Archive:   Gisborne Call Centre

Last Updated  15/11/10

 

 

Gisborne AAMI Call Centre:  FOI Reveals State Govt's Pivotal Role In 'Making It Happen'

(14/11/10 - P)  No honour, no transparency, no process, no democracy - in fact, no stone left unturned to get approval 

MRRA has documents obtained under Freedom of Information [FOI] which give a chilling insight into how the Gisborne AAMI Call Centre (Nexus Building) came to be.  The information in the documents condemns both the State government (particularly the State government), AAMI and Macedon Ranges Shire Council (the Council of the day in 2006).

 

The State government always denied involvement in the project, other than a $600,000 grant to AAMI for training and hiring.  The State government, however, did much more than that for AAMI, and in the process, denied ordinary people justice.

 

The FOI documents reveal:

After the objector lodged an application with VCAT, Macedon Ranges Shire Council and the developer, Nexus Nominees, lodged their own application with VCAT, requesting the objection be denied, and asking for costs from the lone objector.

 

The VCAT hearing occurred the week following the Department's email requesting an expedited hearing.  The objector received 2 days' notice of the hearing.

 

VCAT determined the objector had no standing and couldn't appeal against Council's decision to approve.  A verbal decision was given by Vice President Helen Gibson on the day of the hearing, approving the proposal even though Council could not provide vital evidence that a proper process had occurred on the day.  Following a request for a written decision, VCAT issued written reasons for the decision which noted that the written decision had been amended from the verbal decision given at the VCAT hearing.

 

Click here to see key extracts from the FOI.  Click here to see MRRA's archive on the Gisborne Call Centre.

 

MRRA Says:

 

Everybody and their dog knew there was something terribly smelly about what was happening with the call centre, and the FOI confirms it.  The whole process was disgusting. 

 

From the FOI, it is clear that nothing was going to stand in the way of getting the call centre approved - the end it seems, justified the means.  The 'end' was the government being able to make an announcement about creating jobs.  No matter that the call centre is an eyesore that violates the town's rural character, that the Gisborne community was excluded from having a say, that Macedon Ranges Council behaved on the one hand like a bunch of cowboys, on the other as lackeys to the government's bidding. 

 

There was no pity for the objector.  What courage it took to withstand the pressure, to stand up for what was decent in a sea of whispers, threats, nods and winks.  How does a Council 'go' an objector for costs, when the only reason the objector was at VCAT was because Council gave notice and the objector merely exercised the rights Council gave them?

 

Victoria has an open and transparent planning system?  We think not. This is stomach-turning stuff that shatters public confidence.  As big a worry is, where are these slimy, secretive practices happening now?

 

Is this what McDonalds is about?  The same developer is involved. Is McDonalds another wizz-bang opportunity for the State government to 'facilitate' appalling development through pressure and deviation from process to 'create jobs', regardless of what it otherwise costs a whole community?  Is there another secret deal going down right now?

 

 

It All Comes Out In The Wash As State Government Finally Owns Up To Being Behind The Farcical Gisborne Call Centre 'Approval Process'

(3/3/08 - P)  Departmental Annual Reports gloat about overcoming "planning and development issues", but these Reports don't discuss how democracy was crushed and processes corrupted to get there.  To quote a Gisborne resident's take on these Reports: 'Amazing how quickly planning requirements can disappear with a little help from your friends!!

 

Here's what the Annual Reports say:

 

Regional Development Victoria (RDV) 2006/07 Annual Report (page 32)

Link:  http://www.diird.vic.gov.au/corplivewr/_assets/main/lib60003/rdv-annualreport.pdf

 

"3.2 Case Studies 2006/07

The case examples in this section showcase the achievements of Regional Development Victoria through the delivery of programs and services that capture opportunities for growth in provincial Victoria.

 

Case Study Four:  AAMI GISBORNE CONTACT CENTRE INVESTMENT


AAMI, one of Australiaís largest general insurers, announced in April 2007 plans to establish a 150-seat contact centre and as part of this, a 60-seat training centre in Gisborne, which will also serve as a disaster recovery site. The new centre will employ approximately 200 full-time employees and is part of a $9 million new development.

 

This new investment will reinforce AAMIís existing presence in Victoria where it currently employs over 1,800 Victorians. The Office of Manufacturing and Service Industries has been working with AAMI regarding the investment since 2003, assisting in developing a strong business case for Victoria and in determining a suitable location.

 

Additional support by Regional Development Victoria through the Community Regional Industry Skills Program and in particular, strong support from the Office of Investment Facilitation to overcome a number of planning and development issues was pivotal in the project proceeding in Victoria."

 

Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development (DIIRD) 2006/07 Annual Report

Link: http://www.diird.vic.gov.au/corplivewr/_assets/main/lib60003/01%20investment%20attraction.pdf

 

"1. Investment Attraction

In 2006-07, AAMI announced a new $9 million customer contact centre to be established at Gisborne, creating up to 200 new jobs. The Office of Investment Facilitation provided assistance in securing the development approvals for the project, with RDV providing AAMI with a $600,000 grant under the Community Regional Industry Skills Program to train staff to operate the new centre.

 

The facility is currently under construction and will be ready for occupation in early 2008.  These projects reflect DIIRDís commitment to playing an ongoing practical and responsive role that supports all kinds of investments, industries and areas."

