Darebin Public Question Time & Submissions Diary - 2020-2024
Updated: Sep 5
This diary will be progressively updated with questions and answers over the term of the 2020-2024 term of the Darebin Council. - Serena O'Meley
22 August 2022
Clements Reserve - two further questions about the delay in purchasing the land.
Dumbarton Grasslands - questions about Darebin Council's lobbying efforts to swap this land for another area with less significance.
23 May 2022
Senior Biodiversity Officer - question about timeframe for replacement staff member.
DNT - question about skill set of sought for new appointments.
28 & 29 March 2022
Clements Reserve - further answers to my questions of 28 February 2022 and questions seeking a progress report on the purchase of the site from VicRoads.
28 February 2022
Clements Reserve - questions about the delay in reporting site contamination to the EPA.
31 January 2022
Former Ruthven Primary School site - questions about the continued delay in renaming the site in Woiwurrung.
12 December 2021
Northcote Golf Course - submission
25 October 2021
Public question time - requests for questions to be read out by an officer and answered by the Mayor
Vaccination - question about Aboriginal vaccination rates in Darebin
DNT - request for a proper answer to my question from 27 September 2021
27 September 2021
Vaccination - question regarding vaccine equity for Aboriginal people in Darebin
DNT - question about composition of Darebin Nature Trust
Clements Reserve - request for update regarding the acquisition of Clements Reserve
26 July 2021
Minutes and Agendas - request to make reports keyword searchable
Dole Avenue - query why it would cost $1million to upgrade the site
Clements Reserve - query what it is taking so long to finalise the purchase
15 - 23 June 2021
Clements Reserve - letter from Darebin Council about question taken on notice
Clements Reserve - email exchange (16/23 June) requesting that the question be fully answered
24 May 2021
Clements Reserve - request for progress report on acquisition of land
Dumbarton Street Grassland - request for Darebin to lobby Planning Minister to protect the grassland
Former Ruthven Primary School site - request for progress report on renaming of the site in Woi Wurrung.
24 May 2021
Ruthven Primary School Play Space Community Consultation - Submission
19 May 2021
Darebin Budget Presentation 2021 - 2022 (made at the Council Meeting) - repurposing the former Library and former Dole Avenue Kindergarten
9 May 2021
Darebin Budget Submission 2021 - 2022 - repurposing the former Library and former Dole Avenue Kindergarten
26 April 2021
Clements Reserve - answer to questions sent by letter (1 April 2021) and in Governance Report Appendix B.
Clements Reserve - why was further town planning advice required before a valuation could be obtained (which is necessary before negotiations on price)?
Public question time - why are the appendices now incorporated into the body of the agenda, making it harder for the public to find information?
22 August 2022
Below are my questions to Monday's Council meeting about both Clements Reserve and the Dumbarton grassland.
In relation to the Dumbarton Street grassland, sadly it looks like Darebin Council has thrown in the towel and the option of swapping development sites is no longer being explored.
The 2016 Darebin Council, including three current councillors who were at the relevant meeting, failed to exercise its right to acquire all the land within the site, and later the remaining right of way owned by Council was compulsorily acquired.
The upshot is that the State Government is going to build social and market housing on the site and there will be little that can be done to protect it through the planning process. This environmentally significant volcanic plains grassland is just below the threshold size that would trigger protection under the EPBC Act.
Council should be more up front about how little influence it is likely to have when it comes to protecting the natural values of the site.
Serena O'Meley Of Reservoir
1. Which EPA approved model for remediation of contaminated soil at Clements Reserve is going to be adopted by Darebin Council?
2. Can you please give a progress report on the purchase of VicRoads land within Clements Reserve? If the land has not yet been purchased can you explain why?
3. Can you outline any further lobbying efforts which Darebin Council has undertaken this year with the State Government to protect the Dumbarton Street grasslands from development?
Response from CEO, Rachel Ollivier
1. Where that is up to at the moment is Darebin Council has engaged a specialist environmental consultant. That consultant is advising on the options of treatment for that site. The preliminary options are there’s two options that are acceptable to the EPA. What needs to happen next is that the sites primary owner, which is VicRoads needs to consider those options, but at this stage I can’t give you a specific answer but that will come.
2. To progress the purchase, VicRoads and Darebin Council are working together to progress the acquisition of the VicRoads land at Clements Reserve. One of the things that we are doing at the moment is factoring in estimated remediation costs. As I mentioned earlier, Darebin Council jointly with Vic Roads have engaged Enviropacific which is the environment consultant they are preparing an estimate of remediation costs. The purchase of the land has been delayed by the complexity of the contamination and the need for remediation and impact on land value, so it is taking longer than we had originally expected
3. The site at Dumbarton Street is being developed by the State government for a mix of social housing and market housing. Darebin Officers have continued our advocacy on Council’s position and met the appointed builders in April 2022. The key thing Officers have been advocating for is the protection of significant patches of vegetation within the grasslands and we have called on the builders to undertake all the appropriate ecological studies ahead of development. The town planning formal process that will run has not yet started, and we will have an opportunity to advocate further through that process.
