As the dust from the election settles, I think there are a number of important issues that the new state government needs to work with Hobart City Council on to ensure good results for the city and its residents.
Here are my top three:
Affordable Housing crisis
Councils need to be empowered to require that a certain percentage of dwellings built in the private unit and housing developments that we approve are affordable.
This planning tool, known as ‘inclusionary zoning’ is common around Australia, with several states allowing their local councils to ask for up to 10 percent of any development be designed and managed to accommodate lower income households.
Tasmania’s planning legislation does not provide any clear policy on affordable housing. This lack of strategic approach means that important opportunities are being lost.
For example, in 2015, Hobart City Council tried to be proactive on this issue at the time of the rezoning of Macquarie Point to secure some affordable housing on this site.
The Macquarie Point Corporation, with the blessing of the state government, fought Council in the Tasmanian Planning Commission and won. They did this a matter of months after releasing an affordable housing strategy.
Hobart City Council was ready to rise to the challenge, and use tools available to many other local Councils around Australia. However, we were told this was not something we were legally empowered to do because of State restrictions. Clearly given the current housing crisis this stance cannot continue and the state government needs to quickly amend planning laws to allow Councils to play our role.
Macquarie and Davey Streets ‘take over’
There was a lot talk during the election about the magic results that would emerge for Hobart’s traffic issues if the State Government could ‘take over’ Macquarie and Davey Streets.
But regardless of who owns the bitumen, the planning for these two roads needs to take place in consultation with residents and businesses along the streets, as well as the Council.
To have an impact on traffic congestion, any ‘take over’ redesign needs to focus on incentivising a shift in commuter behaviour, not just make more road space available for cars and drivers to act as they do now.
Design changes to these two arterials need to prioritise road space for public transport, cars with multiple occupants, cycling and pedestrians. Only by reducing the number of single occupant cars will there be any impact on congestion.
Clearways sound simple and effective but in many cases, removing on-street parking can just see it replaced by intersections and bus stops as the new bottleneck. Even in peak hour, Macquarie and Davey Streets will still need places for buses to stop and lanes for people to slow down and turn into cross streets. To ensure people can walk around the city and go to businesses in these streets, all pedestrian crossings must be retained and enhanced, not closed down.
Removing on-street parking and giving more space to traffic can change the character of the streets and the quality of life for people who use it regularly. In turn, this impacts negatively on the economic activity along the street and its property values. One only needs to look at streets like Parramatta Road in Sydney to see a formerly lively street turned into a dead zone of empty shops and crumbling properties.
Macquarie and Davey streets are the heart of Hobart and home to schools, houses, churches, shops, parks and some of our iconic historic buildings. The worst possible outcome would be a badly planned ‘take over’ has a marginal impact on traffic flows but sends a signal to encourage extra people into their cars, worsening congestion.
Northern Suburbs Rail Corridor
The big development opportunity for our city is the rezoning and renewal of the area along the northern rail corridor, and a light rail transport service that would be a catalyst for medium density housing development.
The election provided some momentum to this transformational development which must not be lost.
Hobart and Glenorchy Councils already have established a Working Group to focus on our role in working together to promote the urban renewal opportunities. During the election campaign, the Liberal Party announced money for a Business Case to be developed for federal funding.
To unlock the benefits of additional affordable housing development, it’s imperative that state and federal governments work with the Hobart and Glenorchy Councils to help establish a rail corridor project development team.
We need Ministers with transport, housing and planning responsibilities to work together and with us to deliver this project before this term of government ends. It needs to be seen as much more than just a transport service, but as a way to create a more sustainable, affordable and efficient Hobart.