Tag Archives: planning

Labor & Liberal Councillors push Victoria Road rezoning and dismiss Department of Planning directive

Marrickville Greens – Media release

4 February 2015

The Marrickville Greens Councillors today expressed their grave concern at the decision by Labor and Liberal Councillors to dismiss a Department of Planning request to withdraw the proposal to rezone 18 hectares of industrial land to high density residential in the Victoria Road Precinct Marrickville, and to instead push the developer’s proposal by trying to arrange a lobbying meeting between the development consortium and the Department of Planning.

After considering the rezoning proposal for gateway assessment, the Department of Planning wrote to Marrickville Council to “request Council withdraw the planning proposal to incorporate the recommendations of the [Employment Lands] study and allow for further investigation of the strategic merit of retaining the Victoria Road industrial lands in the context of the broader local government area and subregion”

“I am very concerned that Councillors made a decision to push the interests of developers over the significant, clear and strong advice from the Department of Planning, Council’s own planners, and the conclusions of the Employment Lands Study,” said Greens Councillor Max Phillips.

“The Department of Planning’s response was crystal clear that the rezoning proposal developed by the consortium was flawed in multiple ways, would not get through the gateway process and that it should be withdrawn. Councillors have thumbed their nose at this directive and instead moved to help lobby for the developer’s high-rise plans.

“We have left the realm of genuine, logical debate, and entered the strange world where certain Councillors are actively trying to use their power to do favours for a development consortium. Residents should be very concerned.

“The resolution passed by Council 7-5 rejects the Department of Planning’s request to withdraw the rezoning proposal and requires Marrickville Council staff to arrange and facilitate a meeting between the development consortium and the Department of Planning.

“These Councillors are effectively forcing Council staff to act as lobbyists for a private developer. This creates a major conflict for Council’s planning staff whose assessment recommended rejection of the rezoning proposal.

“The Greens want Council to heed the request of the Department of Planning to withdraw the rezoning proposal and initiate its own review of the precinct with the broader community interest in mind.”

The vote on the resolution was:
For Gardiner, Tyler, Macri, Hanna, Woods, Iskandar, Barbar.
Against: Phillips, Leary, Brooks, Ellsmore, Haylen.

Contact: Cr Max Phillips 0419 444 916

Council should take control of Victoria Road precinct planning

Marrickville Greens – media release

20 January 2015
Greens Councillor Max Phillips today welcomed news that the Department of Planning had rejected the proposed developer driven rezoning of the Victoria Road Precinct in Marrickville and said that Marrickville Council should now commence its own planning review rather than wait for the developer to submit revised plans.
“It was no surprise that the Victoria Road precinct failed to pass through the Department of Planning’s gateway process given it was badly flawed and and more of an ambit claim for developers dreaming of mountains of profit,” said Greens Councillor Max Phillips.
“It’s vital that Marrickville Council now re-assert its role as the planning authority and representative of the broader community interest, by commencing its own planning review of the Victoria Road precinct.
“The Employment Lands Study has been delivered and found that the precinct was an important part of Sydney’s position as a global city and generates considerable employment.  It concluded that the precincts location close to the CBD, airport and sea port, made it incredibly strategic land for industry in Sydney.
“This study provides a clear direction for Council to promote a positive evolution and rejuvenation of this area.
“Council has an important role to bring together disparate visions for the precinct and conduct a genuinely strategic planning review in the long-term and broader interest of the community.
“The Greens moved to begin such a review in November 2014, but other Councillors wanted to wait until the Department of Planning had completed its gateway assessment. Now that assessment is complete, there should be no more excuses for Council to begin its own planning review,” he said.
Contact: Councillor Max Phillips – 0419 444 916

My position on the WestConnex motorway

A speech delivered by Max Phillips, Greens candidate for Summer Hill at a WestConnex meet the candidates public meeting at St David’s Church Haberfield, 19 November 2014

The Greens have a long proud history of opposing the WestConnex motorway in all its various guises.

It was first referred to as the Marrickville Truck Tunnel in the early 2000’s by former Labor Mayor of Marrickville Barry Cotter. The Greens opposed it then. It re-emerged during the Carr and Iemma years, as the M4 East and the M5 East, and the Greens opposed it then. And the Greens unequivocally oppose the WestConnex motorway now.
Building more roads to relieve traffic congestion is a superficially attractive proposition.

However, experience in Australia and overseas shows that it simply does not work. The more you build new roads or expand existing roads, the more cars you attract. That’s not me just making it up.

An academic study by Duranton and Turner, entitled “The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion: Evidence from US Cities”, found that vehicle kilometres travelled was in lock-step with increased road capacity. They conclude that an increased provision of roads is unlikely to relieve congestion.

I have visited US cities where urban planning has gone off the rails; cities such as Dallas Fort-Worth have been built around the motorway. Motorways absolutely destroy the fabric of a city and tie people closely to their cars. Many smart cities are now dismantling motorways to breath new life into urban areas. It seems crazy for Sydney to build a new motorway through the densely populated Inner West – with the associated health impacts from exhaust stacks, the loss of housing through acquisition, and of course, the extra traffic dumped on local roads.

There are ways to reduce traffic congestion.

We should be investing in public transport. If we put money into public transport to improve frequency, improve accessibility by installing lifts at stations, creating new routes and services, create interconnections between the current hub and spoke routes, then people will get out of their cars and use public transport. The Greens support moving the funds allocated to WestConnex, to public transport.

The other proven way to reduce congestion is to put a price signal on traffic congestion – a congestion charge. In cities such as London, Singapore, Milan and Stockholm, a congestion charge has led to a significant decrease in traffic congestion. In Stockholm, they achieved a 20% drop in traffic congestion after implementing a congestion charge.

A congestion charge can also raise funds to go into public transport and is widely supported by transport academics and economists. It is also supported by social justice organisations such as the NSW Council of Social Services. The Sydney Harbour Bridge already has variable time-of-day charging. While the train system effectively has a congestion charge with higher fares during peak times. Why should people contributing to traffic congestion not pay for the negative externalities they are causing, particularly if it will make the existing road infrastructure run more efficiently and negate the need for more motorways?

While a congestion charge is a controversial idea, I believe that Sydney needs to have a discussion about using congestion charging and investment in public transport, rather than building the WestConnex motorway. To that effect, I have brought a motion to Marrickville Council to support a congestion charge as an alternative to WestConnex.

I am also concerned about the urban development planned in conjunction with the WestConnex motorway. Developers all over Sydney are licking their lips at the prospect of high rise development along Parramatta Road. But I do not think existing infrastructure will cope with such development. Local roads will not cope and cannot be expanded. There is already a shortage of childcare facilities and school places. A new motorway will not solve these problems. Such development will also fundamentally change the character of our existing neighbourhoods.

While Labor might say they are opposed to WestConnex locally or ‘in its current form’, at a broader level they will support the project

On the 4th of November, Shadow Roads Minister Michael Daley was on 2UE radio chastising the government for not going fast enough with delivering WestConnex.

The Greens have been actively supporting the community in opposing the WestConnex motorway. On Marrickville Council the Greens have always strongly opposed the WestConnex motorway, even when other councillors vacillated. In the NSW Parliament we have been trying to pry open the secrecy around the WestConnex project by using the powers of the parliament to obtain documents.

If elected as the Member of Summer Hill, you can be assured that I would continue to be a fierce opponent of WestConnex and pursue smarter solutions to traffic congestion.

Greens move for Council to conduct its own planning review for Victoria Road precinct

Marrickville Greens – Media Release

12 November 2014

Greens move for Council to conduct its own planning review for Victoria Road precinct

Greens Councillor Max Phillips will move a notice of motion for Marrickville Council to commence its own independent review of the zoning and development controls for the Victoria Road precinct once the employment lands study has been received, in a move designed to provide an alternative vision to that of developer driven proposal currently being reviewed by the Department of Planning.

The motion reads:

That Council:

 

  1. Notes the public meeting regarding the development of the Victoria Road precinct that occurred at the Red Rattler Theatre on 30 September;

 

  1. Notes the formation of the Marrickville Community Planning Collectivewhich aims to engage residents, businesses and other stakeholders in planning issues;

 

  1. Resolves to commence its own independent review of the zoning and development controls for the Victoria Road precinct once the Employment Lands Study has been received.

Councillor Max Phillips said: “The Greens believe it is important for Council to conduct its own community orientated planning review of the zonings and developments controls for the Victoria Precinct so as to provide an alternative to the developer driven plans currently being assessed.

“The Council’s creative industry study has already been received, while the employment lands study will soon be finalised. This provides the perfect opportunity for Council to conduct a holistic and strategic review of the precinct.

“Council plays an important role in the strategic review and development of development controls, and the Victoria Road precinct should be no different.  If we leave it to a developer to conduct the review, we have essentially privatised strategic planning of an important area in Marrickville,

“The plans developed by the Danias Holdings led consortium are driven by the profit motive, which is not necessarily in the broader and long-term interests of Marrickville residents, business and workers.

