Fear of Rejection – Planning Permit Applications

Posted by on Nov 26, 2012 in Blog, Opinion, Planning | 11 Comments

This week I got rejected, and it hurt. No self-help books, large tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream, or trip to a psychologist will help me with this one. This time only my friends at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal – VCAT will be able to make me feel better.

The council refused a planning permit application for two townhouses I designed. I know deep in my heart, that it wasn’t me it was them. I must be strong and remember I have a 100% success rate in gaining planning permits; and some of those were via trips to VCAT to overturn the council’s decision. I have been down this road before, I’ve never lost, and this is not going to be the first. So off to VCAT I go, to do battle with the council once more.

It upsets me deeply when a council decides the fate of a planning permit application on a political decision, rather than good planning. They fear people objecting, as an unhappy electorate could mean votes against them come election time. It’s so disappointing that the look of many of our streets is unfortunately often not dictated by well-designed housing, but by personal agenda. Cutting edge innovative design means change, which many fear, it’s the unknown, and this leaves us with the approval of applications with no thought to design whatsoever, just a systematic tick off of the planning requirements to get approval. Just near my home, I found these horrible examples in one street. How do these contribute anything positive to our suburbs?

The result is blight after blight on our neighbourhoods, and ironically the change that people fear, and council not assessing design quality allows this rubbish through. Once built they realise how bad it is, and we find ourselves where we are today, with any development considered “inappropriate”, this then further perpetuates people’s fear of increasing densities. With that, we have less housing to meet our rapidly increasing population; we are simply not getting the opportunity to create more housing for more people to live in inner Melbourne, instead they must pack a snack as they embark on the long drive home every night to the outer suburbs. My blog on ‘inappropriate development’ covers my stance on this in greater detail. Ironically I had to pull over today as I drove passed this on my travels. Someone’s not happy…

Back to my rejection: This time the council would not even let me go to advertising –the board out front making passers by aware they can go into the council and review the application, and object to the proposal if they are against it. In the 11 years running my practice, I have never been refused point blank like this. It’s getting harder each year.

I pour my heart into every one of my projects, this was no exception, months of hard work analysing the adjoining properties to create a design with no overlooking, no overshadowing, no visual bulk, no loss of amenity to adjoining properties, in fact no non compliance with Rescode, and yet rejected. I worked tirelessly to create a beautiful design, energy efficient, and an exciting contribution to this street, in the hope to undo some of the damage done by woeful units from the 70’s and 80’s that make up much of it. So what’s the problem? This council is conservative, and my designs are different and inventive. Shame on me for wanting to create new exciting housing, all I want is to offer something better than so much of what’s out there.

The council did not give me a reason for their refusal. They did ask if I would make changes to my design. The front townhouse is aligned next to a wall on the northern boundary belonging to the adjoining house. This wall casts a shadow over the subject site all day. In response to this I placed the living areas upstairs, and bedrooms downstairs, elevating the areas used during the day to clear the height of the wall on the boundary, and gain full access to that all-important northern sun. Off this living space, above the garage is a 32 square metre terrace. But the council decided the terrace does not constitute a yard and asked me to make the small courtyard on the ground floor, which is in shade all year the main yard and therefore bigger. This request cannot physically fit; the design would no longer work. A bigger yard on the ground floor which services two bedrooms and is in shade all year? This is what I am dealing with. Essentially the council is saying that my energy efficient design is not an important consideration to them, and they refuse to recognise the north facing first floor terrace as an outdoor living space, as it is not what they are used to. This is how our new housing is being judged.

So what’s next? The wait time to get a hearing at VCAT is currently 8 months! That gives you some idea of how many applications end up at tribunal.

I love my work, and I love this city. But to need to fight like this to get good housing out there, it just breaks my heart. The rubbish getting through pains me even more though. So I have no other choice but to keep fighting.

Here is my application below.

The deck that’s not a yard?…

11 Comments

  1. Astrid Goble
    November 26, 2012

    Hi Darren,
    I am hearing you! There is something fundamentally wrong with our Planning legislation – I have come across similar situations – funnily enough as both an architect and the dreaded “objecting neighbour”!
    As an Architect I had a permit issued by delegation with 3 pages of conditions, a request to resubmit elevations and a planner who barely stopped short of telling me how the front elevation should look (with no regard to our pre-application discussions or to the considered, holistic process I applied to arrive at the design).
    As a humble resident I objected to a townhouse development to our north on the grounds of overlooking, overshadowing and basically very poor design. Response from council: The drawings comply, permit granted. Interesting, since the drawings blatantly misrepresented the correct ground levels and therefore height difference between the two properties; but this fact seemed to be of no consequence to Council. How do we argue against such a fundamentally inconsistent approach to how applications are assessed, how do we fight the ridiculous politics of local councils?
    All I can say is keep up the good fight, continue to apply innovation and to practise great design, and good luck at VCAT.

    Reply
    • Darren Naftal
      Darren Naftal
      November 26, 2012

      Hi Astrid,

      It’s both comforting to hear from another architect who knows and understands the frustration, yet distressing that this happening to me, you and so many others.
      I go through exactly the same thing as you mentioned. I often get heavily scrutinised by the council, yet I will go to the planning desk to view a proposal being advertised in my street and see the most in-comprehensive drawings, with no attempt whatsoever at design, yet they have no such issues as you and I, and get their permit. It really frustrates me. I’m certain they make it hard for the likes of you and I who work hard to create good design and provide a better rather than standard (poor) solution they seek. The council often forces us to either dumb down our designs to get a permit, or head off to VCAT. It’s just not right. Buildings are with us for decades, and they should be of a standard that we will want to keep using after they’ve been around for 50 years, not need to tear them down and start over.

