallery I found Cr. Letchford's remarks offensive, because of an implication that the press 'gathered at the trough' at the expense of ratepayers, and the further implication of an implicit obligation involved in accepting council hospitality.

 

Our reporters only accept specific invitations from the Mayor, or Chief Executive, to attend councillor dinners.  Usually the reason is that there is a guest speaker (such as the recent visit by VCAT chief, Justice Stuart Morris) the reporters can ask questions of.  In my own case, I can only recall about 5 such dinners in the past 4 years I have attended. 

MRRA knows who it would rely on having their facts right.  Good for you, Don.

 

Council In Uproar With Claim Of Recycled "Bullies" Trying To Take Control

(30/5/06 - E)  Cr. Tom Gyorffy calls for Mayor (Geoff Neil) and Crs Noel Harvey and John Letchford to resign

It has been a fairly tempestuous week in local politics, but the explosion has been brewing since Council elections last November. Cr. Geoff Neil, whom MRRA called on in March to resign as Mayor and who has built something of a reputation for putting a foot or two in his mouth since he was re-elected, went full on into Councillors Guthrie and Gyorffy at last week's Council meeting, suspending standing orders to do so.  It seems the Mayor, Cr.Noel Harvey and Cr. John Letchford were fairly adamant that the two 'G's (Guthrie and Gyorffy) are responsible for a cost (?) of $160,000 to Council because they were supposedly parties to a recent enforcement hearing at VCAT.  The hearing was instigated by a community group contesting Council's ability to provide sufficient parking spaces to meet VCAT requirements for the Kyneton Bowling Club pokies expansion.  Seems the Council triumvirate were fairly set on trying to put those two 'upstarts' very publicly back in their places - that is, on the outer and outside the circle of power at Council. It's just a pity one or the other of the aggressors didn't check their facts before lurching into it. 

 

For example, Crs. Guthrie and Gyorffy were actually called as witnesses at VCAT (i.e. they weren't 'parties' to the hearing); the Mayor's version of 'costs' apparently includes compensation to Council for losses incurred through delays to construction claimed to have been caused by the VCAT hearing (the only problem with that is Council only got the green light from Minister Hulls and Heritage Victoria to go ahead a week or so ago -  well after the VCAT decision was handed down). 

 

It's also a pity those behaving as if they were the Three Musketeers didn't duplicate Cr. Guthrie's concern for behaving in a manner more redolent of the Councillor's Code of Conduct.  Or is that just so much paper?

 

MRRA Says:

 

Beam us up, Scottie...

 

Now let's see:  Is a Council chamber a place where Councillors who aren't liked by grand-standing self-proclaimed powerbrokers and/or control fiends go to be baited and berated? 

 

Are some of our Councillors trying to take Council back to the horrible ways it was (in)famous for before some of our present Councillors were thrown out by the people in 2003?  Are we back in 2002 when a former Councillor publicly criticized Noel Harvey for bullying?   Do we have a 'kitchen cabinet' operating, as was suspected back in the dark old days when some of our present representatives were last Councillors?  Are decisions made behind closed doors at afternoon briefing sessions by whoever happens to attend? 

 

Is this where democracy is at in Macedon Ranges?  Is this where you want it to be?

 

Some members of this 'new' Council have already 'distinguished' themselves by blaming Gisborne residents for over-development at Helensville; is the community again to be blamed for everything the majority of our Councillors get wrong? 

 

Are we overdosing on testosterone?  Will self-promoting publicity stunts make a comeback (can we ever forget that photograph of a former Mayor inside a trolley bin)?   As arrogance increases, will the community be subjected to ever-increasing doses of the mushroom treatment?  It was last time around... 

 

 We hate to say it, but MRRA did try to alert the community when it assigned zero stars to Noel Harvey (0) and John Letchford (0), and only one star to Geoff Neil (1), before last November's Council election.  The types of behaviours that are now coming to light, with which MRRA was already familiar, played a key role in determining how many stars candidates received.  Click here to see how MRRA rated candidates.

 

Council's Rescission Motion To Destroy Clarkefield Hall - Was It Legal?

