Wednesday, August 22, 2012

NOTES ON A DEVELOPMENT APPLICATION



ADDITIONAL INFORMATION SUBMITTED FOR A DEVLEOPMENT PROPOSAL

This is a document that was prepared on 20th January 2009 and forwarded to the Brisbane City Council. It related to an actual development. It is reproduced here to highlight the problems with planning processes, as it is typical of the issues that arise with many applications. In spite of continuing critiques like this, the Brisbane City Council approved the development. Only two alterations have been made to this text: the name and address of the neighbour, and the name of the original planning consultant. The remainder of the text is as it was submitted to the BCC. The point is that the planning/development approval process needs to be much more rigorous than this if Brisbane is achieve good, quality, transparent urban outcomes, let alone planning excellence.


 The submission, even with the additional information that is supposed to address all concerns, remains very poor, vague, uncertain and manipulative – tricky.
These notes do not intend to outline a complete schedule of matters of concern – things missing; things vague, things wrong; things altered; things impossible; things contradictory; etc. Such a list would only do the work for the developer and allow BCC to assume that once all these have been attended to, then things can be approved.
It is believed that this application should be rejected – that there is no obligation for the BCC to keep asking for more detail when the application is so basically flawed, not only in its careless presentation but also in its response to planning codes and intents.
Notes:
  • No minutes of any meeting between the applicant and the BCC (as recommended by the BCC) have yet been placed on-line.
  • The additional information asked for a full, detailed, accurate and formally signed survey of the site, showing all the existing structures and services and the proposed blocks. Nothing has yet appeared on-line.
  • The matter of the applicant remains confused – who is what? The planning company seems to be the original applicant but the additional information has been submitted by the resident.
  • The matter of the site area to be used for all calculations remains confused. Formally this must be the area on the registered plan until there is an official submission to have this altered – this has to be approved.
  • The new drawings are naïve and selectively identify things and omit others to suit the chosen outcome.
  • There are no titles, no indication of what the drawings are for; no indication of who has done these; and there is no scale on the new plans.
  • The calculations for areas cannot be confirmed because of a lack of detailed information. One has to make assumptions when checking the information.
  • The elevations contradict plans.
  • Critical dimensions on the first set of plans have been altered in the new submission. Without an accurate survey, the dimensions remain a vague guessing game.
  • Many code requirements remain neglected.
  • The street elevation sums things up most clearly and can be used as a specific example of what is in the remainder of the submission – its lack of rigour, carelessness and poor quality. ‘The street’ has been interpreted as the elevation of the original house (even this is not correct) illustrated as a simple line drawing, pasted beside the elevation of the proposed Block C house shown as a smudgy, dark confusion, with a dark photograph of the neighbouring house glued on the other side. This is as naïve and crude as the shadow diagrams. There different images using different graphic styles all pasted beside each other (to no specific scale) giving a crude collage and no indication of the real outcome – other than it too will very likely be a unique mess. There is no indication of character, of quality, of place or landscape – nothing. No street clutter (e.g. poles) or other elements. Not even the front fence that is presently being painted in parts – the fence that the original application said was not going to be. This is just a very poor, almost negligent effort that reeks of arrogance and belligerence. As with the whole submission, there is no indication that there is an understanding of the special character of this suburb – its old character housing; its open spaces; its lush landscaping; its street quality; its density.
  • The dots in plan that one assumes indicates landscaping leaves everything more vague than ever – are these 15m trees or just ground cover? One can only make assumptions.
  • If one intent of the BCC is to allow good exposure of any development to sunlight, then all existing nearby trees and planting – and potential planting – needs to be considered as well as any shading between the structures on the site and the shadows these will cast onto the neighbouring blocks. The ‘sun study’ shows a complete lack of understanding of what such an analysis should be and should do. The applicant’s response on this matter shows his ignorance.
  • The matter of open space is a serious concern as there seems to be no clear and unambiguous definition – indeed, no definition - of what this can be.

It is simply astonishing that the BCC continued to persevere with this development proposal until it felt that it could approve it in spite of the issues raised. Now that the development has been completed, the BCC wants nothing to do with knowing just what has been impossible to implement and what the impact of the proposal really is. It is all very alarming. One wonders just what hope there is for Brisbane’s future if matters continue like this and the BCC remains careless about good feedback and post-development/occupancy assessments.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

TWEED ART GALLERY – NOT TOO TWEE

Mt Warning in the Tweed hinterland

On visiting the Tweed River Art Gallery, Murwillumbah, northern New South Wales, Australia

It was a sunny, warm Saturday. As we journeyed along the new slick and fast - 110k - highway carved into the hills south of Tweed Heads, in gliding, air conditioned comfort, it was a pleasure to admire the bright sky, the puffy clouds and the rolling countryside that has been opened up by this revision: for re-vision it is.

One soon becomes aware that our interest must be another’s frustration. The once secluded places that enjoyed the green valley hideaway with mountain views, now became locations on public display with motorway views and all the discomforts that this poor association entails. Yet, in spite of this awkwardness - or is it because of this? - there appeared to be a flush of new building along this motorway strip. Hilltops were being claimed along with any other slope that might give some prominence to appearance or vista. These places were varied in their identity, but mainly appeared to sit in or on their hill or hillside, usually with a certain awkwardness, but without too much screaming. Vegetation always helps in these situations, both for the viewed and the viewer.
We left the new super strip at the sign that pointed to Mooball. The arrow seemed to suggest a turn to the left, but it felt that Mooball might be on the right. When the second main sign along the left road failed to mention our planned destination, we chose to assume that the sign, which held a certain degree of uncertainty and lacked the simple ability to imbue confidence, was in error. We turned and drove off into once-secret areas. New and old places scattered on hills and in forest glades became our context. Was this virgin land getting just too crowded? Too spoilt? Has the road opened up a Pandora’s box of development?

It was when the road split, with the left, sealed surface being declared a dead-end road and the other option becoming a narrow, rocky, gravelled strip, that we were forced to acknowledge the accuracy of the first unassuming message that so nonchalantly suggested the left turn. It was with more certainty that we returned and travelled on over high hills. We passed a surprisingly huge quarry and equally unexpected ocean views before arriving at the rail crossing beside the old highway at spotted Mooball. We were there but in a void. It was a wide-open road stretching left and right, north and south, cliché-like, as in the Wild West, with a facade of shops and older buildings on the opposite side of the fenced track.

Mooball, NSW

Mooball is a quiet strip now that the business of traffic has been relocated. The collection of places along the road declared this difference: closed shops and galleries; big signs offering pizza and coke specials; space for vehicles to stop anywhere and everywhere. The effort to claim iconic significance with the blotchy black and white Friesian markings embellishing nearly every available surface, only highlighted the near despair with the current circumstances that refused to be forced. The beautiful hills nearby and behind gave the place a special feel of intimacy and solitude that was more positive than that promoted by the appearance of the shops. These looming prominences that had not yet been settled by man, were relatively untouched, used only for communication masts. After driving the loop up and down the town as local hoons might, but slower, we set off north for nearby Burringbar. We knew of a place there that once sold plants. Was it still there? Caution - 60kph - this was a favourite place for speed cameras! I wonder if they bother now that the traffic has been calmed, well, relocted?

Burringbah road

Yes! The plants remained, still moist and green. Choices were made and prices paid. We moved off home taking the old, high road home north. It was a new pleasure to use this winding mountain track without the hassle of fast and vast numbers. This laziness encouraged us to detour to Stokers Siding to again check on pleasurable past experiences. Were they still available? Stokers Siding once had a good potters gallery; and the drive followed a beautiful, cool and shady country creek. What has happened there now?

Two kilometres and we were there, like arriving nowhere - a positive side of ‘nowhere’ that was something, somewhere else in this reclusive quiet. The sight of the small wonder that was once the rail station thrilled. It is an exquisite example of scale, function and identity - and pride. We parked under a generous, shady tree nearby. What stories can this tree tell? What had Stokers Siding been? The gallery was still there but he adjacent vehicle repair shop was closed - up for sale. It was a grandly polite street. The structures held a significance and humility that one could relax with - feel happy about; feel inspired by. This is a pleasant place, a strip parallel to the railway - like Mooball but more intimate. There were large trees opposite the shops, not a line of truck-parking areas.

Stokers Siding Pottery

Yes. The gallery still had the nice selection of pots we remembered, and the wide variety of knickknacks. It was very enjoyable to know that something of quality remained in so quiet a retreat. After resisting purchasing the many lovely things, we returned to our journey. A thing of beauty is a joy forever even if you do not own it. The creek appeared as glimpses of reflections of dark in deep, dappled, dancing light in cool shade. It was just as attractive as ever; more so for being familiar as Ruskin noted of his family holidays. We should have taken a picnic!

Creek near Stokers Siding

This comment only highlighted the fact that lunch had been missed. Where should we eat? We thought of Griffiths, the furniture manufacturer with an art gallery and that Bunya-high timbered terrace in the bird-filled sky with good food and wine just outside of Condon. Was it still there? We aimed for it as we moved faster along the winding, narrow road back to the old highway with a new ambition and direction.

 What’s that? A house. No. Then what? An institution?


 The sign answered as we drove by - Tweed River Art Gallery. This stark ‘Mon Oncle’ image startled with its cantilevering glory screaming out in high, boxed glass and tin: high art? It held all the startle that the flash house in Tati’s ‘Mon Oncle’ had displayed, leaving one astonished, amazed, almost speechless with its drama. Was this art? Artifice? Overdone?

As the road switched back to join with the highway that leads into Murwillumbah, the question arose: does the gallery have a café? Could we eat there? After all, it would already be a late lunch. Accepting the response that allowed for all options - if nothing, see the gallery; if coffee, have a drink; if a meal was available, eat - we turned around and entered, driving up the steepness of the hill that had been cut for access. This was a hilltop development that stood well above the approach - grandiose. The entry changed from a welcome into a direction - drop off point only: car parking below. As we looped down into the cool shelter of a cathedral-like cavern, we were shocked by the number of vehicles. This is a popular place!

We found a car park space and then took the lift up to another surprise: we arrived outside the main entrance we had just driven past. Why did the lift not deliver us into the main foyer area, to perhaps a better welcome? We had just gone from outside, to under, to outside.

One speculated that it had something to do with equity of entrance to placate disability concerns and moved on to the large sheet of glass that was one of a pair of pivot entry doors. Can Ronchamp be blamed for this? Finger-biting concern always arises with these guillotines! What is wrong with hinges other than they are not like Corb’s grand door? ‘Enter this side’ signed a clarfying instruction to grasp this mass of transparency and move into more height clad with battened slats. The shop - that mainstay of all public museums and galleries - framed the entry. One felt safe at last, having been given the excuse to pause and browse while sorting out the sense in the planning arrangement and general organisation of this place without appearing lost. The question, ‘Was there a café?’, became the aim of the searching eye seeking an answer. In the grand void that was the foyer space - big enough for temporary exhibitions? - there was a distant gap that opened up to a view. This must be the café. The sign confirmed this assumption as we appraoched.

Gallery foyer space - cafe to the right

A coffee shop – there was no beer or wine to celebrate this occasion or place, just fruit juice and caffeine. This is Australia: not even a simple coffee shop in France would treat customers like this!

We ordered meals only to be amazed again - the kitchen closed at three. I was about to express my shock when I recalled the time difference. It was indeed 3:30pm not the 2:30pm Queensland time of my watch: Australia! So coffee and cakes thanks, all to be enjoyed in the 270 degree vista of river, grass and mountain. It is indeed a very special site to be well enjoyed from the height of a cantilever gliding unbelievably high above the cavernous car park. At least the handrail allowed one to feel safe as the eye was inevitably drawn to peer over it into the distance of this deep void.

View of Tweed River and border mountains from cafe balcony 

 After this easy delight, the gallery; but this was only accessible through the emptiness of the foyer that was edged with the mandatory shop. The void felt hollow, lonely, but held a strange personal touch with its wonderful panoramic images of distant landscape framed by windows that are long, low, horizontal slots. At least they had considered pleasing the friendly eye.

Glimpse of landscape from foyer

Western display corridor

 Further along, these slits change to vertical, wedged light recesses that shelter the west of the gallery from low, late-afternoon glare. Vertical slashes loom at the dark end of this southern vista that becomes a linear display and circulation space. And the gallery itself? One is led from space to space as a series of pockets - and pocket-sized this gallery really is. It is a shame that the sense of play with viewings is not explored. One finds it hard to see an artwork from different places and angles. They are just there, to be seen as one passes by. There is little variation possible to allow for a surprise in these tight spaces. This opportunity for viewing is serial, segmented and singular, managed and organised by linear location and juxtaposition alone. There is a sadness for the missed possibilities of play, the enrichment of the ad hoc.

Typical gallery display space

The works are there: standing or hung. Portraits and boxes of stuff and nothing are all arranged for pondering at differing levels and opportunities - of difference itself perhaps? - all on a smart, polished concrete floor. The opportunity for looking out has been strictly controlled. There is not even a tiny hole for a surprising glimpse east. Only the southern and western slots and the grand void of the foyer offer relief. There is no little place for one - no intimacy. The themed slatted screens and surfaces, differing in size and spacing as is fashionable, with some that can slide and disappear adjacent to the toilets behind the shop display, decorate the entry spaces.

One is amazed that the gallery is so small - or is it that the remainder of the building is so spacious? There is an odd imbalance here.

The gallery display space seems to occupy only about half of the building, with the office, toilets, shop and café and foyer, filling the remainder with what seems to be unequal claims. Perhaps the travelling, temporary opportunities might help modify this perception? But more gallery space is needed.

Sheep sculptures

After the gallery promenades, there are the required shopping perusals, the ‘bye’s and ‘thank you’s and the departure. We went back to the cathedral car park with the rock sheep grazing on green slopes - stainless steel pipe legs and horns - but this time we chose the stairs that overdo the disability bumps. This route has a naked, service-stair feel that opens like a fire exit directly into the rawness of the car park that is too grand to be so mundane - a wasteful but apparently a necessary ‘evil’?

Then off - home is the aim now we have paused to relax, eat and drink. Planting has to be completed; but we do pick up that vagrant hour.

Murwillumbah train station

Through Murwillumbah, off past a nice train station, then the flow of 110km/hr. It is a speed that allows for reflection. Why do some buildings sit comfortably in the landscape and why do others glare and blare? The surprise of the Tweed Gallery is recalled as a unique event, yet it was not the surprise of the wonder of beauty. It was too loud an event for this in spite of - because of? - the slickly defined, self-conscious tin and glass.

