This story is a little different from my usual fare. It is about a major Health company – Healthscope – launching a campaign against local residents and Moreland Council for the redevelopment of the John Fawkner private hospital.
If you live in Fawkner, or elsewhere in Moreland, you may have been surprised to see a letter sent to your address in your letterbox from John Fawkner Hospital yesterday or today.
So why would John Fawkner Hospital, located on Moreland Road in Coburg and bordering Brunswick be sending these letters out to distant parts of the municipality like Fawkner?
Perhaps they have done a mailing to every address in the municipality? I don’t know.
So this letter explains that they want to redevelop and expand the site including building a multi-level car park. But their development plans have gone to Moreland Council and twice been rejected. Something fishy is going on here.
The first time the plans were rejected by Council in July 2012 as inappropriate. John Fawkner Hospital appealed the decision to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) but lost. Strange, because usually VCAT decisions predominantly support development proposals.
The properties around the John Fawkner Hospital were part of the Glencairn estate which had a restrictive covenant placed on them to preserve the architectural heritage of the area for the whole community. Read Brunswick Labor MP Jane Garrett’s statement from April 2014 on the Glencairn Avenue, Coburg development, republished from Hansard.
Residents purchased their properties in the area with this covenant in place. And VCAT confirmed the covenant restricted the proposed hospital development. Instead of negotiating with Council and residents, John Fawkner Hospital went to the Minister for Planning in the Liberal state Government who subsequently lifted the covenant in May 2014.
Way to go. After your opponents win, you change the rules. Does that sound fair to you?
The plans for the development, essentially the same as those previously submitted in 2012, were resubmitted again to Moreland Council and dealt with at the Council meeting in November 2014.
I remember this, because I attended the Council meeting at the historic and formal Council chambers in Brunswick Town Hall as an observer. The gallery was packed with angry and disgruntled residents from the area around Moreland Road, Glencairn Avenue and Jessie Street where the Hospital is situated. A number of residents spoke factually and passionately against the development listing multiple objections. A planning officer from John Fawkner also argued their case.
After listening to both sides, Councillors deliberated and unanimously rejected the plans noting the residents concerns over traffic management, parking, and heritage concerns and the lack of change in the development plans. That was the real killer. John Fawkner had not even tried to work with their local residential neighbours to address the problems in their original plan and develop a new one. They essentially presented the same development plan to council.
“The application is a repeat application, practically identical to an earlier application reported to the July 2012 meeting of the Urban Planning Committee.” says the Council minutes of 12 November 2014 (see below for full item as recorded in Council minutes)
The report to Council noted that John Fawkner Hospital held no public consultation with residents prior to the 2014 development submission to Council. That reflects on how much they care about the neighborhood and local community and negotiating for a positive development outcome that resolves or mitigates many of the objections.
Not getting what they want from local residents and from Moreland Council, John Fawkner Hospital have now decided to launch a public campaign and harangue the rest of us that the development is a public service improvement to our health system. But the hospital services really only benefit those who can pay or have the requisite hospital insurance. It is clearly not for everyone and at the end of the day the hospital development is being done to make a return on investment to Healthscope’s shareholders. Not you or I, or the residents of Glencairn Avenue or Jessie Street that are being shafted.
I am sorry, I agree with local residents that John Fawkner Hospital have done little to address local resident and Council concerns. Now they are trying to steamroll local residents by appealing to a broader audience who know little of the facts.
A little bit of history. John Fawkner Hospital started in 1939 as the Sacred Heart Hospital and it was administered by the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic Order. I used to live in Cassels Rd near the hospital and one of the elderly Catholic resident of the street said his local parish raised much of the funding to support the hospital. When the hospital was sold by the Catholic archdiocese in 1991, the local parish had little say and received little if anything, from the sale. The hospital was sold to Health Care of Australia, a private hospital administration company. My elderly neighbour talked disparagingly of the sale by the Catholic Church, a negation of the financial and community support the hospital had long received by the local parish and community.
