Another activist writes:
In my voluntary role with WERA [West of Elgar Residents' Association Inc], I have attended hearings on more occasions than I care to remember. Whilst all my experiences were associated with the City of Whitehorse, on ALL those occasions the Council had refused the application. Often the original proposal failed so many of the local planning scheme objectives that it was refused under delegation.
I was also involved in Justice Bell's review of VCAT - [submission and meeting]. Despite his review, there remain real problems with VCAT from the community's point of view.
I list the major problems which I have encountered-
* Substitution of plans at the last possible time before a VCAT hearing. Often these are not minor. In one recent case,[original directly refused by Council], I counted over 60 alterations. Surely, this should have gone back to Council as a new proposal.
* Lack of independence of "Expert" witnesses . So many times they have been employees of the developer, or involved in the development of the proposal.
* VCAT Member acting as a Planner -altering the design of the application, and then setting aside the decision of the Responsible Authority.
After Whitehorse Council had rejected an application on 14 grounds, the Tribunal RE-DESIGNED 19 of 32 units set in a Surrey Hills side street, imposed 28 planning conditions and gave approval.
Further, in the years since I first represented WERA [i.e the local community] at VCAT, the type of developer and the size and density of the proposals have changed. Originally, a proposal was by a local builder wanting to erect up to 3 units on a block. All of WERA's most recent applications have involved overseas consortiums acquiring relatively cheap [compared to activity centre] land in local streets and then applying to erect 25 -36 apartments, wall to wall and 3-4 storeys high. Such massive proposals make it even more daunting for ordinary residents, as these developers come to VCAT with barristers and supporting staff and their own witnesses.
The current classic example is in a short side street near me:
No shops, no bus, no units, Californian bungalows, tree lined -family community. An application for 6 x 3 storey townhouses + 20 units in 3 back yards - 3-4 storeys high, minimum set-backs.
This application was totally rejected by Council under delegation,so now we are off to VCAT - with apprehension in our hearts.
If we could believe that planning substitution was not allowed.[ie the plans put to Council are being judged], that witnesses were truly independent, and especially that local planning schemes were to be respected, then maybe we could be more hopeful.