 

MRRA Says:

 

This had to be one of the worst kept secrets, ever.  Just about everyone and their dog guessed, suspected or knew the Victorian government was behind the circus that was the 'approvals process' for the AAMI Call Centre in Gisborne.  These Annual Reports provide official confirmation and as such also confirm what a web of lies was fed to the community by Macedon Ranges Council, AAMI and the State government during the three-ring performance it took to shove this proposal down residents' throats.  Yes, go ahead and pat yourselves on the back - it certainly was a breath-taking achievement, but for all the wrong reasons.  How lucky the full, albeit secret (sinister?), influence of government was at hand to crush residents' rights and objections, and toss the principles of proper and orderly planning right out the window.  Ah well, at least now we need never look any further than the Gisborne Call Centre to find a prime example of emasculated democracy and corrupted process.  Think that's a bit harsh?  Then also think about a State government not having the bottle to go through with a 'good news' announcement of its 'achievement' before the 2006 State election - wouldn't that suggest someone knew it not only wasn't going to be a vote-getter in Gisborne, but a vote-loser? 

 

We would like to make a few points about the text in the Reports:

 

"Will serve as a disaster recovery site"?  Newflash: it already does - that is, it's a disaster site looking for recovery.

 

200 jobs?  It's good to get a final figure - if this one is correct.  It's well short of the claims of  300 and even 400 jobs that were served up in an attempt to justify what turned out to be giving AAMI carte blanche.

 

AAMI was in on it from 2003?  That's not what AAMI repeatedly told Gisborne residents.  What faith can anyone have in a company which denied - blatantly lied about - its involvement right up until mid-2007?  As MRRA once said - lucky you're with AAMI, unless you live in Gisborne. 

 

As for the Reports' coy statements about 'overcoming a number of planning and development issues' and the State government's pivotal role in this...  Well, guess that's one way of saying the State government comprehensively screwed the community, and democracy.  Some have said this was an example of government against the people, by despots, for developers.  And - silly us! - we thought it was supposed to be government of the people, by the people, for the people.

 

If the State government is of a mind to officially claim ownership of not only driving Council to cut every corner in the book - under other circumstances, potentially sackable offences - and of condoning lying, bullying, threats, actively excluding residents from having any say or information, turning a blind eye on breaches and lapses in procedure, shady and even non-existent approvals behind closed doors, false minutes, secrecy, and the absolute absence of any semblance of proper process that it took to get this disaster approved - what else can MRRA say but go ahead, you've earned it.  

 

But this Call Centre casts an even bigger shadow.  All of the above, plus a rural town's character decimated by a towering lump of glittering glass and corrugated iron, a jarring piece of tastelessness that now dominates Gisborne's small town centre, the reflection from which, as MRRA predicted, will likely be able to be seen from the moon... What can definitely be seen is the factory-type clutter on the roof - yep, another oops, someone forgot that the building is only half-way down the hill and now the view from the top of the hill is truly ugly.  All of this, for what?  200 jobs?  Even before they begin, they weren't worth and will never be worth what they've already permanently taken away.

 

And just to remind everyone of how well our Council stood up for residents' rights and interests, local democracy and proper and orderly planning, here's who voted for the Call Centre in the final vote:

 

Councillors Noel Harvey, Helen Relph, John Connor, John Letchford, Geoff Neil and Henry Bleeck accepted the State government's hijack of the process and voted for the Call Centre to proceed. 

 

MRRA's recommendation is that residents keep this information somewhere handy, on the fridge perhaps or on the back of the toilet door, so it's easy to find when these Councillors ask you to support them at the Council elections next November.  And after that, there's a State election in 2010 to look forward to...

 

 

Gisborne Urban Design Framework Workshop:  "We Know What We Don't Want"

(10/11/07 - P)  It's about the future, but some came just to say how much they detest the Gisborne Call Centre...

A recent Urban Design Framework workshop in Gisborne was, from residents' reports, fairly well attended.  But something two of the South ward Councillors who attended might not have anticipated was the unanimous community condemnation of the Gisborne Call centre.  They really, really hate it.  It's the one thing no-one wants any more of in Gisborne.

 

MRRA Says:

 

Are we surprised?  Nup.  Just wait until the yummo acres of glass and the shiny tin roof go on...

 

Reports to MRRA suggest Mayor Helen Relph seemed surprised at such strong community rejection of the building she and fellow South ward Councillor John Letchford supported moving forward to final approval.  If residents are looking for scalps, they can start with these two, and the rest of them that thought the Call Centre was just what Gisborne needed:  Councillors Geoff Neil, Noel Harvey, John Connor and Henry Bleeck.

 

Ah... and let's not forget the big hand the State government had in the Call Centre becoming a reality. Was ruining a town and putting a community offside really worth - how many jobs was it?

 

People hated the Call Centre when they first heard of it, they just weren't given any chance to say so - were in fact prohibited by Council, the State government and/or VCAT from having any say at all in what happened to their own town centre.  Oh well, perhaps they can have their say next time they vote.

 

 

AAMI Fesses Up:  Who's Been Telling Pork Pies About Gisborne Call Centre?

(9/4/07 - P)  AAMI said "NOT US" over and over again, but now  - well, lookit at who it is!

There were plenty of calls from curious if not angry residents to AAMI last year while the debate raged about issuing a permit for the monster three-storey Call Centre in Gisborne, and AAMI said it, emailed it, and wrote it - it's not us, we've got nothing to do with it, no AAMI interests in Gisborne.

 

Oh, really?

 

Now AAMI has publicly announced - what a surprise - it is indeed the client for which the development was pushed through.

 

MRRA Says:

So all of those denials saying AAMI wasn't involved were... well, they were lies, weren't they?  Seems it's hard to trust anyone these days, including AAMI. 

 

What we are waiting to see is whether the State government has the gall to try to take any kind of credit for its role in being party to, if not driving, one of the worst developments Gisborne will ever see, and one of the basest, most sham processes anyone would ever want to see.  Rumour had it that the government wanted to announce this little gem before the State election last November but didn't quite have the bottle to do it.

 

This Call Centre has floated up from a black hole where open government, proper process and community consultation obviously aren't an agenda item.

 

Our Council's performance can only be called disgraceful - and should have been enough to see this Council suspended - with secret meetings, illegal permits and permit amendments, rescission motions, minutes not supported as accurate accounts, Councillors walking out, the then Mayor allegedly pressuring residents to withdraw their objections...  It pretty much had all the ingredients needed to create a healthy pong over the whole deal, and it has. 

 

VCAT didn't perform much better, ruling that residents had no rights and even when Council couldn't prove it had acted legally, gave it a permit anyway.  And while VCAT found that some of the processes Council had engaged in were well removed from being acceptable, and was - in part - quite critical of Council's performance, VCAT nevertheless recently ruled that it wouldn't award costs to the objectors (against Council) because it didn't believe Council should be punished.   

 

And now, AAMI would have us believe it was just an innocent bystander...

 

Guess the best we can hope for is that, when we all look back on this, we can somehow manage to feel the 200 jobs the Call Centre is supposed to create were worth burying democracy, forfeiting proper process, snuffing out natural justice, ignoring the community and raping a small country town because, in MRRA's view, that's what it took to get them.

 

 

Call Centre Building Works Choke Gisborne

(10/12/06 - P)  Town centre and surrounding areas become dust bowl

Residents in and around Gisborne are dismayed at the amount of dust that is flying around the town as construction works for the 3 storey Call Centre complex in Prince Street get underway.

 

MRRA Says:

Residents have told MRRA there is so much dust, some have mistaken it for smoke.  Others are most unhappy about the dust going everywhere, and invading their homes.  Isn't there something Council can do about it?  Perhaps get the developer to water the site more often?  Then again, that probably wouldn't work either - we haven't got any water to spare, have we...

 

 

Gisborne Call Centre:  VCAT Says Amendment 4 Is Legal, But What About The Original Permit?

(13/11/06 - P)  VCAT criticizes Council processes, paves the way for costs applications against Council, and leaves the legality of the original May 2006 permit open to challenge.  VCAT also says AAMI is the tenant of this 150 seat Call Centre

 

VCAT gave both an oral and written decision on this matter. VCAT's revised, written decision for the VCAT hearing held on Friday 27th October says the fourth amendment to the Gisborne Call Centre permit (approved on 27 September 2006) is legal.  In its finding, VCAT describes the proposal as "The use and development proposed is a $10 million, 150 seat call centre for AAMI in Gisborne."

 

VCAT however declined to make a finding on the legality of the original permit (approved on May 24 this year) or the 3 earlier amendments made to that permit, saying those were not matters before the Tribunal which dealt solely with Council's and the developers' applications to strike out an objectors' application for review of Council's approval of Amendments 3 and 4 to the permit. 

 

VCAT upheld the applications to strike out, finding that no-one has rights to notice or VCAT reviews for planning permit applications made under any Development Plan Overlay.

 

VCAT described evidence presented to the Tribunal by Deb Dunn, representing the objectors, as comprehensive and well-researched. That evidence, based on Council's own documentation, supported an argument that from its own records and minutes, Council had failed to approve a 'development plan' prior to approving the original permit in May.  Under the Development Plan Overlay, Council cannot approve a permit which does not accord with an approved development plan.  The Tribunal, however, said it had no formal applications before it to consider the legality of the original permit and could not deal with the matter.  Note:  This leaves the legality of the original permit open to challenge through an application to VCAT for a Declarations or Cancellation of Permit hearing. 

 

In her finding, VCAT Deputy Vice President, Helen Gibson, was significantly critical of Council, particularly the way Council (mis)uses development plans (that is, Council does not operate in accordance with DSE's Practice Note for Development Plan Overlays and development plans); for giving notice and issuing a notice of decision when there is no entitlement to notice; and even for not using the correct forms and format required by the Planning and Environment Act regulations.

 

The Tribunal has left the door open for applications for costs against Council, from both the developers and objectors.

 

The VCAT finding (P2554/2006) is not yet listed on the VCAT website (www.vcat.vic.gov.au) but should be shortly.

 

MRRA Says:

We've already called this application a dog's breakfast, and this finding just serves to build that perception. While to all intents and purposes this ghastly development will now go ahead, there's a sense that it might not yet be all over.  It will be interesting to see if the State government claims any ownership of it (all those jobs!) before the State election...

 

VCAT's ruling that no-one has rights to receive notice or apply for a review of a decision when any application for a planning permit is made under a Development Plan Overlay means in future Macedon Ranges' residents will have absolutely no say on what happens around them.  Residents, be warned: this will also apply to the 800 lot subdivision recently rejected by Council in Gisborne.  This appalling situation will not alter unless (a) Council prepares and adopts development plans for all areas covered by Development Plan Overlays or (b) the State government changes the way Development Plan Overlays operate when there isn't a (community) approved development plan. 

 

MRRA hears that AAMI, in response to residents' enquiries, continues to deny it has any involvement in, and claims to not be a party to negotiations for, the development.  Hmmm...  Wouldn't be a good look for AAMI, would it, if it turns out AAMI is in fact the tenant that Council has all along been 'bartering' with over parking and staff restrictions.  We hear a number of residents have this week again contacted AAMI, suggesting that the national insurance company look at the ready-made AAPT Call Centre in Bendigo which is apparently about to become vacant, and leave Gisborne alone.  MRRA understands one of AAMI's managers may actually live in Gisborne (surely someone who would have first-hand knowledge of the terrible parking problems that already exist and how the locals want their town to stay rural?).   Not feeling oh so lucky with AAMI, residents are vowing to persist in trying to convince AAMI to move on. 

 

Footnote:  We hear the owners of the Gisborne Village Shopping Centre (who weren't consulted about the call centre either) have acted to stop non-customers from parking all day in the car spaces provided for patrons of the shopping centre.  They have hired a security guard to move on traders and others and will probably likewise 'move on' any overflow from the call centre. We hear it has caused quite a stir, with one resident reporting to us that some traders have now taken to parking all-day in Council's 2 hour parking spots.  Next step is getting Council to enforce its own rules (er, could be tricky!).  One thing's for sure, keeping customer parking for shopping centre customers only will certainly kick up some of the huge parking deficiencies that don't seem to have been realistically considered when Council settled for such a piffling amount of parking and grabbed cash instead of spaces, just to shoehorn the development into Gisborne.

 

 

GISBORNE CALL CENTRE:  A Complete Dog's Breakfast - Council 'Gets Out Of Jail' As VCAT Upholds Council's Application To Strike Out Objectors' Appeal

(31/10/06 - P)  Council lifts 'backflip' to an art form as it again takes legal action against residents.  What the hell is happening with this Council - whose side is it on, and why is it spending ratepayers' money to attack ratepayers?

Well may you shake your head - there surely can't be much left that will surprise, can there?  In a case that long, long ago became a farce that mocks proper process and natural justice, the latest chapter, played out at VCAT last Friday, really does dribble the icing all over the broken biscuits. 

 

Just like the Kyneton Bowling Club debacle, where Council almost sued the community, here is another example of Council 'going' residents - this time, to extinguish residents' rights.  To get there, Council executed an 'in-depth' reversal of its position. The rest of us can only wonder, are there any limits to what will be done to get this Call Centre development over the line?

 

The lead-up to last Friday's hearing started on 27th September when Council rescinded its 13th September motion to not support a fourth amendment to the Call Centre permit but to instead make the applicant start again, with consultation.  The rescission itself represented an award-winning reversal by two Councillors (Relph and Letchford) who supported both the 13th September motion for the applicant to start again, and then the rescission motion to wind it back.  Post-rescission, Council then went on to approve Amendment 4 to the permit it issued in May for this proposal.  Conditions attached to Amendment 4 trigger substantial changes to the proposal (Amendment 5?). Council has delegated authority to officers to make decisions on those changes (which will keep those decisions out of Council chamber - and public scrutiny).

 

But let's go back a step.  Some six weeks before Council approved Amendment 4, it gave notice to three properties and received an objection to Amendment 3.  In Council chamber and in Officer's reports, Council stated that the objection was valid and objectors had a legal right to go to VCAT.  Council further confirmed that right on 27 September by issuing not a permit, but a Notice of Decision to Grant a Permit which gave objectors 21 days to lodge an appeal at VCAT. 

 

Most residents will have read recent newspaper reports of a complaint laid against Macedon Ranges' Mayor Geoff Neil, with the Minister for Local Government, by the objectors to this proposal.  That matter has still to be played out.  It is enough to say the objectors did not withdraw their objection and lodged an application with VCAT to review Council's decision.

 

Within days of the objectors lodging their application, Macedon Ranges Shire Council and the developers lodged their own applications with VCAT to strike out the objectors' appeal, claiming the objectors weren't entitled to either receive notice or to lodge an appeal because the Development Plan Overlay that applies to the land extinguishes rights to notice and appeal. 

 

Note: 

Rights to receive notice and appeal decisions on planning decisions are established in the Planning and Environment Act and apply unless specifically extinguished by the planning scheme. The Development Plan Overlay itself says rights to notice and appeal are extinguished IF A PLANNING APPLICATION GENERALLY ACCORDS WITH A DEVELOPMENT PLAN.  The Development Plan Overlay does not say rights to notice and appeal are extinguished if an application doesn't 'generally accord' with a development plan.

 

It is apparently almost unheard-of for a Council to apply to VCAT to strike out residents' notice and appeal rights. It is probably even more unheard-of for a Council to apply to strike out rights it had already publicly recognised as valid.

 

The upshot of Friday's hearing is that the objectors lost and Council and the developers won when VCAT upheld their applications to strike out, apparently on the basis that the objectors did not have rights.  VCAT's official findings have yet to be published.  Other losers included a group of around 15 residents who were in the process of seeking leave from VCAT to lodge their own appeal against Council's approval.  Another group of ratepayers, who were represented at the hearing, also lost.

 

MRRA Says:

 

Some pretty fundamental issues kick up from this decision.

The losers aren't confined to those with an interest in VCAT applications.  A lot of people are affected by the outcome of Council's action, because this decision has impacts across Macedon Ranges, and the State. 

 

VCAT's (and Council's latest) view that a Development Plan Overlay extinguishes all rights to notice and appeal, including rights attached to permits required under other parts of a planning scheme (apparently whether or not an application generally accords with an approved Development Plan), seems to mean no Victorian has any rights to be consulted about or to appeal decisions made on planning applications on land where a Development Plan Overlay is applied.   Based upon this and another recent VCAT decision, applications in DPO areas seem set to be sorted out solely between developers and Councils, and that's not a comforting thought in Macedon Ranges...

 

Residents, take note:  Development Plan Overlays are applied to most Gisborne residential areas, and that situation will extend to residential areas in all townships if Amendment C39 is approved, because C39 applies Development Plan Overlays across all mains towns.  You will then be shut out of development applications.

