MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire has been told that its delay in releasing a planning report had jeopardised the legally required role of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
VCAT member Michael Deidun said it took three requests “and a pointed reminder of the tribunal’s powers” before he was given the requested document.
“The intent of the council to not release the panel report until the business day after the scheduled final day of the [seven-day] hearing, coupled with its request that it be able to make further written submissions after that time, would have the potential to cause a delay to the determination of this dispute, and cause additional costs to be incurred by the parties,” Mr Deidun said in comments attached to his refusal of the council permit.
“While common sense eventually prevailed in this situation, council should act as a model litigant in tribunal proceedings, which includes being open and transparent about documents that it has at its disposal.
“Open and transparent decision making is a cornerstone of good governance. The easy access by the public to documents that help it to understand the basis on which decision making is made, also assists the public to have confidence in the integrity of the decision making process.”
One of the objectors to a permit issued by the shire also accused it of firstly refusing, and then delaying and frustrating, the release of relevant documents.
After complying with the shire’s freedom of information request the objector was asked to seek less information as “the work involved would substantially and unreasonably divert the resources of council’s sole, part time, freedom of information office for their other operations”.
The permit issued by council – now refused by VCAT – gave the go ahead for a retirement village to be built within the Sorrento historic precinct on a one hectare property at 855-865 Melbourne Road.
Plans for the retirement village’s 39 multi-million dollar units in four two-storey buildings would also have been the first retirement village in the area.
During the hearing in April and June, VCAT was told by the developer that each of the three-bedroom units would “be sold at values upwards of $2.5 million”.
“This is not a retirement village for people who would otherwise be struggling to afford suitable housing,” Mr Deidun said.
“While I accept that a retirement village is a use that can be permitted … and that a retirement village may have a need for a larger footprint, the extent to which the proposed development will present broader building forms not characteristic of the surrounding neighbourhood … represents an inappropriate design ….”
Mr Deidun said the appearance of the four flat-roofed buildings was “very contrasting” to nearby buildings that sought to present “a scale and form that seek to reflect that of the existing heritage limestone cottages”.
“The heritage place is characterised by limestone cottages of a modest scale, with a relatively high level of articulation, and with pitched roofs.”
Mr Deidun did not think the planned buildings and landscaping would “achieve the stated desired outcome” of the shire’s planning cheme.
He was concerned by “the scale and breadth of the proposed buildings, and the nature in which they seek to defy the undulating topography of the land”.
“A far more appropriate and characteristic response to this neighbourhood would see the disaggregation of the proposed buildings into far more modestly sized footprints, and a greater variation of heights provided to the separate buildings as they rise and fall with the undulating topography across the review site.”
In his finding against the council permit, Mr Deidun said he had “not been persuaded that the benefits … can possibly outweigh the very large negative impacts, or disbenefits, that are associated with the uncharacteristic built form and landscaping response that is proposed for the review site, as well as the impacts on the character of the heritage place”.