Lutton speaks out

LINLEY LUTTON is an urban planner and until recently a member of Fremantle city council’s design advisory committee. Last week he quit from the committee, and now says he couldn’t bear the politic interference and having his committee’s advice fiddled with by a councillor.

I HAVE been told of many rumours about why I resigned from the Fremantle Design Advisory Committee.

I resigned due to my growing sense of dismay at the culture in which the DAC operates.

Design advisory or design review committees are being established in many councils. When operated properly, they are of great value to the community.

I am a founding member of the Design Review Committee at  Victoria Park which has worked effectively for 14 years so I have experienced firsthand the good work some committees do.

The objective of these committees is to ensure councillors and council officers receive the best advice possible on the acceptability of medium to large-scale developments.

They serve the community by ensuring the built environment is as good as it can be.

To be effective these committees must act independently and be unswayed by political agendas.

These are the three major issues which led to my decision to stand down from the DAC. Most deal with independence and political agendas:

• On three occasions the DAC was advised that ‘this project is important to the city’ or ‘the mayor wants to see this project proceed’. I felt my independence was weakened before evaluation had even started. The desires of the city or the mayor should be irrelevant when undertaking design evaluation.

• I was told by a senior officer that at least one councillor edited staff reports including comments made about DAC findings. I have since had this corroborated; and,

• I discovered DAC reports would go to the planning committee and be ‘moulded’ into a final report before going to full council.

One apartment block caused the DAC great concern, but the Planning and Services Committee virtually ignored its advice. They asked us to focus only on the building’s appearance.

Evaluating design goes beyond appearance. Internal amenity; environmental performance; site planning; traffic impact; functional and spatial adequacy; serviceability; impact on surrounding properties; contribution to the precinct; streetscape and landscape; impact on the public domain at street level; and, impact on the micro-climate all need evaluation, which takes experienced experts.

When I complained about what I felt was political interference by the planning committee I was told it was a delegated committee with the right to override DAC findings.

I accepted the right of elected members to disregard DAC findings, however argued the full council should decide on DAC findings, not a sub-set with a strong pro-development group.

My objection and concerns fell on deaf ears.

Victoria Park’s advisory committee is highly regarded and completely independent. There is no opportunity for councillors to mould its findings. Political agendas simply do not enter into the equation and councillors are certainly not allowed to edit any officer’s report.

On Fremantle’s DAC I was involved in assessing large-scale strategic projects at the centre of the council’s development drive.

On several projects the DAC met with the proponents over many months because major problems were not be adequately resolved. On several occasions I suggested that we hold workshops to resolve the issues.

Even after these workshops the proponents wouldn’t address the shortcomings, which were of a substantial nature.

The DAC could not stop these projects because its terms of reference limit its role to giving advice. In Victoria Park, support for a poor project can be withdrawn making it very unlikely to be approved by the elected members. Developers invariably lift their game.

I watched a crisis develop as projects being pushed by the council failed to meet acceptable design standards.

Inevitably they were dealt with by the planning committee in a way which suited certain pro-development agendas.

One problem with councillors who lack planning and design training taking things into their own hands is that developments get through and set a poor precedent.

One particular project has already opened the doors to a raft of design precedents which significantly lower the living standards of apartment dwellers.

The whole idea of holding the line on planning and design issues—regardless of how much the developer pushes their case or the city wants it to occur—is to ensure poor compromises do not get built.

This is precisely why officers’ reports must not be edited by untrained councillors.

The last straw for me was a proposal for a large strategic site coming back to the DAC with no evidence the architects were prepared to address the poor relationship between the new building and the adjacent public domain—a very serious issue in Fremantle.

My sense of futility was overwhelming as here again was another major strategic project going down the same path of compromise where the wants of a developer override the best outcome.

3 responses to “Lutton speaks out

  1. GRAEME MacKENZIE, CEO of the City of Fremantle, has responded to Dr Lutton’s complaints, as follows:

    Mr Lutton cites three major issues as to why he resigned. The City would like to address these issues which are outlined below:
    1. Mr Lutton refers to three occasions where the DAC was advised of the importance of a project to the City or the Elected Members, and on this basis claims this weakened the independence of the DAC.
    2. Mr Lutton refers to being told that at least one councillor edited staff reports and DAC recommendations.
    3. Mr Lutton claims that the DAC reports are ‘moulded’ in between consideration by the City’s Planning Services Committee (PSC) to when the report is tabled at a full meeting of council.
    City of Fremantle response:
    1. The City has stated publicly on numerous occasions that projects such as the Point Street development are of great strategic importance to Fremantle’s revitalisation. As a matter of course, the DAC were also advised of the strategic importance of a particular project (and other background issues such as relevant scheme provisions). This in no way was/is meant to influence the DAC in any way. To suggest these comments were made in an attempt to undermine the DAC’s independence is incorrect.
    2. DAC recommendations are put to committee/council as agreed by the chair of the DAC and there is categorically no case where a councillor has edited staff reports and DAC recommendations.
    3. This point appears to demonstrate a misunderstanding of council processes. The City’s PSC has a role in determining applications under its delegated authority from council, and in some cases refers a matter on for consideration to a full ordinary meeting of council. In cases where the PSC refers a matter onto full council, the officer report (and DAC comments therein) always remain in full and unedited. A cursory examination of the PSC / council minutes will confirm this. It’s worth noting that the majority of proposals considered by the DAC are not determined by either PSC or council, they are determined by a state government Development Assessment Panel (DAP). PSC and council are only able to make a submission to the DAP.
    None of these specific allegations in the article were made in Mr Lutton’s resignation letter from the committee in December. 
    He did express a concern at what he saw as the inability of the DAC to have any real impact on many projects, while stressing that this was not through any fault of the DAC, its members or council management.
    In actual fact, some of the comments and concerns raised by Mr Lutton within the DAC meetings have led to a review of the terms of reference of the committee, which the City is currently undertaking.  This will be the subject of a report to council in February this year
    I have the utmost confidence in the integrity of both the DAC and the PSC and although some minor tweaks are warranted, I believe this process provides council with the best possible information for basing their decisions on.
    Graeme Mackenzie                                                              
    Chief Executive Officer
    City of Fremantle

  2. it is unfortunate that dr lutton’s comments are true
    the greenwash mayor and councillors are destroying fremantle’s unique heritage
    what the fremantle society … has managed over decades to conserve will be destroyed by this “green” led bunch of fools
    greg smith
    town planner

  3. Complete rubbish from the CEO of Fremantle. Linley Lutton’s view contradicts that of what the CEO is pushing down our throats and trying to get us all to believe. The problem with this so called ‘renaissance’ is that the cracks in it are starting to appear and those supporting it, are trying to patch them up. They cannot afford to have people question the validity of their plans.

    We have seen that these goals are extremely vague and most likely overly ambitious and irresponsible. The City needs to focus on the things it is supposed to be in control of. At the moment it cannot even get a fair outcome for its ratepayers in relation to its own leases.

    Keep Lutton and sack the CEO. Its long overdue.

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