Complaints soar amid extended city construction hours

By Sean Car

The City of Melbourne’s fast-tracked approval of out-of-hours construction permits in March has resulted in construction-related noise complaints more than doubling compared to last year. 

The council’s chair of planning Cr Nicholas Reece told CBD News that more than 100 out-of-hours permits were issued for building sites in the CBD between March 30 and May 3. A council spokesperson wouldn’t confirm how many more had been issued since. 

While Cr Reece said that the extended construction hours responded to COVID-19 by helping keep the industry viable during uncertain times, his assistant chair of planning Cr Rohan Leppert slammed the changes as procedurally unfair. 

Cr Leppert said that like any change in council policy, the changes to construction hours should have come before councillors for a decision in an open forum to allow locals to have their say. 

“All noise complaints about construction in February, March and April more than doubled compared to last year,” Cr Leppert said. “I’ve made no secret of the fact that I do not support the new approach to out-of-hours construction permits, especially that an expectation for 6am construction starts has been established.”

“While most Victorians are being urged to stay at home, and many older Victorians are essentially in ‘lockdown’, I don’t think additional construction noise that makes staying at home a chore really helps the public health message.”

“The default construction times in our local laws are there to protect amenity, but also people’s health. Protecting health is more important in a pandemic, not less.”

Cr Reece said that while construction had increased by 50 per cent in the municipality outside of normal construction hours in April compared to November last year, the temporary measures were not being applied as a “blanket approval.”

“They are being administered on a case-by-case basis under the existing local law via ‘out-of-hours’ permits,” he said. 

The city’s Local Law currently allows for construction activity to occur between the hours of 7am and 7pm on weekdays and between 8am and 3pm on Saturdays. Approval is required from council to work outside these standard hours.

Working on a case-by-case basis, the council has allowed for an extra hour of work each morning and evening on weekdays. Three hours of extra work has been allowed on Saturdays and six hours of limited activity on Sundays.

However, many residents claim that builders are exploiting the new rules, while many residents have been forced to move out of the CBD all together. 

McKillop St resident Michael Munson told CBD News that with several projects currently taking place within close proximity of his family’s apartment, the impacts were proving “unbearable.” 

“It’s been pretty horrific actually. The levels of noise and rumbling in the house has been quite amazing,” he said.

“Altogether it’s actually unbearable. I just think environmental noise is really harmful after a long period of time and I’ve just learnt that two long-term neighbours who have been there for 15 to 20 years are moving out. There are other renters in the building who are moving out too, so that gives you an indication of where things are at.”

Mr Munson said he regularly witnessed workers setting up before 5.30am and packing up after 8pm, and dismissed the council’s claim of “striking a balance” for residents and the building industry. 

“I don’t see much balance for residents at all. The only good thing amongst all of this is that the works could be over and done with quicker,” he said. 

“It’s caused stress for everyone. We’re not the only ones either; there are other kids in the building. There are high school kids and two who are starting uni this year in lockdown, too. You’ve got families working from home with their kids – it’s all a bit of a pressure cooker.”

“People that live here are incredibly tolerant of sound. Garbage trucks are often going all night. If you want to live there you have to deal with it – and people are actually very good at dealing with it. But long-term residents are moving out. I just think this is a sign of how bad it’s got.”

Market St resident John Weretka, who has temporarily moved out of his apartment building opposite the Collins Arch development, said the level of construction activity in the city at present was making it “unliveable”.

“We’ve lived in the city for 11 years. The quality of life has become worse and worse. There is literally construction going around everywhere. Month after month, year after year, the city becomes an unpleasant place,” he said. 

Mr Weretka and his neighbours made news in recent months after raising an issue to local and state governments regarding a “blinding” reflection from the stainless-steel façade of the Collins Arch towers currently under construction. 

Having done his own testing, Mr Weretka found that the brightness represented about 75 per cent of the intensity of light of staring into direct sunlight. In a statement to the Herald Sun, the building’s developer Cbus Property said it was aware of concerns and was “proactively” working on actioning an “effective solution.”

However, Mr Weretka said that he had been informed by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DEWLP) that rectification works would only be completed once construction of the building was complete. 

The university teacher said all of the disruption had forced he and others in his building to move out. 

“The glare and noise have been unbelievable,” Mr Weretka said.  

“The rectification works will continue for a year and a half after this. The panels are made out of polished stainless steel and was never been part of the building’s approval. The light reflective levels are extraordinary.” •

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