Last Wednesday saw me at VCAT, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to fight the council’s decision to refuse a permit for a townhouse development I designed last year.
These two double storey townhouses are explained in detail in a recent video blog series, for those of you who hadn’t seen them.
Due to the number of permits refused by councils around Melbourne (many of those justified due to the little regard of the amenity of neighbouring properties), we had to wait eight months to have this case heard.
It’s not easy appearing at these hearings for several reasons. First and foremost was the fact that the council refused to give my design a permit from the first day I turned up with preliminary plans for their feedback. I honestly feel their mind was made up before I had even set foot in the door. It did not help that my design was not conventional in their eyes, where as for me, I needed to think differently to work with a site that has no direct sunlight available, due to a massive wall that runs along the northern boundary (the main source of direct sunlight). Words cannot describe my frustration of seeing political agendas (councils not allowing new development in order to reduce objections from neighbours, or put another way – prevent disgruntled locals whose vote they may lose at the next council elections should they allow developments next door to them), and as such a total lack of vision or interest in creating better housing for our future.
Most of you have probably seen and felt this to some degree too. I’m sure just like me you see more and more projects going up, where design is of absolutely no importance. It seems those cheap, nasty boxes, which are a complete and utter eyesores, is what we will be looking at for the 50 years or more that most buildings stay with us for. I often think: who will renovate these homes in the future to update them? Nobody! If we don’t value them now, we will less in 50 years time. These aren’t like the Edwardian homes, or California bungalows that so many of us appreciate and seek to buy and restore, recycling these existing buildings rather than the need to replace them.
As I sat there at VCAT listening to the council suggest I change my design so that it is completely in shadow throughout the day, so it “fits in” and totally ignore my approach: energy efficient and filled with sunlight. My design complies with each and every planning control. There is not a window that overlooks a neighbour. I spent many weeks designing, picking my angles and placement of the top floor so carefully so that the neighbours were totally unaffected by my proposal.
I then heard from the objectors (owners of three of the neighbours houses) complain of:
- Overlooking – Despite the fact there is none.
- “I’m scared of fumes from the car’s in the driveway” – apparently we can’t have cars despite the fact they own two…
- “It looks like a shipping container”. We all have different taste. I don’t expect to please everyone.
- But what pained me most was that all three said this would “devalue their properties”. I was pleased the member (the judge of sorts that presides over the hearing) interjected and said “prices only continue to rise here, “I will hear no further argument about devaluing, I’ve only seen the contrary”.
All three complaints about devaluing was followed by the reasoning that their properties was “their kids future”. Data released last week from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, stated that the proportion of households that own their homes outright has fallen from 42% in the mid 1990’s to 30.9% last year. The lowest it has ever been. What about our kids’ future I say? These are two small townhouses replacing one old house that is sadly falling to pieces. As two smaller homes, they are more affordable for young people than a full house on a quarter acre block. Not in my back yard think these three neighbours, as long as their kids have money, nobody else’s seem to matter.
I’ve said this before and I will say it again: Object if a proposal next door to you affects your amenity. Planning controls exist to protect you from this. But please do not object because you fear change. We need change. More importantly your kids and grandkids do if they ever stand a hope of affording a house in our cities which simply do not have nearly enough homes for all of us. Our houses are the second most expensive in the world, due to demand far outstripping supply. They are also on average larger than in any other country in the world.
Unfortunately we ran out of time in the hearing. We reconvene to finish the case in 6 weeks. I hope to have good news then.