The motion was developed in conjunction with the Marrickville Community Planning Collective who are working to ensure broader community interests are represented and injected into planning reviews of the Victoria Road precinct.

Council has previously drafted a master plan for the McGill Street precinct in Lewisham when confronted by a sizeable Lewisham Towers project.  Since its adoption, this master plan has been an important reference point for planning authorities and the community.

Contact: Max Phillips 0419 444 916

Massive re-zoning of Victoria Road precinct gets fast-tracked

Marrickville Greens – Media Release

4 September 2014

Developers got their gold-plated wish granted by Marrickville Council last night, with a 6-5 vote to send a 18 hectare re-zoning proposal to the Department of Planning Gateway process, despite serious concerns being raised by planning staff and members of the community.

“The Greens are greatly concerned by the way this massive re-zoning is being fast-tracked without proper community consultation or important information made available to revise the proposal,” said Greens Councillor Max Phillips.

“After the vote, I overheard property owners talking outside the council chamber. One said to the other – “congratulations mate, you’ve just made a couple of million dollars”. This goes to show just how important re-zoning decisions are, the potential for huge windfall profits, and underlines why council should undertake proper and thorough processes.

“Re-zoning, all or part of this area is could bring some benefits and the greens support sustainable development and rejuvenation of the area.

“However, rather than taking a few more months to do proper consultation and revisions to the proposal, Labor, Independent and Liberal Councillors have opted to push a half-baked and greedy developer-driven proposal up to the Department of Planning.

“Councillors were given a 600 signature petition raising concerns about the project. The 600 signatures were gathered over only a few days as the issue went viral on social media, particularly among people concerned about the creative industries being squeezed out of the area by blocks of apartments.”

Contact: Cr Max Phillips 0419 444 916

Beynon & Hayward building granted heritage protection at last

Marrickville Greens – Media release

 
3 September 2014
 
The iconic Beynon & Hayward building at 6 Livingstone Road Petersham has been granted heritage status by Marrickville Council after over 500 people signed a petition urging heritage protection, and a successful rescission motion passed at Tuesday night’s Council meeting by a 6-5 vote.
 
“This is a great outcome for the community and preserving our precious heritage,” said Greens Councillor Max Phillips.
 
“There was a huge response from the community when they learnt this iconic building was in danger of demolition for a car park.  Many people know and love this building.  
 
“The Greens are pleased that this building will remain as part of the character of our area as well as our history.
 
“Any redevelopment will hopefully adaptively reuse this building in a creative way,” he said.
 

A professional heritage study conducted to NSW government guidelines found the building has significant heritage value, is one of the last few examples of this type of industrial architecture left in the Inner West, and recommend it be granted heritage status to protect it.

 
The Greens first flagged heritage issues with the building in June 2009 when Councillor Macri raised the idea of its demolition for a car park.

Contact: Cr Max Phillips 0419 444 916

Taking a stand against secrecy in planning

This is a story about what you can get dragged through when you challenge the system to stand up for what’s right.

It starts with a unsolicited proposal from the developer Meriton, who approached Marrickville Council with an offer to negotiate a Voluntary Planning Agreement (VPA).  The proposal was for Council to receive $5 million in return for supporting Meriton going from 10 storeys to 20 storeys, with a corresponding increase in density, at their Lewisham Towers development.

When I tell most people the proposal there response is generally “That’s a bribe. That can’t be legal?” 

However, it is legal.  On 6 May 2005 the NSW Labor Government made these kinds of offers legal by legislating Voluntary Planning Agreements into the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.

Lewisham rally-TheGlebe

Local residents rally against the Lewisham Towers proposal

It’s no coincidence that this was at the height of developer donations flowing to the Labor Party.  Between 2003 and 2007, the NSW Labor Party received  $8,223,322 from the property sector.  Meriton itself was one of the more generous donors, giving the Labor Party $226,050 during that period.

The proposal was presented to a Councillor briefing on 27 November 2012.  We shared the information with a few people after the meeting, but thought the proposal so outlandish that it wouldn’t go any further.

I was wrong.  On the evening of Friday 7 December Councillors received a ‘Supplementary Business Paper’.  It was marked ‘confidential’ with a red cover and contained the Voluntary Planning Agreement proposal from Meriton with a decision as to whether Marrickville Council should enter into negotiations with Meriton.

Usually councillors receive the meeting papers on either Wednesday (or Tuesday night) leaving almost a week to read, consult and consider the agenda items before the Council meeting at 6.30pm the next Tuesday.

