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Monday, 12.18.2017
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2:05 PM
Council Overspending out of Fear of Legal Action

 

Manningham council proposes a very costly solution -- for a laneway.

There is a drainage reserve in Bulleen – Harold Link Reserve – that runs like a laneway behind some 60 residential homes. It is primarily a drainage reserve meant to handle the run off after heavy downpours. Unfortunately some residents also use it as a roadway and some have even built garages that exit onto this reserve.

One resident even received council planning approval to build a garage exiting onto the reserve. (Harold Link Development Plan Endorsement Report. Page 2. 1.7)

The problem is that this land was supposed to be a drainage reserve, a type of park with trees and grass. But it is not being used as intended. It is being used as a laneway for cars so residents can access the rear of their properties.

Manningham Council needed to address this.

Manningham council would find it very hard to say that residents cannot use it as a laneway. After all, council planning approval had been given for a garage to exit onto the reserve.

In the end, Manningham council said that road access needed to be 'formally acknowledged'.

Now we come to a very expensive proposal by Manningham council to make this drainage reserve suitable for cars.

 

A Very Expensive Laneway.

Manningham Council's solution is to spend some $337,495 to build a 3.5 meter concrete roadway almost the entire length of the drainage reserve. And to prevent cars from using it as a thoroughfare, the roadway will be blocked at two points with bollards effectively turning the laneway into three dead end lanes. (The laneway is crossed at one point by a road).

Manningham council also intend to provide three paved turning areas where cars can perfrom a "U" turn to allow them to turn around to exit.

At first glance this sounds very reasonable but as you look into it, the whole council decision making process reveals insights into why many Council projects are so expensive. Also it shows how Manningham council then tries to push the cost of these expensive projects on to the residents.

 

The Cost.

Initially, Manningham council said that residents would derive a benefit from the laneway and as such should pay 45% of the cost. This was roughly $3300 per residence.

You can imagine how the residents responded to this. They were being asked to pay for a laneway that more than half did not even use. They said the cost “isn't justified, excessive, unnecessary, unwarranted, hugely expensive, unwarranted” and so on. (See pages 1,2 Harrold Link Attachments from 28 July 2015 meeting.)

And the residents are probably right. Manningham's proposed solution appears to be a massively over-engineered solution for what really is just a lane running behind some residential homes.

The council initially said residents were also to mow the grass on the reserve behind their properties, even though many did not have access to the reserve and would need to wheel their mowers all the way around the block to get to the lane at the rear of their homes. Residents were also expected to pay the full cost of any fences that needed to be built or replaced.

What appeared to Manningham council as a reasonable solution, appeared to residents to be unnecessary, impractical and excessively costly.

Then some residents got smart.

Some residents made the point that 'they already have full and proper access to their properties' (page 2, Harold Link Attachments). And this basically undermined Manningham Council's argument that residents would derive benefit from the new laneway. It was clear that many residents did not even need the laneway.

Manningham council then changed their proposal and agreed to pay for the full cost of the roadway, half the cost of fences, etc.

Manningham council then pressed ahead to have this very expensive laneway built.

Ordinary people are often very careful with their money, not spending where it is not necessary and when they do spend, making sure they get value.

The question is this. What is driving Manningham council to spend this large amount of money to build what appears to be an over-engineered solution to a rather minor problem?

 

Fear of Legal Action.

Manningham council make it very clear that they are worried about their legal liability should an accident occur on this reserve involving a car and pedestrian.

1.8. Council’s liability is an important consideration if an incident occurs between a private vehicle and a pedestrian and whilst no incident has been reported to date, conditions should be rectified. (page 3 Harold Link Development Plan Endorsement Report, 28 July 2015 meeting.)

Manningham council's fear of being taken to court because of negligence is very real and important. And no one would suggest that we or they ignore our responsibilities under the law.

Unfortunately this fear of legal action also plays a large role in another expensive Manningham projects. In 27 May 2014 minutes, the council described how a water drain that was shown on council plans did not actually exist. The council stated then that they were exposed to legal action.

"provide protection from potential claims arising under the Water Act 1986" (page 1457 10.2).

If you read through the minutes for 27 May 2014 on this matter of this missing drain and read the responses from residents, you will see that Manningham Council made the building of this rather expensive drain a priority and allowed no objection from residents to stop or impede their plans.