23 May 2022
1. Darebin Council’s Senior Biodiversity Officer position has been vacant for around one month. This is a crucial position for Darebin’s re-wilding program. Can you please confirm when this position will be advertised?
2. Darebin Nature Trust no longer has sufficient participants with a deep understanding of biodiversity and/or with environmental experience. Noting that there are currently four positions open for Expressions of Interest, what steps will Darebin Council take to recruit additional people with these skill sets to DNT?
1. While the position is vacant, a person has been appointed to act in the role so as not to lose continuity of work. This is common practice in the sector and the individual in question is highly qualified in the field. This question was taken on notice and Officers will get back to Serena.
2. Council has access to several highly qualified and experienced experts on staff and through the engagement of consultants when necessary. The DNT augments that knowledge by providing a sounding board and ‘critical friendship’ to Council so that it’s work is well informed. The current DNT bring a rich diversity of experiences and knowledge to the table which is highly valued by Council. In considering further applications to the DNT, Council will seek to ensure that the skill set of future members compliments existing members and staff.
28 March 2022
1. Can you please give a progress report on the purchase of three parcels of VicRoads land within Clements Reserve, including whether a new Valuer General valuation has been sought, whether a sale price has been fixed and when the land is likely to be acquired?
2. Can you please provide an update on whether the EPA has accepted either of Darebin Council's remediation proposals for contamination at Clements Reserve, and if so, which one has been accepted?
1. To assist in advancing discussions with Vic Roads, Officers instructed Council’s
valuer to update its previous valuation obtained in 2021.
The updated valuation (March 2022) has regard to the independent planning advice
which contends that the highest and best use of the land is continuing as an area of
informal open space and a biodiversity asset in forming part of the wider Darebin
Creek Corridor. Council Officers are due to meet with Vic Roads officers on 29 March
to discuss the respective valuations and the next steps toward acquisition.
2. Since formally lodging Council’s proposed Clements Reserve Management Plan and
associated documentation, Council has had a number of discussions with the EPA on
this matter and is still awaiting a formal response.
28 March 2022
[I wasn't satisfied with the answers to my questions about Clements Reserve put on 28 February 2022 because they were evasive on points relating specifically to the lead contamination on the site. I sent a follow up email on 1 March 2022 and received the following response on 28 March 2022. My questions are in bold and Council's answers are in italics.]
Good Afternoon Serena,
I trust you are well and I thank you for your patience.
On behalf of Mayor Messina, please see answers to your questions below.
The Council immediately addressed the asbestos contamination after Terry Mason and I reported it to Mayor Rennie. Remediation of the lead contamination risks did not take place until late in 2021.
Council addressed the asbestos risk immediately and immediately addressed part of the area contaminated by lead – the remainder of the lead hotspot was addressed as soon as all studies and the management plan were completed (later in 2021). It was important that Council completely understood the risks through these further studies and it took advice from experts in order to form its view. Mulch and fencing were added later in 2021 as an additional control.
The lead contamination was identified in the Prensa Report which was already complete in September 2020. The later Aurecon Report was merely supplementary.
Thus, the answer to my question does not provide an explanation of why there was more than a year delay in reporting the lead contamination to the EPA. The land contamination duty relates to when the land manager becomes aware of the contamination. Council was aware over a year before it was reported.
The new regulations which contain the duty to notify came into effect on 1 July 2021. The Aurecon report was not supplementary. It performed a gap analysis and considered the matter in the context of the new EP Regulations. The Act requires that contamination is reported ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’ once discovered. However, reporting to the EPA required additional studies to be completed as well as negotiation with the VicRoads as the predominant landowner.
The reporting process is new and still being refined. There is an issue in that the Act requires the contamination to be reported as soon as reasonably practicable, but that the reporting portal requires various studies and management plans to be developed before a report can be made. The EPA has acknowledged that this is a challenge to land owners.
There are claims that Cr Laurence, not Council, made the initial report of lead contamination to the EPA. Is this the case? Notification some months prior to 3 December 2021 still puts the notification at late 2021 instead of 2020 when Council first became aware of the contamination.
We aren’t aware of any reports made by Councillor Laurence to the EPA. You may wish to make an enquiry direct to Councillor Laurence in relation to this.
Councillors were informed of the presence of asbestos in Clements Reserve on 18 June 2020 and as explained above, officers undertook comprehensive due diligence to understand the risks – something the EPA insists upon. The EPA has not expressed any concern with the timing or the way that Council notified it of contamination at Clements Reserve. Council remains committed to its obligations under the EP Act and we’re working very closely with the EPA in relation to the soil conditions at Clements Reserve. It has not been critical of Council in any way in this regard.
