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Residents misled by City of Melbourne

03 May 2018

Residents misled by City of Melbourne Image

The City of Melbourne has been caught out misleading residents but has justified using an incorrect statement as a use of a “standard phrase”.

The matter first came to the attention of local residents when they received a letter from former lord mayor Robert Doyle about the positioning of the Good Cycles container store on Harbour Esplanade in November, 2016.

The residents were upset that the container was inappropriately placed in front of the harbour and would block water views.

Mr Doyle wrote explaining that the council wrote to “owners and occupiers of adjacent properties” and received no objections.

“We did not receive any objections or requests for relocation of the hub,” Mr Doyle’s letter said.

“After careful consideration of the most appropriate location of the hub by numerous departments within the City of Melbourne and Places Victoria, officers approved the proposed location and notice of the proposal was mailed to the owners and occupiers of adjacent properties,” Mr Doyle wrote.

Being owners and occupiers of adjacent properties themselves, and having not received such a letter, the residents sought clarification from the council about who had actually received the invitation to object.

“We would greatly appreciate you informing us as to who were the owners and occupiers consulted by mail,” the residents wrote to council on January 9, 2017.

It has since emerged that the only notification made was to Places Victoria (now Development Victoria) – the actual initiator of the Good Cycles container store.

In response, acting planning manager Jane Birmingham pointed out that the permit application was exempt from public notification but notification was given to Places Victoria because it owned the adjoining land.

In reply, the residents pointed out that Ms Birmigham’s explanation was in contradiction to the lord mayor’s words and they sought an explanation. They said:

“Either the Lord Mayor himself instructed the deliberately misleading letter dated 14/11/16 be prepared and then signed and such letter was posted to me; or

The deliberately misleading letter dated 14/11/16 was knowingly prepared by CoM staff for his signature and was duly signed and posted to me.”

The residents informed the council at this point that a complaint to the Ombudsman was contemplated.

Writing back on July 11 last year, acting CEO Martin Cutter said requirement to give notice only applied to one property, 119-129 Harbour Esplanade, owned by Places Victoria.

But, the vacant land referred to is actually the site of the Good Cycles container store and not adjoining land.

“The phrase used in the letter is a standard phrase we use in this situation and the names of owners and occupiers are not usually made public for privacy reasons,” Mr Cutter said.

“In using this phrase, council did not intend to mislead you but rather demonstrated that the requirements of the Melbourne Planning Scheme were met in regards to giving notice.”

In September the residents wrote to the Ombudsman complaining and requesting an investigation into “deliberately misleading conduct of the Lord Mayor and/or his senior council officers.”

The residents are still awaiting a written response from the Ombudsman.

The original issue was raised from residents’ concerns that the authorities had scant appreciation of the value of keeping water views of Victoria Harbour open from ground level.

Residents now say the experience has led to an overwhelming negative attitude towards the council.

They say their views have now progressed from “dismissive, disappointed, disbelieving, disillusioned and disquiet, to angry and unhelpful”.

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