I was surprised that Council was seriously being asked to consider entering into a Voluntary Planning Agreement of this nature with such little notice and confused as to why the matter was deemed confidential by the staff preparing the report.

I emailed the Director of Planning, Ken Hawke at 12.23am 8 December 2012 asking:

“Can you provide more details on why the report on Meriton’s offer over the Lewisham Towers is confidential?”

I did not receive a response from Mr Hawke until 2.20pm 10 December 2012.  The response stated:

“Meriton advised that they submitted their offer as commercially in confidence,We accepted this argument, hence the item being confidential”

I believed this respond to be inadequate.  It is a central pillar of local government that planning matters are conducting in public.  There is a high risk of corruption on planning assessment because developers can make very large profits through decisions such as re-zonings or increases in height and density.

VPAs have been identified by the Independent Commission Against Corruption as a particular risk because of the ‘wide discretion and flexibility available to planning authorities’.  Indeed, the ICAC notes in its report “Anti-corruption safeguards in the NSW planning system 2012”:  “The perception could arise that a developer bribed a council to facilitate a favourable decision. “

ICAC recommends transparency in planning assessment and decisions as a key to preventing corruption.  It notes:

“Transparency is an important tool in combating corruption and providing public accountability for planning decisions.  A transparent planning system ensures the public has meaningful information about decision-making processes as well as being informed about the basis for decisions.”

I had been fighting overdevelopment of the Lewisham Towers site since 2008 and helped start the No Lewisham Towers community group.  Now I was faced with an outrageous planning proposal that was being dealt with in secret.

I was also conscious that certain Councillors tend to do one thing when the public is paying attention and another thing when they are not.  This is particularly true about the Labor Party Councillors who have a record of approving overdevelopments, but are sensitive about needing to appear progressive to voters.

After discussion with my fellow Greens Councillors, I decided the public had a right to know what council was deciding on, that transparency was likely to result in a better decision, and that there was a high risk that if the matter remained secret, Council would enter into negotiations on a VPA that would be much harder to undo at a later stage.

The initial oral briefing had not been confidential, and some Councillors had already told members of the public about the proposal.  So I decided to base public comments on what had been conveyed at the oral briefing rather than the written report.  I informed the No Lewisham Towers residents group about the proposal and I informed the Sydney Morning Herald, which ran a story – Size does matter: council offered $5m to approve towers at double the height, and I did an interview on ABC 702 radio.  I was also critical of the proposal being deemed confidential.

I knew that some Councillors would come after me, perhaps with a formal complaint, but I decided I wasn’t going to be complicit in keeping such an important matter secret.

There was public outrage towards the proposal, and also concern about the proposal being considered behind closed doors.  A group of residents came to watch proceedings, but were ejected from the public gallery as the Council went into closed session.

In closed session the Council resolved to reject the VPA proposal.  Mostly the debate involved other Councillors shouting at me and accusing me of “forcing their hand”.  It was concerning that some Councillors clearly felt that they may have made a different decision if the item had stayed secret.

As I suspected, the Labor Party put in a formal complaint alleging that I breached the Code of Conduct for Councillors.  Meanwhile the Greens put forward a policy to avoid VPA’s being dealt with in secret.

What followed was an investigation and report by an independent reviewer.  A censure motion against me and a demand that I unreservedly apologise to Meriton and Council.  I refused to apologise and I maintained I had acted ethically and in the public interest. You can read more about this here: Secret deals and censure motions.

The refusal to apologise was forwarded to the Division of Local Government for investigation.  Almost a year later the Chief Executive decided to order my suspension from Council for two months for failing to apologise.

You can read more about this here: Councillor suspended for being honest.

I appealed by suspension at the Administrative Tribunal and won, beating the suspension and need to apologise because the Tribunal found that I had not breached the Code of Conduct at all!

The Tribunal’s decision is available here: Phillips v Director General, Department of Premier and Cabinet [2014] NSWCATOD 48

It was only at the Tribunal, in front of a real judge, that I felt I had a fair hearing.  Marrickville Council itself is too riven with politics and conflicts of interest, that the proposition that Councillors would judge the case on the facts is ridiculous.

Max Phillips after the Tribunal hearing on March 26

Max Phillips after the Tribunal hearing on March 26

Disappointingly the Division of Local Government turned out to be a very strange, rigid process. They seemed intent of rubber stamping the Council decision and enforcing obedience to the Code of Conduct rather than investigating the facts of the matter.  Later at the Tribunal hearing they admitted they did not bother to look over the facts other than a cursory look to conclude things appeared “sound”.  In their submission to the Tribunal they said actually reviewing the facts of a case:

“is a power that should be used sparingly, for to do otherwise would be infringing on the autonomy of councils and, from a practical point of view, overstretching the limited resources of the Office [of Local Government].”