I think of those buildings on the Brisbane-Laidley road that we often drove as children with the family, to share the annual celebrations with the extended family. The simple, square houses with pyramidal roofs and surrounding verandahs - is the answer geometry?; the tiny four-roomed rectangular boxes with simple gables extended to become a front verandah, with the open central passage surprisingly framing distant light; the pink of one place that glowed in the seasonal colouring of the straw grass making both look at home; the old tin shed, grey and rusting leaning with an ease that surprised and pleased. These places did not boast a scream. Why does the tin box at Tweed yell with an arrogant surprise? Could it be otherwise?

Then, suddenly, we pass a real surprise on the river on our way home, just before the Tumblegum turn: what a wonderful name! A fairytale image of grandeur appears, perched on top of a hill that is so extremely steeply alone, that the question is asked about its native qualities: has this river-hill been made by man too, the man that made the bold house balancing on top? Is it a flood protection device? There is an equivalent quality of super-grand, grandiose, in both that annoys just too much. Then it is gone, as though it were a dream. But those images of older times that are richly and gently modest and silent in their exclamations remain so powerfully beautiful that one does seek an answer to the possibility of things being otherwise now.

Lloyd Wright did speak about building on top of hills, advocating that the hill should be respected, with the building becoming more of the eyebrow and the hilltop the eye - for hills do catch the eye. Do hills now get used so that the buildings might catch the eye? Is this our problem - too much self-promotion? ME! Nearly all the hills on our journey south of Tweed Heads seem to have become targets for development if they have so far missed having become a part of this chaos already.

Gallery approach

The Tweed Art Gallery shows that we are certainly aware of the beauty of the land, but it also highlights the fact that we do not know much about working with this wonder to let it inspire our efforts. We can sit and admire the world, but this is the same attitude that is adopted when looking at the big, high homes - we are happy to be amazed. How do we regain in our outputs, the quality that allows us to make places that do not scream to be noticed? How can we learn to leave hills be, to let places become what they want to be, not what we want them to be? Do we need to take up Kahn’s love for geometry to regain wonder for place, its space and its peace?

This is the question. We need answers quickly, because, if we turn everything into things that declare themselves only to be admired, noticed, then we will have no repose: no place to do nothing but ponder the richness of open possibility that is embroidered into this world. We are getting only the rude, assured ‘yes’ of screamed responses. We need more questions; more humility; more love and gentle awareness; more uncertainty. We do not need smart self-assurance. An understanding of scale, size and detail becomes part of the remedy that we need to pursue with an extreme sensitivity. Perving at the big and beautiful only makes endless demands on us. We are yet learn that this has limits that are not useful for our futures. We need to be in the picture, and not just participate in the framing of it for outsiders to admire.

Spence Jamieson
7 February 2005
on the trip south on Saturday 5th February 2005

Now, over seven year’s later on 22nd August 2012 - oh, how time flies! - the gallery has been extended, shrubs have grown and flowered, and wines and beers are now available at the café. The alarm of the startling ‘Mon Oncle’ experience is still remembered, such was its unique drama, but the revelation has now been softened. Has it to do with familiarity or time? Both? The balcony balustrade has been raised, now making one look through it - workplace, health and safety seems to have had its review; and the awning over the narrow deck has been sheeted over. This little, carefully detailed, architectural statement was never going to offer sufficient shelter. It is a shame that the deck has not been extended for it is a mean, narrow ledge that opens up to a broad vista of a grand, green valley. There is a disproportionate relationship here that does not get excused or explained by any intimacy. It is just awkward. The new extension repeats more of the same pattern of external treatments and internal spatial arrangements, but with a broader blandness - perhaps it has had to be built cheaper? The lower cavern is larger than ever but now has fenced service zones that detract from the quiet enjoyment of the light and the green slopes on the west.

Cafe balcony

Olley studio

Various shows that draw crowds make more sense of the entrance foyer void. The muddled milling of folk make this an interesting space and takes the messy noise of random people clutter away from the display areas. The Margaret Olley bequest will further add display space to this gallery that can only improve the building. Her workspace is to be recreated/relocated in a new extension funded by the money she left to the gallery. One hopes that this room does not become too much of an exhibit - too self-consciously presented for public perusal as a relic. It is a real shame that it has to be taken from its context into a newer than new declaration that knows little of mess. This studio had a relationship with garden and light that will be extremely difficult to recreate. Margaret Olley often spoke of how the light changed with time of day and seasons, and modified the way in which she worked. Perhaps the challenge is to add a true mess to this gallery, to humanise it; to let it get ‘dirty;’ to give it that wonderful chaos and mystery of marvel in the accidents of circumstance and discovery that Margeret Olley had around her as she painted. As Joseph Heller noted in Catch 22, she ‘knew how to use a mess.’ Her spirit may yet invigorate this place. One would not like to see the opposite occur.

Margaret Olley in studio with garden vista

As for the cool and shady drive along the creek on the way to and from Stokers Siding: this has now become a war zone. Council has declared war on the invasive camphor laurel trees that provided the dappled light and dark, damp recesses that were much enjoyed. The landscape is now like a Paul Nash painting of a death and desecration. One can only hope that time will remedy this appearance of disaster. It cannot happen fast enough.

And Griffiths has now closed. Sadly, this furniture factory, gallery, restaurant, environmental retreat just east of Condon has closed its doors. Its beautiful, Possum- chair inspired furniture will be missed. Was it just too rigorous and gorgeous for Australia? Has the ‘cheap-as-chips’ preference for a bargain-everything killed any commitment to an ideal? Is this what we have gained from our Internet and ebay experiences that carry the hype of quantity that encourages the expectation of more and more for less, and the converse: that expensive quality is always a rip off?

The quaint and delicately detailed, extended and upgraded train station at Murwillumbah is now no longer used. Trains go to Grafton and transfer folk to buses for the trip north into Queensland. A lot can happen in seven years, but is it ‘progress’ - improvement? One fears and feels loss rather than any gain. Let’s hope things improve soon.

P.S. added 12 January 2014
The gallery has been revisited:
see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/01/quilty-harding-and-accents.html

Monday, August 20, 2012

PUGIN



Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1 March 1812 – 14 September 1852) was an English architect, designer, artist and critic, chiefly remembered for his pioneering role in the Gothic Revival style; his work culminated in the interior design of the Palace of Westminster. Pugin designed many churches in England, and some in Ireland and Australia. Pugin was the father of E. W. Pugin and Peter Paul Pugin, who continued his architectural firm as Pugin and Pugin.                                                                                      Wikipedia

The facts about Pugin lie in our collective memories as clichés, such is their character and his reputation. The Wikipedia entry sums up our perceptions precisely. He enthusiastically revived the Gothic, worked tirelessly on the Palace of Westminster and built many churches worldwide. A recent report ( see Tasmanian Gothic - ...www.abc.net.au/tv/.../abc1/.../RN1111H017D2012-06-24T183000.ht...24 Jun 2012 – ABC Television - Program Guide - ABC1 - Religion/Ethics - Compass ... where on the 200th anniversary of Augustus Pugin's birth, Compass explores his work in Tasmania) showed that he was so committed to his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1835 at Salisbury that he, at his own cost, prepared complete plans and details for new churches in Tasmania, designed and had manufactured fittings, fabrics and liturgical items for these churches, and sent these documents and items out to the new colony to save lost souls. All of this was achieved in lifetime of only 40 years. It is said that he worked himself to death.