(9/5/06 - C)   Process flaunted?  Motion doesn't appear to meet Local Law requirements

When Macedon Ranges' Councillors voted 7 to 1 (Cr. Guthrie opposed) to rescind a two year old resolution to defer demolition of Clarkefield Hall, they seem to have stepped right outside their own meeting and process rules.  It started when Cr. Henry Bleeck moved the rescission motion (seconded Cr. Letchford).  But Cr. Bleeck hadn't included all of the original motion, which Cr. Guthrie pointed out was in two parts. Cr. Bleeck had only moved to rescind part 1 of the original (to defer demolition) while part 2 related to making the Hall safe and secure.  The Councillors then decided to simply add the second part of the original motion to the rescission motion as an amendment (moved Cr. Neil, seconded Cr. Letchford), and voted to demolish Clarkefield Hall (Cr. Guthrie opposed, Cr. Gyorffy absent).

 

MRRA Says:

Funny things, rescission motions.  There are lots of rules that apply. Here's the notice of motion from the 27 April 2006 Council meeting agenda (note, Council minutes are not yet available from Council's website):

 

Notice of Rescission No. 08/2006 – Cr Henry Bleeck

 

That the resolution of Council made on 21 April 2004, in relation to the demolition of Clarkefield Hall  viz,

1. That Council defer the demolition of the Clarkefield Hall pending the completion of the Macedon Ranges Cultural Heritage and Landscape Study 1994 heritage amendment process.
be rescinded,

And if so rescinded, that Council resolve to proceed with the demolition of Clarkefield Hall.

 

Whereas the original 21/4/04 motion was as follows:

 

It was moved by Cr Gee seconded by Cr Guthrie that Council;

 

1. Defer the demolition of the Clarkefield Hall pending the completion of the Macedon Ranges Cultural Heritage and Landscape Study 1994 heritage amendment process, and

2. Undertake the basic remedial and safety works to the hall as identified by the Council Building Surveyor to make it safe and secure.

The motion was put and carried.  Cr Guthrie requested a division.

 

For : Cr’s Petrovich, Guthrie, Gee, Dunn and Todd (5)

Against : Cr’s Connor, Evans, Carroll and Morabito (4)  CARRIED

 

The first rule about rescission motions is that they aren't allowed (can't happen) if the original motion has been acted on. 

 

Local Law No. 5 - Meetings and Common Seal, says at 90, "A decision will be deemed to be acted on upon once its details have been formally communicated to persons affected by or reliant on the resolution or where a statutory procedure has been carried out as a result of that decision." 

 

MRRA isn't aware of any report that went to Council advising that the original motion hadn't been 'communicated to or acted on' as per the terms of Local Law 5.  The original motion was two years old.  Has it been acted on? 

 

Council is preparing two amendments (C33 - Precincts, and C34 - Other Areas) to place heritage overlays in the planning scheme, including overlays arising from the Macedon Ranges Cultural Heritage and Landscape Study.  In the Macedon Ranges Cultural Heritage and Landscape Study, the Clarkefield Hall is part of a heritage precinct (Clarkefield Civic, Commercial and Residential Precinct), such as those being addressed in Amendment C33.   Has the motion been acted on? 

 

If it hasn't, particularly part 2, MRRA would like to know why, in two years, basic steps to secure the hall hadn't been taken.

 

Even if the hurdle of whether the motion had been acted on can be overcome, there still remains the issue of whether the Council could do what it did:

 

Local Law 5 says, at 95, "A notice of... rescission listed on a meeting agenda may be moved by any councillor present but cannot be amended."  

 

What do you think?  Have our Councillors acted in a proper and responsible way?  Please give us your comments by sending an email on mrra.sec999@gmail.com

 

'Recycled' Councillors Blame Residents For Disastrous Development At Helensville

(19/4/06 - P)  Cowardly but not necessarily unexpected finger-pointing as Councillors ignore the role they played

At last Wednesday's Planning Committee meeting, in debate relating to an application to carve up the last of Helensville in Gisborne, three of our 'recycled' Councillors (Letchford, Harvey and Neil) made it very clear that the cramped, towering over-development that now blights the once beautiful Helensville site was very firmly the fault of residents who objected to the original proposal.  According to our recycled Councillors, self serving, self-important residents should have accepted a compromise, and the result of not doing that was a 'shocking mess'.  Cr. Noel Harvey went so far as to say he wasn't prepared to put his name to any further disastrous development on the site (isn't it just a bit late for that?).   Councillors Neil, Relph, Letchford, McGregor, Bleeck and Connor voted for the subdivision, Councillors Harvey and  Gyorffy opposed.  Councillor Guthrie declared an interest and left the chamber.

