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?…