Council and the Trust: an ongoing saga

Councillor Meredith Sheil has made a long comment online regarding The Trust’s open letter to Council following the finalisation of the sale of publicly owned property to the developer of the site.  Click here for the full text of the Open Letter.

Councillor Sheil should not be surprised by The Trust’s attitude towards Council’s role in the redevelopment of the GSV site.  Our view is long standing and has been canvassed on a number of occasions.

In our submission of 7 November 2013 objecting to the original Moch Pty Ltd proposal for the GSV site, which was subsequently withdrawn we argued that:

It is an overdevelopment of the site.

  1. The revised DCP, which sets the planning controls, is flawed and misleading.
  2. It will have an adverse impact on the character and amenity of the surrounding residential and commercial areas.
  3. It will exacerbate existing parking and traffic problems.
  4. It creates a poorly designed gated community physically separated from the rest of the area and fails to provide a safe and healthy environment for its occupants.
  5. It involves the demolition of a building of considerable heritage significance, which was on land previously owned by Council.
  6. The proposed GSVD redevelopment is a cheap and very ordinary proposition that is driven by commercial profit and pragmatism.
  7. The Council, as a stakeholder in the proposal, has failed to properly represent the community by taking a leadership role in its development

(The items in bold relate specifically to Hunters Hill Council’s role in the development.)

Click here for the full text of The Trust’s 2013 submission objecting to the proposal.

A flawed Development Control Plan

In summary we argued that a major reason for the overdevelopment of the site is because Council accepted the revisions to the LEP and DCP in the Newbold Review of 2009.  The revised DCP increased the density and height allowed on the site on the basis that the previous controls would not deliver financially-feasible redevelopment” of the site.  The Trust argued: “ this clearly puts the developer’s financial interest ahead of the community’s interest and the maintenance of the amenity of the surrounding area”.

The demolition of 10 Cowell St

In the 2013 submission The Trust also took Council to task for its failures in relation to the publicly owned heritage building at 10 Cowell Street.  Since the submission was written Council moved to have the cottage heritage listed but, as we noted in the open letter,

The Trust was shocked to discover that it excluded the curtilage of the property.  This is unique for a Schedule 5 property listing in Hunters Hill’s LEP.   The exclusion of the curtilage was designed to allow the developer to remove the house from the site and erect it somewhere else.  It was to ensure that heritage issues did not interfere with the overall development of the site.  It has meant the density of the site’s development will be maximized and has precluded the possibility of a lower scale development that is nuanced by the retention of the historic cottage.  

Council failed to properly represent the community by taking a leadership role in its development

Our 2013 submission noted that Hunters Hill Council’s landholdings are essential to the amalgamation and redevelopment of this site.  Council is therefore in a powerful position to be able to set the agenda for what the development should achieve and to be an active player in developing design solutions to benefit the wider community and to ensure that Hunters Hill’s heritage is preserved.

Council has deliberately relinquished a leadership role in the development.  Instead it has passively sold off its land holdings to the developer and allowed the demolition of an important item of Hunters Hill’s heritage that was previously under its stewardship.

Moch Pty Ltd 2013 DA withdrawn

The developer, Moch Pty Ltd, in the face of criticism from Council’s planning consultants, withdrew this Development Application.  There was a big sigh of relief all round and The Trust addressed The Council meeting on 14 July 2014.  We noted in our address that Council now has this terrific opportunity to

A) Reassure the community that it is a trustworthy custodian of our heritage and

B) That it has the mettle to revisit the DCP’s controls to ensure a much better outcome.

 We also set out what any new proposal should include.  For the full text of the address to Council, click here.

An even bigger development

However, Moch, having fired their original architects and employed another group of consultants, has now submitted a Planning Proposal that proposes trashing the existing planning controls to allow for an even more intense development of the site with a consequential greater negative impact on the surrounding area.

Blame the State Government

In her response to The Trust’s open letter, Councillor Sheil has argued that that Hunters Hill Council has no responsibility for what is happening on this site and that it is all the fault of the State Government.

While it is fully understood that The State Government has increasingly taken over planning controls and even as we speak is in the process of extending complying development to include two-storey density development housing, that does not remove Council’s responsibility for the development of the GSV site.

From The Trust’s perspective, Council, as a 25% owner of the land, had an opportunity to play a major part in the pattern of development of the site.  Items 2, 6 and 8 in our 2013 submission all relate to Council’s direct responsibility for how the site could have been developed.