 

MRRA Says:

Well, well - see them duck for cover.  What gall these pompous, short-memoried Councillors have, to blame several hundred residents for objecting to what they (the Councillors) now call 'shocking' and 'disastrous'.  Hello????  Who supported and approved the original proposals, saying what a great thing these developments were, how we had to have somewhere for people to live?  Not the objectors.  Who ignored the repetitive broad hints from numerous VCAT decisions (note: both approvals and refusals), that Council should produce a plan for how the once-rural Helensville site should be developed and integrated with the rest of the Gisborne Township?  That wasn't the objectors either.  IT WAS OUR COUNCILLORS.  Councillors who had six years to prepare a plan.  Councillors who wouldn't listen to the people, who just couldn't see what hundreds in the Macedon Ranges' community could see was coming.  So, Councillors, instead of attacking those who put in a huge amount of time and money and effort and emotion trying to convince you to change your mind, isn't it time you starting taking responsibility and being accountable for the decisions (and disasters) you make?

 

Councillors Say No To Native Vegetation Removal - All Except Councillor Letchford, That Is

(19/4/06 - P)  Seems the 'Rising Star' couldn't get off the ground this time on protecting our environment

 

MRRA Says:

In an, um, almost unanimous decision at last Wednesday's Planning Committee meeting, Cr. Connor took the running on an application to refuse native vegetation removal on a lot at Ballymoyer Mews, Ashbourne Road, Woodend.  Those of you who know this Tomkinson development would be aware of just how much clearing has already occurred, and how a new two storey house towering over tiny, historic Peel Cottage seems somehow completely out of step with the surrounding area.  There is a restrictive covenant on some titles in this subdivision prohibiting further vegetation removal without Council consent.  Only one Councillor thought more vegetation should be removed: "cut them down, there's only 4 or 5 of them".  Yep, Council's 'qualified planner',  Councillor John Letchford.   The trunk on one of these trees was more than a metre in diameter.  What can we say? 'Meteoric'.

 

Macedon Ranges Councillors Defy Planning Scheme Again To Get House Approved In Farming Zone

(19/4/06 - P) Cr. Noel Harvey admits he knows the officer's recommendation to refuse is right, but says yes to development anyway

Macedon Ranges' planning woes continued at last Wednesday's Planning Committee meeting when most of our Councillors again went for another house in a rural zone, in a drinking water catchment.  This time the application came from a relative of a Council staffer (see earlier story).  The officer's report said 'refuse'.  But... working on the nice people, good idea, lovely spot principle - how could anyone refuse?  Cr. Noel Harvey even admitted the proposal was contrary to the Farming zoning, and the officer was quite right in saying not to approve, but that didn't stop him supporting the proposal in the proclaimed Lake Eppalock drinking water catchment, notwithstanding his membership of the North Central Catchment Management Authority and Coliban Water Boards.  The only opposition came from Councillor Tom Gyorffy who, faced with the applicants' arguments about their financial situation, said money was not a good enough reason to overturn the planning scheme.  Note:  Cr. Guthrie was absent.

 

Is Council About To 'Come A Gutser' As A Fatal Flaw In The Original Gisborne Call Centre Permit Is Exposed?  Permit Under Formal Legal Challenge - Applicant Could Be Forced To Start Again

(30/9/06 - P)  But no sense of danger as "back-flip with pike and double-twist" by Crs. Letchford and Relph ensures Mayor's rescission motion gets up and the trail of Council blunders continues.

