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Newsletter no.20 from Ald Anna Reynolds - June 2017
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 People often ask me why their Council representatives aren't more outspoken or opinionated about the proposals to build tall hotel towers in Hobart. A common response given by Aldermen is that "as the planning application is before the Council, by law, I cannot express a personal opinion until it is formally considered by the full Council." 
 
This can be frustrating for residents who expect their elected representatives to express views and opinions on their behalf, about big decisions for the city.
 So, what is this law and how does it constrain what your Aldermen can say?
 

Letter of the law
 
Tasmanian Councils and Aldermen (also known as Councillors) are regulated by the Local Government Act 1993, which sets out rules for everything from voting not being compulsory to how Councils can make by-laws.
 
The Act also requires Aldermen to comply with a Model Code of Conduct, which sets quite strict (and sometimes hard to interpret) rules for elected decision-makers. The Model Code of Conduct says that:
  • A councillor must bring an open and unprejudiced mind to all matters being decided upon in the course of his or her duties, including when making planning decisions as part of the Council's role as a Planning Authority.
  • councillor must make decisions free from personal bias or prejudgement.
  • In making decisions, a councillor must give genuine and impartial consideration to all relevant information known to him or her, or of which he or she should have reasonably been aware.
  • councillor must make decisions solely on merit and must not take irrelevant matters or circumstances into account when making decisions.
Much of the Code of Conduct sets a really good standard, but it’s interesting that no such codes of conduct are prescribed in law for state or federal politicians! It’s also worth noting that the Code suggests that Aldermen are completely blank slates on all issues, free from convictions and opinions. This kind of idea is at odds with what many in the community are looking for when they elect their decision-makers!
 
Aldermen are the decision-makers responsible for planning approvals in Tasmania (unless a development is deemed to be of state or regional significance), and as 
such they are required to ensure the decision making process is fair and free from bias. They are also required to judge an application against the requirements of the planning scheme, regardless of whether the scheme reflects their views on whether a development is appropriate. An Alderman therefore needs to be careful not to be seen as having a potential or perceived bias against any proposal that would prevent them from assessing it objectively.
 
However, because Aldermen also have a legal role to hear from, and represent, a wide range of perspectives in the community, case law has set a high threshold for what is seen to give rise to ‘bias’. Aldermen can inform themselves about community concerns and issues by speaking to a wide range of people with an interest in the issue, including both sides of the debate. It is acceptable to express opinions, as long as they don’t indicate that the Alderman has a closed mind on the subject and will not change their mind even in the face of convincing evidence.
 
Aldermen can and should also feel free to ask questions and to speak about what our planning scheme requirements say, as it’s important that elected representatives fully understand the criteria against which developments will be assessed.

 
Tunnel vision

Recently the Council released attractive concept drawings of an underground pedestrian tunnel, going under Davey Street from the edge of Franklin Square to Brooke Street (between the State Government building and the site of the proposed Fragrance Hotel).
 
At the City Infrastructure Committee on 21 June, I asked lots of questions about this plan and voted against the proposal to take this plan to the next step. Given my advocacy of improving 
city and suburban streets for pedestrians, you may find this surprising. Here are a few of the many reasons why I don’t think this ‘tunnel vision’ is a good idea:
 
> Underpasses are an outdated idea, except as a last resort. Many experts in urban design agree that tunnels should only be used to get across freeways, where it's simply not possible for crossings, footpaths or chances of a vibrant street-life.
 
While Davey and Macquarie Street are major roads, they are not freeways and we don't want them to become 
so, because they are too important for life in Hobart - with businesses, schools, residences and churches and some of our best heritage buildings along these streets.
 
Roads that become too car-dominated (like Parramatta Road in Sydney) end up as dead streets, with empty shops and houses. Even busy streets can be friendly for people and full of life, and this means keeping places for pedestrians to cross safely on the street as well as managing the speed of vehicles.
 
