Government apparatchiks have been supportive of our resolve to protect the character and environment of Bass Coast, though the underlying message from Spring Street is that people are coming, lots of them, so live with it.
From within the Chamber that’s much easier said than done. At the start of our term a shire-wide community conversation informed the four-year council plan that we crafted to guide our deliberations across that term. Our mission and values are enshrined in that document.
When we enter the chamber, as well as acknowledging our First Nations people and our councillor commitment to fairness, transparency and equity, every council meeting agenda directly references our values in relation to each item upon which we deliberate.
During our term we have delivered verdicts on developments that include small, angular blocks of land. We have also voted in favour of a couple of applications for subdivision of town blocks into battle axe blocks. Those votes haven’t always been unanimous. I recognise the merit in some of the objections to battle-axe subdivisions.
These discussions are the reason we (councillors) are in that room in the first place. We are there to represent the community.
Just to be clear, “battle axe” refers to a block with street access via a narrow driveway that passes another block that fronts the street. There are already a lot of them in Wonthaggi and more are anticipated, At this week’s council meeting we were required to decide on another of them, this time in Inverloch’s Cuttriss Street.
When these applications arrive on our virtual desks there are many facets to consider. Although the overriding parameters for our judgement are set in the Bass Coast planning scheme, we also need to consider the objections that have bought them to our chamber.
As our population grows, we either have to increase township density or extend the township boundaries. Amongst our values, environmental protection implies retention of boundaries and liveability implies good design which we enforce through the planning scheme.
When I resided in the gentrified tenement terraces of South Melbourne, the only access to backyards was through the front door. (The rear lanes were locked for security reasons, sorry Cr Kent) I suspect battle axing is at least an advance on that.
Our mission statement includes the words "ensure equity and balance and liveability and environmental protection ... in realising the community's vision."
All those “ands” might be grammatically confronting but they are ours to live up to. Without prejudicing any future decisions or breaking confidentiality, I can say that discussions around battle axing are robust and centred upon amenity, local character, liveability and emergency access.
Personally, I see that some battles axe driveways could be improved. Twenty metres of concrete drive fenced with metal and lacking vegetation or imagination hardly inspires. We already have many such driveways around us. Which, in my increasingly less humble opinion, makes it hard to draw an equitable line in the sand and say "no more!"
If we could apply some sort of guideline that set parameters for materials, colours and artistic treatments I would be happy to go down that path but I suspect that application would rely on financial inducement.
Personally, I see battle axe subdivisions as a better alternative than four or more town houses on one small block – both have their place and most battle axe blocks at least provide a backyard that can house a swing or trampoline and provide privacy for people to sit in the sun and read library books. A cosy townhouse with great neighbours has other charms and appeal.
To me, well designed battle axe blocks are a way to increase density while still allowing for preservation of our precious miners’ cottages.
There will always be a need for low-cost housing and battle axing is one way that folk approaching retirement can add to their savings to improve their quality of life. It's also an opportunity for someone to pay off their mortgage and achieve financial independence.
In short - I agree that they can be far from ideal but, like those small angular blocks that receive such scorn and derision in some quarters, they are driven by economics rather than aesthetics.
Families on tight budgets will always need small blocks. Although square blocks with high fences might not please a critical eye, as long as they meet the requirements of the planning scheme we have little option other than to abide by our commitment to make decisions that are fair, honest, open and accountable or have another go at the planning scheme.
No ratepayer or resident has ever asked me to completely stop battle axe blocks.