Thursday, April 25, 2013

Boroondara Councillors oppose Darebin Bridge

I attended the Boroondara Urban Planning Special Committee meeting held on Monday 22 April.

I was keen to speak to the meeting about the need to extend the planning permit for construction of the Darebin Bridge.  Here is what I said at the meeting [link].

This bridge has been needed and requested for nearly two decades.  Two years ago all necessary approvals were provided by local councils and the Victorian State Government  but unfortunately the bridge was still not constructed.

Now the planning permit granted by VCAT for works to progress on the Boroondara side of the Yarra is about to lapse so the Urban Planning Special Committee was considering whether to extend the permit.

The meeting agenda and the Council Officers Report on this ("UPC4 27 Willow Grove, Kew East")  can be downloaded from here:
From the report:

The Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) in conjunction with VicRoads and the Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD) have applied for an extension of time to the planning permit that allows the construction of a shared trail that connects the Darebin Creek Shared Trail with the Main Yarra Trail, via Willsmere Park. 

The following tests were identified by the Supreme Court and are the established principles in deciding whether to extend a permit: 
  • Whether there has been a change in planning policy or zoning; 
  • Whether the owner of the land is seeking to 'warehouse' the permit; 
  • Any intervening circumstances; 
  • The total elapse of time; 
  • Whether the time limit originally imposed was adequate in all the circumstances; 
  • The economic burden cast by a permit on the land owner; 
  • The probability that a fresh application, if made, would be granted a permit. 
Officer's response
This request for an extension of time does not create an opportunity for parties to reopen the debate on issues such as consideration of alternative alignments of the shared trail. The tests established by the Supreme Court are all met. None of the changes made to the planning scheme since 2009 preclude or discourage the development. The State Government have affirmed their commitment to the project, allocating funding and announcing a new policy document, Cycling into the Future 2012-23, which lists this development as a priority project.

Here is my summary of the Councillor's statements about the extension and their vote.

Cr Phillip Healy (meeting chair)
  • There is a better location for the bridge
  • Willsmere Park must be protected so the bridge to it and bike path across it must not be built 
  • Vote: against
Cr Jack Wegman
  • No comments made
  • Vote: against
Cr Jane Addis
  • The election of a new council was a significant factor and there were concerns about the bridge.
  • Vote: against
Cr Coral Ross
  • The debate about the bridge alignment should not be reopened as per the Council Officers report.
  • There are no grounds to oppose the extension of the permit
  • Vote: for
Cr Phillip Mallis
  • Supported the Council Officers report and recommendation
  • Vote: for
Cr Judith Voce
  • Declared a conflict of interest relating to her previous statements on the Darebin Bridge and was excused from the meeting.  Did not vote.
Cr Kevin Chow
  • Supported the bridge and the extension, but noted that vote was going to go against the extension so he would change his vote to also oppose it.
  • Vote: against
Cr Steve Hurd
  • Had visited the park and appreciated hearing nature and some bird calls
  • Mentioned that he cycles occasionally on the rear of a tandem.
  • Stated that he thinks the Chandler Highway bridge crossing is safe and convenient for cyclists and there are no problems for cyclists using it
  • Vote: against
Cr Heinz Kreutz
  • The Darebin Bridge has been needed for some time and its construction is well overdue
  • Commended the speakers from the community (17) who addressed the meeting and supported the extension of planning permit
  • The procedural matter to be decided was the extension of the permit, other locations are not up for debate, despite some speakers opposing the extension raising other location options.
  • Vote: for
Cr Jim Parke
  • The Council and Planning Committee does have the power to vote on the matter
  • The Council is not bound by decisions made by the previous Council
  • Provided no reasons for opposing the extension
  • Vote: against
So the proposal to extend the planning permit for the Darebin Bridge was defeated - 6 against, 3 for.  

This was not a good outcome, considering the very significant community need and support for the bridge, the State Government recently announced funding for it as a priority projects, VicRoads is doing detailed planning and construction of the bike path route connection has commenced on the north side of the Yarra.

Following the vote, the Cr Phillip Healey from the chair addressed those present and said:

"You environmentalists should be ashamed of yourselves. I am protecting the (Willsmere) park, you wish to destroy it"

This was an extraordinary outburst delivered in a very angry manner.  I thought it was quite inappropriate.

My concerns about the meeting are: 
  • The Council Officers report was ignored by those who voted against the proposal
  • None of the Councillors who voted against provided a valid reason for not extending the planning permit
  • Some Councillors canvassed alternative locations for the bridge - which was not a matter for discussion or decision at the meeting
  • Councillors should vote on the merits of a proposal - not change their vote to align themselves with a majority position.
  • Input from 17 people from the community in support of the extensions was ignored by a majority of the Councillors at the meeting.
  • The meeting chair did not stop objectors canvassing alternative locations for the bridge, despite this clearly not being relevant to the proposal.
  • None of the opposing Councillors said they were representing the views of constituents from their respective wards.  They appeared to vote based on their personal opinions.
  • The meeting chair had a clear and serious conflict of interest on the issue as he has made strident statements over a period of several years opposing the proposed location of the bridge.
  • The meeting chair should not make comments that belittle or demean members of the community who choose to address Council meetings. This would appear to be in breach of the Council's Code of Conduct for Councillors.
  • Council has a duty of care for Boroondara residents - forcing cyclists to use the Chandler Highway bridge and associated road crossings creates significant risk of collision with motor vehicles resulting in serious injuries or deaths.
It is not clear how the construction of the bridge will now proceed.  The State Government and or VAT apparently will need to make a ruling on the matter and override Boroondara Councillors refusal to extend the planning permit.  This will be a waste of taxpayers money and further delay construction of the bridge.

Here is a list of most of those who addressed the meeting to support the proposal and the Darebin Bridge:
  • Graeme Martin, Co-ordinator Community Coalition for the Darebin-Yarra Link 
  • Julia Blunden, Boroondara Bicycle User Group representative on the Community Coalition.
  • David Farrow, Boroondara BUG member and retired traffic engineer 
  • David Hall, Whitehorse Cyclist representative on the Community Coalition and retired engineer 
  • Chris Ashe, Boroondara Bushwalker Representative on the Community 
  • Robin Gallagher, Darebin BUG Representative on the Community Coalition 
  • Jenny Henty, Member Lighter Footprints and Boroondara BUG
  • Mike Taylor, former Whitehorse Cyclists president
  • Glennys Jones, Boroondara BUG member and Bike Ed volunteer.
  • Alan Ball, Manningham BUG 
  • Dr Steve Rockman, parent with child/ren travelling across the river to Kew High School
  • Maurie Abbott, Co-ordinator Banyule BUG 
  • Roger Thornton, Secretary Boroondara Bushwalkers 
  • John Parker, Boroondara BUG 
  • Peter Campbell, Boroondara BUG 
  • James Thyer, Community Coalition member
  • Gary Brennan, Bicycle Network Victoria
  • Michael Nolan, local resident
Crash statistics for the Chandler Highway
  • Crashes involving bicycles on the Chandler Hwy include 2 serious injury and 5 other injury crashes.
  • The route is a black length for cyclists which would qualify for road safety funding. 
  • Most (4 or 5) of the accidents including the 2 serious accidents are on the Yarra side of the river. 
  • These are very serious numbers noting that bicycle numbers are high.
See also

No comments: