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Greens Initiatives Kick Off 2014

Open Space Improvements at Public Housing Estates

Council has unanimously endorsed a Greens proposal to consult with residents at the Collingwood, Fitzroy and Richmond public housing estates about how they would like to best use their open space. This initiative began over 12 months ago but was stalled due to the state government master planning process for Fitzroy and Richmond, which proposed building private residential and commercial buildings on the open space. After strong opposition to this privatisation of public space, from Yarra Council, this process has been put on hold and we can again plan how to improve the open space for residents.

The recent heat waves have highlighted the importance of green, shaded open space for residents to escape from the heat of small apartments, and the role of trees in cooling urban environments by as much as 8 degrees. These open spaces are also vital communal meetings spaces, recreation and cultural spaces, especially for the 30% of residents who are children.

While the land is owned by DHS, council can work in partnership to improve the useability and enjoyment of these open spaces on all estates to benefit residents.


Affordable Housing Grants

Yarra Affordable Housing Grants were established in 2013 as a result of a Greens motion. The grants make up to $50,000 available annually to providers of affordable housing to deliver initiatives that build capacity, maintain community diversity, increase or renew affordable housing, sustain and improve access of low income earners to affordable housing. The first grants have just been awarded to HomeGround Services for a scheme which encourages private landlords to make rentals available at discount or rent-free for periods; and to Yarra Community Housing for research into the high turnover of tenancies in Yarra. Both initiatives will assist those at risk of homelessness in Yarra to maintain accommodation here and be supported.

Tudor Street Redevelopment

Greens councillors have been driving this initiative since 2010 when we moved to abandon the sale of the site and instead retain it for community use. Richmond Community Learning Centre was successful in an EOI for the use of the land as a community centre and garden, and last week council voted to proceed to quotation for works to bring the “Burnley Backyard” project to fruition. The total project cost to council will be $1,055,000 with $200,000 committed this year.  With population growth in Richmond, facilities like this as seen as vital by the Greens.


ALP, Socialist Undermine Council Sustainability Policies for “Quick Win”

In a stunning display of populism and sloppy problem solving, ALP councillor Roberto Colanzi at the last council meeting proposed replacing a street of new energy efficient street lights with the old energy guzzling HPS 150Q street lights. He was supported by other ALP councillors, Socialist Stephen Jolly and an independent.
This move directly undermined 3 council policies: Public Lighting Policy and Sustainable Public Lighting Action Plan, Carbon Neutral Action Plan, Yarra Environment Strategy.
In all 3 policies, we aim to reduce the enormous amount of energy – and carbon footprint – of street lighting, by replacing mercury vapour lights to energy-saving T5 lights. Street lighting accounts for 40% of council emissions and this changeover was critical in Yarra achieving Carbon Neutral status in late 2012, the first Victorian council to do so. Councils across Victoria are also moving to replace their street lights with low energy lighting. Many have already completed the changeover, like Yarra.

The new lighting is a lower wattage than the old lights. However, as new lights, they also appear brighter to many people. We had numerous resident complaints about this increased brightness when they were first installed. We also had a complaint from one street, Moor Street, about the lower light level, and concerns about safety. Council officers investigated, measured the light levels, found they met the Australian standards except in one location, and proposed an additional light in that location. Despite meeting the Australian standards for street lighting, the concerns about safety in Moor Street remained. Concerns about safety are very real and must be addressed. However this had been addressed with the additional light now meeting the Australian standard for street lighting.
Cr Colanzi’s proposal to remove the new street lights and replace them with the old lights (at a cost of $8000 plus additional greenhouse gas emissions) was a short cut solution to a very real problem. It was short-sighted, expensive and inadequate. Above all, it signals that the ALP councillors are prepared to talk about sustainability, and happy to turn up to functions where Yarra wins awards for its achievements in sustainability, but when a test of adhering to our policies arises, they are incapable of standing strong. On this occasion, the Socialist councillor was prepared to join them. Real problem solving would have identified the sources of safety concerns and addressed these wherever possible.
Sustainability on Yarra Council has been driven by the Greens, who voted against this proposal along with the mayor, Jackie Fristacky. Unfortunately the ALP and Socialist councillors have shown again they are prepared to compromise for short term gain

Heritage Protection Takes a Leap Forward at Yarra

Last week’s council meeting endorsed the next of the heritage amendments to Yarra’s planning scheme which will ensure parts of Cremorne, Coles Paddock (Richmond) and Alphington have overlays applied to protect the strong heritage character in these areas.
This is the culmination of 12 months work, identifying heritage character, grading each building, having this assessment peer reviewed, taking public submissions, appointing an independent panel to review the submissions, and making adjustments along the way. It was, and must be, a rigorous process. There is a lot at stake – not just protection of Yarra’s heritage but also clear direction to property owners, now and in the future, about how they may develop their properties.
For some property owners, caught in the middle of the amendment process, the lack of certainty has been extremely difficult. Some who have wanted to demolish buildings have had a long wait – to find this week that their properties are indeed part of a heritage overlay and valued contributory heritage buildings. These residents were naturally disappointed and frustrated.
How does a council respond? Do we make exceptions to those individual property owners who approached council themselves – as one ALP councillor tried to do? Do we delay the process in order to advantage one particular property owner – as an independent and all 3 ALP councillors tried to do? (This would have been fatal to this amendment.)
This issue was a test of council’s ability to follow a transparent and fair process and keep it transparent and fair. To make exceptions for a handful of properties at the last minute would have been anything but.
In the end, Greens councillors moved the motion to approve the amendment, and it was supported by all but 2 of the new Melba ward councillors (Misha Coleman was absent.)
Heritage protection is important, not just for the Greens, but for the community who demands its protection, and for future generations.
When one independent councillor described the amendment as “ideological”, it was clear that continuing to protect Yarra’s remaining heritage areas will not be an easy path.

