FEDERAL Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek this week talked about the incredible complexity of protecting biodiversity while also enabling essential transmission lines for renewable energy and construction of affordable housing. Politics is the art of compromise.
Which brings me to the Wonthaggi CBD upgrade. An incredible eight years after consultation started, the Wonthaggi Activity Centre Plan has been transformed into the Wonthaggi Streetscapes Master Plan and we are finally about to get some action. Or maybe.
A couple of weeks ago I had a couple of hours to fill in in Geelong between trains. I wandered into the CBD and found myself in their new mall. The road was closed to traffic. There were shady trees, seats, people sitting around, eating, relaxing in the calm away from the bustle of the surrounding streets. I was reminded of our plans for McBride Avenue.
This morning I visited Apex Park where two planners from the council and two from the consultants, Hansen Partnership, were explaining the latest iteration of the Wonthaggi master plan. I looked to see how our sort of mall had translated from activity centre plan to master plan.
Reader, our mall has disappeared. Gone! The car parking spaces are back. The only substantial difference I could see from what’s there now is that a lane for cyclists and mobility scooters has been added on either side of the street (good) but it comes out of the footpath area (bad).
So where did our mall go? When the councillors unanimously adopted the plan, they committed to more consultation on car parking, but only with the Wonthaggi Business and Tourism Association. By all accounts, the traders (or some of them) came in all guns blazing to tell them that no one was taking their parking spaces.
You can have all the pedestrian-friendly, citizen-friendly aspirations in the world, but it takes a brave council planner or councillor to tell a business owner he has no more right to the footpath or the road than Joe Blow. Between the vision and the act falls the mundane reality. The pro-car lobby always wins. Exactly the same thing happened with the Cowes Activity Centre Plan.
And so the plan for McBride Avenue was quietly shelved with no further consultation. There’s not a hint of compromise in the new plan. The Wonthaggi Club keeps the jackpot. Did the council think no one would notice?
I was feeling pretty cranky by this time and did that unforgiveable thing of taking my frustration out on the planning team. (Sorry!) They’re used to it. They said about half the visitors they’d had that morning had berated them because they wanted more car parking spaces in the plan.
What is it about car parking? As the Institute of Sensible Transport pointed out in their transport report for activity centre plan, Wonthaggi is actually well served with parking. I proved it this morning by parking in Murray Street right next to the council display. There were so many spaces there I could have parallel parked a ute and trailer. But we’re a bit spoilt. When we complain “There’s not enough parking!” we mean sometimes we can’t park right outside the shop we want to go to.
The planners tried to placate me by pointing out all the good features of the plan in the rest of the CBD. More seating in Graham Street. Raised entrances to the roundabouts to slow the traffic. More street trees (even if they are jacarandas, a South American tree. I guess they’ll be a good match for our Norfolk Island pines.)
Yes, all good, but I wanted to talk about the disappeared plans for McBride Avenue. “That was before our time,” they said, and I know it’s not their fault. A cultural amnesia afflicts all councils as staff are generally just passing through. None of the planners in Apex Park today had any idea of the years of consultation and compromise that have already gone into this.
Anyone who has been involved in consultation in the past should have been alerted that the plans have changed substantially. Clearly that hasn’t happened. If the council has contact details, they need to contact all those people who thought it was done and dusted back in 2021.
“Will anything ever actually happen?” my friend Tina asked at Apex Park. It’s a fair question. It’s been a tedious, exhausting, pointless process so far. We seem to be trapped in a bureaucratic nightmare where we discuss things endlessly but nothing ever changes.
So where to from here? It’s tempting to give it up as a bad job but then it really is Winner Takes All.
The planners will be back in Apex Park from 3-5pm on Monday to discuss the plans. If you care, go and talk to them. You can also make submissions (yes, again!) at https://engage.basscoast.vic.gov.au/streetscapes-wonth Submissions are open until March 8 and the master plan (hopefully incorporating changes to the changes) is expected to go to the council for adoption mid-year.
And speak to your ward councillors: Cr Les Larke, Cr Brett Tessari and Cr Leiticia Laing. It’s our councillors who will make the final decision. (Yes, again!)