What is not so commonly known is what his ideas were beyond these hazy Victorian understandings and histories. Here are a few of his own words taken from Stanton Phoebe’s Pugin published by Thames and Hudson, London in 1971. These are interesting as they show how the Gothic Revival has an intimate relationship with its own past and with modernism. Ideas on the necessary relationship between materials, functions, details, construction and even decoration are familiar to us as issues that helped shape what came to be called ‘the new International style’ of architecture. That these ideas grew through the Gothic Revival is something that is rarely recalled or remembered. The concepts are identical to those promulgated by Louis Sullivan, ‘father of modernism and skyscrapers.’ We seem happy to think of things Gothic as ancient and retrograde, muddled enthusiasms of a misguided, indulgent era that was transformed, transfigured, by the ideas of modernism. It seems that things were otherwise. It makes one ask more about just what modernism and gothic might be, given this common ground: just what is the difference; and why is this so? Pugin’s comments on novelty, royalty, climate and social values also seem as relevant to us today as are his expositions on the principles of materials, forms and functions that have been absorbed into the psyche of our time that is currently exploring different matters and matters differently.


 p.85 ‘I feel convinced that Christian architecture had gone its length, and must necessarily have destroyed itself by departing from its own principles in the pursuit of novelty or it must have fallen back on its pure and ancient models.’ (Pugin writing in True Principles)

p.86: In the end, even the remarks addressed to the Queen on the subject of Westminster Abbey appeared just as Pugin had written them: he noted that ‘the apathy of royalty towards this sacred fabric. . . . We hear much of the interest certain distinguished personages take in the performance of a learned monkey, or equestrian evolutions, but small regard indeed do they pay to the resting-place of their ancestors.’ He suggested that ‘a visit to the neglected and desecrated pile of Westminster might teach them the instructive lesson that royalty departed is easily forgotten.’ (Pugin writing in the second edition of Contrasts)

p.84: The asides on scale are telling: Pugin observed that ‘in pointed architecture the different details of the edifice are multiplied with the increased scale of the building: in classic architecture they are only magnified.’ He concluded that one thing wrong with St. Peter’s, a building he had, by the way, never seen, was ‘purely owing to the magnifying instead of the multiplying principle having been followed’.

p.81:  The following principles are set forth in its text. (The page number in each case is that in the printed book.)

All ornament should consist of enrichment of the essential construction of the building (1)
In pure architecture the smallest details should have a meaning or serve a purpose (1)
Construction should vary with the material employed (1)
The external and internal appearance of an edifice should be illustrative of, and in accordance with, the purpose for which it is destined (42)

Pugin must have found ample precedents for each of these ideas in Vitruvian and other, earlier, architectural theory.
Two other observations play on the edges of Pugin’s argument, but never reach the status of principles. He asserted that local and national styles and traditional forms in architecture should be respectfully considered and if possible maintained, for he said climate, cultural influences, local building materials, and native methods of construction often combined to produce structures which met the standard of his principles. And he broadened his definition of the elements necessary for quality to include social values, expressed for him through Catholicism. It was these two final points which separated Pugin from earlier theoreticians.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

MOST LIVABLE CITIY?

shared danger or delight?

ON PEDESTRIANS, CYCLISTS, PARKS AND PARKED CARS
In parallel with the enthusiasm for more open discussion on town planning and design matters glimpsed in the Brisbane City Council for a short period in 2002, the following comments and observations were jotted down and forwarded to the organisers of the two forums held at that time. There appeared to be some hope for change, for improvement, and a wilingess to listen to and to discuss and consider criticism – see also http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/subtropical-urban-design-forum.html  and  http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/town-planning-concerns.html  Things turned out differently. The communication, like the others noted here, was ignored. It was never responded to. No more forums were held. A few improvements have been made in some cycle paths but the critique remains as valid today, (August 2012), as when it was first made in 2002. Such is life.

car parking or cycle path?

There are a series of issues that have attracted my attention over the years that can be seen to coincide because of the alignment of various concerns by happenstance.

While walking across the Victoria Bridge the other evening, I was intrigued by the white line that was marked down the centre of the path on the western edge of the bridge. I usually walk down the eastern edge, and have always been concerned with the rude arrogance of the cyclists who ignore the signs placed on this path by the BCC telling cyclists to dismount and walk.

In all the times I have strolled along this walkway, I have never seen a cyclist dismount. Often I have experienced cyclists speeding past me, seemingly playing the game of tip and run. It is a game that gives instant alarm to the individual who is suddenly brushed by silent speed that disappears before any response can be given by way of appropriate curse or inappropriate threat. The BCC seems to have a talent for erecting signs that hope to promote the right thing, but is apparently careless about the enforcement of their intent. This does not make the city very ‘liveable’ or ‘livable’.

Well, on another occasion when I was walking along the other walkway on the west, I pondered on the purpose of the white line on this side. I know that Brisbane has a history - probably unique in the world - of directing pedestrian traffic with the same clues as those used for vehicular traffic. Brisbane's CBD once had footpaths that were paved with segmental red pavers that had a built-in dotted white line that seemed to suggest that pedestrians had to maintain the rule of the road - to keep left. Remnants of this era of unfortunate paving still exist. I often wondered if one had to signal when planning to overtake on these routes.

So my first guess was that the intention of this white line on the bridge was to mark the centre that one had to keep to one side of, because bikes were allowed passage on this western edge of the bridge. Then I recalled that there was a white line marked on the riverside 'runway' boardwalk in front of the Art Gallery. Here it is made clear that cyclists have to keep to one side - the widest - and pedestrians have to stay on the other - the tight, narrow, riverside portion. The symbols clearly mark this intention, and most users generally comply with it because it seems safe and sensible.

So I thought that the white bridge line on the western edge could mean that the cyclists had to keep to one side and pedestrians to the other. But then I saw the symbols! The cyclist symbol is painted on the centreline of the centre line, directly in line with the pedestrian diagram. Just what could this mean? My observation of how the path was being used by pedestrians indicated that there was no clear route being maintained, and the fast, dangerous weaving of the cyclists proved that there was no intention of either group keeping to one side of this line or the other. Indeed, the cyclists, in spite of the 'Give Way to Pedestrians' signs, seemed to take control of the whole width of the walkway in their game of miss the pedestrian - if possible - and at very high speed.

So it was that I resolved that the clear purpose of the line was for all pedestrians to walk along it so that the cyclists could choose to pedal on either side or weave between the individuals as personal whims or chance might demand.

Now I have only recently noted in some suburban areas that there are new line markings for cyclists. I know that the intention is for cyclists because the symbol has been painted, once again, on the centreline of this line. But what is the message? Does the line mark a cycle path on the edge of the lane used by the vehicular traffic? Possibly. But the line encloses the area used by parked cars. There seems to be no effort to stop the cars parking in what seems to be a possible cycle path of reasonable width. It reads like this because it is difficult to understand why a cycleway that was far too narrow would be marked at all? So what really is the intention? Is it a both or either-or? Is it a parking lane or a cycle path? It appears to be both!

One wonders who is responsible if a cyclist runs into a parked car? What happens if a parked car has its door opened? This regular and necessary occurrence creates a circumstance where it is obvious that the whole of what might be envisaged as a possible cycle path is closed off, if it has not already been so blocked by the vehicle in the first place. Both with and without parked cars, this 'lane' narrows down in places where it is barely wide enough for the pedals of a bike to fit the width – look at those on the Victoria Bridge roadway and at Highgate Hill. So I have resolved that the only way one can interpret this line is in a way similar to that on the bridge - but here it is for the cyclist to follow.

