LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Sir – The Committee of Heritage Alice Springs Inc. has deep concerns about the proposed development of an eight-storey building at the former Melanka Lodge site.
There is an established height restriction of three-storeys for buildings in Alice Springs. The policy exists because the community have understood that Alice Springs has a backdrop unequalled in most other places around the world.
As a result, we and our visitors can see this splendid landscape from anywhere in town. Now, though, this proposal puts at risk all the prolonged effort of consultation and sound reasoning by which this restriction was agreed upon. This eight-storey building will block our amazing outlook and, in particular, severely affect the world-famous panorama from Anzac Hill.
The Alice Springs Town Council itself has confirmed this community desire for development in sympathy with the country encompassing the town. Goal 4 of the Council’s Strategic Plan 2013-2015 reads as follows:
“The built environment of Alice Springs needs to complement the natural environment that surrounds the town as well as capturing the distinctive character of a thriving outback community. Council must have strong input into the planning process to ensure appropriate development of the built environment.”
In our view it is impossible to conceive of an eight-storey building complementing anything in the natural environment or capturing the distinctive character of our outback town. On these grounds alone the proposal should be rejected.
We are aware that a review of planning provisions is currently underway. We read that it is focusing on:
Clarifying what is expected of developers.
Improving investor confidence.
Providing assurance to the community that outcomes will contribute to a shared vision for the Alice Springs CBD.
Let us examine each objective of the review in light of the Melanka proposal, for we do not believe that any of these aims will be enhanced by permitting multi-storey buildings. In fact, the reverse is more likely to be the case.
Rather than ‘clarifying what is expected of developers’, this approach of policy-on-the-run throws the planning provisions into confusion. There is clearly a lack of connection between the planning provisions and the Town Council’s Strategic Plan on the one hand, and the proposal on the other.
Under these circumstances, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the main, if unstated, aim of the review of planning provisions is to remove the height restrictions for buildings. If this pathway has been decided behind closed doors, then developers and Government should not be surprised when they end up being subjected to widespread community criticism and resistance.
What about ‘improving investor confidence’? As of last week there were 16 vacant shops in Gregory Terrace and the Todd Mall. In September this year business owners and others met to discuss how the Mall could be re-vitalised. If we are going to improve investor confidence we must start with the Todd Mall – on ground level and sticking with the 8.5 metre maximum height that has been a signature of the town for years.
Investor confidence is not going to be improved by flooding the market with motel rooms when accommodation houses are closing up, or with office and retail space when there is already an oversupply. We envisage that an eight-storey development on the Melanka site will go the same way as the Alice Plaza of the 1980s, which continues to struggle for economic viability even today. How much of our money will be used to prop up such an unwise decision?
Finally, the proposal is hardly designed to ‘provide assurance to the community that outcomes will contribute to a shared vision for the Alice Springs CBD’. In 1969, the American consultants Harris Kerr Foster were engaged by the Federal Government to assess the local tourist industry and to suggest how development could be encouraged.
The height restriction was proposed at that time and was wholeheartedly accepted by the Town Management Board and the Territory Government. That there was an idea at the time that buildings should be no higher than the highest gum trees in the Todd may only be a local myth, but nevertheless it expresses a sound and widespread expectation.
When, in the late 1980s, the Town Council proposed removing the height limit, it was rejected by the Government. For this reason, the Council now states its wish for development to complement the natural environment and capture the distinctive character of an outback community.
Some, such as Dean Osborne, the Project Director for the Melanka proposal, argue for different approaches. Mr Osborne has commented that a “progressive city in Australia or the world … has high rises.”
We respect his right to express a view, but the history of town planning in Alice Springs shows a wide belief that we should aim to be a progressive city by NOT building high rises. Let’s embrace what is unique to Alice Springs and adapt to the future in new, imaginative ways.
Heritage Alice Springs strives to preserve the cultural and environmental sites of the Central Australian region. Our Members represent an important section of the community of Alice Springs.
We are the locals, the ones who live here, the artists, architects, teachers, gardeners, town planners, historians, doctors, scientists, builders, lawyers, road workers, environmentalists, shop owners – the list goes on. We have already recorded our objection, on the same basis, to a different building, on the former Commonwealth Bank site in Parsons Street.
This four-storey building is inappropriately designed to sit next door to The Residency, the historic house of former Administrators of Central Australia.
Chair of Heritage Alice Springs Inc.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR