Thursday, March 12, 2015

BEFITTING OUR SUBURBS - ON BUTTERFLIES AND ELEPHANTS


It was in among the papers that had been kept for later review and comment. Its rediscovery was surprising, just as alarming as the original reading. Little wonder that it had been put aside, such had been the initial shock. The Gold Coast Bulletin of Friday 30 May 2014, highlighted with the title 2018 Commonwealth Games Host City, carried an article in the BUSINESS section with the headline: ‘Design befitting our suburbs on the rise.’ It was indeed a bold and clear statement made physical as large black letters that dominated the page, page 29. It carried a declaration with what seems to be a pun that, sadly, journalists and editors find irresistible. The message appeared to say that the potential of the character of our suburbs was being achieved with more and more good design. The illustration appeared to challenge perceptions with a drawing of a heavily, self-consciously over-styled tower.


The character of the headline was matched with an ‘artist’s impression’ of what was described as ‘the multi-purpose tower earmarked to be built at Main Place, Broadbeach’ on the Gold Coast – to be called Main Place. The image depicted a brashly bold tower with sweeping lines stretching decoratively and graphically over the fa├žade. They reminded one of the slick, random markings seen on sportswear.


The report started: ‘A Broadbeach trophy site earmarked for a project whose transformative powers rivals that of the suburb’s twin-tower Oracle precinct, is up for grabs.’ 'Twin-tower' is an unfortunate description. How was this Main Place design ‘befitting our suburbs’? Deeper into the report, there was only one other comment that seemed slightly relevant to this claim: “Such facilities, wherever established around the world, attract people with high disposable incomes and change the nature of a suburb.” Perhaps the name was the clue: Main Place suggested a challenge to all others places.


This statement only added to the confusion. Is it befitting to seek to change our suburbs under the apparent guise of designing for them, in character with them? What is the character of ‘our suburbs’? Is the ambition to change the Gold Coast into a Dubai-like array of designer towers, each seeking to outdo the other? Where is this intent made explicit? One has to ask: Is this design really ‘befitting our suburbs’? What does the Gold Coast want to become? Does anyone know? What is the character that is being envisaged? How is any application to be assessed? The concerns linger and grow as we have seen previously how the proposals seem to get managed very leniently: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/11/approving-ghosts-grand-visions-and.html

The Oracle


The context of The Oracle

After having typed this piece, it was a real surprise to discover that today’s Bulletin, (12 March 2015), carries a report boasting about a new development at Burleigh Heads:



REAL ESTATE
Gold Coast City Council Planning Committee backs 20-storey development for Burleigh Heads’ The Esplanade

ANDREW POTTS COUNCIL REPORTER
GOLD OCAST BULLETIN
MARCH 12, 2015 3:49PM


Tuggeranong Development Corp Pty Ltd have proposed a new development for Burleigh

A BURLEUGH Heads high rise building which is tipped to become one of the beachside suburb’s most desirable addresses has been given preliminary council approval.
The unnamed 20-storey building, earmarked for a 3034sqm block between The Esplanade and the Gold Coast Highway will have 128 units and a community space with room for an outdoor movie theatre.
The project, proposed by Tuggeranong Development Corp, was yesterday unanimously approved by the Gold Coast City Council’s planning committee. It will go before the full council for final ratification on Tuesday.
The high-rise and garden area will replace a series of four older low-rise units over multiple blocks between the two roads.
Area councillor Greg Betts said the multi-million dollar development would likely become one of the most desirable addresses in Burleigh.
“This is one of the last bits of land where something like this could be done, allowing something to be built taking out all the land between The Esplanade and Gold Coast Highway,” he said.
“It is bigger than what would normally be contemplated in the current planning scheme but the trade-off is that we get an open area along the front of The Esplanade.
“The ocean views and the proximity to Burleigh’s shopping precinct should make it a highly desirable place to live.”
Council planning documents show the project will have 295 bedrooms across its 20 levels, including a mixture of two and three-bedroom units.
There will also be a total of 191 car parking spaces in its basement levels.
A development application was submitted to the council a year ago.
A total of eight submissions were received about the development during community consultation, with just two in support of the project.
Concerns included the building’s height, density, shadow, road access and the removal of trees from the site.
Council officers noted the concerns did not warrant city leaders rejecting the project after the size of the proposed building was reduced from 25 levels to 20 during negotiations with the developer.
The officers also noted in their report to the planning committee that the project was a “high quality redevelopment” of a site which “is in need of renewal” and would “provide a vibrant form incorporating distinctive architectural elements”.


