Morning Question Time

Michelle Zeibots [Ecotransport Sydney]. I am very interested in the "business incubator". When Council developed the idea, did their planners ask themselves some questions about the pedestrian precinct around the site? What questions were asked about transport for the facility, and what questions were asked about whether the amenity that surrounds that building supports the uses envisaged? Does it really allow its occupants to interact with the community generally in the way that has been talked about this morning? Is it located close to a railway station? What is accessibility like? How much work was done that focused on those sorts of questions?

Richard Walker. The Council had looked at a number of sites for the incubator and the reasons why some of the sites were rejected Ė and transport access was one of them. The site was eventually located next to the Loftus TAFE, which is right on top of Loftus Station and near to Sutherland as well as a source of employment for some of the incubators, who might need to have people help them with various parts of their activities. It is fairly centrally located in the middle of the Shire rather than at one end, where two alternatives were basically at Taren Point, where the only transport is by car, and Lucas Heights similarly. So both were car-transport-dependent. As you know the public transport within the Shire is still very little, apart from the main railway line, and so I think Loftus is a really good site and we think the University of Wollongong may co-locate there. So I think there are some good opportunities, especially for students who can interact. Normally the general community wouldnít interact but we would think that the incubator could offer services to the small business community around the Shire and there is adequate parking, but that is another issue. So whilst we donít have much public transport there, it is close to public transport at Loftus station.

Tony Recsei [Save our Suburbs]. If one increases population densities, sure we find that a portion of the population will use public transport or other non-car uses, but because there are more people in the area, there are more cars and traffic densities increase, and therefore congestion does increase. Iíve been trying to see examples, anywhere in the world, where one can find higher-densities where the actual traffic problems decrease and I really havenít found them. If you look at the energy consumption per capita thereís hardly any difference between high-density and low-density cities within the normal range, I donít mean on the extremes of the normal distribution. So, in reality how do high population densities relate to solving traffic problems and where can one find real examples of comparable cities where, in fact, this does occur?

Peter Newman. There is a lot of evidence that the energy usage in an area starts to decline as its density goes up. The traffic levels may go up or down, and that entirely depends on whether or not the public transport system is upgraded at the same time. If you donít upgrade the public transport system Ė and in Sydney you have reached capacity at many stations and on many lines Ė therefore you get increases in traffic density occurring. There are places where, as the development has occurred, they have increased the public transport and the traffic has either been very similar or declined. The differences in the energy used per capita in Sydney by suburb are very marked, they are not the same, they are very different. They vary by a factor of 3. Inner suburbs, middle suburbs and outer suburbs, that factor of 3 is very significant. They are not minor differences at all. We have all the data on that if you want it. Itís the same in all the Australian cities and other ones we look at, and densities are just one of the factors. The other factors are how well public transport is provided and thatís the clear message for an area like this. If you try to avoid the density increases by somehow stopping it, I think you will find it very hard, there is pressure and that pressure is not necessarily a Government-forced one, or a greedy developer one. There are many reasons why people are looking for housing, and being close to services and facilities is one such reason, but the outer suburbs are not providing that. So, you can try and avoid that. The other alternative is, make sure you push for quality development and at the same time ensure that you get better public transport. Now, I didnít know you didnít have a good local public transport system. I know you have got access to the train, but that should be high on the agenda for this area. That should be one of the things that comes out of this conference. Yet a local bus service is really good, itís linked in and itís free and does all the things that enable you to live without a car. Thatís the kind of agenda you need to adopt.

Kay Alderson. If community consultation is really the key to success of renewal projects Ė I take it you are aware of the Erskine Village project? What happened with that? It was largely killed by the RTA. The concept that was come up with by the community, through extensive consultation, was watered down to the point where it was almost inperceptible in its installation by RTA ruling. How can community process engage with over-funded, under-regulated hostile State level bodies?

Les Robinson. Ah, the RTA. The RTA is the worst-case scenario of how not to do things. An organisation with an almost engineering ethic. It has never had to be exposed to the ethics disciplines of democracy. You are always going to have problems with the RTA, and the RTA cannot be engaged with these nice soft democratic methods. The RTA has to be fought at the highest political level. The Carr Government before elected, itís policy was to dismantle the RTA, but what happened after it got elected? We have the whole of government approach, in other words the RTA is on the committee and it is the whole RTA approach. So, Iím sorry, when you have this problem, you are not ready for this. Consensus conference is going to help. You actually have to have some leadership from the top. There are some courageous leaders who are part of the equation, and a community by itself is always going to be on the outer when it comes to inventing our own great ideas and putting them into play. So, weíre starting from a low base line in Australia in all of this. The first thing we have to do is build bonds of trust between leaders and citizens and Ė that much more interpersonal thing Ė people getting to know each other. And only after we have established trust can we start to think what systems we want to build. I talked about those systems in Seattle and Christchurch but you wouldnít go and impose those. If you impose them you are just being like the RTA, imposing some engineering solution. There is a moral discipline to the way we do democracy, and it is about not imposing, even though we are thinking about our community. The solutions will always come from within ourselves and then someone comes along and stomps on them, and thatís when the greatest discipline comes into play and thatís a community collective struggle. Hit the barricades when it comes to the RTA!

