On The Waterfront

The changing of the guard in the leadership of our local councils presents a golden opportunity to determine a new policy for development, and particularly around our waterfront precincts. The recent demise of the Sullivans Cove Waterfront Authority (a good thing) and the return of its planning and development control responsibilities to the Hobart City Council now allows that Council to determine a more integrated approach to development in the area.

Not that many years ago, Sullivans Cove was the province of warehouses, industrial enterprises (jam factories and foundries) and sleezy pubs – a true old-fashioned port environment. However, port conditions and requirements have changed, and the advent of container shipping has caused the port activity to change from warehouses and storage sheds to open platforms. Over the last 40 years the old port has been transformed into a precinct of cultural endeavour (art, theatre and music) and social interaction.  And this has revitalized the area and been a boon for the city.

It is a good example of things not staying the same, change happens.

Hotels have contributed to the transformation, with 6 new hotels and hotel refurbishments adding to the character of the place. Of interest is that the transformation has also involved significant residential development, which has brought with it a clash between the desire of residents for quiet and the demands of the public for a lively social surround.

Residents need to recognise that the attraction of the place is because of the activity, not despite it, and if that does not suit, then the option is to find accommodation elsewhere.

The transformation has not involved or embraced much in the way of a bold new architecture. And this is a shame. The old sandstone warehouses of Salamanca Place and Hunter Street provide an obvious backdrop to a new design culture. Yet we baulk whenever anything new is proposed. The Princes Wharf No1 Shed, a great venue for displays and exhibitions, has been replaced by - a shed. Now a venue for displays, exhibitions and the Taste, I think it could have been bolder in design, and there are now significant issues arising regarding its operation, such as the heating system and ridiculous signage restrictions for the forecourt.

The Parliament Square project has been caught up in planning objections, with significant planning restrictions imposed. The Brooke Street pier redevelopment was canned, the Montpelier redevelopment remains at Ground Zero and the hope that the Macquarie wharf area could be developed anew has fallen into a hole.

Many port precincts have been transformed by a bold, new and innovative architecture that has caused a change in the way people think about the place. The Opera House in Sydney, the Guggenheim in Bilbao, the Royal Library (the Black Diamond) and the Opera House in Copenhagen and the Regium Museum and Multifunction Centre in Southern Italy are obvious stunning examples, and there is an opportunity for Hobart to be equally adventurous and bold. All it requires is a vision. But it does require vision, and to date such a vision has been limited.

So let’s hope the new leadership at the Council will provide leadership in this area, and provide a bold new vision for the precinct. Playing safe has been a hallmark of the past, but playing safe provides little in the way of inspiration.

Hobart is not alone in having fantastic waterfront precincts. The Eastern Shore is fortunate in having its Bellerive and Lindisfarne environments, and the Clarence Council needs to provide a vision that enables greater public access and activity. Already Bellerive has become a venue for a range of festivals and gatherings, and this is to be encouraged.

Glenorchy has begun the long march towards making its waterfront a more interesting place to be with the Montrose Bay sculpture park and of course there is the private MONA development.

And Kingborough is pregnant with promise for its waterfront areas of Kingston Beach and Blackmans Bay.

The conversation does not need to be limited to Hobart, as around the State, opportunities to transform waterfront precincts abound. For example, the dock area in Launceston, once derelict and decrepit, has become a magnet for social recreation.

Waterfront is a drawcard, and provides a fantastic opportunity for creating interesting and new environments for public recreation and social activity.

I hope the Councils will recognise this opportunity and take on board the fact that the public are keen to see our waterfronts developed for public access and used as a venue for public activity.

There has been much talk of local government amalgamation, which is all about a more effective delivery of services and amenity. Councils are naturally cautious when this topic is raised, but raised it must be. Maybe a starting point for giving this matter due consideration would be for Councils to come together to discuss ways in which they can co-ordinate waterfront developments that would enable the various communities to enjoy the extraordinary waterfront precincts that greater Hobart has to offer.

The State Government can provide a role in starting such a discussion. This could then lead to a discussion on reforming the present planning and development control laws, which are presently such a restriction to a dynamic and growing city.

Lets make no mistake, change will occur, whether we like it or not. Like the transformation of Sullivans Cove, the greater Hobart region will continue to grow - it is whether we embrace that change or fight it. For me, I embrace it.