Environmentally Sustainable Design in Planning – a Step Closer

It is nearly 4 years since Greens councillors initiated an amendment to the Yarra Planning Scheme which would require new buildings to incorporate environmentally sustainable design at the planning stage. The orientation of a building, how it uses thermal mass, how it incorporates shading, how much light and air get into each room, are all features which must be built into the design. At present ESD is only considered at the later stage of a building permit when the design can’t be changed.
Naturally the development industry is resisting such a move, claiming it increases “red tape”, causes delays, adds costs and is best dealt with at the building stage.
This argument ignores the benefits that a well-designed building can bring to its inhabitants and passes on the costs of retrofitting and higher energy costs to future residents.
Since Yarra began working on this planning scheme amendment, other councils have joined in. A total of 7 metropolitan councils recently collaborated to exhibit this amendment at the same time and will now have all submissions considered by a joint planning panel and ministerial advisory committee.
Many submitters stated it would be better if the state government required ESD to be part of all local planning schemes. Greens councillors agree and look forward to a supportive response from the panel and ministerial advisory committee.

ALP Councillors Baulk at Support for Single Parents

Greens councillors last week successfully moved a motion of support for single parents by urging the federal government to reverse the recent decision to move single parents onto Newstart.
The Newstart allowance is currently $245 per week. That’s $133 below the poverty line – a fact noted by ACOSS, the ACTU and BCA, an alliance which is advocating for a $50 a week increase in the allowance.
For a single parent, supporting one or more children, this allowance is so low that many could not afford to look for work.
Single parents are consistently over-represented in measurements of poverty and deprivation. The impacts of poverty on children can be profound and lasting.

Whilst Newstart is intended to support people and help them find jobs, many single parents moving on to Newstart are already employed. A number have multiple barriers to work, such as children with disabilities or limited access to affordable childcare.
Therefore it was surprising that ALP councillors accused the Greens of “political point scoring” and voted against this motion. In the days since, new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has indicated he will review this legislation and we expect ALP councillors could also review their position.

While it is important to ensure that single parents are supported so they can undertake study, training and part time work – all of which are important steps towards secure employment- the allowance supporting them to do this has to actually be sufficient to make it possible. It has been acknowledged by a number of major organisations that Newstart is insufficient and that it is an inappropriate support scheme for single parents.

It was disappointing that our ALP colleagues could not follow their consciences and support a position -which has been endorsed by several inner Melbourne councils – to advocate for single parents, who generally do not choose the position they are in and who have one of the greatest of social responsibilities, raising young children.

Greens Priorities Rank High in 4 Year Council Plan

This month, Yarra Council endorsed its Council Plan – a 4 year blueprint for priority actions over the term of this council.
Greens priorities and commitments featured strongly in this plan. With its emphasis on sustainability, social equity, and Yarra’s unique physical and social makeup, a large number of initiatives over the next 4 years will move the city closer to a green, liveable city.
• Bicycle funding -more bicycle finding to separate bikes from cars;
• Expanding the Melbourne Bike Share scheme into Yarra;
• Urban agriculture – putting more planter boxes on roads;
• Urban forest strategy – to increase our tree canopy for a cooler city;
• Review of the planning scheme – using deliberative processes to ensure more community involvement; improving the planning provisions to protect neighbourhood character;
• Heritage Gaps Study – broader protection for heritage areas;
• Protection of Yarra Corridor – from inappropriate development and poor water quality
• Returning unused council buildings to community use – such as for the arts and meeting spaces
• Campaign against east-west road link – to protect local amenity and ensure transport options for everyone
• Carbon neutrality by 2020 -measures to make our city carbon neutral by 2020 and more funding for the Yarra Energy Foundation;
• Increase Water Sensitive Urban Design – more street rain gardens to naturally filter rainwater run-off;
• Progress wildlife management strategy – to improve our treatment of wildlife and enhance habitat areas
• Energy performance contracts -total energy retrofits of all Council buildings
• Funding to complete study into secondary school options
• Removal of fee for school fetes
Most of these initiatives are a result of Greens’ work over many years to establish the benefits to residents and more broadly. While our ALP colleagues struggle with the concept of urban agriculture (calling it “middle class welfare”) and the Socialist councillor suddenly turns economic rationalist when withdrawing support for the Yarra Energy Foundation, (claiming it’s not value for money), the Greens can see, and demonstrate, the long term, broader social benefits of these and other measures in improving the liveability of the city and adapting to changing environmental conditions of the future.
We are confident that this Council Plan forms the basis of steering Yarra into a decade which is critical for taking action to prevent dire climate change within a generation. Our city must change and adapt. The actions above demonstrate leadership in this regard.