The Division of Local Government was intent of forcing me to apologise.  They did not care whether the apology was sincere or insincere.  Indeed during the hearing Peter Barley, the lawyer for the Division of Local Government said: “you could have crossed your fingers behind your back and said sorry, and then you would not face this suspension.”

But I refused to lie to the electorate by making an insincere apology.  Not only would it have undermined my own credibility, but it would have been unethical.  Part of my reasons for appeal against the suspension was that s439(1) of the Local Government Act explicitly requires a Councillor to act honestly.

The Division of Local Government responded by bizarrely by redefining honesty as ‘obedience’.  Responding to my argument that  an insincere apology would breach the Act’s requirement to act honestly, they state that it is: “an attractive argument… but ultimately superficial.”  The say that honesty “has shades of meaning” and that “acting honestly in certain circumstances involve adopting the standards of your peers”.

I found it bizarre that they wished to redefine honesty as obedience especially in a democratic system that by definition requires differences of opinion to be held and communicated.  It was quickly becoming a Kaftkaesque situation.

The Tribunal Member, Judge Wayne Haylen, ultimately found that the way the Code of Conduct operates that my argument about honesty failed. (I won the appeal on other grounds).  This makes me wonder what the point is of forcing Councillors to issue insincere apologies?  It seems to me that an apology is rather pointless if it is not genuinely felt.

Judge Haylen put it to me during the hearing that what I had done was the equivalent to an act of civil disobedience and that the penalty for such an act was a suspension from Council.  I have to admit that this threw me for a moment at the hearing.  However, I do not believe that informing the public of an important planning matter was an act of civil disobedience.  In fact I regard it as a core part of fulfilling my role as a councillor.

Ultimately Judge Haylen seems to agree with this view by finding that an apology was not necessary because I had not breached the Code of Conduct in the first place.  For a variety of reasons he found that the information I put into the public domain was not confidential and therefore there was no breach of the Code of Conduct.

There is important points in the decision about the use of confidentiality.  Judge Haylen notes:

“The report adopted by Council presumed that the material was commercially confidential in the way specified by the legislation because Meriton had stated that it wished the agenda item to be dealt with as confidential. That request accepted apparently by either the Planning Director or the General Manager did not descend into detail or identify the matters referred to in the Act. There was no evidence before the Tribunal as to the nature of the confidential material submitted by Meriton to the committee. Importantly, no one in the council independently turned their mind to the question of whether or not the material was confidential. An interested party clearly could not make that decision in their own interest but needed to present appropriate material to council to justify confidentiality of the material and in a way that reflected the legislative requirements for confidential status.”

This gets to the crux of the issue for an elected representative. We were confronted with what superficially looked like a technically correct process (red covered confidential papers), but below the surface was a dubious process with no real justification and with potentially serious consequences.  At this point a representative can either go along with the system, or they have to pause and to think independently about what is in the public interest and to make a call on what to do.

Too many of elected representatives get absorbed into the system.  They get captured by the rules and traditions and become another cog in the system.  This is especially true on councils where Councillors are part-time and voluntary and can easily be led by experienced staff who control the information.  Rather than a true representative, they become yet another administrator.

John Ralston Saul critiques the dominant role of the technocrat in modern society in his book Voltaire’s Bastards. His thesis is that technocratic systems get so caught up in their own systems of logic that they lose sight of common sense.

Challenging the status quo and shaking up the system are some of the important functions of the Greens in our political system.  Ultimately the Tribunal vindicated my decision to go public with the information.

There will always be some need for certain information to be handled confidentially.  However, too much information is deemed confidential in today’s society and it is too easy for bureaucrats or governments or others to default to confidentiality whenever there is some doubt.  Confidentiality can also be misused, particularly in hiding difficult or unpopular decisions from public scrutiny.  In my view, a decision to deem something confidential should always be accompanied by a detailed justification of exactly why it should be confidential – just giving it a red cover or printing the words ‘confidential’ is ultimately superficial and not good enough.

The decision in my case sends a strong message to Councillors across NSW that they should act in the public interest and not be intimidated by other Councillors or staff on issues of confidentiality.

The claim of confidentiality is often misused to keep decisions away from public scrutiny and I encourage people to always question whether there is a valid justification for something being deemed confidential.

Councillor Max Phillips

 

 

 

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