Only works regarding asbestos, not lead, were immediately carried out at the site. It is not correct to imply that the EPA was advised in 2020.
As mentioned above, part of the initial works were also intended to mitigate the lead risk. Council has not implied that the EPA was notified in 2020.
Again, the Prensa report was completed in September of the previous year. Why were Councillors not informed at that time about the lead contamination? Didn't they have a right to know?
The result of waiting a year was that the tan bark remediation was not put in place until late 2021. This is not correct. The Prensa report was withheld from elected Councillors for a whole year as noted above. My question requests a reason why.
The report was not withheld from councillors. It’s the duty of officers to manage and control a variety of risks in the community continuously. A lot of work was being undertaken to fully understand the risks at this site and to negotiate the management of these risks with the predominant land owner, VicRoads. It is quite common for operational matters to be dealt with by the administration, and on occasion, some risks are reported to Council. In this case given the land ownership negotiations that were underway with VicRoads, it was thought important to inform Council given the consequences the soil condition had on public health messaging and the potential land purchase.
[Redacted] [Redacted] | CEO's Office
28 February 2022
1) The Prensa report on soil contamination in Clements Reserve was received by Darebin Council in September 2020. The EPA's Contaminated Land Policy (Publication 1915) was published on 22 February 2021, and came into effect on 1 July 2021. Darebin Council had apparently still not met its duty to report the contamination at Clements Reserve to the EPA at the time it received the Aurecon report on 21 October 2021. Land managers are required to make such reports when they "become aware" of notifiable contamination. Why was there such a lengthy delay in reporting the notifiable contamination at Clements Reserve to the EPA and on what date was the report finally made?
2) On what date were Councillors (during the term of the current and/or previous Darebin Council) first informed about the contamination of land within Clements Reserve and provided with a copy of the Prensa Report? If the report was withheld until late in 2021 can you explain why?
1) Council had mitigated the identified risk by the completion of various works within days of becoming aware of a contamination issue at Clements Reserve. The notification process requires the completion of various studies in order to fully understand the contamination and any associated risks. These studies take some time to complete. EPA had been informally notified of the contamination some months prior to the formal notification process and it was satisfied with Council’s approach. The EPA was formally notified on 3 December 2021.
2) Councillors were informed of the presence of asbestos in Clements Reserve on 18 June 2020. As previously mentioned, immediate works were undertaken at the site, further investigations were carried out, EPA was verbally advised and complex discussions were had with the predominant owner of the land Vic Roads. A report was provided to Council at its meeting of 27 September 2021 and this report included the detailed site investigation report undertaken by Prensa. The report was not withheld – the above process led to Council being given a comprehensive picture of the condition of the site and an understanding of its obligations which it has met.
30 January 2022
On 4 September 2019, Terry Mason represented the Ruthven Community Reference Group (CRG) in a meeting with the Darebin Aboriginal Advisory Committee (DAAC) to discuss recommendations for naming the park at the site of the former Ruthven Primary School. On 29 October 2019 members of the CRG met with Darebin's Aboriginal Contact Officer, and representatives from the Wurundjeri Land Council for a site tour and to further discuss the naming in the Woiwurrung language.
On 25 May 2021, I asked at a meeting of Darebin Council that naming of the site be treated with some urgency to overcome confusion with W.R. Ruthven V.C. Reserve, both in terms of emergency services which may be called to the site, and in relation to securing government grants for the improvement of the park. I was told in response that the naming was in progress. Since that time, a bridge and a sports stadium have been named but not the former Ruthven Primary School site.
On 28 January 2022, a Council Officer emailed me as follows, "Renaming of Ruthven Park – preliminary works have commenced with internal staff to start this process in the new financial year, subject to adoption of the budget."
Because the site does not have an existing name there are far less hoops to jump through in terms of the Geographic Place Names Committee; if the name is unique it should be quickly accepted. Therefore, this further indefinite delay is unacceptable.
Can you explain if/why the process for naming the former Ruthven Primary School site is apparently being started from scratch and why the Council Officer believes that there are budget implications attached to the naming, what expense is likely to be involved and if there is an expense why it is not already budgeted? What steps will Darebin Council take to hasten the naming process so that it can take effect in this financial year?
Can you explain if/why the process for naming the former Ruthven Primary School site is apparently being started from scratch and why the Council Officer believes there are budget implications attached to the naming?
Response The Parks and Open Space unit is following the renaming process as determined by the Wurundjeri Woi- Wurrung Heritage Corporation. The process to rename the former Ruthven Primary School in the Woi Wurrung language recognises the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung as the Traditional Custodians of the land and waters in this area.