The hospital is now owned by private health company Healthscope.
Don’t be fooled, while they provide a range of medical services, they run a business predicated on making a profit from illness and medical treatment. Much of their business is reliant on elective surgery and private medical patients. Their business model is built upon subsidised private medical insurance, and to a lesser extent medicare payments.
Long time local resident from Maranoa Cres, Doreen McKay, said the private hospital was “not about providing a service for us, it’s about providing money for them”, in a report in the Herald Sun after the Council meeting in November 2014.
An independent advisory committee has been setup by Acting Planning Minister Robin Scott to advise on the controversial development proposal. Local residents would like the restrictive covenant that was removed last year restored to preserve the charcter of the residential streets.
So when you open that letter from John Fawkner, I strongly suggest you either bin it in the recycling or write in big letters OPPOSE across the slip and post it back in the reply paid envelope they provided.
- Moreland Leader, 20 January 2015 – Coburg’s John Fawkner hospital expansion plans in State Government hands
- Moreland Leader, 13 November 2014 – Moreland Council bins Healthscope John Fawkner Hospital expansion plans
- Jane Garrett MP, Member for Brunswick, 3 April 2014 (Excerpt from Hansard) – Glencairn, Coburg, Development
- Moreland Leader, 18 February 2013 – John Fawkner Private Hospital expansion plan gets rejected, hospital disappointed with outcome
Here are the minutes of Moreland Council, 12 November 2014 which gives a brief history and the decision of Council in dealing with this development proposal. Councillor Rob Thompson excused himself during the debate and decision due to a potential conflict of interest.
DED88/14 John Fawkner Hospital – 269-275 Moreland Road, Coburg (MPS/2014/498) (D14/334666)
The application seeks approval for buildings and works to extend the existing hospital, including a four level extension facing Glencairn Avenue with ground level car parking, a four-storey multi-deck car park facing Jessie Street and alterations to access to a Road Zone, Category 1.
The application is a repeat application, practically identical to an earlier application reported to the July 2012 meeting of the Urban Planning Committee. In that application, 88 objections were received. The decision of Council to refuse the application was appealed to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) by the applicant. VCAT resolved that the proposal breached the restrictive covenant on the land. However, in the absence of the restrictive covenant, a planning permit would have been granted as the proposal was considered: an acceptable response to the character of the area; would not result in unreasonable off-site amenity impacts; provides sufficient car parking to cater for the proposed extension; and additional traffic is able to be accommodated in the surrounding streets.
The land owner has since had the covenant varied on the title through a Ministerial Amendment.
This current application was advertised and 138 objections were received, including 35 proformas. The main issues raised in objections relate to car parking, access and traffic, off-site amenity impacts, built form, neighbourhood character, heritage, land use and landscaping. No public consultation meeting was held. The applicant has lodged an appeal against Council’s failure to determine the application within the prescribed timeframe.
The Group Manager City Development has previously recommended to the Urban Planning Committee (UPC) on 22 October 2014 (DED84/14) that Council’s submission to VCAT is one of support for the application subject to amendments and conditions contained within the recommendation to manage outcomes otherwise felt to be acceptable by VCAT. The UPC resolved to refer the decision to full Council. The officer recommendation remains unchanged.
Cr Gillies moved, Cr Kavanagh seconded that Council –
.1 Uphold the previous Council’s decision to reject this plan and that Council write to the current Minister for Planning to request the reasons for removing the covenant that had been placed on the John Fawkner Hospital property on the following grounds:
)a The Proposal is not in line with heritage interface.
)b Insufficient turning room is available for service vehicles.
)c Traffic and parking issues that need to be addressed.
)d The proposal is not within neighbourhood character.
.2 Council defends its decision at VCAT with legal representation.
Cr Yildiz moved that the motion be put.
The substantive motion was carried unanimously