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4:55 AM
How Independent are Independent Consultants.

 

Can We Trust Independent Consultants employed by Manningham Council to be independent?

Surely we can trust what they say. These people are assumed to be independent and are assumed to give an independent opinion outside of the thinking and agenda of the council.

It sounds reasonable. But we need to look very closely at Manningham Council's history with independent consultants.

May I give you a quick summary.

 

A) The Eastern Golf Course.

Do you remember the Eastern Golf Course? Originally the council had an overlay over the entire golf course. This must have been a burden to the golf club. Any change they wanted to make to just about anything, had to have council approval.

Then the golf course was to be sold. Suddenly a large, prime piece of land was becoming available that was close to an activity center, close to transport, and had the ability to solve one of Manningham's pressing problems - which is to handle the population growth planned by the state government.

So what did the council do? They hired an 'independent consultant' who told them that the only things that really had heritage value was the old 'Tullamore' house, a narrow boundary around it and a few trees.

Really? This independent consultant told the council exactly what they wanted to hear.

Armed with this consultant's information they removed the overlay over the entire property and only protected the old house and the trees. This report also allowed Manningham council to run bulldozers through sections of the 'native heathy forest' that they once so fanatically protected.

I find it odd, that when the golf course was owned privately, the golf club couldn't touch one of the native 'heathy' forest trees without council approval. But now the council need the land, they ran a road through part of this forest.

 

B) The Flood Overlay.

This episode really made me suspicious of the council's independent consultants.

The council had a problem. They were going to add flooding overlays to thousands of homes that previously did not have one. The fear among residents was that this would decrease the saleability and price of thousands of homes in Manningham.

Manningham Council wanted to argue that their flood overlays would not effect the price of homes. But what could they do? They needed something.

Now I think it stands to reason that people generally would not favor a home that would occasionally be flooded by water. Those among us who have bought homes realize that details of flooding, and similar information is provided, in Victoria, on a 'Vendor Statement' or as it is more commonly know the Section 32 form. This form was introduced by the state government many years ago because it was believed that buyers needed this information to make informed decisions. The Section 32 contains all sorts of important information. In particular it contains a lot of data from the local council. It is very wise for prospective buyers to read that form carefully because, generally, no one wants to buy into a serious problem.

I remember about a year back I checked the Section 32 for a shop I wanted to buy near the city. It indicated that a natural watercourse ran under the property. This watercourse needed to be kept free of contamination. The owners of the property had to pay for a rather expensive examination done by recognized experts every year to satisfy the council that these waters were not being contaminating. It also effected any renovation or development of the property. I decided that was not worth the trouble.

Also another shop I was looking to buy was in one of these properties that had shops facing the street and residential units above and behind the shops. In my view, this is a stupid form of development that should never have been allowed. The Section 32 indicated that some of the shop owners were in dispute with the residential owners and it appeared to be getting serious. This often happens in these types of developments because the priorities of shop owners with their noisy equipment are often in conflict with the priorities of residential homes.

The section 32 contains a lot of information that is important to potential buyers. That is the very reason why the State government requires this document for every property sale.

So would a flood overlay effect the saleability of a home? In my view it would. I don't think people generally would choose a property with a serious problem if they could avoid it.

But the council wanted to say otherwise. And this is where it gets bizarre.

They employed an independent consultant who put forward a rather odd argument which went like this:

"If a property was going to flood anyway, adding a flood overlay would not effect it's sale price."

Please consider this from the consultants report to Manningham Council:

"In contemplating any potential value impact associated with the disclosure of flood risk via mapping or the introduction of regulatory control, it is important to recognise that the level of flood risk does not in fact change but simply recognises an existing condition of the land." (Attachment 10, page 11, minutes 26 Sept 2017).

In the next section of the report the consultants argue that planning bodies (i.e. councils) have found no evidence indicating property values decrease because a building overlay is placed on it. That is - a building overlay that a council applied.

Further in the report, the consultants cannot find one piece of evidence that a flood overlay reduces the price of a property. Everything to the contrary is dismissed for one reason or another. 

What this consultant is essentially saying is that potential buyers have always been aware of likelihood of flooding on a property and have taken this into consideration when making an offer on a property that does not have a flood overlay.

Is that true? They could make a guess about a property's potential to flood. But how would they know this without a careful inspection of the property? And would they be aware of this at an auction?

