The Council has recently put out a discussion paper as part of developing a Central Hobart Precincts Plan. The discussion paper is currently out for public input with feedback closing Friday 10th December.
The plan created at the end of this process will be significant and will be used – for better or worse – to shape our city. Given the potential implications of the plan, I want to share some of my thoughts and encourage you to take a look and have your say.
So, the plan itself will apply to 64 blocks within Davey, Molle and Burnett Streets and the Brooker Highway. It divides the city into five precincts and acknowledges the large snaking of the UTAS campus through the City, mainly along Melville and Campbell Streets.
The document itself isn’t the easiest of reads – a meld of future tense aspirational
statements, descriptions of today and planning speak. What is clear though is that changes to the planning scheme and new policies will be a highly likely outcomes of the final plan and that this document will be held up as the source of truth for the community’s wishes.
A week or so ago I attended a couple of workshops that the Council ran on the discussion paper.
One of the concerns I raised was around the sequence of events of this Plan and UTAS already applying to take over public streets with a Temporary Parklet that is temporary in name only. I’m glad to hear that poor sequence of events has been recognised and that UTAS have paused their Melville Street application. Let’s not kid ourselves, there is nothing temporary about a five year change, especially parklet application given they have publicly stated their desire to turn city streets into nature corridors.
I also highlighted that, in many cases, the ideas contained in the discussion paper can only be successfully brought to life if other things are in place first. For example, we can only reduce cars in the city without killing our businesses and driving away the community if dramatic improvements in our public transport system are in place first, if attractive park and ride alternatives are up and running and that even with these in place that some level of independent transport access will be needed for the city to be accessible to all.
I also flagged that only one set of ideas have been presented and that we need to map the alternatives and the potential consequences of each for full and proper debate.
At the workshops the plan was described as a collaboration with the State Government. When I asked about the level of involvement the State Government had has to date, the actual involvement they have had so far seems to be very limited which I thought was odd given the magnitude of what is being proposed.
Looking more at the details, some of concerns I have are that:
the document talks about big population growth and increased demand for commercial business space. For example, it states that Hobart will need 1500 more hotel beds, 300,000 more square metres of commercial floor space and that employment will grow by 30% and the central Hobart population will at least double
given past behaviour is the best indicator of future behaviour, I’m concerned that some of our elected Councillors are living in a different time and place and unable or unwillingness to factor this demand into their decision-making. I think this is a very valid concern given four councillors in particular appear to have no qualms about voting against homes that are recommended for approval by their own professional planning experts even though we’re desperate for housing
The actual purpose and activities of our city are also described in the paper, with future Hobart being described as a University City and that a key industry for central Hobart will be education. I’m wondering if the community has said yes to this or if it’s something that’s being imposed on us? It also states that retail and professional services will be relatively less important. Is that what we want?
As the capital city, one would expect central Hobart to be a hive of activity. The paper talsk about Hobart being the southern centre for commerce, education, tourism, public administration and health. We shouldn’t be aiming for this unless we act in a way that makes this possible.
If we’re going to be saying no-no-no to offices, homes and hotels, then we need to be open and realistic about this a look at decentralising activities across our neighbours that would probably welcome them with open arms
A major concern I have is that the plan will essentially be used to used to make doing anything in Hobart even harder. The paper refers to guiding future development that is in keeping with each precincts’ “inherent potential” and supporting the “right kind of development”.
I’m worried that the plan will be used to micromanage what owners can and cannot do with their property – for example, in the workshops I attended, owners of caryards were frequently referred to as targets and there was talk of ‘levers’ being used manipulate landowners
Building heights are of course in scope, with references to maintaining lines of sight and keeping the city ‘compact’, buildings ‘maintaining connection to the surround landlord horizons’ – whatever that is – and new buildings having to prove their fit.
My view is that we don’t need more restrictions and barriers that will be used for more nay-saying. We need a sound planning scheme with flexibility. How else are we going to accommodate current demand, let alone future growth? We already have compliant and desperately needed development being rejected without making the bar even higher
Developer contributions are also captured, and while I have no issues with developer contributions if the threshold for their payment isn’t too low and when they are fair, consistent and transparent, my view is that developers pay their contributions each and every year through their rates.
This is in contrast to UTAS who is exempt from paying land tax and most council government charges. While I acknowledged that UTAS is contributing $350k to the Council’s budget in lieu of rates, this seems to be a very good deal for UTAS and means that the rates burden will be spread across everyone else.
Down at the street level, the paper talks about “large carparks being located on the city fringe”. I’m very supportive of park and ride taking pressure off roads and parking, but let’s not forget we have the state’s major hospital slap-bang in the middle of our city and not everyone run, ride or use public transport so it would be cruel to strip away all parking and access
Public transport is clearly set aside as a State Government issue, with the paper saying that Council’s role is to provide walking and cycling infrastructures and “high amenity” streets. My concern is that the Council will push on with their anti-car agenda, even though our public transport is inadequate and cannot work for everyone. Doing so will come at a big cost. Businesses will fail and leave. And the city will be exclusively for the able bodied and those without young kids or goods to lug around.
According to the paper, in 2042 “Hobart has streets that place people at the centre of activity instead of cars”. Sounds lovely – all rainbows and fairy floss. Is this realistic though given we don’t have the population to make a wizz-bang public transport system viable?
Is it more realistic to expect that we’ll be using our self-drive electric vehicles to go about our business when what we need can’t be delivered by drone?
Apparently, we will also have ‘permeable’ city blocks with heaps of thoroughfares and laneways. I love a good laneway exploration but I don’t think overkill of this this concept is a good use of space given we are constrained enough already in terms of where we can build and our blocks are hardly huge.
So, they’re some of my key concerns but there is plenty I support.
I say yes to us being a true capital city and recognising that we have competition – why would the big anchor stores for example come to the city if it’s too hard and expensive to get around when other centres will welcome them with open arms?
And… yes to:
· trees and green, but not by taking over our streets and stripping our access
· encouraging start up business and protecting the viability of our existing traders
· visitor infrastructure and being a place that tourists want to come, stay and explore
· park and ride and walking and cycling infrastructure that captures a new bracket of active transporters
· keeping pedestrians safe from major roads
· assigning road space to public transport corridors when the time comes and not before
· using roads for other purposes off-peak, like festivals and cultural events
· art in public space when it has a broad reach and enduring benefit. For example, adorning city walls with murals, including recognising our First Nations people
· protecting our beautiful heritage buildings and embracing the passage of time with new architecture alongside them
· guidelines that are truly guidance, not heavier restrictions
· a planning scheme that is only as complex and perspective as it needs to be and that gives is flexibility to embrace future possibilities
· the Council playing a role in public transport delivery – for example, scrap the Salamanca bus and offer a free city looper bus from the CBD to North Hobart
So that’s my two bobs worth. Feedback on the discussion paper closes 10 December and the draft plan is set for release mid 2022.
So check it out on the Council’s website and have your say.