This process has commenced, and Officers are optimistic that the complete naming process will be finalised by late 2022, however this may be earlier.
Following the statutory process for renaming sites, the shortlisted names will go through a community consultation process. Following determination of the selected name by Wurundjeri Woi-Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation, we will make application to Geographic Names Victoria (GNV). GNV is currently in the process of releasing it’s the Naming Rules for Places which is expected in February 2022.
What expense is likely to be involved and if there is an expense why it is not already budgeted?
The cost associated with the application to Wurundjeri Woi- Wurrung Heritage Corporation for names and the ongoing licence is approximately $3,000. There are no budget implications that will affect this process.
What steps will Darebin Council take to hasten the naming process so that it can take effect in this financial year?
Darebin City Council is following the statutory process applicable to this matter and is unable to influence the timeline, however as stated above we are keen to complete the process promptly.
12 December 2021
I've just tried to make a submission to Darebin's survey on the Northcote Golf Course and I'm staggered by how inadequate it is. The survey is skewed towards 'shared use' and there is nowhere separate that I can see to make a written submission. The most important element of the course - namely its environmental significance - is completely absent from the survey.
The debate about future use of the course has turned into a Greens vs Labor fight which is dividing the community as people back their 'team'. I fear that this is not creating an atmosphere that's conducive to good decision making.
The only reason this issue has come up at all is because people, who would typically not leave their houses to visit a local park, were suddenly confined to a 5km radius because of pandemic restrictions. With the restrictions lifted is the demand for access truly still there?
I also find it extraordinary that some highly entitled people, who are living in an area where the median house price is $1.75 million, would try to run their campaign to open up as some kind of class issue. It's a public golf course not a country club. It serves an important recreational and social function for older members of the community and that should be respected. The fact is that we owe a debt of gratitude to the golfers for ensuring that the whole area wasn't cut up and sold off as building blocks years ago.
In my view any move towards shared access must be done cautiously, with the environmental significance of the land considered first and foremost. The course doesn't need thousands of people trampling it, it doesn't need dogs off lead chasing the swamp wallabies, the fences must stay in place to reduce the impact of feral animals. As a recent article in The Conversation notes," Urban golf courses are biodiversity oases. Opening them up puts that at risk". https://tinyurl.com/yc3fxad6
As desirable as it would be to re-wild the area, Darebin Council simply doesn't have the will or the resources to do it. I've seen firsthand how they are struggling to manage comparatively small areas of parkland in the north of the municipality because they don't have enough staff in their bush team to deal with issues such as weed invasion. Therefore, re-wilding work should be prioritised along the creek line of the golf course as this would be the best use of resources.
There's also a philosophical point to consider here: why does land have to be 'used' at all? Why can't it just 'be'? Why does it have to in some way pay for itself through patronage? The golf course as it is, right now, serves an immensely important function as the 'lungs' of the city, drinking in carbon dioxide and making oxygen via the trees. If it did nothing else, that would be enough.
25 October 2021
Given that members of the public cannot currently ask their own questions from the gallery due to COVID-19 restrictions, would it be possible for an officer or Councillor to read our questions so that the Mayor can focus purely on the response? This will make it easier for people to follow public question time online.
Indigenous vaccination rates for COVID-19 are lagging, on average, 10% behind the rest of Victoria, and in some areas as much as 20%. Can you please provide information about the number of Indigenous people 15+ years living in Darebin who: - are eligible for vaccination; - have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine; - have received a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine?
At the 27 September 2021 Darebin Council meeting I asked a question relating to allegations that the Darebin Nature Trust was inappropriately spilled by officers. My question was not answered, even after I followed up with a complaint in writing to a governance officer. I again ask this question, "Can you tell me how many community nominations for the reconstituted committee have been received by the 10 September deadline, and how many of these are from members of the outgoing committee?" If you won't answer the question again can you please provide a justification with reference to governance rules?
Yes it is would be possible for this to occur and there is no doubt that the volume of questions from the public does at times see me speaking continuously. However the convention at this stage is that the mayor read and respond to public questions. I have at different times in the past asked the CEO to read and answer questions to assist with the flow of the meeting and I will continue to do this when I feel it is needed. Thanks for your support and feedback.
This data is not publicly available and we will take your question on notice. Today, through our partnership with the North East Primary Health Network, Council has requested that this information be provided on a regular basis. Council continues to work with the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service including partnering with the new mobile van initiative, local Aboriginal led organisations and our partners to promote and support COVID vaccination uptake in local First Nations communities. Last week there were pop-up vaccination clinics in Kingsbury, Reservoir and three secondary schools in the north of Darebin. On Saturday evening, a vaccination clinic was held at Dardi Munwurro, an Aboriginal men’s gathering space in Preston. This week there are pop-up clinics at The Hub at Northland, William Ruthven Secondary College and Dole Avenue Community Sport Stadium.