The important fact that this consultant has omitted is that not one state or local government body has any information relating to the past flooding of such a property. This is not known by the council, nor Yarra Valley Water, nor the State government. Past flood events involving the property would not be on any document these bodies possessed. Importantly there would be no flood overlay or flooding information mentioned on the Section 32.

But according to these consultants somehow people just knew that a property was effected by flooding in the past and took this into account when making an offer to buy. And so, when the council added their flood overlay later, prices are not effected!

As you can see. This is a very strange piece of logic.

To see how odd it is, please consider this. Imagine that you believed a property would flood even though there was no flood overlay on it. So you approached the council to ask why there was no flood overlay on it.

They would think you a bit weird. The council would say they have no knowledge that the property would flood. They might humor you for a while and say that if it rained hard enough for long enough most properties might flood. But at the end they would get sick of you and tell you to go away.

Possibly, after giving it a bit more thought, the council might even think that you wanted to buy the property at a reduced price and were trying to rope the council on to your side to support your cause.

Either way, you would be regarded as either a bit of a nut or a bit of a crook.

You can see that the argument put forward by the independent consultant is seriously flawed, is bizarre, and makes little sense.

But it was what exactly the council needed. They ran with it, even quoting this nonsense in their minutes saying there was no reason to believe that the application of a flood overlay would effect the saleability of the land or the sale price!

 

C) The Council Offices.

As mentioned in this article "Manningham Council Breaks their Own Laws", Manningham council assessed their old council offices as: "the most complex and arguably the finest expression of Miesian pavilion in the state." Then they went ahead and renovated and added to it apparently without even recalling that they themselves had placed a heritage overlay on it.

But the crime had been committed. Something had to be done.

So they hired yet another consultant who gave very flawed and misleading arguments to get them off the hook. The conclusion of the consultant was exactly what the council want to hear.

Armed with this ammunition they deleted the heritage overlay from the council offices and presto! It never really had any historical significance. So they never broke any law!

You or I would never get away with what the council did. If you or I were to change a building with a heritage overlay without consulting with the council. And then hire a heritage consultant, after the event, to justify what we had done, I think Manningham Council would pursue us with a vengeance.

 

So just how 'independent' are these consultants?

 

Government Work is highly prized.

Business people know that government work pays well, and government generally pays promptly. And if you can get regular work with a government body, it is a good source of income. Usually government jobs are prized because prices and charges can be set at higher levels and the government usually pays without objecting.

Now what do you think would happen if these consultants Maningham Council hired suddenly started to say things the council did not want to hear?

How many more jobs do you think they would get? I think they would be throwing away much, if not all, future work. In fact, I have never read in the council minutes of any consultants employed by the council reporting back something the council did not want to hear.

After looking at the history of how Manningham council uses these independent consultants, I have come to the conclusion that these consultants are not independent at all.

It appears to me that these consultants are briefed by the council regarding what the council wants to see in their report and then they go away and diligently provide the council with exactly what they want.

I am sure these consultants will say that they carry out their work with integrity.

But if you look at the council's history with consultants as recorded in the council minutes, I cannot recall reading of one instance in any of the minutes where an independent consultant employed by the council tells the council something they did not want to hear.

In every instance I can recall, the consultants tell the council exactly what they want to hear.

In my view, this practice of employing consultants is simply a smokescreen. It gives the impressing the council is being balanced and fair, while in actual fact, they are rigging the outcome so they can do precisely what they want. This pantomime is done to mislead us and, to add insult to injury, they use our money to pay for it.

We can see that the council uses an independent consultant when they want to excuse themselves from following their own laws. They did that with the Eastern Golf Link development and they did it with the council offices renovation fiasco.

The council uses these consultants to slide past their own laws and regulations that get in their way, which if you or I were to break we would be in a mountain of trouble.

 

Do you think I am mistaken about this?

Please see attachment 10 for minutes of 26 Sept 2017, page 101. Click the 'download' icon to see the attachment. Then go to page 4 of the attachment. 

Note that a council employee, someone from strategic planning, was working with the independent consultants. Note also that she was not given the role of 'advisor' or 'assisting in' or 'supervisor' or 'consultant' or anything like that. No, her title was the 'Instructing Party'. That is an odd and curious job title. So her job was to 'instruct' the independent consultants.

I wonder what she needed to instruct them in?

It's not as though Manningham council wants to hide what they are doing from you. They appear to truthfully say precisely what they are doing.

They appear to be quite confident that you will never figure out what they are really doing.

 

 

 

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