This fear of being taken to court is most likely the reason why Manningham council is now pressing ahead with what is essentially a very high cost, over-engineered lane way. They are seeking to ensure that no one can point the finger at them and say any accident was due to their negligence.

This leads me to compare the Manningham Council project to what is done in the neighbouring City of Whitehorse.

I ask you to contrast the laneways in the City of Whitehorse, in particular those between Whitehorse Road and the railway line near Blackburn Station. You will see a big difference in approach. Laneways exist that run parallel to Whitehorse Road and Railway Road. And not all are paved.

For example, the laneway that runs behing Blackburn Nissan between Albert St and Chapel St in one section is covered with pot holes. That particular section of laneway carries significant traffic from cars, trucks and pedestrians.

 

This is the lane behind Blackburn Nissan. It carries far more vehicle and pedestrian traffic than the lane in Bulleen ever will. It is simply a (poorly maintained) gravel road. The city of Whitehorse live under the same laws as Manningham. Why do we have to pay for an over-engineered concrete road while the City of Whitehorse strive to keep costs under control.

 

The City of Whitehorse live under the same laws as the City of Manningham. The laneways in Blackburn carry far more traffic than the one in Bulleen ever will and they don't all have concrete paving, bollards, turning circles, etc.

Manningham council's solution appears to be excessively expensive when compared to what is done elsewhere.

So why is that?

I am not suggesting that anyone ignore their responsibilities under the law, but Manningham certainly has a different approach to this same issue than does Whitehorse. Whitehorse takes a very pragmatic and inexpensive approach, while Manningham's approach is over-engineered and excessively expensive.

Why does the laneway in Bulleen have to be concreted? Why couldn't it be simply a gravel lane?

Manningham says that 'a sealed construction is required to deal with the drainage element during a major rainfall event' (page 6 Harold Link Attachment).

But there are gravel roads elsewhere in Manningham that also have to deal with major downpours. And according to residents, vehicles rarely use the Harold Link Reserve at the best of times. It does not get much traffic when it is dry let alone during heavy downpours. You also need to add to this the fact that every property backing onto the reserve already has access from a sealed suburban street.

So again I ask, why does this roadway need to be concreted? It would seem a gravel road would be much cheaper, just as practical, just as safe and address one further problem.

 

Drainage Easement.

Harold Link Reserve is essentially a drainage easement. There are drainage and sewerage pipes under the reserve that are approaching 50 years old (page 10, Harold Link Attachments).

First of all this system of drainage does not always work properly in that it cannot always carry the water from heavy down pours.

One resident pointed out that in the 2003 floods, their house was under 1 meter of water. Council in that instance had to install new drainage. Another resident complains that after heavy rain the reserve often floods and existing drainage pipes cannot take the water away. (pages 8, 9 Harold Link Attachments.)

Manningham council downplays the drainage problem. Twice they say there 'is a perceived lack of resolution of an existing drainage problem'.

But I do not think it is fair to dismiss these as 'perceived' issues. They appear to be quite real and at times require work to be done on the pipe system under the reserve.

So what does Manningham council propose? To build a 3.5 meter wide concrete road in a reserve that is 5 meters wide. This is not a good idea. You and I are restricted from building over drainage easements for very good reasons.

If work needs to be done on pipes in the reserve, heavy excavators and trucks will need to go down that concrete laneway and will do who-knows-what amount of damage to the concrete. There is good chance that after major repair works to the drainage pipes, large sections of the concrete lane will also require repair.

So why not have a gravel roadway? It would be cheaper and much more practical. Also the money the council would spend on the concrete road could be directed to solving any real outstanding drainage problems in the reserve.

But the council does not see things this way.

They focus on building the road and dismiss drainage problems as 'perceived'.

As I read their documents, I get the impression that legal concerns drive Manningham's decision making process. Manningham council is seriously concerned about 'minimizing Council risk' (see page 1 Harold Link Endorsement).

It appears, to me at least, that Manningham council propose costly, over engineered solutions so no one can point the finger at them and accuse them of negligence. They appear to want to say, “we have done everything we can and more and therefore are not responsible if someone has an accident”.

The problem is that we, the residents, pay for all this whether it is sensible or not.

There is good evidence, close to hand, that Manningham council is wasting rather large amounts of money on a project that is not really that necessary.

 

 

 

 

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