      There are major inconsistencies in the system as you say. I’m glad you are with me fighting the battle. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Part of what my blog is about is to make more people aware of what is happening, and with that hopefully bring change.

      Great to hear from you.

      Darren.

      Reply
      • jo
        November 29, 2012

        Hi Darren,

        As an Architect witha passion for residential design I share your pain. I can’t believe what I see approved by planning around our streets, when I know how hard I have to fight every planning application to get carefully considered and composed designs through.

        I read recently in the Registered Building Practioner newsletter that something like 80% of residential designs in Victoria are done by drafties. That leaves only 20% of the market open to architects, and to whom else I am not sure?

        I recall once hearing that Bob Carr, when premier of NSW, bought in legislation that any building over 3 stories in height in NSW had to be designed by an Architect? Not sure if this is correct, but if it is it would be interesting to see the arguments as to why, and perhaps the same could be introduced in Vic.

        I really have to wonder why our profession is held in such general diregard in residential design, when I know how hard and thoughtfully my colleagues work to create the best designs possible for their clients.

        Have to get back to work now on a planning application-hopefully it will sail through!?!!

        Reply
        • Darren Naftal
          Darren Naftal
          November 29, 2012

          Hi Jo,

          Beautifully said. I’m glad I have had a couple of architects join in on this discussion. It’s important we get this awareness out there, as it’s the only way we can hope to bring any change to the situation.

          The figures I have heard say that only 3% of housing in Australia is designed by architects. This is evident in the terrible designs we have all around us. There is not a street without multiple poorly designed (if you can call them designed) examples. I feel there needs to be two significant shifts. The first: the industry should be regulated like it is in much of Europe whereby only architects can design buildings. Number two: we need architects within the planning system to assess the design elements of applications, and we need the councillors to stay out of the process. This is not about votes, it’s about what this city needs desperately.

          It saddens me too as to why more people don’t value architects here. I think for many it’s a matter of costs. With land and construction so expensive here, the architect is unfortunately the first thing to go.

          Thanks so much for your contribution. I hope the likes of you and I can rally up more people and make a change. We all deserve to live in good housing.

          Good luck with your current planning application. I hope you have a permit sometime soon.

          Darren.

          Reply
  2. Geoff Collinson
    November 27, 2012

    It is quite hilarious really. These people must never actually look at the crap they let through. I thought Melbourne had something to live up to as the art, culture capital of the country but I guess it happens all over the country! Even more importantly the need for environmentally sensitive and thoughtful design for our future instead of energy chewing boxes.

    Reply
    • Darren Naftal
      Darren Naftal
      November 27, 2012

      Exactly Geoff. I’ve often had the thought that the town planning process would make good reality TV. It would be categorised as ‘Drama’ but ultimately be seen as ‘comedy’. It’s a shocking situation when the future of one of our most important needs, housing, is so poorly handled that it becomes laughable. A good show for Spondo.com 🙂

      Thanks for your contribution mate.

      Reply
  3. Bron
    February 19, 2015

    Hi Darren

    I’ve just spent most of this week reading all the blog entries you’ve created – well done! I have no background at all in architecture but stumbled over your blog while I was researching heritage listed californian bungalows. I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts and watching the videos. Keep up the good work!!

    Bron

    ps – I had a chuckle over the naming of the above photos as ‘uglies’ haha absolutely!

    Reply
    • Darren Naftal
      Darren Naftal
      February 19, 2015

      Wow Bron. All of them? I’m so glad you enjoyed them. Thank you, that really means a lot!

      Reply
      • Bron
        February 20, 2015

        haha yes – all of them! You have a great writing style.

        BTW – you should put a subscribe widget in your sidebar so that people can subscribe. Means that readers wont have to remember to check the blog and they can get an email reminder when you post.

        Reply
  4. Paul
    October 7, 2016

    I write to support the principle of intelligent, sustainable medium-density population growth for the inner-middle ring suburbs that can be built on old industrial sites, derelict or ‘tacky’ late 20th Century houses (however subjective that might be). What dismays me is that we are currently bulldozing so many charming old houses with no structural issues, and replacing them with jerrybuilt townhouse clones, purely in the interests of developer greed. I should know – I bought one of these townhouses because I was one of the many priced out of the house market – but I unwittingly became part of the problem I am now describing. On research, I discovered it once was a period brick home belonging to an old Italian; he grew his veggie patch, talked to his neighbours and added value to his community. The man who bought it, razed it to the ground and then built a monument to his own greed, has no interest in leaving a legacy. He doesn’t see history, he doesn’t see neighbourhood character, he doesn’t see sustainability. He and his mates are a cancer. I just passed yet another lovely, old brick home with an application for a multi-storey townhouse development staked into the heart of its front garden – a proposal to erase it, and the character that attracts people to the inner suburbs, forever. When the problem is excused all the way to level of state planning legislation, what hope do we have? I had to vent somewhere – a gasp of air in the face of a sh*t-storm.

    Reply
    • Darren Naftal
      Darren Naftal
      October 10, 2016

      Thanks Paul for sharing your experience and thoughts. It pleases me to know that there are others such as yourself who feel and understand this issue. It is only through understanding that we have any hope of making right this terrible wrong. We have seen such a rapid decline in our housing standard, which spoils what made this city so great. Continue to help spread the word.

      Reply

Leave a Reply