Tuesday, October 07, 2014

And this is only Stage One.....

6 October, 2014

Well, dear folks, here it finally is: Stage One of the Battery Point walkway, or should I say, segregated pedestrian and cyclists access way.  Yep, it gets you from Marieville Esplanade around to the Battery Point Slipyards that exit onto Napoleon Street in Battery Point.  Where?  Well, you’ll soon find out.

 Not, as has been trumpeted, into the City.  That’s Stages Two and Three.  Stage Two gets you around the heritage issues of the slipyards and back down to the water.  Stage Three finally completes the voyage around to the CSIRO carpark.

The Planning bits

Advertised with a development value of $5 million, this is only Stage One that helps the cyclists avoid the somewhat steep incline of Napoleon Street in return for a less steep incline up from the water to the Napoleon Street exit.

For the full set of documents, go to http://www.hobartcity.com.au/Council/Council_Meetings/Development_and_Environmental_Services_Committee and click on the 6 October report and supporting information.  Have a quiet afternoon set aside to give all the paperwork a thorough read and then go back over the initial report once you’ve read the consultants’ comments. 

And believe me, I kept my mind open the whole way when I was reading all these documents, but by the time I had read the whole report and all the attached consultancies and comments and representations, and asked questions at the Committee (6 October, 2014), my planning decision was starting to coalesce. 

And of course, if there is new information between now and the Council meeting, I will of course keep an open mind and take it into account.  That’s what being an Aldermen is all about when we’re acting as a planning authority at Council.

(Yet the whole process at Committee today did raise a side question that is getting more and more relevant as governments step in to build infrastructure – should local government be the judge, jury and implementer of a project that it will develop up, build and ratepayers pay for?  And if a person has already publicly declared their support for a project, should they then sit in on any final decision-making – are they perceived as having an interest in the outcome?  This is an issue that is bedevilling a number of Councils today.

And we had the unusual event of an Alderman refusing to sit on the matter and make a decision because the local newspaper had stated the decision had been made by the committee even before it had sat and refused to correct this mistake when it was asked to by said Alderman.  The local paper finally admitted the error but then said the committee approved it anyway.  Perhaps journalists in Hobart are now also mindreaders? :-)

This is a development application that invokes discretions under the Battery Point Planning Scheme.  It is not a permitted use (if it was, the whole deal would be done and dusted).  That means it invokes discretions – a planning term that means Aldermen have to exercise their judgement in how they interpret the latitude of a discretion.  Discretion means being flexible to allow for the wide variety of differences in land and development, within certain parameters.

What sort of “discretions” in this case?

State Coastal Policy – the issue here is mainly to do with sediment transport.  I have no issues here as the Sandy Bay Rivulet flows may well be improved. 

Accretions from the sea – generates a discretion as to whether such a use should be permitted.  This then allows for all sorts of issues to be raised as to whether such an accretion should be approved.

Use for Access-way – tenor of the scheme is the key point – and a matter of interpretation.

Heritage – signed off by the Tasmanian Heritage Commission subject to conditions and advice, and this of course adds to the cost of meeting the project, as well as finding a satisfactory solution for all parties.

Setback from high water mark – Should be 15 metres.

And it is on these discretions I must make a considered planning decision at Council next week.

The Saga As It Has Unfolded

I’ve deliberately been very quiet on this project and the development applications.  I’ve not made any public comments one way or the other as other Aldermen have partly because of the Judicial Review Act and the requirement to keep an open mind on planning matters.  People have asked me what I thought along the way, and I’ve pointed out some of the issues in conversations, yet it is the final development application I’ve been waiting for.

Partly also because at one stage it was going to be some sort of “scramble track” around the foreshore which the moderately fit could attempt (or even those of us whose joints now require us to use a walking stick to steady the gait).  I didn’t have an issue with that providing the security and amenity of the residents was cared for, and we didn’t stuff up any remaining marine habitat in levelling out the rocky bits. 

The project fell foul of legal proceedings over land titles, all of which eventually ended up with access between the high and low tide being cleared, at quite some cost I might add to the ratepayer, but is now not part of the project. 

And then the project started to morph into some sort of constructed foreshore walkway that had all sorts of issues with residential privacy and amenity and heritage and that consumed a few dollars in consultancies in trying to find a way around the planning issues.

And then the cyclists wanted to avoid using Napoleon Street, and it morphed again into today’s concrete access way out in the water.  At which point the Derwent Estuary Program and marine scientists in general brought to light a few more problems, such as the impact on the marine environment over which the walkway was projected to travel, and of course, the impact over its lifetime of storm surges and climate change impacts.

(With thanks to Bloom County, conserving Spotted Handfish habitat or cycling to work along the access way to IMAS/CSIRO – choose your moral dilemma!)


So at that point, it was decided that if the WHOLE development application for the access way was lodged, it would be likely to fail and become an expensive turkey.  And then the bright idea came up to cut the project into three stages, on the basis that the most awkward bits from a planning point of view to sort out would be left to the final stage.