But, one wonders, in a city that likes to try to be cycle-friendly and allows cyclists to do anything and everything - no helmets; no lights; no speed limit; no stopping at lights; on both footpaths and roads as the impulse takes; on either side of the road at the cyclists convenience; etc. - what happens if a vehicle in a lane running parallel to a new cycle line wants to turn right or left? Who gives way to whom? What are the rules? How can one easily see a speeding cyclist with head down, bottom up? With no laws for the cyclist that anyone seems interested in enforcing, who takes responsibility for giving way? - and for any collision? We seem to have a city with all signs and no rules: chaos city rather than 'most liv(e)able' - whatever this jargon cum ‘verbal logo’ really means.

But what is the true purpose of these white cycle lines? They make marks with such authority that they suggest total control. But when they cross an intersection at ninety degrees to the run, they fade into dotted lines without explanation - is it still a cycle zone or not? - and when they come to a major intersection that, e.g. has traffic lights, the indecision and lack of commitment is clear. The lines just stop in the middle of nowhere, often becoming an extra lane for vehicular rearrangement. What is the cyclist supposed to do here? At what risk is the cyclist placed with this ambivalence? Does anyone care? Has anyone resolved the logic or rationale of this seemingly futile effort to make Brisbane boast another grand statistic - cycle city of the world?

Just what is going on with this marking? – marketing? Is the game to see just how much length Brisbane can claim to have in marked cycle lines so as to create the brag that it is the most liveable cycle city? - whatever this means? Surely rules for cycle path usage, with separate, safe width and intelligible continuity are the most important things a Council can provide for cyclists if dedicated routes are to make movement through the city easy, pleasant and safe for all. If Council is to find itself legally exposed by a simple location of a bollard, apparently not seen by the head down–bum up fast cyclist, and chooses to settle this reported collision with a large cash payment, one can only be surprised to find Council leaving itself open to claims arising from what can be seen as unwise or ill-considered road marking. It must be remembered that markings are directions structured by the marker, and if the marks are inadequate in any way, then, it seems, the Council is legally exposed.

And this is no fantasy. That there must be a concern expressed about this configuration is made clear by the very conflict that is inherent in the arrangement. Simple safety requirements demand that any obvious point of danger must be removed. A Council with any Workplace, Health and Safety office should be aware of this ordinary obligation. But it appears as though the BCC is happy with this 'new' marking - why else go ahead and install it? That a zone for cyclists can be marked and then given over to parked cars or just be allowed to disappear without warning or any other alternative, and even varied to give dramatic changes in width, is of concern. What does the Australian Standard say about this? And if there is no Standard, why not use a European Standard as a reference? Council seems rigorous in other matters where it removes offending objects that have caused problems, in spite of their necessity for other reasons.

The BCC knows the problems of dual use of cycle paths - for pedestrians and cyclists - and should be aware of the problems it opens itself to by providing for dual use parking/cycle zones? It knows of accidents - some fatal - on routes under its management presently shared by legs and wheels, but even these paths still remain poorly lighted, poorly regimented and poorly managed or enforced. They are just left in an ad hoc state of development and repair to be used as folk think fit - at their own risk, as it were. If only this were possible.

One wonders: why create problems? The BCC has a history of apparent carelessness. I have raised on other occasions the problem of cars parking on the footpaths in suburban areas, making pedestrians move on to the road. The response received to this matter was that it was safer for the cars! It is much like the response received to suggestions to slow the speeding traffic in our street - that these strategies will not meet with driver approval. But isn't that just the point? At present, the drivers and the Council both seem to approve of speeding, (or should one say ‘reluctant to respond’?), so everything is OK! - ?

If Council really wants to have a good city, then a genuine commitment must be made to every action taken. Real commitment must be given to the coherence and quality of all decisions and their relationship, implementation and outcome. It is not good enough to resolve problems by constant removal. Take for example, the pedestrian crossing at the low part of Gladstone Road. Why has this crossing been removed? It seems that it might have become a legal problem, so it has been erased - that is the stripes and the signs have been obliterated. Yet pedestrians still have to battle the speedy rush; and all the ramped kerbs and rails that once marked the pedestrian crossing have been left in tact to suggest it still is the place to cross! The message suggests that the pedestrians must risk their own lives without having any rights conferred on them by white lines and signs, let alone just good lighting This circumstance seems the opposite of the new cycle path strategy that seems to create problems with their installation – an odd reversal! But then we do not yet count pedestrian crossings or boast about their role in this great city.

To run a city by removing troubles for BCC convenience will leave only a dead skeleton stripped of its wonder. For a city to become great, a rich coherence of commitment must be entertained and maintained in every detail, no matter how apparently insignificant these might appear. This involves BCC risk. Failures can only demoralise citizens, just as they dematerialise the city. There must be consistency and continued effort to achieve ambitions - assuming that the ambitions exist at all. The risk is that the words of being the 'most livable' ring only as a hollow phrase that mocks the reality.

Why can a Council not give residents a clear statement of its intentions? Take our street, for instance (at the risk of using a personal matter once again). Over the years I have raised the matters of parking and speeding - to no effect. Some parking signs were erected, but having them enforced is an impossible matter. (These have now - in 2012- been removed!) No one seems to care. The police did not even know that Villa Street was zoned for ‘SERVICE VEHICLES ONLY – NO TRUCKS.’ No one cares that truck after truck uses this and Frederick Street, a thoroughfare that links to the 'NO TRUCKS' zone. The most recent action was taken by another resident who raised the problem and invited Councillors and State representatives to attend a meeting in the backyard of a residence in Frederick Street. While all promises were given for immediate action, very little - let's be honest: nothing - has come from the seemingly very reluctant action that was eventually implemented. A traffic counter was put across the road during a TAFE recess - when it is the TAFE vehicles that cause most of the problem! I have had no feedback at all from this event or any other information about Council's thinking on this racy thoroughfare. I had to bluntly raise the matter at election time in order to get a response from the local Councillor who said there had been no response – which I guessed.

The puzzle was that Council representatives at this backyard meeting, if I recall correctly, argued that a 40kph zone could not be created in the street; and that traffic could not be slowed by chicanes. Certainly, it was made clear that the BCC would not close off one end of the street! No commitment? Yet, in streets, both nearby and in other suburbs, that seem to be in circumstances that will never be used by the traffic numbers that we experience, and in circumstances where the streets are twice the width of our street, astonishing floriated mazes with threatening, bold blocks, rude humps and brilliantly coloured textures and stripes appear with speed signs varying from 20kph to 40kph, even when these speed limits are denied as possibilities - ?

That Frederick Street feeds into a 40kph restricted truck zone (SERVICE VEHICLES ONLY - NO TRUCKS) is ignored. The logic of it appears to be missed by the traffic planners. Why? And one wonders: who knows who to have a street calmed? A Councillor's mother? Brother? A Councillor?!! That Frederick Street is part of the rat race from Dutton Park to Chardons Corner (note: now partly modified) should be no surprise to BCC. It has been told often enough! That Frederick Street is an unusual street in that it narrows down dramatically and steeply from a wide thoroughfare to a narrow lane should be known to the BCC. That there is no shortage of nearby main roads to use should again be not unknown to the BCC. The area is fringed by Ipswich Road, Venner Road, School Road and Fairfield Road. Yet the BCC takes no action to direct the main flow of traffic that seems to prefer the challenge of a twisting run through narrow lanes to the hassle of the stop-start traffic lights (seven) on the main arterial system. Why? Liveable? Does Council know the impact of the traffic in the street? (Basic speed bumps have now been installed, August 2012, but these seem to deter only the meek and weak and appear to have created a challenge for the bold and brazen).