Peter Newman. Can I add one thing to that? The RTA equivalent in Perth is called the Main Roads Department, and our new government has a Minister for Transport who is a woman and she came in and basically closed them down and they are now part of a bureaucracy rather than being separate and reporting directly to a Minister. And they have no funds. There are transport funds, and communities have to decide how to spend them. It can happen. Even in a place like the wild west.

Speaker from Save our Suburbs. Some figures on empty nesters, like myself, try to suggest we all want to move into high-rise and SEPP 5s. I live in an area where we donít want to move down-size. I, for example, live in a 4-bedroom home. We like our gardens and pets. At meetings against these SEPP 5 developments we get dozens of people, 50% are people my age, or younger, but we donít want to lose our way of life. We feel totally threatened by this dictatorship of State Government. Itís completely dictatorial. Itís just unfair. Ku-ring-gai Council spent weeks on its residential strategy, and itís been rejected, and why? Because itís not developer-friendly. Thatís what we were told. We are sick of being dictated from the top. We want a decent variety of housing and each suburb is totally different. Thatís what is so wonderful about Sydney. What I am saying is, where do these figures come from that say we want to go and live in these little places?

Peter Newman. That is a sentiment I agree with, the need not to have things imposed on you. You seem to think it is happening because a combination of greedy developers and the State are imposing it. That may be what someone has said, but what I am saying is that there are other reasons why some of these buildings are being built. You are not, but a lot of people are, and they are not being forced into it. If you go and talk to people who live in these buildings, they desire to have access to certain things, to live in the community, to meet the needs they have in a way they can afford. Developers would not be building these if there wasnít a demand for them. If they were being imposed they would just fall away, there would not be a market for them. If they were not selling, then the market would look after that, and it would disappear. There is a constant pressure from people who are wanting to live near things because of the density. I am not saying that I am in any way in favour of forcing it. It is something that is happening because of human democratic demands. There are areas where it is not appropriate to develop high-rise and maybe your area is one of these. That is what planning should be determining. It is very interesting when you do surveys in some of the localities where you have Save Our Suburbs movements. I have found surveys that say 50 to 60% of people want to have development in-fill, higher density developments, because they want to move from their 4 bedroom house to a smaller place and stay in the area. They want that option. That comes through a number of local Authorities across Australia.

John McGettigan [University of Western Sydney]. Iím involved in development recommendation courses etc. Some wise people have said, itís a lot easier to develop a new Brasilia than re-develop, and I have seen some of the re-developments that Peter has been involved in. I come from that illustrious suburb that people call Blacktown, and my basic training is as an engineer. One of the things I have seen, the State Government have said, ĎAnything over 3-storey walk-up has to be designed by an architectí, and I have seen some terribly bad designs by architects. We are seeing the designs coming out, these high-rise developments are done piecemeal. You have the opportunity to create communities. In my particular city, we donít seem to have that community drive. We have one high-rise section that was built right along the railway, great access to the city Ė which is dying, by the way Ė it was nominated one of the best designs in the area. It was voted so good that they are going to build one exactly the same and 9-storeys right alongside Ė how do you get the community involvement to stop that from happening?

Peter Newman. You do what Les said, you create design guidelines. Ordinary people donít have to just have a say, they can actually create design guidelines about the character of an area, and that character can be translated into how architects come up with these solutions. Weíre talking about a set of community values that can be translated into the built form and I have had enough experience to show you can do it. It doesnít have to be a monstrous thing, a pyramid or symbol of some architectís ego; it can relate to that communityís values and increase the density and the housing options and add to the value of the community, but the community has to be involved in that. Local Councils have to recognise that design is important, it is not just planning in terms of set-backs, plot ratios and all those other technical things. It has to look good. We threw away our entire rule book in Fremantle in order to get this re-development process working for us. We will approve anything that looks good but it has to meet these guidelines Ė the heritage qualities of our area. We had a creation process that appealed to people. We ruin a lot of the development because we have too many rules of the wrong kind and not enough of a kind that emphasises the quality and design.

Dirk Bolt. I am an architect. I personally do not have a prima donna attitude in architecture. The money spent on architecture comes from the public purse and is therefore not suitable for the creation of individual artÖ The second thing, the conflict between high and low-density housing. We should avoid conflict within our communities. The transition from low rise to high rise should be gradual, not too sudden. The model should be to leave a periphery free where people can live in their single housing on single blocks without feeling threatened by urban development. Then there is harmony rather than conflict. It should be visually so as well.