Tuesday, July 23, 2024

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HomeIssue 8CBD planning: The vibrants are at it again

CBD planning: The vibrants are at it again

2472 Todd Mall busy OKBy 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.
p2497 Supreme Court & Residency Pip McManus“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”.


  1. To repeat previous suggestions:
    The National Indigenous Art Gallery and a Cultural Centre could be on the same site, but somewhat separate entities, and the Melanka site seems the obvious choice.
    For the Residential Capacity Report (modelling how dwellings could be established in the CBD) the Railway Freight yard should be moved to the Brewer Estate, freeing up a perfect site for “in town” (if not technically CBD) medium density residential development.
    And get rid of the eight storeys!

  2. The problem with every “plan” and “scheme” that I’ve seen developed since I came to The Alice in 1984 is that they have been too narrow in scope, overly focused on economic “solutions” and often just project driven.
    Despite all the activity, not to mention cost, this town has never had the “long-term, integrated Master Plan” that Jimmy Cocking has recently called for: an all- encompassing Master Plan that formalises a sustainable, shared vision for our town, not just economically, but also environmentally, socially and culturally. In short, a plan that defines the kind of town we want to live, work and play in.
    We are certainly a town that has experienced no population growth for the last 10 years, including a population decline over the last five.
    I believe that a well-developed master plan, with wide-ranging input from local expertise and the general public, would provide the roadmap with which we could reverse this worrying trend.

  3. Unfortunately in regards to development of the CBD we are reliant on landowners, developers, governments of all kinds and private and taxpayers money in general to put any plan into practice.
    Heritage, cultural considerations and established social norms also limit what can be done or not with some of the CBD blocks. A case in point is a suggestion on Friday (13/10) on ABC radio to move the Post Office (PO) out of the CBD, partly because occasionally it is congested at the front of the PO and hard to park within walking distance of the PO.
    Well it could be argued that the daily or weekly visit to the PO draws people into the CBD, who do other activities in addition to visiting the PO, such as spending money in some of the struggling businesses surrounding the PO. In other words, moving the PO out of the CBD could kill the heart of Alice Springs. The PO is a link between Alice Plaza, court houses and the Yeperenye Centre and close to the main bus stop, a taxi bay and disabled persons car parking spaces.
    Probably what is needed is a three or four storey car park south of the PO and / or make Hartley St one way going south and create angle parking on the PO side, if you look at Map 1 on page three of the Discussion Paper you will see this area is a very central location and easy walking distance to most of the rest of the CBD.
    Discussion and planning can be good for any community, but money and the ownership of the land would appear to trump any plan prepared by the Planning Commission or Council, whether or not the plan is professionally drafted and / or put together with enthusiastic community support from a wide cross section of the people of Alice Springs.

  4. Good one Bob but walking is good for people? and if we have angle parking look at 30 deg angle instead of 45 it allows better vision for the parked as well as the moving and does not protrude as far into the center of the road. A master plan for town construction is not much use without their being a reason for the extra population as it will just be a return to the boom and bust that we had when the government used to have development cycles pushed by construction but there was no continuing industry to take advantage of the construction. If one looks around the town there are plenty of empty commercial buildings to be seen.

  5. Last weekend (Saturday, 14 October) was the 30th anniversary of the official opening of the full pedestrian Todd Mall.
    Interesting to read what was published on the Centralian Advocate’s front page about Todd Mall on that occasion: “After a long and tedious 12 months of noisy machinery, frustrating dust and some inconvenience to the public, the new-look Todd Mall opens officially today. And what a mall it has turned out to be!
    “It has ushered in a new era in the town’s development and growth. Some people may have had some misgivings on the outcome of a project they believed was unnecessary.
    “But we are happy to say that the mall has assumed an essentially Centralian character which has pleased most people – and the tourists seem to love it.”
    The editorial opined: “This newspaper has always maintained that Alice Springs needed a full mall to give the town a lively centre. Today that mall is a reality.
    “Big problems were predicted when a full mall was mooted. Some traders felt they would lose business if people could not park in the street and deliveries would be made very difficult.
    “While the matter of service lanes has never been properly addressed, customer parking has been provided in adjacent areas and through a good-sized car park within the Ford [now Alice] Plaza.
    “There is also a big car park in the Yeperenye Shopping Centre opening next Tuesday – and that is only a short stroll to the mall.”
    The editorial went on: “So early in 1986 council commissioned the architects to design and document the project.
    “The wisdom of council’s decision to use a local design has been proven – the end result is suitable for our unique area.
    “Today locals enjoy the traffic-free ambience of the mall almost as much as the tourists.
    “It is fitting that the International Malls Conference is being held in Alice Springs this week. We hear that, generally, the delegates also think our mall is just great.”
    @ Bob Taylor (Posted October 17, 2017 at 10:05 pm) – The Post Office was relocated to its current site in 1977, prior to then it was on the corner of Railway Terrace and Parsons Street. At that time Todd Street was undergoing reconstruction to become a semi-mall with a one-way street from south to north (opened in 1978).
    Historically the proximity of the Post Office to Todd Street was unnecessary; and indeed would have been most undesirable as it would have worsened the traffic and parking problems then being experienced in an extremely busy and chronically congested main street in the commercial centre of town. That is simply unimaginable today.
    Your suggestion for a multi-storey car park south of the current Post Office has been made before at least twice as I recall (in the 1980s and again in 2001); and I suggested Hartley Street have one-way traffic with angle parking in a submission to a town council commissioned CBD traffic study in late 1987, exactly three decades ago. There was no response.
    Alderman Les Smith made a similar suggestion about a decade later.

  6. Who and what are the Vibrants? I recall a 1960s Aussie pop group by that name and recall a candidate saying Alice had been vibrant, but none of that seems relevant. Who are they please? Or is it Town Code?

  7. Hi Ross: Thank you for asking. Whenever someone in government has a bright new idea about planning, the word “vibrant” is bound to pop up.
    An example is a media release from Minister for Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics Nicole Manison this week: “The Planning for a Vibrant Future and Planning Reform – Review, Reframe, Renew discussion papers are significant steps towards creating a planning system that is accessible, progressive, considered and shared by all Territorians.” (My emphasis.)
    Erwin Chlanda, Editor.

  8. Out for consultation at the moment are:
    • NT Planning Commission’s Central Alice Springs Area Plan.
    • A discussion paper on NT Planning System Reform.
    • A discussion paper on Planning for a Vibrant Future.


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