Hello! Dark Mofo is over for this year and what a festival it was! Winter Feast and Dark Path were supported by the City of Hobart and both were extremely popular, with 97,000 and 72,000 people attending the respective events. I loved getting out and about with my family and seeing the throngs of people around our city also embracing the darkness of winter.
Council's investment in this festival provides wonderful events for our local community, but it is also a serious investment in our local economy. Investing in culture, creativity and the arts makes so much sense to me.
Homelessness and affordable housing
The City of Hobart recently organised a Forum that brought together major players to tackle the growing problem of homelessness and lack of affordable housing.
The momentum created by our Forum saw the Federal Housing Minister fly into town and the State Government announce $5 million to fund new crisis beds in existing shelters.
While it's difficult to have detailed dialogue with 70 attendees in two hours, it was an opportunity to listen to the experts in the sector who asked for Council to support the existing services and shelters, rather than open City Hall.
We also agreed to form a new alliance to work together to prioritise and action all the ideas raised and get things done! While the City of Hobart has worked on this issue in the past, it is clear that we are going to need to do much more in future.
Hats off to Cr Holly Ewin for being a strong voice for the homeless. Following the meeting, the Tasmanian Council of Social Services and the housing policy group ShelterTAS released a joint communique which captured the outcomes well.
Don't link homelessness to high-rise
As we heard at the Housing Forum, there's no quick fix that will solve our housing affordability issues.
However, it's been appalling to see opportunistic claims that homelessness could be fixed by freeing property developers from planning rules, such as height limits.
Some elected members have asserted that the debate about building heights holds “the city and its most vulnerable people to ransom”, suggesting that homelessness could be magically fixed by building more high-rises and city apartments.
Under this argument, every capital city with tall buildings and billions of dollars of residential development approvals should be havens free of homelessness! But this is not the case.
Every Australian capital city, regardless of height limits, political leanings of the council or level of building activity is facing a homelessness crisis similar to Hobart’s. Development in our big cities is not delivering affordable homes, and Hobart's rents are high.
Making things worse in Tasmania is our lower than average wages ($200 a week lower than the national average) and the low rate of welfare payments, particularly Newstart, at $277.85 a week.
The idea that homelessness can be fixed simply by Council approving more private developments is flawed. Here’s why:
Council is already approving many residential developments. In fact, almost everything that comes to us gets the tick. Of 14 proposals for inner-city apartments since 2015, 13 have been approved or completed. These 13 projects will inject 1114 new dwellings into the market.
Despite approvals going up, the number of new home completions has fallen below the long-term average because of labour supply and availability of builders.
Conversion of rental properties to visitor accommodation is a real issue. Between 2014 and 2017, the resident population in the City of Hobart area grew by 1553 while visitors to the city grew by 73,345. This led to growth of Airbnb listings in Hobart, many of which would have previously been long-term rental properties.
Social housing is the most important solution to preventing homelessness among vulnerable people because it is affordable and provides security of tenure. But our national stock of social housing – about 400,000 dwellings – has barely grown in 20 years, while the population has increased by 33 percent.
Elector poll on building height limits
By now you will have received your ballot in the mail giving you the opportunity to vote on whether Council should support revamped building height rules for the Hobart CBD or not.
This has been an ongoing debate in our city for a number of years: do we keep our city relatively medium-rise in keeping with our heritage character, or do we follow a more conventional CBD approach that other Australian cities have?
This vote isn’t binding on the Council, but will be a useful gauge of public opinion for elected members to consider when making their future decisions on this important urban design issue.
Your vote must be received by 10am Monday 15 July to be counted.
Please don’t delay in returning your ballot!
This poll was designed and will be administered by the Tasmanian Electoral Commission, as required by the Local Government Act. There is quite a bit of information to assist you on the TEC website.
The future of our Civic Square
Many people don’t realise that the entire city block bounded by Morrison, Argyle, Davey and Elizabeth Streets (where Mawson’s Huts and Lark Whisky are) is owned by the Council on behalf of everyone.
Known as ‘Civic Square’, this block is a valuable public asset with heritage buildings (some as old as Salamanca) located close to the waterfront. It has incredible potential for developing into a civic space that needs careful planning and investment to realise.
Since 2015, a series of decisions has seen Council head down the path of seeking expressions of interest from the private sector, rather than finding ways to develop or improve this important site ourselves.
The process has not been as transparent as I would have liked. Civic Square has been considered at 15 different Council meetings since 2015, but only two of these were open to the public.
Now we have a proposal called ‘Spirit Place’ from a development company that took part in an Expression of Interest process run by the Council which has been released to enable the community to provide feedback.
The developer’s ideas are outlined in conceptual plans for a five-storey hotel, shops, cafes and a new two-storey tourist information centre on the current site of Mawson’s Huts museum. Between these new buildings it is proposed to create ‘intimate laneways’ available for the general public.
If this was a private development on private land, it would simply be a matter of assessing whether the proposal fits within our planning laws.
But this is public land. As such, the block is special and needs to be considered differently. Near-waterfront city land in public ownership is a rare commodity.
The development of public land should be reserved for projects of significant civic use and appeal, or for projects not easily developed by the private sector.
My guiding principle is that public land should be used in the public interest. What concerns me is that this proposal may not meet that basic requirement. The main ‘public’ benefit we’re meant to gain from this development is a new home for our tourist information centre.
Missing from the proposal is detail on many of the issues the community needs to be properly informed. Key questions remain unanswered in the consultation materials. For example, what length of lease does the developer want for this public land? 50 years? 100 years? Other important questions include:
What rent will the developer pay to Council for the lease, and what income will be earned from running hotels and shops for the life of the deal?
What rent will the Council pay to the developer for the new visitor centre?
Where will the Mawson's Huts attraction move to?
Will the heritage-listed buildings be fully protected?
While many public-private partnerships are successful, there are also many poor examples around the world where the public interest comes out second-best.
I believe we should seek a proposal with much more focus on public spaces that connect the city with the waterfront, and consider creative alternatives to make a truly Civic Square for the Hobart community.
After advocacy from the local community for many years to make Macquarie Street safer for pedestrians, new traffic lights have been installed in South Hobart.
Now this busy street is easier for the older folk living in the nearby aged care facility to cross, and there are also new wider footpaths and level road crossings.
Paving, garden beds, a new seat and bike racks have also been installed and this gives the whole shopping strip a nice makeover.
Hobart’s streets aren’t just thoroughfares for traffic - they're also places where people live, want to walk and meet, and where businesses thrive. The recent South Hobart upgrade is a great example of this.
Authorised by Cr Anna Reynolds, Town Hall, Hobart.
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