The Gisborne Call Centre debacle continued at last Wednesday's Council meeting.  Examples of Council 'dropping the ball' are already substantial (e.g. no community consultation, a rolling series of significant amendments, behind closed doors decision-making, councillors walking out, a late objection ignored, a meeting without standing orders, minutes opposed as incorrect, etc.), but the clanger Cr. Rob Guthrie (South) dropped out last Wednesday produced the same shocked, absolute silence the passing of a death sentence does.

 

Background:  Two weeks ago (13 September), an attempt to move this mess forward by fobbing off responsibility for Permit Amendments 3 and 4 by delegating decisions to Council officers fell over when Crs. John Letchford and Helen Relph (both South ward) abandoned their previous support for the development and voted (with Crs. Gyorffy, Guthrie and McGregor) to advise the developer that Council required a new permit process if he wanted to go as far as Amendment number 4. See earlier MRRA reportMayor Geoff Neil (East), who opposed the "starting again" motion, subsequently whipped in a rescission motion to overturn the 13th September motion, and the rescission was up for approval last Wednesday night. 

 

Wednesday 27th September:  Enter Crs. Letchford and Relph with their award-winning backflip, with Cr. Letchford in sensational form as he seconded motions to firstly consider the Call Centre application, and then to rescind the 13 September 'start again' resolution (er... a resolution he also seconded!).   Mayor Geoff Neil (East) said the 13 September motion was flawed - i.e. Council couldn't instruct the applicant to resubmit the application, and it didn't state what type of advertising process would be done.  Cr. Tom Gyorffy (West) replied saying there is no need to specify the advertizing process because Section 52 of the Planning and Environment Act follows as a matter of course, and the motion was perfectly OK.  He added that Council could simply say 'NO, you're not getting Amendment 4 - you put in a new application'.   He defied anyone to tell him where this permit was up to, and said Council was considering bits without looking at the whole.  He, along with Crs. Rob Guthrie (South) and Sandra McGregor (East), opposed the rescission but it was approved on the votes of Crs. Letchford (South), Relph (South), Harvey (West), Neil (East), Bleeck (East) and Connor (West).

 

Having got rid of the motion to 'start again', next came a motion to crank the Call Centre forward again: Part A of the motion in the circulated meeting papers dealt with Amendment 3 and the permit for it issued in August without considering an objection Council had received. It included a recommendation to cancel that permit at VCAT and issue a new amended permit after 'considering' the objection (Note: Part A also included the new amended permit for approval).  Part B approved Amendment 4 (without resolving Amendment 3).  Part C said that if an appeal is lodged at VCAT Council would adopt Amendment 4 as its position.

 

The Mayor stepped up to the plate and moved yet another alternative motion, that Part B alone of the officer's recommendations be adopted, and he was seconded by Cr. Noel Harvey (West).  The Mayor told Councillors they didn't need to debate the merits, they just needed to determine Amendment 4 which was substantially better than Amendment 3 (Council had had legal advice). 

 

Cr. Rob Guthrie (South) opposed, and dropped a bombshell.  He began by saying he had been going over what Council had done.  There were 3 permit triggers - Use, Parking, and amending a development plan.  In December 2005 Council looked at refusing 14 shops on the site but instead deferred making a decision.  When that application later came back to Council, changes had been made and the shops were approved with stringent conditions on the development plan.  He couldn't find those conditions on the permit issued in May 2006.  He couldn't make sense of the May Planning Committee minutes either - until he read the officer's recommendation, Part A of which was to change the development plan from that approved in December, and Part B the permit that was to issue.  However on 24 May, Council had received an alternative Part B on the night that didn't include Part A (the necessary change to the development plan).  Council went on to approve the permit (Part B), but not Part A, the changed development plan that needed to be approved before Council could issue a permit. That is, unless Council changed the development plan it couldn't issue a permit.  Cr. Guthrie said the development plan had not been amended since December and so Council shouldn't have issued a permit in May.  The permit was illegal.  As for giving notice, planning scheme exemptions from giving notice didn't apply to the Use or development plan permit triggers, so the argument that Council didn't need to give notice are flawed.