 

MRRA's concerns don't stop there.

 

Reports from several sources over time say the State government is the hidden hand behind, and driving, the Call Centre application.

 

The State government is even said to be putting a lot of money into the Call Centre development.

 

If this is indeed the case, how could a State government have any credibility in saying it stands for open, transparent, accountable, fair, consultative governance - and sustainable development - if it has condoned the truly appalling way in which this application has been handled? 

 

This is an application for a major development that has the potential to change the character and function of an entire town;  where all community members have been unusually and/or deliberately excluded from the decision-making process;  where a Council has acted secretly, unpredictably and (apparently) incompetently;  where some Councillors have walked out of Chamber rather than participate in the process;  where some Councillors have not supported confirmation of Council minutes;  where developers have been attributed with admitting to offering inducements to objectors to withdraw objections;  where a Mayor, alone, has gone to the home of objectors;  where proper process has been applied thinly;  where a Council is prepared to attack rather than defend its residents' rights.

 

If a State government was standing behind an application with this history, wouldn't that say a whole lot about the standards (or lack of standards) any such government has, and wouldn't it mean "government of the people, by the people, for the people" does not exist in Victoria?

 

It would also perhaps explain why Council's behaviour hasn't shocked government the same way it is shocking voters in Macedon Ranges.

 

MRRA's scorecard of gains and losses for this proposal is as follows:

 

Gains:  (claimed but not proven) "creation" of 300 jobs, reportedly for AAMI; creation of political photo and spin opportunities.

 

Losses:  The principles of proper and orderly planning; natural justice; every semblance of open and transparent government; the principles of process, of having the same rule for everyone and adherence to law; the fundamental tenets of democracy and equality and the right to be consulted; safety for the frail and elderly; well-being of other businesses and their right to be consulted; the rural character of Gisborne.

 

Not much of a win really, is it?

 

 

Gisborne Call Centre Fiasco Goes To VCAT As Objectors' Lodge Review Application

(21/10/06 - P)  Opens door for other people affected by but not notified of the proposal to climb on board after only 3 properties given notice of massive proposal

It has been confirmed that the disastrous Shops/Offices/Call Centre over-development in Prince Street Gisborne will be contested at VCAT.

 

During the saga of less-than-open decisions on the original permit, and (at least) 4 subsequent amendments, no public notice (other than to three properties) was ever given of this 3 storey, parking-challenged, blue-green glass and copper-highlighted towering box of a building.  Council simply decided it would cause not cause detriment to any person.

 

Residents of Gisborne should be aware that now an application has been lodged at VCAT, they have an opportunity to ask VCAT for leave to be a party to any hearing for this proposal.

 

 

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 17/9/06 MRRA report (below)Mayor 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?

 

 

Gisborne Call Centre Shambles: Shock As Five Councillors Say They've Had Enough, Developer Told "If You Want More, It's Back To The Drawing Board: Put In A New Application And Consult"

(17/9/06 - P)  As the developers submit Amendment No. 4, Cr. Tom Gyorffy says none of the permits issued for the Call Centre are valid and it's time to see some proper processes, including consulting the community.    Click here to see plans

 

The twists and turns of this shambles of an application were mercilessly unmasked at last Wednesday's Council Planning Committee meeting as Council dealt with the Call Centre proposal in public for the first time since it approved the original permit on 24 May, 2006.  There was little information in the meeting agenda; Officer Barry Green's recommendation was that "a recommendation will be provided in an addendum report to be circulated at the meeting, following further investigation.

 

The proposed changes in Officer Green's late addendum report were difficult to read/understand, didn't clearly articulate which permit amendment they related to, and didn't seem to pick up concerns about the poor standards of disabled access proposed noted in the report.  The recommendation was for "the Planning Committee to delegate authority to the CE or Director of Sustainable Development to resolve the outstanding matters with Amendment No. 3, determine the final number of car spaces that can be provided on-site (thus determining off-site numbers), amend the approved development plan and issue an amended permit with the following additional and amended permit conditions..."  

 

Four amendments have now been requested to the original 24 May permit (making some seven planning applications for this site since last December).  Amendment No. 1 changed limits on the number of people on-site from 80 to 150; No. 2 removed all restrictions.  Amendments 3 and 4 apparently came in after Council went behind closed doors at Woodend on 26 July to approve what is now called Amendment 2 (the night Crs. Gyorffy and Guthrie walked out of the Council meeting) . 

 

Amendment 3 expands the floor area (plans dated 18/8/06 show gross floor area at almost 12,500 square metres (that's about 3 acres) and almost twice the floor area approved in public in May); the entry from Prince Street is also closed off, directing all vehicles accessing the development to Goode Street.  It seems the Prince Street facade has been raised higher.   From the plans, the 3 storey Call Centre/office/shops complex (plus basement car park) shows as a huge glass box, towering over single storey buildings.  The 3 storey building has also now been extended south along Goode Street.  Colours proposed are grey, blue-green, copper, and (unbelievably!) zincalume roof, shades, balustrades, louvres, shade canopies and folding doors. 

 

An added complication is that upon receiving Amendment 3, because it resulted in all traffic accessing the site from Goode Street (instead of from both Goode and Prince Streets as originally approved), Council finally decided this development may cause someone some detriment and gave (limited ?) notice which resulted in an objection being lodged [Note: this is the first public notice of any kind given for this proposal].  The objection was apparently overlooked by Council until August 24th.  Oddly, Mr. Green's report says "The issues associated with Amendment No. 3 is that there was a delay in issuing of the amended permit due to the need to clarify the previous minutes of Council meetings [on 23/8/06], the permit was not signed until 25th August 2006.  An objection was received on the 24th August 2006 which in effect meant that the only decision Council could make was to issue a Notice of Decision to Grant A Permit."  [The obvious question here is why did Council have no option but to approve when Council in fact had an obligation to deal with the objection]. 