Councillor Sheil’s argument that Hunters Hill Council was powerless to do anything also seems more than a little ironic considering how much Council is spending in time and effort in an attempt to convince Hunters Hill residents of its continuing relevance and capacity as a stand-alone council.

Community consultation

Councillor Sheil also refers to the Council’s efforts in community consultation.  A number of Trust committee members attended the Future of Gladesville Community Workshops”, which were held in November 2014.

In a letter to the General Manager The Trust was strongly critical of this process.    We also took issue with the online survey, its design and intent.

We concluded that we believed – the survey and consultation meetings run by Place Partners were so deeply flawed that they will not enhance the prospects for the Future of Gladesville.   We think the process has taken two big steps backwards and suggest that if Council wishes to engage the community in the planning process for the Future of Gladesville in any meaningful way it needs to ignore Place Partners’ contribution thus far and start again.   

For the full text of the letter about the Future of Gladesville Workshops click here.

Hunters Hill Hotel development

Councillor Sheil cites the development of the Hunters Hill Shopping Village with a positive spin.

This ramshackle agglomeration of badly designed buildings does not necessarily represent a plus for Council.  As well, the process by which it came into being is not something that Council can take much pride in.

The intention of the planning controls in the DCP for the Hunters Hill Village is to preserve the existing two-storey scale of the area.  However it does allow a third storey provided it is set back from the face of the lower two.  Council signed off on a plan submitted by the Hunters Hill Hotel that allowed the it to build a three storey building on the street front with an additional 4th storey above that.

The Trust fought hard to prevent this happening but Council finally gave in to the developers and did not even challenge their argument that they had “existing use rights” over the old ground level car park, which somehow delivered them the ability to trash the controls to build an additional storey and, as a consequence, to change the intended two-storey scale of the shopping village.

Before the Village Plan was adopted Councillor Sheil may also remember the massive Town Hall meeting held to protest Council’s original proposal in the draft DCP for the Hunters Hill Shops to allow four-storey development thoughout.

The role of The Trust

Councillor Sheil accuses The Trust of hurling emotive insults and accusations at council and claiming that a merger(sic) mega-council would do any better.  I don’t see this accusation holding up to any close scrutiny – our language has always been restrained, unemotional and not insulting.

She also wants to “encourage the Trust executive to re-appraise their position and to endeavour to be more objective” 

Here Councillor Sheil seems to misunderstand one of the essential roles of The Trust and one of the principle reasons why it was formed.  A major part of our relationship with Council has been one of “keeping the bastards honest”  (to quote Don Chipp).  As a consequence the relationship from time to time been combative and adversarial.

This has been the case from the beginning.  As Richard Temple and Greg Martin wrote in The Vision and The Struggle, An account of The Hunters Hill Trust’s First Twenty Years, The Trust was formed by a group of concerned locals “at a time when the climate was ripe for residents’ protests against the bureaucratic indifference of the Council and the threat to the unique character of this suburb”.

Even the account of the iconic battle for Kelly’s Bush had Council on the other side of the battle; The Vision and The Struggle notes: “on November 4th 1969 Council, against all the public opposition, voted to rezone Kelly’s Bush to allow (the development of two-storey town houses proposed by AV Jennings)” and that “The Trust was not only in conflict with The State government over Kelly’s Bush.  The majority of Council was also opposed to retaining Kelly’s Bush as open space”.

Temple and Martin go on to note: “It is interesting how Council officers and former aldermen, who at the time were either all for compromise or quite opposed to The Trust’s views, are now proudly asserting the value of such a recreational area in the municipality”.

A word on amalgamation

In our letter to members encouraging individuals to make their own submissions, we made it clear that The Trust is not advancing the case for amalgamation.  However in the event that this were to occur and given the Trust’s Aim in maintaining the unique and historical character of Hunters Hill, we believe we need to put our energies into advocating for the inclusion of those things we have set out in our submission in any new merged Local Government Area.

Tony Coote

President, Hunters Hill Trust

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3 Comments

  1. Meredith Bayfield
    Posted March 14, 2016 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Tony.

    However, my point is not whether or not the Trust disagrees with councils management of a single development in the 155 year of the council.

    My point is that The Trust has failed to acknowledge and support the single greatest asset Hunters Hill has to protect it’s Heritage and it’s Conservation – and that is the independent Hunters Hill Council – and the plans, policies, local representatives, heritage and development staff and community integrated governance structure (the community-councillor committee structure – such as CAP ) that is unique to Hunters Hill and provides the fundamental architecture that has prevented the destruction of heritage and character in Hunters Hill since the 1960s.

