The bureaucrats V the public

MELVILLE’S councillors have delivered a stinging snub to the city’s planners, choosing a policy prepared by a community group to control building heights around Canning Bridge over the bureaucrats’ own suggestions.

In the public service equivalent of dropping to their knees and begging councillors to listen to them, the planners included no less than 20 warnings in a report to last week’s full council meeting that the city was on a collision course with the powerful WA Planning Commission if it adopted the policy created by the stakeholder working group.

In case that wasn’t burned deeply enough into their retinas, urban planning director Stephen Cope delivered the same message as a verbal “advice note” before councillors made their vote.

But his entreaty wasn’t enough to sway councillor Margaret Sandford, who ran for council on platforms of controlling the ever-increasing heights in the bridge precinct and wrestling power back to elected officials; she successfully moved a motion to reject and replace the officers’ recommendation with her own.

That committed the council to putting the working group’s Canning Bridge Activity Centre Plan – Density and Bonus Provisions policy out for consultation. It aims to set a higher bar for developers before they can achieve bonus storeys in the precinct.

The working group was initially appointed to assist the city’s planners, but opinions differed over a draft produced by an external consultant and they decided to work up their own model.

Swan Foreshore Protection Association founder Clive Ross was on the group and told the council the consultant’s version would maintain the status quo.

More onerous 

“They didn’t look at what was best for the community, they just went ahead and said that’s what’s happening now, let’s keep going with it.”

Mr Ross said advice from the WAPC that his group’s policy was “more prescriptive, more onerous and … more difficult for people to do” was exactly what the area needed.

“It’s intended to provide guidance, it’s intended to control.”

Fellow working group member Cameron Sobejko, a 40-year resident of Melville, summed up the aim of the policy.

“Tonight’s topic, while it may seem complex, is actually very simple; bonus heights only for real, substantial, long-lasting community benefit,” Mr Sobejko said.

“And let’s be very clear; with hundreds of millions of dollars of property being approved or constructed today there has been no benefit – not minimal – none.

“As an active member of the community I have not been inside them (not that I’m allowed to), I’ve not visited them and sadly, I’ve not even felt the desire to sit on the handful of steel chairs that sit three metres back from Canning Highway at Sabina.”

Mr Sobejko outlined six principles in the policy, including the creation of a community infrastructure committee with council and community members to determine what was needed in the area.

It also included a maximum and minimum density for each zone, which he says would make it easier to get bonus heights on big developments, but would still achieve and surpass housing targets set by the WAPC.

There would also be a maximum bonus height of one-third of the base height of a development.

Mr Cope had warned that if the council tried to be too prescriptive with its policy, the WAPC might step in and rule it out, while developers might simply bypass the council and lodge their applications straight with the state.

Councillors Nicole Robins and Duncan Macphail were the only councillors not to back the community policy, with the latter raising concerns that there had been manipulation of the working group’s membership to favour opponents of the bridge plan.

by Steve Grant

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