Council votes to turn Coburg into concrete jungle but residents win some concessions

MCC 11.12.13 B[By Sue Bolton] The Moreland Council meeting on December 11 voted to turn Coburg into a concrete jungle, but residents did win some concessions. The gallery at the Brunswick Mechanics Institute was packed with more than 100 people for the second meeting in a row. While residents mobilised on a number of issues, the majority were there for the vote on the future of Coburg.

Residents mobilise against plan

The council began the year with planning amendment C123 for a sea of 6-, 8- and 10-storey buildings in the central Coburg area, to turn it into a mini-CBD or Docklands. The plan included mandatory height limits, but also for very tall buildings right beside residents’ single level homes, a very small amount of open space, and would have removed residents’ right to appeal against developments. Many residents wanted to retain the village character of Coburg rather than have a very-built-up shopping centre.

Residents were unaware of the proposal until a residents’ meeting was organised by a local resident and myself. This meeting formed the Save Coburg Residents Network.

Residents were incensed that the council put a full-page advertisement in the December 9 Moreland Leader which is simply a propaganda piece for the Coburg plan. It included just enough information about the council meeting for the council to be able to claim that it was informing residents, but it went beyond that, emphasising a couple of good points and omitting the many bad points that residents are upset about.

Some concessions won

Residents won some concessions at the December council meeting but these don’t go far enough. The council voted to send the planning amendment C123 to a state government planning panel with a submission that includes:

  • Lowering the height of 10-storey buildings in Precinct 1 (the central Coburg shopping centre) to 8 stories.
  • Lowering the height of 10-storey buildings in Precinct 2 (northern side of Bell St) to 6 stories.
  • Reinstatement of residents right to object to development for residents on the interface with the Coburg Activity Centre.
  • A small expansion of green/open space.
  • Reinsertion of provisions for affordable, accessible and environmentally sustainable housing.

The proposal to reinstate residents’ right to object to developments throughout the whole Coburg Activity Centre was defeated on the casting vote of the Labor Right mayor Lambros Tapinos. Myself, the two Greens councillors and Labor councillors Lita Gillies and Oscar Yildiz voted to support residents’ right to object.

Greens councillor Lenka Thompson proposed the compromise resolution. My resolution for substantially decreased heights of buildings lapsed when the majority of councillors voted for the heights proposed by Thompson.

Only three councillors opposed final resolution

Only three councillors opposed the final resolution: they were myself, and councillors Lita Gillies and Oscar Yildiz. We voted against the Coburg amendment C123 because the concessions didn’t go far enough and don’t reflect the overwhelming majority of submissions in the community consultation on the proposal.

The majority of submissions called for residents’ right to object, substantially reduced height, more green space, preservation of the character of Coburg and raised fears about traffic congestion and lack of services and infrastructure.

Residents who made submissions can make submissions to the planning panel and the panel will make a recommendation to the council which the council can accept or reject or amend.

It is important that residents remain active and raise their views when the council makes the final decision on the future of Coburg in 2014.

Save Coburg campaign forced changes

The concessions that have been won are solely a result of the tremendous efforts of the Save Coburg residents group. If not for this group, most of the councillors would have voted for the original plan put to council.

The decision of the council means that Coburg residents won’t be able to object to the height of developments in the heart of Coburg. It also means that residents won’t all have the same rights. Residents who eventually move into the new buildings that are likely to be built in Coburg will be second-class citizens because they won’t have the right to object to other developments in the area.

Residents from Brunswick were also upset that the resolution passed by the council in December 2012 for mandatory height limits in Brunswick has not been acted on 12 months later. The other planning amendment for Brunswick (C134) was deferred from the December council meeting and then vanished off the agenda. It will be debated at the February meeting.

Affordable housing vital

One positive development was the adoption of an Affordable Housing policy which has a proposal for the council to investigate a Land Trust with a view to the council building some of its own public housing.

This is a positive development because Moreland council has mostly been working in partnership with not-for-profit housing associations to provide affordable housing. The problem is that housing associations discriminate against people on benefits and pensions so they are not providing genuinely affordable housing.

The next step is for the council to allocate money to fund the plan. While local councils don’t have the budgets to resolve the issue of the lack of public housing, such measures could help put pressure on state governments for investment in this area.

[Photo by Tony Dewberry.]