And it takes no action to stop or limit the vehicular movement from Venner Road that uses Frederick Street to shortcut into Villa Street - that calmed 40kph narrow lane that is signed for service vehicles only - no trucks! Why? And what happens? The trucks all run directly up to the small roundabout and face the challenge of turning on this thin strip of bitumen, often leaving more tyre marks on the raised centre of the roundabout than on the street. And the police could not care less about this, or the speeding traffic, in the same way as the BCC seems to ignore the stupidity of the circumstance. Why even bother to put signs up? Is it the cycle path mentality again? – PR statistics or plans to be published in the local newspaper?

These circumstances generate a frustration that is continually arising from the other matters - hence the coincidence mentioned at the beginning: the ignored signs on Victoria bridge; the cars parking on the footpath; the silly marking of the cycle arrangements; the ignoring of the need to care for pedestrians as well as cyclists and other vehicles - as long, apparently, as it is all convenient for the BCC. No city can grow and mature to become a beautiful and cared-for place when such flouting neglect is allowed to prosper.

Only recently I noticed that the access to the roundabout on Ekibin Road that once allowed traffic to drive straight though and avoid the roundabout, has been blocked off. I remember writing to Council some years ago when this was installed. I pointed out that this was a dangerous arrangement that should be modified. As a user I had noticed the problems. The response I got from Council was that the Traffic Engineers said that everything was satisfactory. The recent closure proves otherwise. The action to close this off was years too late. Council must understand just how frustrating this liveable city strategy can be if it responds to matters in this apparently mindless and arrogant way.

Brisbane boasts a most liveable circumstance. I suggest otherwise. Ease and liveability arise when the stress of silly conflict is removed by the happy resolution of control and commitment that make space for a sharing and safe environment in which irrational conflict is eliminated by design that is stimulated by a vision. One might suggest that a city without an architect is a city without a vision and a city out of control. Sheer convenience should never become a guideline for city growth, for this is a downhill slide into the hell of carelessness. This simply means, e.g., that the rules for park use must be enforced: dog waste removed; dogs on leashes; park barriers to keep vehicles out maintained. Yet parks become areas to lease out for sports and recreation, for dogs to run free and for louts to roar in.

It is difficult to see how Brisbane's boast makes sense when even the most obvious connection is ignored. For years, the old arch remnant of the Victoria Bridge has stood directly opposite the new cross-river connection, almost at the same level. I notice the tension every time I walk or drive past. Yet apparently no effort has ever been made to link the two so that residents and visitors might be able to know more of our history - or just enjoy the elevated retreat that this place could provide. I am referring to the simple idea of connecting the Victoria Bridge walkway to the stair landing of the old Victoria Bridge stone arch on the south side of the river. Go and look.

Brisbane will become an enjoyable city that is a pleasure to participate in once the little things start being attended to. Big ideas just too often remain big ideas. Small things can start making tiny places in our city that can be loved. A link between the new and the old bridge part should be made as a start. It should be a joyously detailed beautiful link that will encourage folk to visit this old place that should be revamped to accommodate them with polite ease, delicacy and delight. No one, (well very few), goes there now because one has to detour circuitously down off the bridge and then walk up a high flight of starkly rude, steel stairs. Cities are remembered for their little places and little details. Once this link is made, another portion of Brisbane should be addressed and made wonderful. Yes, to create another link in the maze of beauty.

The work must be carefully considered so that all options are maximised. The great opportunity offered by Brisbane's bikeways is being lost. Those that try to thread through the city and suburbs are too specialised. The possibility of a golden thread of life weaving through our city - for pedestrians, landscape, bikes, all beautifully and safely shaped and lighted - is ignored in favour of cheap distance. This seems to be the same driving force shaping the cycle lines. The new cycle link to the south is too much like a mini-freeway that recalls the very worst development Brisbane has ever allowed - the building of the freeway between the city and the river. Yes, even here, there must be an attempt to make this terrible zone more, yes, ‘liveable’.

Concerted action is needed now. A new, redirected commitment should be made to making permanent places beautiful in a remarkable way. Every opportunity should be grasped so that eventually these little things will connect to make a better whole. Charades and counting will not make our city better. It might address political issues, but liveability is more than politics - or it should be. It relates to the everyday experience of people - their loves, hopes, dreams and ideals - and helps them survive. Without these little things, we are left exposed to the mad race of irrational whims – lines and signs that mean nothing when outcomes are studied. They are like the’ illegal’ mobile phone use by drivers: things on which to hang argument when something goes wrong. Cities should be places on which one can hang dreams.

Spence Jamieson

not Brisbane, but typical of the irrational nonsense in cycle path design

 P.S.
On the BCC’s talent for signs that mean nothing, I now note that the Gladstone Road non-crossing has been identified in a new luminous yellow declaring the traffic island a ‘pedestrian refuge’. No legal strength is given to the pedestrian who is still asked to take all risks and personal responsibility for negotiating this busy road.
New signs seem to be being invented. A similar red luminous sign has been used to note that a portion of road at the back of Tallebudgera has numerous exits from residences along it. The danger of the increasing ad hoc invention of road signage is that it will all lose meaning. Of course, this may have no impact at all if the signs are ignored.

a typical cycle path termination, to begin again somewhere else

 P.P.S.
After the evening of 18th July 2002, I pondered on my favourite portion of Brisbane. If I was to be asked, I think I would name the juxtaposition between the bridge and the arch. It is truly a centre for stress, indicative of those that remain irrationally rampant throughout the city. I see this location as the symbol of the broad spectrum of accumulated tensions that can be so easily resolved through careful concern and concerted action - now. There may be some hope with the Centre for Subtropical Design?


No, in August 2012, it seems not to be so. The optimism created by the BCC with its’ ‘subtropical’ initiative faded away into oblivion. It was apparently not as ‘livable’ as the city itself was supposed to be. It has only recently been declared in the media that Melbourne is now the world’s most livable city! It all seems to be such a fickle categorisation that looks similar to ‘CAR OF THE YEAR’ branding, allowing promotional material to be boosted with a stamp that usually says something like ‘AS SEEN ON TV’ or, on wine, as another example: ‘GOLD MEDAL WORLD FAIR 1896’ – as if this was relevant to a 2012 vintage. We need to separate hype from reality and start constructing our dreams out of matter more substantial, and with greater substance.


For more on signs and intent, see  http://springbrooklocale.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/street-character.html  The signs that defined the speed and declared the road as a ‘NO THRU ROAD’ were removed once Council – the Gold Coast City Council – had been asked to enforce them! Councils seem to be good at this type of response. The Brisbane City Council likes to remove anything that can be vandalised rather than maintain these things, in spite of their civic quality – see  http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/subtropical-urban-design-forum.html  A major artwork was removed from the new mall because Council gave up repairing it. Apparently the artist refused Council’s request for the glass to be changed to stainless steel, so the whole piece was demolished.