Burleigh Heads has a long beach history 

This development was “unanimously approved by the Gold Coast City Council’s planning committee” even though area councillor Greg Betts acknowledged that: “It is bigger than what would normally be contemplated in the current planning scheme but the trade-off is that we get an open area along the front of The Esplanade.” So the plan is compromised already? Just why Councillor Betts has to become the sales person for the scheme is not known. The report notes: ‘Area councillor Greg Betts said the multi-million dollar development would likely become one of the most desirable addresses in Burleigh.’ Is it Council’s role to grant approvals on such a basis rather than insisting on compliance with the Plan? This approval will only generate a precedent that will stimulate more and more, larger and larger developments, complete with ‘trade-offs.’ The message appears to be that Council is in the market: come an chat with us; bargain as if in a souk. Is this really 'the plan'?



It is interesting to note the objections - ‘Concerns included the building’s height, density, shadow, road access and the removal of trees from the site’ - that were all over-ruled: ‘Council officers noted the concerns did not warrant city leaders rejecting the project.’ This is the usual strategy that councils adopt: call for objections as required by law and then prepare a set of conditions and statements so that all objections can be ignored - project approved.



The article in the Bulletin concludes: ‘The officers also noted in their report to the planning committee that the project was a “high quality redevelopment” of a site which “is in need of renewal” and would “provide a vibrant form incorporating distinctive architectural elements”.’ Is it the role of Council to assess ‘quality’ - whatever this might be; and ‘architectural features’ - whatever these might be? What are they? Where? Why are these elements so critically significant that they allow the Pan to be overridden, ignored? Where are these magical pieces? Surely it is Council’s role to implement the Plan for the area irrespective of the bargaining chips a developer might hold? Planning is more than a gamble; and a gambol. With all of the trading and negotiations, the Plan appears to get put aside and all and sundry seems to be allowed, whatever - just as the developers want.



Whether such a project is ‘befitting our suburbs’ does not appear to be of any real concern. The worry is not only what this project holds for the future, but also what all other potential developments might be and become: what our suburbs, if managed in this casual, ad hoc manner might develop into. Sadly Council seems to have only one plan - to trade-off all planning requirements as required to avoid the effort and cost of a legal challenge.



The great irony is that the illustration of the Burleigh project goes to great lengths to remove every reference to its particular context, the suburb. At least the Broadbeach project illustration included a glimpse of what looks like an adjacent brick parapet, nothing else of the supposedly loved suburb - just a swirling blaze of cinema-scope skies to suggest drama! The Burleigh project is shown as being a tower standing alone looking out forever in all directions with no neighbours, to distant mountains, totally unrestricted, above breezy palm trees. The reality of this suburb is far different to this. Befitting? It appears not to be so.

The Oracle in its street context

Council has only one role to play in all development: to prepare a precise plan that can define a real future, and to enforce this plan so that its ambitions can be achieved. Council is not there to promote or facilitate any developer’s whim, no matter what the story might be. It is there to stand aloof and to assess schemes against the requirements of the Plan, not against any trade-offs or quality, architectural features. One might always expect that projects might be of good quality with a carefully considered planning and architectural inputs and outcomes. Did anyone in Council ask for detailed studies of this project in its particular context to be prepared? Having Council boasting about the desirability of any proposal it wants to approve is simply inappropriate. This is not Council’s role.



Don’t hold your breath hoping that Council might consider anything that might be ‘Befitting our suburbs.’ Council appears more concerned about promised glitz, commercial viability and its seamless approval when it should be assessing the developments against the facts of the Plan, be prepared to ensure that the Plan is complied with, and to reject schemes and fight for this rejection in court if it has too. Why else bother to go to the trouble to have a Plan when it is going to be haggled out of existence? We need better than this shambles of a process for it will only give us a shambles of an outcome.



One has to shake one’s head in total disbelief when one discovers that Council seems to be more concerned with stubbornly enforcing millimetres, (setbacks and heights itemized in the Plan), and colours, (defined in Local Area Plans), when it so chooses, and then becomes so flippantly agreeable with major developments. There is something astray here. Is it that butterflies are easier to deal with than elephants; that power is perceived to be greater when it can be exercised unchallenged by might?

Context of The Oracle

When one battles to get one of the Gold Coasts's nicest forest hill roads calmed, to have its traffic managed, limited and  slowed down, no one in Council is interested in maintaining or improving this unique character of place. The above-named councillor's solution is for the complainant to move away from the Gold Coast with statements something like: "We're for growth! Go away if you don't like it!" These tower projects reflect this crude, rude thinking. The Gold Coast is becoming a place for indulgent performances in changed suburbs attracting 'people with high disposable incomes' getting and spending rather than becoming a place for being at home, contented. Sadly, the wonderful character of place now suggests that it should never be changed into this rising that is wrongly promoted as 'befitting our suburbs,' because it simply does not and is not. The 'rise' of design is limited only to the increase in height suggested in the terrible pun. There is no improvement in sensitivity or concern for place in these designs. The search seems to be for growth in grand displays and profits alone, at any price, and Council does not appear to give a hoot: see - http://springbrooklocale.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/street-character.html

Bureligh National Park



National Park headland at Burleigh