Apologies that our response to your question in September did not provided the clarity you required. Our response in September noted that we had received keen interest from community members to join the Darebin Nature Trust. This was indeed accurate however we should have made it clear to you that in the interests of all those persons who had made application (including those existing Committee members who may have decided not to apply) it would be inappropriate during the recruitment process to make comment on the composition of the applications. Such an approach in our view could undermine the process, in particular in the context of the incorrect statement in your question regarding the ‘inappropriate spill by Officers ‘and allegations regarding the Committee members being offended ‘ etc . I hope this response explains why we did not directly respond to this question on the 27 September and why we have not entertained it again this evening. Council will be considering tonight a report that recommends appointees to 11 of Council 15 Advisory Committees including the Darebin Nature Trust. Whilst we have adopted this approach to protect the integrity of the recruitment process in the interest of transparency we would be pleased to report to Council via the November Governance Report the total number of applications for each Advisory Committee, the number of past / current members who applied and the composition of new and past members appointed. Council’s Governance Rules do not provide specific detail on this matter.
27 September 2021
1. There is immense pressure to open up the community once baseline vaccination rates are met in Victoria. Can Darebin Council tell me the current vaccination status (1st and 2nd dose) of its approximately 1200 Aboriginal residents, and how this compares with the rest of Darebin? If rates are lower than the general population and/or other priority vaccination groups will Council urgently lobby the State Government about this situation?
2. I'm extremely concerned to hear that Darebin Nature Trust was apparently spilled without cause and that outgoing committee members are deeply offended by how this was managed. Such people, with valuable knowledge of indigenous plants and wildlife, are not easy to find. Can you tell me how many community nominations for the reconstituted committee have been received by the 10 September deadline, and how many of these are from members of the outgoing committee?
3. Can you please provide a progress report on the purchase of three parcels of Department of Transport land within Clements Reserve?
Response from Chairperson, Mayor Messina
Question 1 - Data from the Federal Government 22 September 2021, shows that the vaccination rate of people, who self-identify as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person in Darebin is 63.20% for first dose and 42.16% for second dose. This compares to the Darebin rate of 64.4% first dose and 38.7% second dose.
Council will continue to work with the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service and local Aboriginal led organisations to support this vaccination uptake.
Question 2 - There’s been a lot of interest from community members to join the Darebin Nature Trust and officers are assessing these expressions of interest in order to make recommendations to Council. At this stage, Council will consider the Darebin Nature Trust along with membership of most other advisory committees at its meeting in October 2021.
Question 3 - Officers are continuing to work through stages of the acquisition relating to due diligence and there is a confidential report listed on tonight’s agenda that relates to this process titled ‘Clements Reserve’. The timeline for the acquisition is by nature a lengthy process, given the steps required. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide any further information relating to the details of the acquisition given the confidential nature of the matter.
Once there is news to share, it will be shared with community as soon as possible. Officers appreciate your ongoing interest in the purchase of Clements Reserve.
26 July 2021
Since Darebin Council has shifted all Appendices into a single document with its meeting Agenda, not only is the document enormous and unwieldy but many of the reports that are incorporated are no longer keyword searchable. Taken together this is a serious accessibility issue for the public which I am asking, again, for Council to correct. At the very least, will Council ensure that all reports can be keyword searched? I note that there has been no follow up that I am aware of from my related question on 26 April 2021, where an undertaking was given as follows, "I will speak with the team to see if we can streamline that process to make it easier for the community to access."
Darebin Council's response (12 July 2021) to my budget submission (19 May 2021) claims that it would cost $1million to remediate the former Dole Avenue kindergarten for a public tenant. This is many times more than the existing building could possibly be worth. Has an error been made in the response to me, and if not, can an explanation be given for the projected cost?
Has Darebin Council made a formal monetary offer for each of the three parcels of VicRoads land within Clements Reserve (1-11 McMahon Road and the rear of 22 & 32- 34 Clements Grove) to the State Government, and if it has, when was the offer made on each parcel of land, and if it hasn't what is holding up the purchase?
Response from Chairperson, Mayor Messina
Apologies for not following up with you after the April Meeting. Officers are working on a system upgrade that will rectify this issue which is scheduled to be completed by the 3rd quarter.
The figure of $1M provided on 12 July 2021 is an estimated cost of the funds required to enable the building to be repurposed for community use. The works required would include hazardous material removal, general building renovation and upgrades required for building code compliance. Further investigations into the building and options for the former Dole Avenue Kindergarten site will be completed in the current year as part of Council’s Strategic Property Review.
Officers are continuing to work through stages of the acquisition relating to due diligence, prior to requesting a Valuer General’s valuation. As previously communicated, the timeline for the acquisition is by nature a lengthy process, given the steps required. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide any further information relating to the details of the acquisition given the confidential nature of the matter. Once there is news to share, it will be shared with community as soon as possible. Officers appreciate your on-going interest in the purchase of Clements Reserve.
