Common sense development needed…
This article, written by Sandy Guy, appears here with Sandy’s approval. It’s about over development in Ballarat generally and about White Flat proposal specifically. However the big picture issues ring true for Ballarat East.
Proposed development Hickman Street??
By Sandy Guy
Tourism means big money for Ballarat. Council contributes some $3.45 million annually to support an industry said to attract about 2.3 million visitors, and deliver $577 million to the local economy, every year.
Some goes towards jetting travel journalists like myself to town on media familiarisations to experience the city’s best accommodation and dining, and visit Sovereign Hill, Lake Wendouree, the Botanical Gardens, and quirky new shops.
Over the past decade I’ve published probably 50 articles on Ballarat and surrounds in national and international publications: as I live here I have time to explore some of the area’s lesser-known charms.
Not all is charming though: over the decades Ballarat council, with little thought to preserving the city’s unique and irreplaceable gold rush heritage, has made some spectacular planning blunders, such as historic Bakery Hill.
Still, Ballarat is leagues ahead with regard to the preservation of its heritage thanks to groups of concerned citizens who lobbied council to save important buildings and spaces in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s – some towns and cities bulldozed the lot.
“Heritage places are important to Ballarat’s community,” states the City of Ballarat’s “Preserving our Heritage” strategy. “These places are part of the rich tapestry of who we are as a community and connect us with our past. It is important that both our generation and future generations can enjoy what it is that we love about Ballarat.”
This stands in contradiction to a proposed four-storey, 52-unit development at 12A Hickman Street, opposite White Flat, one of the city’s most historic open spaces, and one its hidden gems I’ve written about over the years.
The proposed development, which would be built as part of the Federal Government’s National Rental Affordability Scheme, also flies in the face of Ballarat’s traditional low-density, low-rise urban character.
There’s no doubt affordable housing is required in Ballarat, but what type of housing? The proposed Hickman Street development would see people living in spaces scarcely bigger than a bedroom in a relatively narrow street with poor access.
Over recent years reams of Australian and international papers have outlined the many complex issues facing people living in high-density housing, such as noise intrusion, safety concerns, lack of privacy, lack of social inclusion, conflicting use of common areas, lack of natural light – to name a few.
A 2010 University of New South Wales report reviewed more than 300 papers examining high-density living and found residents worldwide reported these issues.
In mega-metropololises such as London, São Paulo, Beijing and Hong Kong, high-density housing is a common harbinger of social and economic problems. The London Housing Federation cautioned government against repeating the mistakes of the past, when tower blocks rapidly became unpopular; the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors urge the stamping out of “crowded house” syndrome.
Yet here in leafy, low-rise Ballarat, with so much space to construct liveable social housing that promotes well-being and quality of life, council appear not only to support a four-storey blight amid one of the city’s treasured green oases, but condemn residents to living like hobbits in Lilliputian spaces.
State Planning Schemes require that new residential development must be appropriate to the neighbourhood and the site, and respect the existing or preferred neighbourhood character.
Believing this not to be the case with regard to the Hickman Street proposal, the White Flat community has rallied to preserve White Flat and support liveable housing. At a public meeting last Tuesday, about 60 ratepayers voted an overwhelming “no” to the planned development.
I urge anyone concerned about inappropriate urban development and housing models to view the proposed plans for 12A Hickman Street (application PLP/2012/517 at ballarat.vic.gov.au or the Phoenix), and visit the White Flat site (formerly Ebenezer Church tennis courts).
In my opinion developments of this nature could be potentially calamitous to Ballarat’s costly drive to attract visitors to the city. While a world-class attraction, it’s naïve to rely on Sovereign Hill as the city’s only drawcard; it’s the (remaining) colonial architecture, street-scapes, gardens and open spaces that also attracts visitors.
But if developments such as that proposed at White Flat are permitted, journalists won’t have much to write about and tourists little reason to visit. And no amount of $3.45 million spin-doctoring will help.
The White Flat community can be contacted at email@example.com, or on Facebook at Preserve WhiteFlat.