 

Cr. Tom Gyorffy (West) stood and said all permits (amendments) were invalid - if it doesn't comply, you get nothing.  He said he had been sending emails around to Councillors telling them the permit was invalid.  There were also problems with parking - it was less than half what the planning scheme wants.  The whole thing was a disaster because all the way through people had only kept an eye on getting 300 jobs in Gisborne.  He thundered that Council was here for the planning scheme, not an economic scheme, and still hasn't asked the public what they want.  He said the situation can only be fixed by starting again. The permit is illegal, the motion is not supportable, and Council shouldn't continue down that path.  Cr. Gyorffy then asked if the legal advice obtained by Council, which said Council could approve Amendment 4, had been made in the knowledge that Council had failed to amend the development plan in May, and was told no-one knew.

 

The room was very quiet as the Mayor spoke, awkwardly trying to justify the shortfall in parking spaces, saying legal opinions vary (Cr. Gyorffy told him to make sure he picked the right one), and saying one of the reasons he liked the call centre was because it would give the Gisborne business sector renewed life. He urged Councillors to endorse Part B as a way forward that was supported by officers and legal advice.  And he got that endorsement from Crs. Noel Harvey, John Letchford, Henry Bleeck, Helen Relph and John Connor.

 

Crs. Tom Gyorffy, Rob Guthrie and Sandra McGregor opposed.  

 

The Mayor then moved another, previously unannounced motion, that Council give delegated authority to Ms Veronica Schilling to consider and amend the permit Council had just voted to issue - minor amendments only, nothing of substance.  Cr. John Letchford seconded the motion.  Cr. Tom Gyorffy opposed, quickly standing and saying it was outrageous to consider even more changes.  He said there were 'hundreds' of problems with the proposal - carparks, bits of verandah overhangs that would be taken off by trucks and so on.  How many more goes was the applicant going to get?  He said it was a joke, and the applicant should be told there would be no more chances without going through hoops. 

 

Nevertheless, the same old voting block - Letchford, Relph, Neil, Connor, Bleeck, Harvey - passed the motion to delegate, and the same Councillors opposed: Gyorffy, Guthrie, McGregor.

 

Councillor Letchford Bites Back

(18/3/06 - M)  MRRA is the 'faceless few', he's the 'rising star' - see what else he says

 

MRRA Says:

Cr. John Letchford has flashed in an email making it clear he doesn't agree with our story "Cr. John Letchford - Is He Breaking Promises - And Hearts?" (10/3/06).  That's fair enough, he's entitled to his opinion, as we are to ours.   MRRA is pretty chuffed that John is looking at the site, although we are downright surprised that John doesn't seem aware of restrictions the Privacy Act places on publishing an organisation's membership details.  We aren't standing in the shadows John, we are obeying the law. Anyway, after deep thought, MRRA's Committee of Management feels John's response should be shared with visitors to our website.  Stop Press:  John's bitten again!  We've just got a second email...   Click here to go there...

 

Cr. John Letchford:  Is He Breaking Promises - And Hearts?    Click here to see the Letchford File

(10/3/06 - C)  MRRA is confused by the mixed messages John is sending

On the one hand, Cr. John Letchford, who claimed to be a qualified planner in his Candidate Statement last year, said in that Statement that "My focus is on... neighbourhood character protection..."  That was before the election which saw John Letchford the first councillor elected in the South Ward.  On the other hand, at last Wednesday's Council Planning Committee meeting, Cr. Letchford said neighbourhood character is not to be slavishly followed before voting to approve an application to subdivide an acre lot in Romsey into 4 quarter acre lots in an otherwise 1 acre block neighbourhood.  He said the subdivision fit with the planning scheme and referred to ResCode.  He went on to say planning wasn't black and white, and needed to be interpreted.  Cr. Noel Harvey also supported the application saying the four lot subdivision would actually add to the neighbourhood character and further said small lots are needed to conserve water.  Cr. Helen Relph, who seems consistent in supporting small(er) lot development, said it was a great outcome for the applicant.  Cr. Henry Bleeck, who also supported the proposal, felt people don't look after big blocks and this leads to land degradation.  Mayor Geoff Neil almost begged his fellow Councillors to not support the application and he found support from Crs. Gyorffy, Guthrie, Connor and McGregor.  The application was refused on a 5/4 split.