    It is this unique model of council that local community members – friends and family – fought to establish, and to protect for the past 60 odd years. it has been recognised as “best-practice” in management of local heritage and has been, and still is, promoted by the National Trust as a best practice model for the protection of heritage for councils through-out Australia.

    Instead you have taken to running a smear and fear campaign over the potential re-development of the contentious issue of the moment – which is the GSV site.

    As I stated. I believe this is a catastrophic failure of the Hunters Hill Trust – that will play out over the next 60 years once Hunters Hill Council is dissolved this council-community network of environmental and heritage protection is lost.

    My second point was not that the Trust has a difference of opinion to Council regarding development of the GSV site – but rather that it is using it to run an emotive smear and fear campaign that is unwarranted and unjustified.

    Again – with regard to the GSV development – The reality is that Council has, and continues to manage this re-development process with the best possible outcome for the community and heritage and character preservation in mind – within the directives of the State Government to increase housing along public transport routes.

    Again – I will remind you (although you were there – so I’m not sure why it is required) –
    a) the Trust and CAP were heavily involved with developing the original DCP and LEP for the site – that you later decided was inadequate.
    b) Council agreed with the Trusts original assessment that the development application at the GSV site did not meet the LEP and DCP controls set out in our planning documents for the site. Hence the development did not receive council support and was withdrawn by the applicant.
    c) Subsequently, Hunters Hill council responded to the concerns raised by the community and the Trust – regarding the DCP, being inadequate, that arose during this process, and implemented a comprehensive new process (with the Trust and the community) to develop a new DCP that has addressed the communities concerns.
    d) with regard to the sale of Cowell street – the cottage has heritage protections in place that must be addressed in the DA application process in the same manner as any other significant or heritage building in the precinct, or indeed the suburb. I am aware that you are now of the opinion that council should have either not sold the building or tried to use it as some sort of leverage over the developer. I have explained that council chose not to “get into bed” with any leveraged arrangements with the developer – and instead stay independent and at arms length from any and all development applications – and rely on the proper statutory DCP and LEP controls and processes that council and the community and Trust have developed together to guide re-development of the site.
    If you disagree – This is a difference of opinion with regard to management. Not an excuse to claim council is deceitful, incompetent or ignores heritage west of the overpass.

    With regards
    Meredith
    Member Hunters Hill Trust

    Did any other council do this?
    Since this time the developer withdrew the application as it did not meet the LEP and DCP controls.
    Council accepted community concerns regarding the DCP and has undertaken a comprehensive revision of the DCP

  2. Meredith Bayfield
    Posted March 15, 2016 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Dear Tony
    Further to my last comment – re: your now referring to me as “Councillor Sheil” – I wish to note ( again) that all my correspondence to you on this site is in my capacity as a member of the Trust, and on behalf of myself and my family, not in my capacity as councillor, nor on behalf of council.

    Any correspondence to you from council on these matters will come from the GM or the Mayor.

    My position as councillor and Chair of Conservation Advisory Panel simply places me in a position to be well informed on the matters which you address in your publications and correspondence to our council on behalf of we the members. I note that these matters are also all on the public record.

    As a member of the Trust, who is therefore well informed on these issues, I am conscious of the need for publications that purport to represent my views and those of my family to conform to the constitution of the Trust, to be factual, unbiased and objective, and not to make unfounded allegations against people.

    I therefore write as a member of the Trust to notify yourself and other members where I believe the publications / communications of the Trust are not fulfilling these objectives.

    With regards
    Meredith Bayfield
    Member Hunters Hill Trust

  3. David Gaunt
    Posted March 18, 2016 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Meredith Bayfield’s comments could be taken at face (i.e. coming from a Trust member), were it not for the fact that she continues to “defend the indefensible” when it comes to the GSV. Rightly or wrongly (and I believe quite wrongly), the Council on which she sits as a Councillor has abrogated its role as protector of heritage, and promoter of good planning, at the site, most particularly with regard to 10 Cowell St.

    The whole process, from the Trust’s perspective, has been contested and documented for a very long time. I can only assume that her role as a Councillor precluded her from taking part in the process by which the Trust formulated, and stuck, to a consistent position which is very clearly on public record. Monthly meetings, regular Journal publications, AGMs and Christmas parties and other events have taken place over a long period, without her participation. It seems to me that she in this matter at least she is wearing two hats. her heart may be in the history and spirit of the Trust, as she says, but her argument on behalf of Council’s role in the GSV suggests the Councillor’s hat is the one that really fits.

    David Gaunt
    Member Hunters Hill Trust

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