So it’s been difficult to know just what was really being talked about until the final development application was put on public display.  You may recall my recent response to a certain proponent about development on Mt Wellington.  It was with some frustration I publicly said at Council, “put up or shut up”, because in that case, there was no (and remains no) concrete development application on which to base a proper planning opinion and people kept trying to make me make a decision based on some smoke and mirrors.  At least after today’s Committee meeting, I can talk, and ponder, with some certainty.  (I say some, as my comments on the conditions and advice below will indicate.)  Hence, dear reader, this is my response to Stage One to date. 

So what does the documentation tell you?

And I have to say, this development application is full of contradictions – if it were on the foreshore, it would be prohibited under the Battery Point Planning Scheme but as the majority of it is at sea, it is then discretionary, as in, not permitted, but we’ll interpret the relevant bits of the Planning Scheme to see if it can fit.  More so as the proposed access way does not fit within any of the prescribed use definitions of the Scheme. 

Putting it in the water in the way it is proposed, it would be unusable for ten percent of its projected 30-40 year lifetime on current storm surges, and effectively unusable by the end of its life based on highly conservative predictions of sea level rise. 

So the response is to construct it to withstand storm surges of non-translucent materials, all of which runs counter to best practice in coastal construction advice in that constructions such as this should be translucent to allow sunlight to get to the sea floor, to support the marine environment that is only now starting to recover and flourish after we stopped the most egregious waste disposal practices since colonial times. 

Oh, and such egregious waste disposal behaviour now includes both the likelihood of archaeological remains on the foreshore from previous ship building and other human activities, as well as waste contamination that may be disturbed by the construction in marine sediments.  Hence the advice from the Tasmanian Heritage Council and conditions on environment and engineering.

There is a lot of discussion as to cyclist and pedestrian safety at the Marieville Esplanade entrance.  The development is touted to improve the safety of cyclists who do not have access to safe cycling infrastructure on Sandy Bay road at this time.

It is worth noting that once back on land at the Battery Point Slipyards and on Napoleon Street, the pedestrians and cyclists will still have to negotiate the Battery Point street network until Stages 2 and 3 are built.  Ever walked around Battery Point, much less cycled?  Narrow streets, poor sightlines, poor surfaces for both pedestrians and in places one way traffic flows and subject to high levels of on-street parking seven days a week is the most kind description I could give it.  Yet when I raised this concern at the Development and Environment Services Committee, it had not been thought of in the final conditions in bridging the time between Stage One and final completion at Stage Three.  I wonder if anyone had read what the traffic consultant had written: “I note that there was a cycling related minor injury crash at Marine Terrace, Battery point where it appears a cyclist travelling the wrong way along Marine Terrace collided with a car travelling in the other direction. Anecdotal information is that this ‘wrong way’ travel by cyclists occurs now. The proposal would possibly increase this problem. Ways of improving the problem should be investigated.”  An appropriate “advice” was then hurriedly added to the development application.  My suggestion that there was a duty of care here under LUPAA to provide a safe environment for visitors and residents (and disgorging the said cyclists and pedestrians into the maze of Battery Point’s street network is hardly friendly) was nonetheless challenged by a committee member.

Now it will be argued that Stage 3 will overcome problems of cyclists working out how to get around Battery Point however Stage 3 will likely more directly impact on the sea bed, including Spotted Handfish breeding areas and significant sea grass beds – which puts State 3 in real doubt. 

The consultants state that: literature and field observations indicate seagrass beds vary in size, health and location both spatially and temporally, thus the area covered by seagrass beds during the survey period are likely to have altered in the period since the survey was conducted.  

So at Stage One, the construction will likely have to check for seagrass beds and, the bit I love in the reports, if they find any Spotted Handfish in the location, escort them off the premises to deeper waters.  Yet the point here is, that seagrass not only provides a breeding location for the Spotted Handfish, it also supports other marine biota.  And the solid construction design will prevent sunlight from getting to the marine bed, thus decreasing biodiversity.  At least the sea dragons can roost on the concrete piles.  Think of them as apartment blocks.

And the point has been well made that if Stages 2 and 3 will solve problems of full access for cyclists, then we should be considering the whole application, not in parts, to overcome all the issues, rather than dragging it all out over Lord knows how many years and legal battles from disaffected residents.

And what happens for cyclists during storm conditions anyway?  Sandy Bay Road, the option that is being avoided.

The point is made in the report that access to the waterway for small boat craft, let alone larger craft, should not be impeded.  The report states that there are limited design solutions presented in the application, and is only conditioned.  How these conditions will be met is not clear, and even the heritage consultant noted there was inadequate provision in the development application.  Further, the gradients for the ramps up to the jetty and down again are 1:8 to 1: 10, which does not meet a Disability Standards where 1:14 may be a better design.  And no, you can’t tow your boat beside the jetty, throw the rope over the 5 metre access way and hope you keep control of the boat and avoid a hazard for passing cyclists.