 

MRRA Says:

We thought protecting neighbourhood character was a primary requirement of ResCode.  MRRA can't see, and we suspect most of the people in Gisborne who voted for Cr. Letchford also won't be able to see, how creating 4 quarter acre lots in an ocean of acre lots delivers the "neighbourhood character protection" he promised.  MRRA is uneasy about where Cr. Letchford is coming from.  He has already said in Council chamber, in supporting subdivision of another existing residential lot in Romsey, that large lots are not sustainable. Hhmm...  Is it that John just doesn't like Romsey?  Does he in fact hold a different view than the one expressed in his Candidate Statement?   Does he not understand what the Macedon Ranges' community values?  We don't know, but we do know that larger lots are a characteristic of Macedon Ranges that residents value highly, and are a key reason why most people move here.  It will be interesting to see if Cr. Letchford applies the same 'I support small lots' principle when a similar application comes in from Gisborne.

 

We also note that Cr. Harvey's justification for supporting the application, that of conserving water, is similar to advice given to MRRA by Western Water in 2004: e.g. units are good because they have (almost) no gardens so use less water.  Has the thought occurred to anyone, as existing lots are carved up and units are jammed in, that those developments mean more people, which in itself means more demand on scarce water supplies - with or without gardens?  In most parts of the Shire, we already haven't got enough to go around.  As for Cr. Harvey's comment that slicing up a lot like this, in a neighbourhood like this, would add character - well, what can we say other than it seems to say it all about where Cr. Harvey is coming from.  And we bet that's not the same place most residents are coming from, or want to go to.

 

Changed Occupational Health and Safety Laws Expose Councillors To Personal Liability

(1/3/06 - C) Yet most Macedon Ranges' Councillors seem to think it doesn't apply to them.

Is it arrogance? Blind faith? Heads in the sand? One of our recently elected Councillors happens to be a Crown Prosecutor who specializes in Occupational Health and Safety issues, and is regarded by his peers as an expert in the field.  Cr. Tom Gyorffy has stressed to his fellow Councillors that they have to operate differently if they want to avoid being sued - personally - as a consequence of changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act last year.  While Council has agreed to pull up a report on the subject, it steadfastly refuses to have a Councillor representative on Council's Occupational Health and Safety Committee. Most say it isn't necessary for a Councillor to be involved, leave it to the officers. Mayor Geoff Neil went so far as to suggest, when Cr Gyorffy nominated Cr. Rob Guthrie to be the Councillors' representative, that Cr. Guthrie wasn't a suitable person which caused an uproar at Council's Committee meeting last month.

 

Gisborne South Freeway Service Centre “Secret Deal” Proposal Made Public

(23/12/05 – P) South Ward Councillor John Letchford goes for it, then against it

MRRA was concerned when Macedon Ranges’ Council went behind closed doors at its 14th December Planning Committee meeting to discuss the Gisborne South Freeway Service Centre issue.   MRRA understands a planning permit issued in 1998 for the northbound service centre has expired, and as VCAT later tied a permit issued for the southbound facility in 2003 to the northbound service centre proceeding, neither proposal seems to have a valid planning permit at this stage.  The only inkling provided to what Council had discussed was when the resolution made behind closed doors was read out in open chamber: “It was moved by Cr Guthrie seconded by Cr Letchford that Council having considered the request of Phillip Bing and Associates request the Chief Executive to advise the applicants that Council has refused this request for the extension of permits P980-0712 and P202-0076”.  Residents who had fought the proposals were not notified that Council was again considering the matter.  However, the minutes of the 14th December meeting (now adopted by Council and available from its website) shed more light on what happened.   The original motion before Council was to adopt planning officer Barry Green’s recommendation that Council AGREE to renew both permits through a consent order at VCAT.  That motion was moved John Letchford, seconded Noel Harvey but lost.  Cr. Letchford then seconded the motion to REFUSE.  Councillors Relph (knows the applicant) and Connor (manager of a retail petrol station) declared conflicts of interest and did not vote.   To see the minutes go to www.mrsc.vic.gov.au, go to Council Meetings and Strategies, Council Meetings, Minutes, 2005, Planning Committee 14 December, page 15.

