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Big Brother is Keeping Secrets


Building, renovating or just owning a home is fraught with bureaucratic hurdles. Not least often those hurdles orchestrated by servants of the local authority purporting to be planning officers.

Planning departments and the planning schemes they police can suffer from an insidious over-reach of power.  Yet another requirement or sub-paragraph is bolted onto an already long list of provisions put in place to ensure that some fantasized version of architectural utopia will be retained or attained when a homeowner next decides to spend their hard earned cash.

As an agent selling homes in an area with an abundance of original dwellings, our local authority has a particular bent towards retention of these older homes. This policy has been in existence for over 10 years and, to the policy’s credit, has helped preserve streetscapes of circa 1920′s workers’ cottages (that ironically today’s average “worker” may not be able to afford).

On the 3rd of February the Town of Victoria Park local government authority sent a letter to homeowners who have properties in the “Residential Character Study Area”. This is described in the letter as an area the council has identified, as retaining a traditional residential character, that the Council seeks to retain.

Design of new homes, additions and appearance of dwellings is generally controlled by a vague Streetscape Planning Policy document (past its review date in my opinion).  The net result of this document is that dwellings must “fit” the existing streetscape.  A highly subjective goal that seems to vary from year to year depending on particular planning perversions at the time.

From the end of 2015 until now the power of this Streetscape policy was negated by state government legislation change. The Town of Victoria Park reveals only now as of the 3rd February 2017, in their letter to select ratepayers, that their power has been “impacted”.  What this means to Mum and Dad property owners, is the simple and unacceptable truth, that for over a year they have not known the true potential of their properties and this may have been a determining factor on decisions of design, demolition, development and potentially contributed to personal and financial hardship as property decisions were made without all the facts available.

Every crappy old house on a big development block marketed for sale, in this period from late 2015 till now, undoubtedly has led to keen buyers contacting the Town’s Planning Department to ask whether they can knock over the house. Invariably, when the ever-persistent agent calls that previously enthusiastic buyer back and asks whether they will write an offer, the buyer says, “the council does not support the demolition of the house” and “that it’s too much risk to buy”.  That “No” from a planning officer, for Mum and Dad developers, is final and definitive;  it is a big nail in the coffin of their development dreams. They didn’t know or understand that the planning officer’s opinion may not be supported at a state planning level. Equally it is a sale lost for a Seller and an opportunity for gentrification and renewal of housing stock lost to the local community.

In this period, I know of multiple owners who, on developments and extensions, spent copious amounts of time and money meeting planning requirements to do with the aesthetics of homes, that in all likelihood were not what the buying public would pay a premium for. The owners in question felt they had little choice but to comply with the directives they had received from the Town of Victoria Park, not knowing what the Town knew, that these directives may have been unenforceable.

So the Town kept it on the down low that they had lost their power to prevent demolition of original dwellings, obviously petrified that the wrecking ball of progress would mow down its hoarded streets of worker’s cottages.  The Town kept it on the down low that they had lost their power to dictate the type of facade and other design elements. This doesn’t sit well with me.  There are homeowners, buyers, developers, building designers and architects who may have made significantly different building design, financial and personal decisions over this period – except they were denied perhaps a full picture of their real options.  

The letter in question goes on to outline how the Town of Victoria Park wishes to amend its Planning Scheme in an attempt to create a Special Control Area in order to reclaim these previous planning powers.

More ominously the letter in question seeks to implement a new power. Buried on the second page amongst the barely decipherable planning jargon is the proposal for the Town to be able to “serve” “Conservation Notices”.  I do not know what form this will take.  What if you’re a pensioner with a 100 year old house and the Town deems it not pretty enough, can a knock at your door and the receipt of a Conservation Notice force you to spend money you don’t have? What’s next? Forced sales? 

As always there is the chance to provide feedback.  I implore you if you are a rate payer in the Town of Victoria Park, particularly if you own a home in the Residential Character Study Area, get along at 10am Saturday 18th February 2017 or  6pm Thursday 2nd of March 2017 and understand what the Town’s intentions are regarding this new proposal. 

We’ve moved a long way from the local authority being a road’s board, that filled in pot-holes and collected rubbish.  They have far reaching and intrusive powers.  Be aware and engage. Because, if not it may cost you.

Read about Amendment No. 73 here

Derek Baston

Vic Park Life

White picket fences and backyards with mulberry trees. Apartments and town houses and villas and everything in-between. It’s got a bit of everything.

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