The proposed access way design segregates cyclists and pedestrians.  The consultant’s opinion is that this effectively results in a less safe design for pedestrians.  To quote:

If cost is not important at all, then the proposed width and segregation facility may be satisfactory.  The extra cost of a widened structure should though be compared to what the additional benefits would be compared with the alternative shared facility. The additional benefit of a segregated facility is possibly higher bicycle speeds and arguably lesser conflict with pedestrians. On the question of speeds, the Intercity Cycleway has cycling speeds of around 30km/h (85th percentile speed) for similar volumes as will be experienced on the proposal. As far as I am aware there are not major conflict issues on the Intercity cycleway. The benefit of a shared facility like the InterCity Cycleway is a subtle one. Pedestrians have absolute right of way on a shared facility, unlike the segregated facility where a pedestrian must not use the cyclist’s space. I prefer the shared facility model as one where cyclists have a duty to take care and give way to a more vulnerable road user – the pedestrian.

$5 million was the advertised value of the development application; however the final costs will lie in the additional conditions.  For example, the further and better traffic and parking drawings that will be required, the mitigation of heritage impacts at the slipyards and maritime use, the cost and implementation of a management access plan for the present day and future stormy conditions, State Coastal and environmental planning impact mitigation, and the engineering compliance with Council and Australian Standards requirements.  There are 17 Advice clauses as well, all adding to the cost of Stage One.

Brief summary of Conditions and Advice

Conditions – type and issue
1, 2
Use and development
Use and development, Taswater standard conditions
3, 4, 5
THC Notice, watercraft access, heritage values of slipyard
Spotted Handfish management and measures
Marine bed and species impact
9, 10
Public Safety Risk
Storm surge management plan
12, 13
Engineering, Plumbing
Works approval drawings
Parking, access and turning areas
Costs or alterations borne by Council
Council’s construction management plan
Engineering risk
Design of walkway, ramps, lighting
Building consent requirements
ADVICE – not all – read the report
4. The archaeological requirements as detailed in the Tasmanian Heritage Council’s Condition 1 include the areas a) within the slipyard itself; and b) within the areas included in the THR entry for the Battery Point Shipping Activity Places (Part 1) (including intertidal and underwater areas) must be implemented.
6. The site may possess conservation values which are of national environmental significance (Spotted Handfish and significant habitat).  The proposed development includes activities that may adversely impact on these values, and therefore may be subject to the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. It is therefore recommended that the applicant refer the proposal to the Commonwealth Environment Minister for determination as to whether the development requires approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. For more information on how to make a referral visit Environment Australia’s Website at www.environment.gov.au/epbc/index.html
8. It is recommended that the final accessway design minimises shading of the river bed to reduce impacts upon seagrass and to encourage seagrass recruitment.
25. The Marieville Esplanade access/egress area of the accessway should:
i. be designed by a suitably qualified and experienced traffic engineer;
ii. show how the interactions between cyclists, pedestrians, park users and motorists will be safely managed; and
iii. take into account pedestrian and cyclist traffic over the current Sandy Bay Rivulet bridge.


And there was this to consider from a consultant report: The lifespan of the structure is assumed to be between 30 and 40 years which is typical for such structures in coastal regions..... Letting me diverge for a moment, and taking this comment into account, and the initial costing that is at this time to my knowledge unfunded with neither the State or the Federal governments willing to pony up, should we not be getting the desired outcomes right to start with?

(Or should we really say, five million dollars will pay for extending the Sandy Bay Road cycleway through to Macquarie Street with some really good safety designs and political guts in telling people to park their commuter cars elsewhere so as to free up the choke points.  Ah no, and heaven forfend when we have to budget for the costs of Stage Two and Stage Three.  Perhaps we’ll have a new Federal Government by then with differing budget priorities.)

And reading on, on planning matters, there is the issue of climate change impacts on storm surges.  Read the report – it’s very good in analysing the impacts.  Whilst it is difficult to be precise, it is expected that the incident wave will overtop the proposed infrastructure deck level approximately 10% of the time at the present day.  And that explains why we’re getting such an expensive and solid concrete construction that blocks the sunlight to the seabed, because, as the Council Officers said, a lighter construction won’t withstand the strain.  What it does also tell me is that over the next 30 to 40 years, the gradual increase in storm surges will make using this access way problematic.  I wonder how the management plan will block access – will we have a Council officer stationed at each access point during storm surges, much like we currently have at Pillinger Drive on Mt Wellington when black ice makes the Mountain road unusable?

So what happens at the end of thirty to forty years, dear ratepayer?  Why, you’ll likely have to pay for its removal or replacement (or we could topple it over and use it for an undersea breakwater and diving reef, perhaps or even a marina mooring – now, there’s an idea!?)


Now, all in all, this is the bare bones of my thinking, and is by no means a selective take on the reports.  These were the bits that stood out from the greater mass, and all of it was taken into the grey cells for cogitation.  So what conclusion have I arrived at the time of blogging this?

The argument is constantly put of the greater good as to future use, as people walking, people cycling, is a better health outcome, that there will be linkages between the University and the City, that visitors will have an added attraction.  However, in attempting to get the people walking around the foreshore or a safer cycling route, another set of issues have presented themselves.  Remember that cartoon of the swing?



If, after reading all the reports and the words “environmentally sensitive and pragmatic” cause you to break out in a rash, you are not alone.

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