Saturday, October 16, 2010

Canberra 2030 Planning Workshop

Today I attended a two and half hour Canberra 2030 "Time to Talk Workshop" workshop. There were seven tables each with eight members of the public, plus about ten ACT Government and consultant company staff. This was held in the Glebe Room (with a view of Glebe Park) room at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Civic. This appears a genuine attempt by the ACT Government to get input from the community, however the process could have been more efficient and inclusive by better use of technology.

The Process

Handed out where "The Cities We Need" (Jane-Frances Kelly, June 2010), "Canberra 2030: Outcomes report, Round One Workshops" (September 2010).

The facilitator from Elton Consulting, started by saying this was a smaller workshop than "Round one". Some issues identified were: Transport, Education and Jobs. Also a 1,000 household telephone survey was conducted.

Some issues with the first discussion were: Regionalism, Density, Employment and Transport. A web site recommended to me by one of the participants is humantransit.org

Population

In my view the population density of Canberra can be increased, so as to improve the economic and environmental sustainability of the city. Canberra is already designed with regional town centres. The basic plan of Canberra can be retained with the density of these centres increased. One model for this would be the City West development between Civic and ANU.

Increasing the density of the Canberra town centres would then support better inter-town public transport. My suggestion is that Canberra could easily support 1 million people, about three times the current population density, less than of Melbourne and about the same as the ideal suggested for the city of Xiamen. With the use of sustainable technologies, the population increase could be implemented while reducing stresses on the environment.

Transport

It should be noted that Canberra was pre-planned with reserved transport corridors between the town centres and so the addition of some form of rapid public transport would be relatively simple and inexpensive compared to the construction of more roads.

The discussion got sidetracked (pun intended) onto options of buses versus light rail. Light rail may not be suitable for Canberra, whereas an express bus system like Brisbane, or Sydney's Metrobuses may be (but systems like the Adelaide guided bus-way may not be needed). Canberra would not have the scale of the Istanbul public transport system, but could emulate some of its features.

Canberra's last budget had funding for the current bus fleet to be upgraded with an electronic passenger information system. Canberra was also to get a smart card ticket system. The ACT government has a poor track record with public transport planning. An overly ambitious proposal for light rail was correctly rejected by the federal government. Also resources were wasted on consideration of a light rail corridor to Belconnen, before this was finally replaced with the obvious solution of a bus transit lane. Given the ACT Government's poor planning record with public transport, it might be better to first implement the budgeted bus improvements and so demonstrate competence with transport projects, before proposing anything more complex.

Land Planning

The second detailed discussion over transport and housing became side tracked over a discussion of planning for the new proposed Canberra urban settlement of "Kowen" and proposed industrial development "Eastern Broadacre planning project" to the east of the current city (as shown on
"Territory Plan Map ACT Urban Areas and Kowen" map, October 2010).

The Kowen and Broadacre plans caused some concerns from those at the table who had heard of it as it indicated two planning consultation processes taking place in parallel. The facilitators explained that these processes were at two different
levels.

What concerned me was that I take an interest in Canberra planning but had never heard of these plans. Now having looked at "The Canberra Spatial Plan", the plan for the Kowen Plateau having only 26,000 dwellings appears disastrous in environmental and economic terms. This would create an ultra low density settlement isolated from the rest of Canberra, which would be a drain on public resources and would still not be able to provide adequate facilities for the residents.

The Eastern Broadacre planning project is described as a "... potential employment corridor, providing for the growth of industrial, broadacre commercial, tourism, recreation and transport related activities ...". It is not clear from the description what industries ACT Planners envisage for this area and how those industries would be compatible with commercial, tourism and recreational activities. Canberra's main industries are education, administration and software development. These industries are best placed in city or town centres, close to transport and high density accommodation, not in isolated locations. Unless the ACT Government is planning heavy industry for Canberra, there is no need for such industrial parks.Link
One issue which came up was incentives for use of public transport. A problem in Australia is that employees receive a fridge tax benefit for using a company car for private purposes. But no similar incentive is available for public transport (the ACT government is investing $4M in a park and ride facility).

As part of the discussion of housing options for Canberra, described my own apartment in City Edge in O'Connor. This is a joint government and private sector development which includes ground floor apartments for people with limited mobility (A new such complex is being built at Bruce). Also what would be of value are more single bedroom apartments, as more than a third of Canberra's population will be living alone. Creating the correct housing mix will require government intervention, as commercial developers are reluctant to provide what are perceived to be low status apartments.

Unfortunately after generally well run small group discussion with feedback from representatives, the event degenerated into individuals making set piece speeches. This was a waste of time and illustrated the problems with this form of public consultation. At such an event only one person can speak at a time, as a result all those who would like to be heard cannot.

Next Event

The next event is 28 October 2010 at the Canberra Playhouse at the Canberra Theatre Centre, 7pm. The final report will be presented to the government by 19 November and then issued publicly later. I suggest this pan be changed and the consultant's report be released publicly at the same time it is provided to government. This will remove the suspicion that government will attempt to suppress aspects of the report it does not like.

LIMITATIONS OF THE CONSULTATION PROCESS

The facilitator from Elton Consulting mentioned a 1,000 telephone survey was conducted. This brought out for me some problems with the methodology used. The telephone survey would exclude a large segment of Canberra households (including mine) which do not have a fixed line telephone. Similarly the workshops can only accommodate a very small subset of Canberra citizens. Canberra 2030 has a web site which attempts to solicit input, but does so very poorly.

A second major failing with the Canberra 2030 exercise is the lack of historical perspective. The ACT Government funded a Canberra 2020 study in 1993, the results of which are not mentioned in the 2030 exercise. This creates the suspicion that similarly this 2030 exercise will be forgotten within a few years and is not intended for long term planning, but just to give the pretence of planning and consultation.

The workshop process used was a conventional consultation process and was competently run. However, this method of collecting public input is expensive and excludes most of the population of Canberra. These techniques can now be enhanced with computer mediated communication. It is possible to collect input from the community and p[resent it at a live event in a much more efficient and inclusive way than was done for the Canberra 2030 process.

Canberra is one of the world's leading centres for the development and use of computer mediated communication in public consultation. It is unfortunate that the ACT Government has not taken advantage of this expertise to consult citizens.

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