15 June 2021
The latest on the at-risk #ClementsReserve parkland in Reservoir. The Town Planning advice has been received though there is no information about why it was suddenly required. I'm guessing it was to try to negotiate down the price of the land fronting McMahon Road.
For reasons that no one will clarify #Darebin is refusing to tell me if the Valuer General valuation has been received for the land. I'm not asking for what's in it, merely the fact of its existence. Without it negotiations cannot proceed. With it negotiations should be completed within a month (or another valuation may be required).
Sent: Wednesday, 16 June 2021 11:14 AM
Subject: Re: Response to Council Question 24 May - Clements Reserve
Thanks for getting back to me with a response on the town planning advice.
There was a second part to the question regarding whether a Valuer General valuation for the Clements Reserve site had been sought.
While the contents of that valuation may be deemed confidential; the fact of its existence or otherwise should not be.
Knowing whether the valuation has been received would allow me to get a better picture of when the negotiations are likely to be finalised.
Can you let me know if that valuation has been sought and/or received?
Sent: Wed, 23 Jun 2021 23:32:09 +0000
Subject: RE: Response to Council Question 24 May - Clements Reserve
Thanks Serena for your email. Officers are continuing to work through stages of the acquisition process following receipt of the Town Planning advice, which are required as part of due diligence prior to requesting a Valuer General’s valuation. The timeline for the acquisition is by nature a lengthy process, given the steps required. I would like to confirm our assurance to you that officers are continuing to work on progressing the acquisition. Thank you again for your continuing interest in Clements Reserve.
24 May 2021
1. Do you have a progress report on negotiations for land within Clements Reserve, including whether the town planning advice referred to in a letter from Darebin Council to me dated 1 April 2021 has been received, and whether the Valuer General Valuation has now been sought?
2. There are many people in the community who are concerned about the loss of the Dumbarton Street Grassland, which one of Darebin Council's own reports recognises is of National Natural Heritage Significance (see: https://www.darebinvotes.com/post/how-darebin-council-lost-the-dumbarton-grassland). With less than 1% of Victorian Volcanic Plains grassland left, even small parcels of land are critical for habitat protection (see: Darebin Nature Trust member, Neal Masters, recently appeared on the ABC's Gardening Australia to talk about the importance of such remnant grassland areas: https://tinyurl.com/wu4ex4ht). When will representatives of Darebin Council meet with the Planning Minister, Hon. Richard Wynne, to seek to negotiate for protection of this site?
3. Council staff and members of the Ruthven Community Reference Group met with Elders on 29 October 2019 to discuss the renaming of the former Ruthven Primary School site, Reservoir, in the Woiwurrung language. This meeting drew on suggestions from the Darebin Aboriginal Advisory Committee (DACC) about returning it to its original name, if it is known, or choosing a name which may describe a natural feature, or previous use, of the site. This discussion will be recorded in the DACC minutes.
Renaming is becoming urgent because the site is frequently being confused with the W.R. Ruthven V.C. Reserve in Preston. This led to an error in Hansard which had to be corrected, and a recent error in a public announcement related to a grant. More seriously, if emergency services need to attend the site they might be sent to the wrong place. Can you give us a progress report on the renaming?
Response from Acting Chief Executive Officer, Jodie Watson
Thank you for your questions Serena. Officers are continuing to progress the purchase of Clements Reserve. The matters being addressed currently are considered confidential as they relate to a legal process being undertaken between two government agencies. Ms Watson agreed to take the question on notice and for a response to be provided by officers.
Council is concerned about the plans for development at Dumbarton Street, and know that the many people in the community share this concern. Darebin Council has repeatedly advocated for the protection of the indigenous grasslands at the site and offered to work with the State Government to identify alternative sites for social housing. Council has requested a meeting with the Planning Minister, Hon. Richard Wynne to discuss this matter. And we will continue to advocate for the protection of the grasslands.
Council is committed to naming the former Ruthven Primary School site in the Woi Wurrung language. This is one of several sites which Council has put forward to the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Corporation requesting a name in Woi Wurrung language and this progress remains ongoing. Once a name has been provided, Council will undertake the statutory process to formally name the space.
I also made a submission in relation to item 8.1 Ruthven Play Space Community Engagement Outcomes raising concerns that the following line in the report would leave the final design of the play space in the hands of officers. In response to my submission Cr McCarthy amended the proposed motion to ensure further consultation with Darebin Nature Trust and friends of Ruthven Park and it was carried unanimously.
