The marvelous Protect Fitzoy North Inc mob report some highlights of their first seven VCAT hearing days.
Accurately indeed, the developer’s barrister said: “you would not find a better organised group than Protect Fitzroy North.”
They write (only slightly edited):
The queue to get into VCAT stretched down the stairs and wound its way back up King Street. “Never seen this before”, muttered one regular looking worriedly at their watch. In the waiting room before the hearing, there was an objector roll call; spontaneous cheering erupted when each person stepped forward to sign in.
The hearing room was not only filled, it took more than an hour to find enough supplementary seating for everyone. Thank you to all.
City of Yarra began its case in the morning. They have clearly put in an enormous amount of preparation and engaged excellent counsel. The afternoon was taken up by a visit to the site, nearby properties and a tour of the immediate neighbourhood.
The morning session and most of the afternoon saw City of Yarra continue its case. The day concluded with two community representatives: Ken Gomez presented traffic impact research and modelling, and highlighted shortcomings and omissions in Gurner’s expert report; John Hayhoe who lives adjacent to the site, began detailing a litany of planning faults for both the front and rear sites.
The day began with stern words for the gallery, following spontaneous applause at the adjournment of day 2. John Hayhoe quickly picked up where he left off the night before and completed his presentation. City of Yarra continued throughout the day, and called its first expert witness, an Associate Professor in Architecture from the University of Melbourne. A vigorous cross examination ensued, but seemingly did no favours for Gurner’s case.
The afternoon featured another community representative presentation, this time from Maree Hayhoe.
Long-time resident and veteran activist, Bill Robb, presenting the amenity think tank’s report. Describing the proposed scheme as a ‘Gated Community’, he detailed perfectly both the internal amenity shortcomings of the development, and the adverse impact on amenity in Fitzroy North generally. Bill was followed by Rob Niall, another local. Rob provided a short, sharp, operations research-powered evisceration of the submission by Gurner’s parking expert.
Next up was Gurner’s first expert witness: Peter Lovell, of Lovell Chen, who spoke to his firm’s heritage architecture report. His performance would be best described as ‘underwhelming’, and he was subjected to a scorching cross examination by City of Yarra’s barrister, Ms Susan Brennan.
The cross examination of Mr Lovell continued from the get go, with additional questions coming from Maree Hayhoe, who lives next to the site. Ann Keddie, one of the two VCAT members presiding over the hearing, also sought further details from Mr Lovell.
Local resident, Chela Niall, then presented for two of our think tanks: parking and neighbourhood character. She was magnificent: a tour de force of hard-hitting facts and heartfelt love for our suburb, that honoured the outstanding efforts of her think tank colleagues. Hot on Chela’s heels was Ms Louise Hicks, representing Aquila Apartments, who presented their numerous objections to the scheme.
Last up was another expert witness for Gurner: Mr Stuart McGurn, a Town Planner. Operating with a deliberately narrow focus, he contended that the scheme met all necessary planning controls and as such, represented an acceptable outcome. He was subject to extensive cross examination: Ms Hicks, Protect Fitzroy North’s barrister, Mr Ian Munt, and the lawyer assisting Ms Brennan, all having a crack. The final issue of the day saw Gurner’s barrister, Mr Gobbo, attempt to introduce additional evidence from an expert witness. Ms Brennan objected. Presiding member Mr Geoffrey Code allowed the material to sit for further consideration.
The community continues to be superbly represented by our think tank presenters and individual residents. Our pride and admiration for everyone involved grows by the day.
Protect Fitzoy North Inc parting words from Day 5 were:
“The lack of empathy of the development proposal for the existing or preferred neighbourhood character demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of, and a lack of empathy for, the existing community in North Fitzroy. It is an outward-facing neighbourhood, with a genuine and strong sense of openness and community that has a long history of banding together. The residents of North Fitzroy generally enjoy small private open spaces, but are afforded the luxury of large, accommodating and welcoming public open spaces and it is in those public open spaces that locals relax, walk their dogs or congregate with their friends in the neighbourhood and visitors from all over Melbourne. North Fitzroy is a neighbourhood rich in human interaction that has a true spirit of place, where a diverse range of people come together to engage in all manner of activities.”
Dr Julie Contole kicked off the day with her presentation on behalf of the Net Community Benefit think tank. Her team analysed close to 800 survey responses across the two most recent iterations of the 26-56 Queens Parade development scheme. “This development will fundamentally change what we love about Fitzroy North”. Anne Coveny was next. Her submission on heritage was phenomenal—the volume of research and depth of detail accumulated by her think tank team far exceeded that of the developer’s expert witnesses. Glen McCallum, who covered statutory planning issues, was the day’s third presenter. Next came Sharron Bourke, who lives a couple of doors down from the site. Point after well-made point ensued as she tackled first the main site, then the smaller rear site. Simon Evans wrapped up the presentations and raised fresh doubts were raised. A perfect way to cap off a remarkable day for the community; a day when so many stood so tall.
Today began with Protect Fitzroy North’s barrister—Mr Ian Munt—mounting his case for VCAT to refuse the developer’s application for a permit. He dissected the proposed scheme’s inadequacies with surgical precision. Mr Munt quoted frequently from our think tank submissions, referencing each presenter by name. All of you, take a bow!
The developer’s barrister made his opening remarks next; mainly complaints—about the unfairness of their late evidence addendum being challenged and the quality and quantity of the community’s submissions, which his team now had to respond to. In fact he suggested you would not find a better organised group than Protect Fitzroy North.
Following the lunch adjournment, the presiding members advised they would not admit the late evidence addendum. This may result in an extra day of hearing some time down the track. The developer’s first expert witness was architect Roger Poole. His oral submission was professional-sounding but ultimately lacking in substance. His cross-examination by City of Yarra’s counsel, Ms Brennan, was brutal and unrelenting. The day ended with Mark Shepard in the witness stand providing expert evidence on urban planning. He made some good points, but wasn’t necessarily compelling. His cross examination by Ms Brennan begins first thing tomorrow morning. Bet he’s looking forward to that!
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Read more about the Queens Pde development monsters.