 

Council Meetings To Be The Next “Soapie” Success?

(31/7/05 – C) Cr. Petrovich calls for costs and feasibility of video and tape recording of Council meetings

At Council’s 27/7/05 meeting, Cr. Petrovich put up a motion that the Chief Executive investigate and report on costs and feasibility of visually or audibly recording Council meetings.  Cr. Guthrie seconded the motion almost before Cr. Petrovich finished speaking, and the motion was carried unanimously (Cr. Todd was absent)

 

MRRA Says:

Because of the unanimous way the vote went, Cr. Petrovich didn’t get to explain why she felt meetings should be recorded; her reasons would have been interesting.   Nevertheless, the Association thinks Council has better things to do with its time and money than this.  MRRA can only wonder if our Councillors have any idea of how their performances look from the gallery – perhaps if they saw themselves as others do, they might not have rushed in where even angels wouldn’t be tempted to tread.   Still, recording the meetings would allow things currently only seen or heard by a few to have wider exposure – who works hard, who sticks up for the community and big picture, who reads their notice papers, who votes with who, who calls constant Points Of Order – you never know, these recordings might even help a Councillor prove what they did or didn’t do if, say, someone made a complaint about them.  If Council does go ahead with this idea, MRRA will be first in line for copies.  Mmm… We can’t wait for the ‘Best Of’ and ‘World’s Funniest’ segments, can you?

 

Local Resident Claims Councillor Gagged Petition Presentation

(21/7/05 – C) Or was the Councillor simply following Council meeting rules?

Local Gisborne resident Russell Mowatt has claimed in a local newspaper that Councillor Deb Dunn ‘gagged’ him at a recent Council committee meeting.  Mr. Mowatt went to the Committee meeting armed with a petition carrying some 2100 signatures in support of improved transport services in the Shire.  It seems however that Mr. Mowatt expected to address Council but was not allowed to do so after Cr. Dunn queried this action and called Council’s meeting rules to everyone’s attention.

 

MRRA Says:

The claim of ‘gagging’ isn’t really fair.  Council has rules governing how meetings will be conducted, which are publicly available.  What’s surprising is that Mr. Mowatt (who has run for Council several times) apparently isn’t familiar with Council’s Local Law No. 5 (Processes Of Municipal Government: Meetings And Common Seal) which says:

 

“100. Petitions and Joint Letters

 

A petition or joint letter presented to the Council must lay on the table until the next ordinary meeting of the Council and no motion, other than to receive the petition or joint letter may be accepted by the Chairperson, unless the Council agrees to deal with it earlier.”

 

An MRRA rep attended this meeting and saw nothing untoward in the process Council adopted.  MRRA’s view is that Council has an onus to uphold its own rules, and the same rules should be applied to everyone.  That’s what seems to have happened on the night in question.

 

Council Almost Goes With Another ‘Exceptional’ Decision

(16/5/05 – P) On one of the rare occasions when our planning scheme says ‘must’, four Councillors seemed to think it wasn’t right.

Cr. Rob Guthrie’s arguments that Council not refuse an application for a two lot ‘battleaxe’ subdivision in Emmaline Vale Estate, Gisborne, certainly surprised some people at Council’s 11th May planning committee meeting.  The Council officer’s report recommended refusal because the application didn’t meet planning scheme requirements.  Key issues were that the property has insufficient frontage to allow further subdivision to be considered, and that the proposal used an ‘artificial contrivance’ to try to overcome this.  Cr. Guthrie, noted for exhorting his fellow councillors to stick with what the planning scheme says, disagreed with the officer’s recommendation and instead moved that further discussions be held with the applicants to attempt to achieve a better planning outcome, and to try to resolve the frontage issue.  The application proposed including a sliver of land from an adjoining property to meet frontage requirements; however there is a Section 173 agreement on the adjoining land regulating further subdivision.  Crs. Relph, Bleeck and Evans supported Cr. GuthrieCrs. Petrovich, Dunn, Todd and Gee supported the Officer’s recommendation for refusal arguing the proposal would produce an inappropriate outcome and/or was not able to proceed under the planning scheme’s controls.  Cr. Gee, as Acting Mayor  (Cr. Connor was absent), cast the deciding vote for refusal after also arguing that the proposal, on the escarpment of Jacksons Creek, wasn’t compatible with Council’s ridgeline policy.