 

The problems to be resolved under delegation apparently include working out how to deal with the objection to Amendment 3 since the permit was amended/issued without taking the objection into consideration.  Ms. Veronica Schilling told Councillors the objector had legal standing and was entitled to pursue the matter at VCAT, and that issues with Amendment 3 need to be resolved before a decision can be made on Amendment 4.  Council may have to go to VCAT to have the No. 3 permit cancelled if it wishes to issue another permit incorporating Amendment 4.

 

After questions from Councillors it was confirmed that Mr. Barry Green's recommendation for the Planning Committee to delegate authority intended that delegation to include resolving both Amendments 3 AND 4.  Amendment 4 is believed to remove the basement car park and instead put car parking on the first floor of the Call Centre building. 

 

Cr. Helen Relph (South ward) asked if Council would have another chance to look at the building design if it agreed to delegate authority, and was told no.  She then said she preferred deferring Amendment 4 pending resolution of Amendment 3; she would like more opportunity to consider 4, and was concerned about making policy on the run.  Cr. John Letchford  (South) said he was concerned about the facade and wanted more time on it, wanted Council to see it before it was approved.  He then suggested that Council permit officers to negotiate further designs for Amendment 4.  Cr. Rob Guthrie (South) proposed an alternative motion, that the Committee delegate Amendment 3 but bring Amendment 4 back to Council for determination.  The alternative was accepted and moved by Cr. Letchford (South) , seconded by Cr. Relph (South). 

 

Cr. Letchford (South) said there were a number of things to be resolved, the applicant couldn't be given an 'open chequebook', and Council needed to get the best facade and design for Gisborne; he didn't want an out-of-township-character development not in keeping with the area. This was a way forward - it comes back to Council, so Council can see what the plans are and what Council is going to approve.  Cr. Tom Gyorffy (West) opposed, saying this proposal went off the rails at the second amendment, not the third. He didn't think there had ever been any valid permit issued.  The development started at 2,500 square metres floor space and is now at 12,500; it has no resemblance to what came through Council in December last year.  He told Council to go through a consultation process. 

 

Cr. Relph (South) said the whole thing was a dog's breakfast; get No. 3 out of the way, allay concerns about the objection received.  She held concerns with Amendment 4 - get it to come back to Council.  Cr. Geoff Neil (East) opposed, saying he understood concerns others held but the CE and planning officers know what Council is attempting to achieve.  Not moving it forward through delegation was just taking up time; let the staff get on with the job.  Some time ago Council acceded to a request for a major development - it had done that, so let the staff get on and resolve 3 and get on with 4 on Council's behalf.  Cr. John Letchford (South) closed saying Council is the responsible authority, why would it want to abrogate its responsibility for one of the larger developments in the Shire?   It shouldn't be delegated - there are problems with the architectural design of the building.  It will sit for history, sit for a lifetime - it's not like any other.  Get the best urban design and bring it back.  This should be a public decision, and responsibility fairly rests with Councillors to make the decision.  Bring it back and achieve a community decision.

 

The alternative motion was put: Crs. Letchford, McGregor, Guthrie and Relph for;  Crs. Harvey, Neil, Bleeck and Gyorffy against.  At 4 all, the motion was lost on the casting vote of the mayor, Geoff Neil. 

 

Cr. Neil (East) then moved, and Cr. Henry Bleeck (East) seconded, the officer's recommendation with a minor change to include a Cash-in Lieu payment for non-provision of required parking.   The motion was lost when Crs. Guthrie, Gyorffy, Relph, Letchford and McGregor voted against it.  Crs. Noel Harvey (West), Henry Bleeck (East) and Geoff Neil (East) supported the motion.

 

The Mayor then said, where to now Councillors?  In response Cr. Tom Gyorffy (West) moved, and Cr. John Letchford (South) seconded, a motion that the permit process start again, with consultation, for Amendment 4.  The motion was carried with the support of Crs. McGregor, Relph and Guthrie.  Crs. Harvey, Bleeck and Neil opposed.  Note: Cr. John Connor, and CE Ian Morris, were absent from the meeting.

 

Breaking News:  It is believed that notice of a rescission motion has now been lodged,

which means at least one of the Councillors is trying to wind back the decision that the applicant start again with Amendment 4.

 

MRRA Says:

 

This proposal is the quintessential moving target, a soap opera that sees our Council lurching from one award-winning blunder to another.  It's time for that to stop.

 

Belated recognition of the epic disaster this proposal is by Crs. John Letchford and Helen Relph is welcome, but each new attempt to deal with it simply seems to compound the damage already done. Still, the support of these two saw the first sensible resolution in the tortuous life of this application. 

 

Right now, the imperative is climbing out from under what's done down behind closed doors.  That means letting the light of accountability and public consultation in...   But even that won't explain why some at Council seem to have supported the philosophy of 'whatever it takes' to try to get this development over the line.  There's not much that has happened that gives off even a whiff of proper process, or points to a priority for representing, or even being aware of, the rights and best interests of the wider community.  The whole thing pongs, and it's a smell bad enough to kill a brown dog. 