19 May 2021
Darebin budget presentation
I have asked council to set aside $250,000 to allow for essential maintenance works at the former Reservoir Library and the former Dole Avenue kindergarten. A report on the Dole Avenue kindergarten was supposed to be presented to Council before November 2020. An interim report in March, and a final report in May, on such unused buildings was also requested. None of these reports have eventuated which is why I am trying to put this issue back on the agenda.
Former Library in Reservoir
The old Library has issues with asbestos and some structural issues and would need work to bring it up to standard. However, it is in a prime location in Reservoir, with easy access to public transport, and I have it on good authority that two community services are keenly interested in relocating to the building, namely, Merri Outreach Support Services, and Your Community Health.
Former Dole Avenue Kindergarten in Keon Park
Since 2014, the former Dole Avenue kindergarten has been languishing unused and unloved, opposite the intimidating mega structure that is the Keon Park Children's Hub.
Locals think it should be used for a community purpose - perhaps it could be a relaxed space for parents to meet and have a coffee in the gardens before picking up their children from kinder; perhaps they could even take a hobby class while they are there; it could be used for community education; or a cooperative coworking space.
The Keon Park area is in desperate need for places where people can gather and socialise. This space could be extremely valuable for building community resilience. Unlike the Hub across the road, the old building would allow people to set up their equipment and leave it in place as needed.
Since 2017, I have attended council run community consultations, signed a community petition to save it from developers, spoken with several organisations about its potential use, and met with the then Mayor and CEO to seek an assurance that it would remain in council hands, which they confirmed. Still its use is not resolved.
This building is important to residents in the North East Ward and needs to be opened up to the community.
9 May 2021
Darebin Council Budget Submission 2021-2022
At the Darebin Council meeting of 27 January 2021, it was unanimously resolved that Council, "Receives an interim report at the March Council meeting and a full report at the Council meeting in May 2021 listing all the unused and under-utilised Council buildings with the purpose of informing the 2021-22 budget process, four year Council plan and Council Vision." The resolution included directions to undertake certain investigations and costings (MINUTE NO. 21-006).
The interim report has not been received and there is no report included in the agenda of the Special Meeting of 10 May 2021. This means that there is currently no information in front of Councillors which they can use to make a determination about repurposing these unused and under-utilised buildings as part of the 2021/2022 budget deliberations.
Without a budget allocation, this could mean that there is a further delay of at least another financial year before action could be taken in respect of any of these buildings. Many in the community are concerned that these buildings are going to waste when instead they could be used for creative spaces, community hubs, or social enterprises.
To kickstart the process, I would like Darebin Council to prioritise two of these empty buildings in the current budget deliberations: the former Dole Avenue Kindergarten (see attached photos), and the former Reservoir Library. I propose that Council sets aside a contingency fund of $250,000 for associated planning, asbestos removal, and refurbishment works so that these buildings could be put to good use by the end of the 2021/2022 financial year.
(Photo credit: Terry Mason)
My questions with responses in bold from Chief Executive Officer, Sue Wilkinson
I asked several questions at the 22 March 2021 Darebin Council meeting regarding Clements Reserve, which were taken on notice. Why haven't the questions and answers been recorded in the minutes of following meeting and will this be corrected on the public record? The responses to the questions taken on notice at the 22 March Council Meeting were not recorded in the minutes of the next Ordinary Council Meeting ( ie the 8 April 2021 ) due to the reduced timeframes and the matters not being finalised. The responses are included in the Governance Report listed in this evenings agenda. When we get the Governance Report this evening Officers when introducing the report will explain the rationale for the approach.
Ongoing delays in obtaining a joint valuation of three parcels of land within Clements Reserve continue to put the acquisition of the parkland at risk. What is the nature of the town planning advice that Darebin Council is now waiting on from VicRoads in relation to Clements Reserve and why has this advice suddenly been deemed necessary before a joint valuation is requested from the Valuer General? Council acknowledges that the acquisition process has taken some time and whilst there were delays in earlier stages, the matter is progressing as expected at this stage given the level of complexity involved in this type of transaction. The current state of this process does not present a risk to the acquisition not proceeding, rather a prudent approach is being taken to ensure due diligence in decision making by both parties who are committed through joint intentions regarding the acquisition of these 3 parcels. This includes the gathering of all necessary advice and information to progress the acquisition. Whilst this matter is of keen interest to our community, it is also subject to complex considerations to progress and complete the acquisition which are considered confidential.
Darebin Council used to list Appendices to the Agenda as separate items on its website, instead of incorporating them into one enormous document. This made it much easier for the public to follow the Agenda, locate the information they required, and print out only those sections of interest. Can this process be reinstated? This practice changed in September 2020 due to a change in the way we distribute the agendas to Councillors. Whilst the combined agenda is sometimes quite large it is in PDF format, and bookmarked. I will speak with the team to see if we can streamline that process to make it easier for the community to access.