 

Our Councillors:   Do Recent Performances Signal A Return To The ‘Bad Old Days’?

(21/3/05 - C) Whose interests are our Councillors representing these days?   ‘Spot’ planning scheme amendments, block voting, suspect subdivision proposals, planning scheme ignored.  Is it just a touch of bad karma, or is there an election around the corner?

MRRA representatives who attended the last two Council planning committee meetings are deeply concerned at the way some of our Councillors are behaving, ‘back-flipping’ on good planning and on protecting Macedon Ranges.    Can you remember the 2003 Council election (and recent by-elections) when candidates (now Councillors) pledged to defend your lifestyles and our environment?    Remember last July when our Councillors unanimously called on the State government to protect Macedon Ranges?   Some seem to have very short memories indeed.

 

A five to three voting ‘block’ emerged at the March 9th Planning Committee meeting (Cr. Bleeck was absent).   The ‘Five’, Councillors Connor, Evans, Gee, Petrovich and Relph, voted together for most of the night, leaving Councillors Dunn, Guthrie and Todd as the ‘Three’.   Cr. Petrovich took a leading role, moving or seconding motions on several items.  She moved the motion to approve another * site-specific amendment, this one to assist private school, Braemar, expand its facilities into a maximum conservation area on the Woodend side of Mount Macedon.   The amendment involves a 3 lot subdivision which the planning scheme doesn’t allow, and rezoning one of the new lots which would allow the Braemar site to be developed without the need for a planning permit.   NB  Cr. Petrovich declared an interest in this item – she is a Fellow of Braemar College Ltd.

 

* A site-specific amendment was also before Council at the February planning committee meeting.  It proposed rezoning Rural zoned land on Slatey Creek, Woodend to Residential to allow an Aged Care facility to proceed.  Crs. Dunn, Gee, Guthrie, Todd and Relph moved that more information be sought.  The amendment now appears to be in difficulty as the site is a floodway.   Another application for an amendment currently under consideration is to rezone the existing Business 3 zone at 14 – 22 Sutherlands Road, Riddells Creek to a Residential zone before work starts on an Outline Development Plan to decide the town’s future.  Yet another amendment, C40, which has been exhibited and has attracted residents’ objections, proposes to rezone Rural zoned land next to the freeway in North Woodend to a Public Use zone for a Council waste disposal facility and if successful, will allow development of the land without needing a planning permit.

 

MRRA says:

Where are our Councillors going?   What happened to their commitment to protect what’s important in Macedon Ranges, to listen to and represent the wider community?   Why indulge in the worst type of planning:  “anything, anywhere – the end justifies the means”?

 

MRRA has supported this Council and would like to continue to do so, but not if Councillors go back to the ‘bad old days’ and behave as our previous Council did.   Macedon Ranges has a document called a planning scheme and, even though it’s incomplete, it is legally binding.   Councillors can’t be forced to read it, but they are required by law to uphold it.   Changing the planning scheme at whim and approving development because ‘they’re nice people’ or it’s a ‘good idea’ or ‘what someone wants’ isn’t strategic; it isn’t even planning.

 

The wider Macedon Ranges’ community is passionate about this place and wants Councillors who care.   Consistency, like charity, has to start at home.  There’s no point calling on the State government to protect Macedon Ranges if our Councillors won’t.

 

Bad planning was a feature of our previous Council and it contributed to the defeat of five sitting Councillors in 2003.   With a Council election coming up in November, MRRA asks our Councillors to think about whether they can lift their game.   What’s happening at the moment isn’t impressive, and seems to be more about power and politics than our planning scheme or what’s in the best long-term interests of the wider community and Macedon Ranges’ environment.

 

The Association will be actively encouraging residents to attend Council and Committee meetings to judge Councillors’ (candidates’?) performances for themselves.  The view that residents form will, of course, depend upon what they see.   The Association will also adopt a watching brief and report its findings back to the community.   We sincerely hope our reports can be positive ones.

 

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