I was disappointed recently that all my Council colleagues voted against my initiative to nominate Hobart as an International City of Literature, part of the global network of UNESCO Creative Cities.
Rather than harp on a lost vote, I’d like to reflect on what this tells us about how Council makes decisions.
It’s been hard to explain the decision to the many backers of this idea - such as UTAS, the Writers Centre, Island Magazine, Transportation Press, 40 Degrees South, the bookshops, individual writers, playwrights, poets and enthusiastic citizens.
(Henry Savery published Australia's first novel, 'Quintus Servinton', in Hobart in 1830 - right)
These groups and individuals have a vision for Hobart to be recognised as a global City of Literature or the one-year title of World Book Capital. To promote Hobart as a city that values ideas, thinking, words and stories.
Unfortunately, this vision did not resonate with bureaucratic thinking in Council. Rather than focus on the idea, the discussion was dominated by money. A staff report presented a limited number of options (binary options, really – yes or no) centred around a price tag of $175,000, which was accepted by most Aldermen and not queried. Options to advance the idea with a smaller budget, or to build momentum with the preparation of a bid and then seek partnerships with willing funders, were not explored.
In the Council world, many decisions are made in an imperfect environment for reasons that aren’t obvious. Despite informing colleagues about my intentions on a motion and seeking their feedback, it’s common to walk into a meeting and not know where any of the other Aldermen stand on a matter.
As a group of people working together inside a large agency, I often see ‘group-think’. It is easier for an Alderman to avoid taking on an issue than suffer the humiliation of being left alone fighting for a constituent or an idea.
Too often, there is a tendency to defer to the internal advice of the bureaucracy when sometimes this advice may be constrained, limited or simply out-of-date. The limits of this advice may not be due to the talents of Council staff, but because they are also constrained by the limits of the organisation.
There isn’t much internal consistency in the way material is presented to decision-makers. Sometimes we are provided options, sometimes we just get one. Sometimes we are told of the budget implications, sometimes we aren’t.
In this imperfect policy-making environment, people consider it reasonable to wave through a funding request with no budget detail from the AFL, and then pick over and be unreasonably critical of a new program that builds the capacity and has the support of an entire creative sector, such as our writers.
Policy-making and decision-making is both a science and an art. It’s not for the undisciplined nor the muddle-headed, but unfortunately, people (and especially politicians) can sometimes be both!
I think elected representatives should approach decision-making from the perspective that if you are not innovating and creating change then you probably don’t need to be there. Bureaucracy will always tick along and continue to make decisions without any politician.
(Henry Savery's gravestone - right)
Sunday 6 May Mountain May Day 11am Cascade Gardens, South Hobart
I'll be joining a range of other speakers at this event, like Bob Brown, Richard Flanagan, and Andrew Wilkie. I hope you can too!
I will outline Council's role as caretaker of the mountain, and the impact that the state government's take-over of the cable-car proposal is having on our role as the manager of the mountain.
Saturday 12 May Fern Tree Bushfire Risk Three areas around Fern Tree
With a changing climate, bushfire is our city's biggest challenge because of the long zone where the bush meets the suburbs.
In January, there was a very informative community meeting about bushfire risk in Fern Tree and implementing the state government's new firebreak standards.
There are an additional three meetings coming up on this topic in Fern Tree again on 12 May. Further details here.
Friday 25 May Thought About Running for
Local Government? 5.00-6.30pm, Aldermans Lounge
As part of my work at the Multicultural Council, I'm running a few sessions to share some insights about what being an Alderman is like, what you can achieve in local government, and some of the things you might want to consider before you throw your hat in the ring!
With local government elections coming up in October 2018, now is the perfect time to find out more and see if it might be for you. Everyone is very welcome, even if you are just a little curious! Please RSVP to me by email or 0423 222 149 by 24 May for catering purposes.
Feedback from my newsletter readers says that people want to know what’s happening at the local government level about the state planning laws. There’s not a lot of awareness, but a great deal of concern, over where this has all landed.
At its most basic, planning can be divided into:
Strategic planning (thinking strategically and long-term about how to develop and create a city / community), and Statutory planning (a system of rules to control the use and development of land).
I’ve always found strategic planning pretty inspiring, but I don’t think we’re doing it very well as a state, as a Council, and as a group of city decision-makers. Much of the focus of the state and local governments is on statutory planning, which is complex, technical and autocratic.
The State Government passed new laws in 2017 to create a consistent set of planning rules for 23 generic zones and 16 codes, to provide a suite of controls that can be applied by local councils. You can read more about it here.
The philosophy behind the statewide approach was that it’s too hard for developers to understand and adapt to different planning rules in different areas, so the goal is to create more generic rules across the board (ie. ‘cut red tape’).
There is a nod to local government and our role in determining the standards for development that are appropriate and desirable for our local areas.
These are called the ‘Local Provisions Schedules’, that Hobart City Council staff are preparing now.
In theory, these ‘Local Provision Schedules’ would allow suburbs and areas to set planning controls for unique places specific to the local area.
For example, they might allow South Hobart as the oldest suburb in the city to create slightly different rules to encourage new developments to fit in with the heritage character.
In an ideal world, Council would be consulting with communities about the Local Provisions Schedules to ensure the plans that cover your neighbourhood reflects the expectations and aspirations of your community.
But there is so much work to be done, and nobody really knows how the State Planning Commission will respond to a request to create a special area plan.
So far, Hobart City Council seems pretty disinterested in the opportunities presented. For example, earlier this year I moved that we create a special area plan for our Civic Heritage Area, from the Treasury buildings to TMAG.
There was reluctance from staff and Aldermen: “no, we don’t need to create special planning rules to protect special characteristics of areas.” I don’t agree, but I think almost everyone is confused by a highly complex, technocratic planning system.
Large developers that can pay for professional planning consultants can work the system for their needs, while everyone else is left somewhat bamboozled!
Are there any opportunities coming up?
Councils are required to publicly exhibit their draft Local Provisions Schedules for 60 days. Keep an eye out for this - I'll be advocating that we spend time in the community explaining the schedules and helping people make representations.
However, we really don’t know whether the state government will accept much ‘local difference’ in these plans. It may be that they are limited to very specific (if not unique) situations where the application of the State Planning Provisions are simply inappropriate.
And what about getting better at strategic planning?
The state government is going to set the agenda on the statutory planning front for a while, but there is nothing stopping Council working with our communities to get out in front on the strategic level.
When I visited Vancouver last year, I was impressed by their Neighborhood Planning process that creates strategic ‘road maps’ to guide development in neighbourhoods – not just rules for residential development, but direction on a variety of topics, from land use and urban design, to housing, transportation, and community facilities.
I think there is great merit in this approach and something that we could do much more of at Hobart City Council by working with the community.
Domain Summit Plan
Have you been to the Summit of the Queens Domain? It's a quiet and picturesque place high above Hobart. It’s also a native grassy woodland of high conservation value – in fact in 2016 when scientists teamed up with over 300 volunteers they uncovered 180 species on the Summit in a 30 hour period.
We're planning some simple upgrades that will make it a little easier to enjoy and explore the area.The plans include new lookouts, a bird hide, picnic shelters and tracks. Have a look at the detailed plans online and please provide your feedback. Or come along to a 'Listening Post' at the Domain Summit carpark, 2.30-3.30pm, this Sunday 6 May.
Newsletter 24(February 2017) - announcement of my intention to run for Mayor Newsletter 25(March 2017) - housing affordability, significant trees, civic heritage, street take-over
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