TOWN PLANNING CONCERNS


view of proposal adjacent to Story Bridge, Brisbane

NOTES FROM TOWN PLAN/DESIGN ADVISORY GROUP EVENING
The Brisbane City Council organised what it labelled an ‘Advisory Group’ meeting to discuss town planning and design issues with local professionals in 2002. It was an initiative that sought to expose problems and develop some constructive strategies to improve both processes and outcomes. Like the Subtropical Forum (see Subtropical Urban Design Forum  http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/subtropical-urban-design-forum.html) this event took place over ten years ago. The response published here was sent to the organisers. It is worthwhile reviewing it today as it does highlight problems with planning processes that still seem worthy of consideration, not only to know where we have come from, but how we might have attended to these matters over the last ten years.

Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928), the 'father' of modern town planning and the 'garden city' movement

 Sirs,

Thank you for the invitation to attend the discussion on the Town Plan and the Design Advisory Group. I find that on such introductory occasions I attend to collect information, ponder on my experience and develop a position by reverie and reflection rather than just stand up and speak on whatever comes into my mind in the present moment. Of course, this is no criticism of those who do! I have for some time now been closely involved with the Gold Coast Town Plan and its application at Springbrook and Burleigh. I will use these experiences to identify the problems as I see them, as my work in the State Government has, at least up to this stage, not been heavily involved in local planning issues. The examples are my interpretations/understanding of my experiences that have been expressed previously. It appears to me that my interpretations are rationally established from my involvement in these matters. Others might have differing understandings, but the logic of the position can still make sense if only by way of example with a ‘what can happen if . . . . ’ question.

While the Brisbane Town Plan may be free from all the problems I read into the Gold Coast Plan and its implementation, the advantage in using the Gold Coast Plan as a reference for complaint is that it is not directly complaining to the BCC. Perhaps this might come later. My concern is that matters should be managed objectively rather than dragging up issues that have been a particular professional concern to any specific office or individual. Snippets of this position arose in the discussion that evening. It always makes the objective position more difficult to clarify.

The idea to collect my thoughts and make a presentation on Town Planning issues as I see them came to me after attending a seminar on planning presented by the Gold Coast planners. I have asked the organisers of this series presented in Brisbane to give me time to present the planning position as seen from the ‘other side’, and have formalised this request in a submission that gave an outline of my presentation. No response to my request has ever been received. This seems to be one of the problems with planners: they appear not to be interested in the real outcomes or the implications of their decisions; rather they seem to love to live in their hypothetical ideal world of words, charts, schedules and diagrams. It seems a little like the experts that spend their lives in the theory of construction contracts. Everything sounds fine until it comes into practice; and even then their ‘expert’ solutions to every problem remain in the world of dreams. And the reason? – things are always much more complex, interwoven and diverse – and more ephemeral – than any analysis, prescription or conjecture can ever rationally define. This is one of the concerns with any plan, and indeed, with any judgemental group.

Yet it seems that some of the most loved cities in the world did have precise rules for development. The traditional 5 to 7 storey height of Paris, Barcelona, Munich and Milan, for example, gives a fabric, scale, texture and density that make each place special in its own particular context and history. Perhaps this is because it has been so well enforced? I recall the story where, in Barcelona, Gaudi was forced to reduce the height of one of his projects in order to comply with the regulations. It is a problem I will talk about later. San Gimignano’s apparently ad hoc towers offer an alternative that is equally beautiful. But even mentioning these will give rise to interjecting possibilities and complexities that one cannot develop here. Our difficulty today is: how do we learn to build with some integrity and responsibility? It is interesting to ponder that our problem may indeed be spiritual, requiring ‘a nobility of purpose and a refinement of expression’. It is a point that I will not labour, as it is such an unfashionable position that it is aggressively pushed aside in favour of easier, smarter, more ‘rational’ analysis.

On my Gold Coast critiques, one may wonder why I have not taken these matters up with the Gold Coast City Council rather than raising them with the BCC by way of example. Over a period of ten years, I have raised all matters of concern with the GCCC both by way of personal representation and in lengthy written submissions. It was interesting on one occasion when I met with the head planners, that they described themselves as 'artists'. I suggested 'bullshit artists' might be appropriate, highlighting the odd mix of idealism, compromise and neglect that has been experienced over time.

The Springbrook experience has been one that has stretched over many years. My involvement in Springbrook is through the Springbrook/Wunburra Progress Association Incorporated. I am presently president of this Association. Over the years I have been involved at Springbrook, there have been numerous planning applications for development and various reviews of planning documents - strategic plans, development control plans, local area plans and the town plan. The Association has made detailed submissions to the GCCC on all occasions. The Association has also lodged objections to many developments and has taken the GCCC to court when it approved a golf course in this water catchment area. Unfortunately this has only aggravated relationships. The Association is now labelled an irresponsible ‘trouble maker’ rather than having its’ input seen as a genuine critique, with intentions being only to maintain good outcomes in accordance with Council’s own plans. This aggravation is supported by some in the community who have not made the fortunes they hoped their proposed development applications might achieve.

Generally the pattern of development applications on Springbrook seems to have been, from our perspective:

The developer/applicant meets with the local member and planning officials of the Council, along with a private professional planner if one is involved. Prior to this the developer/applicant may have met with the local member on site. The meeting with the Council officers generally discusses the proposal and its particular potentials and problems, and devises ways to facilitate the application if it is seen to be generally acceptable or desirable. If it ‘stretches the limits’ or goes beyond the Town Plan and is still seen to be desirable, (often for unstated reasons), the Council officers formulate ways whereby it might be seen to be interpreted as being able to be accommodated within the Town Plan or any other useful document: ‘Oh! I see now. It’s not a restaurant but a cafeteria. That’s different!’ when it is the very same application - earlier rejected - that is now supported, perhaps by the ‘recommended’ planner collecting a fee of some thousands of dollars for a supporting report. It is interesting here to note that because of the seemingly vague drafting of the legal planning documents, one document is able to be used to promote something that may be excluded or disallowed in another.

After this inaugural meeting, the developer/applicant makes the submission to Council. Sometimes it has been reported to us that Council officers give advice to developer/applicants on just which Town Planning firm/individual could be (should be) used to help prepare the formal application if one has not already been appointed. This Association has seen applications that openly describe the Planning Officer as the 'collaborative designer', suggesting that officers sometimes become very much involved in the making and shaping of the proposal that will eventually be assessed by him/her.

On receipt of the application and the starting of the process where public objections are sought, Council has found ways to counter objections apparently to ensure that the commitment or advices given in the early discussions are indeed the outcome. The first method seems to be for Council to encourage, (or to have others encourage), submissions that are in favour of the project. It appears that because Council had to address serious issues raised in the objections, it determined that a submission supporting a project could be accepted as a ‘positive’ objection. This turned the public submissions into a numerical game that could be analysed as ‘x’ in favour, ‘y’ against – the ‘x-s,’ that can seemingly always be organised in sufficient numbers, have it. This calculation seemed to take no account of the substance of the document, with a simple, almost inarticulate, ‘I’m in favour’ note holding as much importance as a carefully structured analysis of the weaknesses of the application.

Once this process has been implemented, the serious points raised by the ‘negative’ objections are then confronted. This process seems to seek out ways of negating these important points. This appears to be managed either by way of argument (you are wrong) or by way of ‘conditions’ that are framed with the apparent intent of overcoming all objections. In this way the Council can be seen to be responding to the serious matters but can still approve the scheme in accordance with the early advice given at the first meetings. It is like a fake ‘win-win’ scenario that is actually a ‘win-lose’: Council wins; ‘negative’ objectors lose again.