> Underpasses are often not used. While modern underpasses look attractive at the planning stage, in
reality they are frequently avoided by pedestrians in favour of a more direct crossing on the street. There is ample evidence that pedestrian tunnels are under-utilised if there are crossings available on the street nearby. With the state government wanting to close pedestrian crossings on Davey and Macquarie, a tunnel may create pressure to do this on the basis that it needs more foot traffic to justify the expense.
 
> This is the most expensive option. With a price tag starting at $7.29 million, this tunnel is a very big project for one crossing point. To put it into perspective, it's about three and a half times more than the upgrading of 400 metres of the Lenah Valley shopping area, which at just $2 million is providing wider footpaths, street trees, and new bike lanes!
 
> We haven't tried the simpler solutions yet. The biggest frustration for pedestrians crossing the city is that the lights are timed to favour car flow at peak times. Why not tackle this with the simplest solution – reset the lights to allow a longer time for pedestrians to cross. We can start by doing this outside the peak hours, at weekends, evenings and during festivals and events, and monitor the results. At the very least, this option should be explored as a first step.
 
> This is not the top priority for accessibility. Some Aldermen believe that this project provides access for pedestrians with mobility problems for whom Murray Street is too steep. But is this really the top priority for accessibility spending in our city? How many
hundreds of metres of footpaths could be widened and smoothed around the city and suburbs with this budget? The minutes of our Access Advisory Committee meetings since 2014 record the many challenges for people with mobility issues around Hobart. However, in this time, the steepness of Murray Street and accessibility from the waterfront to the city is not mentioned once.
 
I hope that when this is voted on 3 July my fellow Aldermen see beyond the snazzy visuals and consider the alternative advice that is available about underpasses. For example, 
Better Hobart has written some really sensible opinion pieces on this topic, so I’ll leave the last word to them...
 
"For the extremely high costs involved, not just from construction but also the inevitable large associated maintenance and annual running costs, it is unlikely to lead to any significant increase in total pedestrian or cycle movements between the city and the
cove, whilst taking an enormous amount of money out of the city’s infrastructure budget for what could merely become an extremely large leaf and litter repository. It is therefore Better Hobart’s position that the proposed escalator, lift and underpass would represent an expensive and largely ineffectual draw on the public purse that would also adopt out-of-date and largely discredited principles of city design reliant upon costly ongoing expenditure into the future. Instead, even a fraction of the money would be better spent on improving the pavements, existing crossings and adopting the proven techniques that improve the walking experience across a much greater proportion of the city as a whole and for a greater number of its citizens."
Odeon Theatre: the gap
between vision and reality


This plan for the Odeon Theatre site is from a 2015 development application. I voted against this at the time, because it gave the green light to demolition of the much-loved Odeon Theatre, retaining only the facade (in blue). In its place was to be the construction of this bulky office block building (in red) that blocks the sun and creates a wind tunnel in upper Liverpool Street.

 A few weeks ago Council was asked to extend the permit for the development in this picture (which will lapse in October 2017).
 
However, the debate around this permit extension was complicated by the announcement of a new "cultural district vision" that the developers Riverlee are now working on with DarkLab (MONA's think tank/project group
) for the Odeon Theatre site and the block that encompasses it. I support the new vision because it sounds like a much more interesting and innovative plan and will also include the protection of the Odeon.
 
But under planning 
laws the developers will have to submit a new DA for their cultural district plans anyway, because it's a completely new proposal. So the permit extension debate was a bit of a distraction because ultimately it’s only needed if the new “vision" doesn't stack up. What we were being asked to approve was a fall-back insurance to proceed with the old plan, including the demolition of the theatre. That's why I asked the developer to simply let the old permit lapse and focus on submitting a new proposal for the new cultural precinct vision.
 
A majority of Council decided to extend the existing permit until 2019.

