Developer Brady Group came under fire from Melbourne councillors on November 17 when they were asked to retrospectively approve a reduction of two levels of parking at 500 Elizabeth St.
The Vision Apartments tower was completed and apparently approved by a private building surveyor without two levels of basement parking.
While granting the retrospective consent order purely on planning grounds, the councillors were scathing that the building permit was apparently ignored.
Planning chair Ken Ong said: “You can’t forget to dig two levels of basement. You can’t forget to do that.”
“How did the private building surveyor do all this and sign it off? Or was it the construction company that decided that they’re not going to dig the extra two levels? Or was it the developer who influenced what actually happened?”
Cr Ong successfully moved that the council writes to the developer and the Planning Minister expressing “serious concern”.
“We know the outcome of what happened – they didn’t build what they were supposed to,” Cr Ong said. “We are going to write to the Brady Group saying that we are pissed off, to put it bluntly.”
The council is also seeking from the minister assurances that any identified problems with the system are fixed to prevent a repeat.
“So we’re writing to the Minister to ask how the hell did this happen? And, if there is a problem with the system with the VBA (Victorian Building Authority), and the surveyors and the issuing of permits and the follow up of construction activities well, he needs to fix it because we don’t have the power to fix it.”
Councillors were at pains to point out that the building inspection regime has been privatised for decades and the council played no part in the breach.
Consultant Andrea Pagliaro appeared before the committee to express “sincere regret” on behalf of Brady Group for the “process breakdown that occurred”.
“On behalf of the applicant and the land owner we wish to acknowledge and express our regret about the breakdown of processes that has resulted in this matter coming before you tonight,” Mr Pagliaro said.
Mr Pagliaro said he did not know what went wrong. An investigation into the matter is yet to conclude.
Cr Stephen Mayne said the credibility of Melbourne’s planning and building schemes had suffered as a result.
“You should build what you say you are going to build and what you are allowed to build. And that’s a pretty fundamental principle,” Cr Mayne said.
“There has already been and there will continue to be a degree of public flogging of Brady, which they deserve. They deserve to be named and shamed for this in terms of not coming earlier to us and seeking a retrospective approval.”
“I can’t imagine the circumstance of how this has happened. I mean is it ‘well, they’d like this, let’s just do it?’ Is that what someone has actually said?”
“Because you can’t just not build two floors by accident. So clearly there’s an element of behaviour here that does not reflect well on the developer. And that will go to the developer’s accumulated credibility going forward as a major developer in this town.”
Cr Mayne said strong enforcement of the breach was needed to ensure it did not happen again.
However, Cr Ong said penalties were limited to what was specified in the Planning Act.
“The penalties available are what is in the scheme – the Planning Act – which, my understanding is, not a lot,” he said.
The motions dealing with both the retrospective planning request and the punitive response were dealt with by only six of the 11 City of Melbourne councillors.
Team Doyle councillors excused themselves from the debate because of declared conflicts of interests because they received election donations from the developer in 2012.