These conditions can take various forms: they can be conditions that require precise actions ‘to the Engineer’s satisfaction’; or they can spell out solutions to the particular problem identified in the objection. It seems to be a way of designing a framework that can alter the application without incurring the need for any new application. Indeed, new applications of ‘corrected’ documents are very rare, even with serious errors in applications. Council decrees everything to be satisfactory.
The project is then approved. If the developer is serious, then the project goes ahead to completion. That the various conditions are part of the approval seems to matter not at all. They are left to the ‘Engineer’s satisfaction’ that seems to mean nothing in practice other than Council will approve it.

After the project is up-and-running, Council seems to care little for the actual details of the conditions and appears to have no way in which to ensure they are complied with; nor does it seem interested in enforcing these conditions. That an approval for a children’s camp becomes a motel, and a conditional water transport approval becomes ignored in nearly every detail only seems to cause Council (once it has been pointed out) to meet with the developers and seek a way to modify the conditions. That this can occur privately without any need for public consultation appears to offer a gaping loophole in the planning controls. The outcomes of prior public comment can be manipulated to suit Council and developer in private agreement without public knowledge.

It is all a very unfortunate process that appears to be able to avoid any and every awkward planning restriction. It is the initial strategy that becomes the blue print for the scheme – the scheming? Planning needs to be much better than this. If it means that the process must become segmented to be managed separately by individuals without any necessary connections, and that Council and Councillors must withdraw from the process that becomes managed properly under the strict guidance of the Town Plan and other documents, then this should be implemented.

This means that Town Plans and the other documents must be more precise and must become less ambiguous so that the political ambitions do not interfere with the planning intentions. What this can be seen to be is a call for a separation of powers at the planning level. The Plan should define everything that needs to be known so that developers can put submissions to Council that can then review the submissions without any need for cosy arrangements, private advices and manipulations.

The previous GCC Council CEO described this process by way of justification as a ‘learning process,’ arguing that developers were naïve and needed the guidance of Council officers to ensure the process could achieve the best outcome. I see this as the CEO ‘spin doctoring’ the situation. It must be commented that the ‘collaborative designer’ did not stay in his position very long after this was pointed out to the CEO; but then neither did the CEO! It seems that one can only remain critical in silence about these matters as one might try to theorise about their cause.

I did mention that there were Burleigh experiences with the Planners also. This involved a property on Burleigh Hill that had been subdivided for many years but was never developed. When the workmen suddenly appeared on site one day with bulldozers, I wondered about the mature trees. The workmen showed me the plan. The earlier subdivision proposal had been altered without public notice to include an extra two blocks, all rearranged to have seven in a group title and three as separate, freehold blocks. The group title blocks gathered around a private road that ran along a boundary. The plan showed that the whole block was to be totally cleared. After a day of agitation that involved the media and many discussions with Councillors, Planners and the Australian Conservation Foundation, it was only after an appearance on the local news that evening that the CEO telephoned and gave assurances as to the tree clearance, (it would be minimised), adding that Council would insist on planting three trees for every one that had to be removed for house construction. This also meant that the road on the boundary was to be shifted to avoid a stand of some thirty mature trees. Subsequently it turned out that a young planner had approved the tree removal for this development but had never visited the site.

The tree clearing went ahead, the road was moved and the ‘landscaping’ took place at the very end of the process. During this time Council had to be regularly prompted to ensure that trees were protected. More trees than agreed were removed because of ‘safety’ reasons. This meant that trees over thirty metres tall were taken out rather than insisting on any modification to the plans in order to keep them. In spite of the ‘tree’ regulations, there is always an excuse to take trees out.

The real surprise with this development is just why it was allowed at all. Council has rules and restrictions about developing steep sites that seemed to be being ignored. It was only with one development at Springbrook that Council realised that subdivisions did not have to be advertised for public comment. Subdivision approvals could all happen within closed walls. Prior to this occasion, subdivisions were advertised. Council has apparently been happy to continue with ‘private’ approvals.

And the lighting? Planners had never thought about this and gave assurances that the lighting would be low level. No, it has gone in as normal street lighting.

And the homes? The Development Control Plan for the Hill makes it clear: homes should sit on the hill, not stand high on stilts. Nearly every house stands on stilts.

And the trees? Maybe one could agree that at least one plant went in for each tree that was removed, nearly as agreed, but these are not large trees. But some of these plants have died and have not been replaced. Nearly all the new plants are ‘decorative’ rather than native trees.


So again we see Council as having all the best intentions, (after being placed under pressure), with no way of ensuring that these controls are indeed achieving the dedfined outcome! And building approvals seem to go ahead without any reference to other bodies. One house at Springbrook was approved on a site that was the subject of a previous planning application, but was never amalgamated with its neighbouring block. The commercial development was carefully structured only on its own parcel of land, leaving this other block, that was a part of the original project proposal, undeveloped. Council missed this subtlety – opportunity lost forever. Council’s ‘plan’ has gone astray.

So in spite of all the Plans, this steep Burleigh Hill site has been cleared and developed in a way to suit the developer. The block of land that was the designated ‘park’ required for the subdivision has been planted with fruit trees by the neighbour who has colonised this property that is too steep to walk upon safely, let alone run or play on it. It is interesting to note that the DCP for the Hill lists the plant species that should be planted. Not one of the plants placed on the site is on this list! Councils must do better than this. If there are plans they must be enforced, otherwise they can be seen as mere political white wash, (hog wash?), to allow anything to happen with the boast that there is the Plan. It could very well be one with a ‘red herring’ status.

Generally this review/critique on GCCC planning procedures has been described by way of a ‘what not to do’ scenario. There are probably a range of experiences that need to be exposed for review, because it is only with the understanding of the weaknesses of the processes that one can respond appropriately – that is, hopefully, sorting out the problems so that the process is entirely open and transparent with all the rules for action being understood and respected by all. It does mean that Councils need to be very articulate about futures and real outcomes, and be skilful enough not to remain simplistic and totally prescriptive. The ‘Paddington’ lattice and ‘old house’ image used to promote contextual relationships is too prescriptively narrow. Open rules for action are needed: rules that can modify and manage outcomes without having to make cities boring and stodgy, or historical replicas. We need good plans and good intentions, or else all these old problems will continue unabated, allowing anything to occur. The rules of the lateral thinking type are a good model to try to explain possibilities, like the one that wants factories to dispose of all waste upstream. Imagine the impact on vehicle output if the waste gases had to be disposed of at the very front of the vehicle near the air intake. We need to be able to allow anything to occur within a strict set of open rules that are managed with rigour and commitment. Then even the most critical and outspoken detractors might be happy!

Spence.

P.S.
Note that such ‘Design Advisory’ committees are really not in place to manage the critics of this world. Nor are they there to modify architects ‘visions’ – blame Ruskin and Pevsner for this! Both these giants taught us to see ordinary buildings as being different to architecture; that architecture was 'something added.' Such committees are really there to manage the awful, careless work that seeks only maximum gain for minimum effort and outlay. If there is a vision, it needs to hold some integrity beyond crass commercialism. Modified visions are the other source of concern, where developers grasp an idea and mash it up to suit their profit - making nightmares out of dreams.



 No response was ever recieved to this communication. Good planning still seems to be confronted with the same problems that thrive on clichės, words and the intrigues of power.