QUICK UPDATES

WORKPLACE TRAVEL PLANS - an idea I introduced by amending a motion about traffic congestion and after meeting travel demand management expert Rose MacArthur. Recently Council signed off on our first formal Workplace Travel Plan and it has some pretty good goals for our 600+ staff. By 2020 the City of Hobart will have:
  • 10% less journeys to work in private cars
  • 26% of journeys to work will be by cycling and walking
  • 20% fewer journeys being undertaken at peak hours by providing incentives to staff to make their journeys outside peak times.
The real impact of this Plan will be if we can persuade other big employers to also develop workplace travel plans to encourage less cars on the road at peak times. There are 9,000 public service employees working in Hobart, and even a 6-8% cut in sole occupant car journeys in the peak times would see traffic volumes reduced to similar levels we enjoy in school holidays.
 
CROSSING OVER - we await further technical advice from Council staff about the West Hobart and South Hobart pedestrian crossings, following strong community campaigns. In South Hobart, more than 500 people signed a petition calling for the installation of a pedestrian crossing on Macquarie Street. I’m also getting queries from New Town, Lenah Valley and Sandy Bay about pedestrian crossings in their neighbourhoods. That's why it’s important that Council supported my recent motion to undertake a city-wide examination of where to install formal pedestrian crossings. It really is time to be proactive so that communities don't have to keep petitioning us!
 
CABLE CAR MEETING with Minister Groom - the meeting was not particularly eventful and the government wants to press ahead with the introduction of legislation to take land on
kunanyi/Mt Wellington from the Council. The legislation will be released for a period of public comment within the next few weeks and introduced to Parliament around September/October. Stay tuned!
UPCOMING EVENTS
 

>> My report back from the national 'Future of Local Government' conference
Friday 14 July, 1-2pm, Aldermen's Lounge, Town Hall
RSVP to
Ald Anna Reynolds

>> Wellesley Playground revamp, South Hobart
Opening, 
mid-July

>> New Town Association AGM
Wednesday 2 August, Maypole Hotel

>> Ancanthe Park, Lenah Valley
Beautiful new upgrades complete - mid-July







 
The proposal for 28-30 Davey Street would be Tasmania's tallest building, rising to a height of more than 120 metres.
(Xsquared Architects)


 

 
Artist's impression of the Brooke St end of the tunnel
(Terroir architect)




 
The Brooke St site today, next to the proposed location for Fragrance Group's high-rise tower between the Hobart City Council offices and the State Government Executive building.


 
Artist's impression of the Brooke St end of tunnel under Davey St (Terroir architect)



 
Artist's impression of steps and escalators leading to tunnel from Franklin Square (Terroir architect)

 
Davey Street

 
The State Government has proposed removing this pedestrian crossing over Davey Street to improve vehicle traffic flow.



 
The Odeon Theatre, then the Strand, in 1930 (Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office)
The Odeon Theatre demolished, with the facade retained, as part of the 2015 development application



 
The Odeon today



 

 


 
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I'd love to hear your ideas and opinions, and receive your feedback on Council decisions.

Email me at
ald.reynolds@hobartcity.com.au
Call me on 0423222149
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PREVIOUS EDITIONS:
Newsletter 1 (Jan 2015)
Newsletter 2 (Feb 2015)
Newsletter 3 (April 2015)
Newsletter 4 (May 2015)
Newsletter 5 (July 2015)
Newsletter 6 (August 2015)

Newsletter 7 (October 2015) - street planning
Newsletter 8 (December 2015) - affordable housing
Newsletter 9 (February 2016) - bushfires and urban bushland
Newsletter 10 (February 2016) - traffic congestion special
Newsletter 11 (April 2016) - what are Aldermen there for?
Newsletter 12 (June 2016) - Council/Senate newsletter
Newsletter 14 (August 2016) - woodchip trucks through the CBD?
Newsletter 15 (September 2016) - SOS and South Hobart development
Newsletter 16 (November 2016) - 'biggering' Hobart
Newsletter 17 (January 2017) - issues to watch this year
Newsletter 18 (March 2017) - cable car and kunanyi
Newsletter 19 (May 2017) - landlord approval and significant trees


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Anna Reynolds · Town Hall · Hobart, Tas 7000 · Australia

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