By ERWIN CHLANDA
The government’s public invitation yesterday to “have your say on the future of Central Alice Springs” seems to be heavily qualified.
On the one hand it is touted be a “review of the 20 year old Area Plans”. On the other the government wants to ensure these plans “align with the updated strategic direction” apparently already set in concrete – like much of the CBD.
That seems to include the eight-storey limit which, judging by the discussion paper released by the Planning Commission, is not up for review, notwithstanding that the Melanka project, for which the policy was created, is obviously a dud.
That is a pity because many people who have given grudging approval to the eight storeys are likely to change their minds now that they can see in the Supreme Court monstrosity what five storeys look like in the flesh.
The discussion paper suggests to the public that “key themes emerged around protection of views; building heights; street character; providing residential [facilities]; protection of heritage; buildings bulk and scale; sustainability and quality design … maintaining views to the ranges; quality building design within the CBD; protection of historic and heritage items; energy efficiency of buildings; and continued engagement with all stakeholders.”
Are all these potentially subject to change, in line with the views expressed by the public?
If “protection of historic and heritage items” and “energy efficiency of buildings” are near and dear to the planners’ heart, then how come they allowed the brutal visual clash between the historic Residency and the supreme court building (below), reportedly now undergoing an expensive fitout to keep out the heat.
For most people it’s impossible to keep abreast of the mishmash of plans, studies and proposals for the town over the decades, with this latest again seeking to turn the Alice Springs CBD into “a vibrant commercial, cultural, administrative, tourist and civic hub for the region”.
The paper quotes the Alice Springs Central Activity District studies as “a cohesive set of investigations assessing the role of various elements in delivering population growth, attractive architecture and functional public design”.
The studies include an Urban Design Audit (looking at improvements to the public realm), parking evaluation, Residential Capacity Report (modelling how dwellings could be established in the CBD) and a Built Form Guidelines Study (creating principles and objectives to guide development).
But these studies “do not form part of the NT Planning Scheme,” says the paper. Should it? What do we do with this information?
Another given seems to be that there will be a National Indigenous Art Gallery and a Cultural Centre, “two projects identified for Alice Springs with a site yet to be chosen”.
Does the public get a say on whether there should be one or two centres? Has that decision already been made and if so, by whom? With what consultation? Whose agenda is driving this?
Is commenting on a proposed site all the public will get to do? A site or sites – note the discussion paper puts it in the singular. Is the Planning Commission saying we’ll have two centres on one site?
The current population of Alice Springs is about 27,000 (ABS), reports the paper.
The new plan “will seek to provide for the needs of the regional population at 32,000 in the near term, and 40,000 in the far term”.
No dates for “near” and “far” are given.
Says the paper: “Most of the activity within the central area currently occurs within working hours, with limited activity at night or on the weekends.
“Observations show that only 50% of developable land in the CBD has a building on it, indicating there is space to grow. It was also noted that most buildings are more than 30 years old but most are still utilised.
“There is currently 2.6 square meters of office space per person, which is considered very generous and unlikely to be sustained.
“Future provision is expected at approximately one square meter per person, or 12,000 square meters in the far term.
“There is currently an oversupply of retail space that is likely to be sufficient in the near term, and as the population grows an additional 10,000 square meters will be required in the far term.
“As the CBD grows (when?) the need for a multi-level parking facility should be considered.”
Left: Supreme Court dwarfing The Residency. Photo by Pip McManus.
While population has been stagnant for a decade, the discussion paper asserts “population growth will drive the need for increased community services and facilities, including a greater health capacity within the hospital site, additional general practitioners, dentists and medical services.
“There is opportunity for the colocation of medical services and facilities in a medical precinct. A dedicated precinct will provide benefit in the number and variety of services offered, and also to the business that serve the medical industry.
“A Lifelong Learning Centre site could be at the current library site, but in matching with its evolving function, could integrate with cafes, mixed use developments, and public spaces.”
The discussion paper sadly does not give some basic information on which the commenting public could base its suggestions: The town’s growth is seen as a given, but – on present indications – where are all these people going to come from? When? What is their background skill level and need level? If they work in tourism, where will the tourists come from? How much will they spend?
This elephant is in the room: What point is there in making plans and rules when they can be ignored at will, as the galloping industrialisation of the rural residential areas demonstrates.
RELATED READING: Cr Jimmy Cocking calls for “a long-term, integrated Master Plan for Alice Springs”.
By ERWIN CHLANDA