 

The building itself, with its glass exterior and zincalume roof and accessories, is surely a design transplanted directly from somewhere like Essendon, where its sheer size, scale and dazzling lack of empathy with the character of a rural town, wouldn't be an issue.  Its reflective surfaces will glitter and glow well beyond poor little Gisborne; in fact it wouldn't be a total surprise if it could be seen from space under the right atmospheric conditions!   As for parking, we wait with bated breath to see whether the parking requirement has increased proportionately with the ever-growing floor space - our money is on the amount of parking spaces to be provided being completely inadequate, and here's a clue why: even though Council only adopted its flawed Cash-in-Lieu policy earlier in this meeting, that policy was being applied in Officer Green's late addendum.

 

The term 'bigger than Texas' comes to mind as more and more is clumsily shoved onto the site. 

 

When is too much going to be enough?

When will the spin and secrets stop? 

When will the community be consulted?

When will proper and accountable process be applied? 

When will the applicant be required to put in a new application for the much larger development that is now wanted instead of bumbling on with the patchwork permit that constant on-the-run amendments have produced? 

 

There are no legitimate reasons for continuing down the damaging path Council has until now chosen to follow.  There is absolutely no excuse for the disgraceful (and unlawful way) Council has refused to consult the community. 

 

Council has the motion it needs to start doing things as the law, the planning scheme and the community, requires.  MRRA says, get on with 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.

 

 

Dong!!!!  Macedon Ranges' Council Vote Restricts Gisborne Call Centre To 80 People On Site

(28/8/06 - P)  The soap opera continues: will the 'tenant' that Council has bent over backwards to please accept this latest move?

Council now finds itself, by its own making, in extreme discomfort after wedging itself somewhere between a rock and a very hard place. Having issued a permit on 24 May for no more than 80 people on site, then apparently (mysteriously) changing the limit to 150 persons (probably on 12 July but not at a Council meeting), then retiring behind closed doors on 26 July to remove all restrictions - all to please the Call Centre 'tenant' - Council has now voted to go back to no more than 80 people on site.  It happened this way. 

 

When, at last Wednesday's Council meeting, Council voted to accept the minutes of 26 July, Cr. Rob Guthrie challenged the truth of a statement in a report in those minutes, a statement which said Council had made a decision to change the Call Centre permit at the 12 July Planning Committee.  Officer Stephen Mahon confirmed such a decision had not been made at the 12 July meeting, and said the decision must have been made at the 24 May meeting.  Ah... according to confirmed minutes, the only permit issued on 24 May was the original version, with the 80-person-limit at Condition 3. 

 

Changes made by Council on 26 July (behind closed doors) did not change that condition, instead adding to conditions 1 and 2, and deleting condition 4, which on the 24 May permit, related to landscaping. Condition 3 remains intact.  And any concerns about whether changes made on 26 July have legitimacy are in fact irrelevant in this instance, because whichever way anyone wants to cut it, the original condition restricting the number of people on-site to 80 remains in the current permit.

 

MRRA Says:

Who's a too-clever-by-half Council, then?   They used to say often during the Second World War that when things went monumentally wrong, it was a SNAFU.  That is, situation normal, all f***** up.   Is SNAFU too strong a term for the absolute farce Council has made of this permit?   Residents are angry at not being consulted, many of us are stumped trying to find a semblance of appropriate process, we've got Councillors walking out and refusing to confirm minutes, and heaven only knows what's still to come.  What's the tenant going to think?  What does the State government think of a Council that behaves like this? 

 

MRRA hears AAMI are courteously but consistently denying they have anything at all to do with this proposal (can't say we blame them - who would want to be associated with it?), but have declined a request to issue a press release to that effect, saying instead that should they become involved in leasing anything in Gisborne, they would issue a press release to that effect at that time. 

 

It's odds-on we haven't heard the last of this, so stay tuned.

 

 

UPDATE  Three Storey Gisborne Call Centre: No Community Consultation, And Now, Is The  Permit Legal?

(19/8/06 - P)  Is a permit really a permit if it's not approved in accordance with the rules?

Where to from here? 

 

That's the question Macedon Ranges Councillors face at next week's Council meeting (23rd August, Romsey, 7.00pm).  One problem is that at the time most Councillors went behind closed doors to amend a permit for the Call Centre, on 26 July (the meeting where Crs. Gyorffy and Guthrie walked out), the meeting wasn't being conducted under standing orders. Council meetings are run under standing orders which make it an official forum for making legally-binding decisions.  If there wasn't this distinction, decisions could be made anywhere.

 

On the 26th July, Mayor Geoff Neil (East ward) invited a motion from Councillors (moved Cr. Connor (West), seconded Cr. Relph (South) and carried) to suspend standing orders to allow Question Time to proceed, after which the Mayor announced a short recess.  After the recess, the meeting continued without resuming standing orders

 

Council proceeded to make decisions about its Rural Dwellings Policy; a request to the Minister for Planning to appoint a Panel for Amendments C47 and C49; development of Council's Electronic Gaming Machine Policy; a report on the preferred tenderer for the Romsey Hub construction; minutes of the 5th July Finance and Operations, and Policy and Issues, Committees; signing the Victorian Local Sustainability accord; a request for the Minister for Planning to extend Amendment C38; actions relating to the Gisborne Cemetery Trust; and the decision to go behind closed doors to consider the Call Centre where a motion to change the permit for this development was 'agreed to'.  Do any of these decisions 'count' if it wasn't a proper Council meeting under the terms of Council's Meeting Local Law?

 

The next problem Council has is a report in the minutes of the 26 July meeting that says of the Call Centre/Shops proposal: "Further to the report and decision at Council's Planning Committee on 12 July to amend the planning permit conditions, Council has received advice that the conditions still present an unworkable restriction of the operations on the the principle activity [i.e. the Call Centre]."     The problem?  Council didn't hear a report or make a decision to amend the permit at the 12 July Planning Committee meeting, IN PUBLIC OR IN CAMERA.  So where did the events described in the minutes take place on 12 July?  Wouldn't confirming the 26 July meeting minutes, as is, be adopting something that wasn't true?

 

Be at the Council meeting in Romsey on Wednesday, 23rd August 2006, starting at 7.00pm, for the answers.

 

MRRA Says:

Can it be a case of 'oh, what a tangled web we weave'?  As it stands, the changes Council made to the Call Centre/Shops permit behind closed doors on 26 July don't make a lot of sense when applied to the permit originally approved in open chamber on 24 May.  That's because, in between, the original permit seems to have been amended, and the 26th July 'behind closed doors' changes in fact seem to have amended the amended permit, not the 24 May original.  In other words, there is a step in the process which hasn't been made public.  The 24 May permit allowed only 80 employees in the Call Centre at any one time.  At some stage (12 July?) that seems to have been lifted to 150 employees, then on 26th July, lifted again to an unlimited number of employees on the site.  This last seems to have been Council's response to the advice apparently given after 12 July that "Council has received advice that the conditions still present an unworkable restriction of the operations on the principle activity."  So it seems Council, on 26 July, removed all restrictions - because that's what the proponent apparently wanted - without any community consultation or open processes. 

 

Or has it?  It seems to MRRA that unless Council can find a legal forum and basis for the first changes apparently made on 12 July to the original 24 May permit (but not made by full Council in Council Chamber), then the 26 July changes would necessarily apply to the original 24 May permit, not to anything done on 12 July.  In which case, Council won't have achieved what it set out to do.  The changes made behind closed doors on 26 July simply say 'Condition 4 be deleted'.   As Condition 4 on the original 24 May permit relates to landscaping, it seems the '80 employees' restriction, Condition 3, remains a condition of the permit.   Well, come to that, if the 26 July changes are found to not have any legal standing because Council didn't make the decision under standing orders, wouldn't the original 24 May permit be the legitimate permit, the only one made with a semblance of due process? 

 

MRRA has heard some Councillors are saying the building is two storeys high, plus basement.  All we can say is, the officer's report to Council on 24 May said:  Basement (car parking); Ground Floor (Shops); First Floor (3 Offices); Second Floor (Call Centre).  The Call Centre floor area is 3,530 square metres - almost an acre: larger than most subdivision lots Council approves.

 

There is some interesting speculation going around about who is really behind this proposal.  If anyone has any solid information, we'd appreciate hearing it.

 

 

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 couldnít 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 (East) 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. 

Five Councillors have gone behind closed doors to make key decisions, that advantage and facilitate a development proposal, while firmly shutting the community out.  

 

The key feature of the development is touted as being creation of 200 jobs. Terrific. But at what price?  A Gisborne choked with traffic and with even fewer parking opportunities than it has now won't be attractive to shoppers.  Remember them?  They're the people who spend the money.  Doesn't anybody care about the effects the first 3 storey building in Gisborne will have on other properties, on the town's landscape?  We now know our Council has a capacity (and perhaps a preference) for dealing exclusively and privately with developers, and of operating independently of appropriate process and the community whose interests it was elected to represent.  It seems transparency, accountability, and respect for community - elements of a healthy democracy - aren't priorities in Macedon Ranges. The mantra instead seems to be, do whatever it takes. 

 

We hear the Call Centre will be tenanted by AAMI, and that this company has had input into the outcome.  Is it a case of "lucky you're with AAMI, unless you live in Gisborne?"

 

Congratulations Crs. Guthrie and Gyorffy for refusing to play the game.  It's a pity the others don't walk out as well, and just keep walking. 

 

This isn't the end of this story.

 

 

Gisborne Call Centre Approval Rushed Through By Council

(30/5/06 - P)  Shh!  Don't tell anyone the traffic crush in Gisborne is about to get worse - it's Council's little secret.

Last Wednesday's Council meeting saw Council push through an approval for a call centre between Goode and Prince Streets, Gisborne.  No notice of the application had been given to nearby residents - or anyone else.  Despite the proposal falling 214 car spaces short of the number required by the planning scheme and the developer asking for car parking requirements to be waived, Council planning officer, Barry Green, did not think it will cause any detriment to anyone (so obviously no-one needed to know about it).  The original application was for 80 staff at the call centre.  The applicant came to the meeting asking for 120.  Council stuck with the 80 originally requested.

 

MRRA Says:

 

As goes Kyneton, so goes Gisborne. 

 

MRRA recently heard occupants of parked cars in Gisborne are being asked by those looking for a car space how much longer they will be occupying the one they've got!  Maybe residents who are fed up with never being able to find a parking space in these towns will start going to other places to shop where parking is properly considered before decisions are made. 

 

What do you think?

 

Given a person can hardly move in Gisborne at peak traffic times, and it's often faster to walk, should Council have approved another large development without insisting that planning scheme requirements for parking be met? 

 

Should Council have approved the proposal without telling anyone (without giving notice)?  Are you affected by what will happen because the proposal has been approved?  Should you have had an opportunity to see the application and have your say?

 

Nobody's got a problem with job creation, but do we have to keep tossing process out the window, and cutting corners off, to fit it in?  How many more times are private developments in our towns going to get away with not providing appropriate a amounts of parking?   When will developers, and Council, realise that 'no parking' is not good for business - or jobs?