1 April 2021
• Serena O’Meley, Reservoir
Noting the following extract from Council’s resolution dated 6 November 2019 (MINUTE NO. 19-247) to, “Bring members of the Community Reference Group for the former Ruthven Primary School site together to seek their advice on two key pieces of work arising out of the masterplan over the next year:
The draft Planting Plan
Sharing the community vision of the masterplan with the Wurundjeri to inform the re-naming process for the park.”
Contractors were given a draft planting plan based on hardy regional species intended only for the windy north west corner of the site which was instead inappropriately used for three other locations. The CRG had to make a last-ditch effort with the help of DNT to get some inappropriate species removed from the list before planting commenced in July 2020. Why wasn’t the CRG consulted, as directed by council, prior to planting being rolled out, and will council ensure that the CRG and Darebin Nature Trust (DNT) are consulted before there is further planting anywhere on the site?
On 1 September 2020, members of the CRG and DNT were invited to a meeting to discuss a more extensive draft planting guide. We were promised written responses to our numerous questions and concerns, as well as a copy of the minutes. Over five months have since elapsed. Why haven’t we been sent these documents?
The Ruthven Park Master Plan is explicitly based upon it being a “Blueprint for Biodiversity: A biodiverse, indigenous landscape will be showcased, enriching Reservoir West’s urban ecosystem.” Yet the planting palette produced for the playground and BBQ area include a long list of unsuitable interstate native species. This element of the planting palette is also contrary to council’s Natural Heritage Strategy (2015-2025) which directs council to: “Continue to use indigenous species of local provenance in all landscaping along waterways or habitat corridors”. It is a significant and detrimental departure from the Ruthven Master Plan on the spurious ground that local species are not sufficiently attractive or hardy and will be trampled by children (according to what I have been told). Will Darebin Council ensure that the planting palette is revised to use only indigenous species of local provenance, in accordance with the Master Plan, before there is further consultation with the CRG and DNT?
Response from Chairperson, Mayor Messina
I understand that our Officers spoke to you last Saturday during consultation for the proposed play space. The Officers welcome further feedback including about the specific plants proposed and will be in touch with you.
Council did start a small amount of planting in July 2020 before consulting on the detail of the planting palette. This was a mistake and I understand Officers apologised at the time and quickly consulted with the CRG and DNT in July and then September 2020. We welcome further feedback. The plants planted were local indigenous species.
I will have Officers contact you to discuss the planting of these plants and also to ensure that your outstanding questions are responded to by the end of the week.
27 January 2021
• Serena O’Meley, Reservoir
There are large piles of leaf litter under trees, fallen branches, and items of hard rubbish are starting to be dumped in the front of the yard of the former Dole Avenue Kindergarten. This neglect places the building and grounds at risk of vandalism. Can this site be incorporated into the garden maintenance schedule of the Keon Park Children's Centre across the road?
Thank you for bringing this matter to Council. A team will attend and undertake some general maintenance of the area as soon as possible.
When Darebin Council meetings were held on Zoom due to Covid-19 it was possible to see the faces of councillors, the motions and amendments they were debating, and public questions could be asked from home.
Can these features be made available to the public again so that meetings can be fully accessible to residents who wish to participate in meetings from their homes?
Thank you for your question Serena
We continually look at ways to make our meetings accessible to residents. I am very pleased that tonight we have been able to have the public back into the Council meeting in person. We have also added new camera angles so that you can see which Councillor is speaking at any one time.
Unfortunately, we are not providing for questions to be asked from home, however we are still providing the option for questions to be lodged by 12 noon and to be read out by the Mayor. I encourage you to utilise this if you are unable to attend a council meeting in person.
Will we be able to see the items on the screen from home?
The Mayor advised that this question would be taken on notice.
At the Council meeting held on 27 January 2021, the following questions were taken on notice by the Chairperson, Mayor Messina
• Serena O’Meley, Reservoir
Will we be able to see the items on the screen from home?
The following email was sent to Ms O’Meley by Stephen Mahon, Coordinator Council Business.
Good Morning Ms O’Meley,
I’m just following up your query from the last Council Meeting on the 27 January 2021 regarding the recording of Council Meetings specifically the display of Councillor’s whilst they speak and the motions and amendments being debated.
Whilst we were conducting the Council and Planning meetings virtually we did have the advantage of being able to have all Councillors viewable and also to display the motions and amendments on the screen and we were conscious that the move to ‘in person’ meetings needed to be improved to ensure that livestream viewers had a better experience.
In this regard we introduced at the 27 January Council 2021 Meeting an additional camera that zooms in on the speaker which appeared to worked well and is now part of the livestream set up. Further at the last Planning Committee on the 8 February 2021 we introduced the screening on the livestream of the Officer Recommendation and or motion prior to the commencement of debate. This practice will also be incorporated into all future meetings.
I trust both of these improvements add to the livestreaming experience and thank you for your interest.