Monday, February 25, 2013

More than a supermarket

THERE has been an overwhelmingly positive response to the council's approval of a major shopping complex on the former Royal Derwent Hospital site at New Norfolk. Most attention has been focused on the large supermarket that will anchor the shopping centre and the frustration that our existing supermarket has not kept pace with customer expectations in recent years.

The opening of the then Purity Supermarket in 1983 seems like light years ago. I took a keen interest in that development as the new supermarket was being built on the site of my grandmother's house. Purity had wanted to build a "food barn" on Hamilton Rd but the council and the then Town and Country Planning Commission acted to preserve High St as our commercial centre and insisted that the development occur in the central business district.

Thirty years later, that supermarket is now regarded as "small" despite being enlarged in the last decade. The number and range of product lines does not match that of supermarkets at Bridgewater and Claremont and elsewhere, and many people believe that a competitor is needed in the market. I agree, although I'm mindful that two small supermarkets at New Norfolk have failed in the last two years, including the original Purity site in High St.

The development proposal that went before last week's council meeting is more than a supermarket. It is a shopping complex with nearly 15,000 square metres of floorspace and I remain concerned about the impact it will have on businesses in the town centre, from the largest and longest-established, to the newest and smallest. An economic impact study commissioned by the developers says there will be a 21% drop in turnover across the town centre businesses. This, coupled with the New Norfolk Planning Scheme's stated intention of preserving the town centre, is why I voted against the development.

The following paragraphs are my speech notes from Thursday night's council meeting.

"Mr Mayor, it is exciting and pleasing to know that developers such as the Sadri brothers have such confidence in New Norfolk that they are prepared to spend millions of dollars on a shopping centre here.

"On the other hand there is understandable concern among some who fear that such a large development on the outskirts of town will fragment New Norfolk’s long established central business district as has occurred in similar towns around Australia.

"The report before us seeks to provide reassurance in the form of an economic impact assessment that says “the development is likely to reduce the average turnover of businesses in the CBD by 3%”. But is that really what it says?

"The impact study makes constant reference to what it calls "specialty shops" and the forecast 3% impact on those businesses. It does not discuss what a specialty shop is, and neither does our planning scheme. But the study goes on to say the impact across the whole town centre will be a 21% reduction in turnover.

"The impact study also refers to Woolworths as the only supermarket in the town centre and gives no consideration to the small supermarket that has been operated seven days a week by the same family for more than 30 years.

"Mr Mayor, I believe the economic impact statement is based on flawed assumptions. It states that specialty shops adjoining the new supermarket will cover an area of about 1000m2, when in fact that area would be occupied by just one of the proposed specialty shops. The total area for specialty shops in this development is more than twice that figure.

"This brings me to the question of what the council is being asked to approve. At a meeting with Mr Roostam Sadri on January 16 we were assured that this application was for a supermarket and “four or five” specialty shops including a petrol station and a takeaway that would open at night.

"According to the documents before us, this application is for a supermarket, seven specialty shops, and a petrol station and a takeaway. There is also a future building of 1250m2, and a further five warehouses or showrooms totalling 5600m2.

"So Mr Mayor, while the economic impact study is based on an assumed specialty shop floor space of 1000m2, this application is in fact for floor space of just under 10,000m2 of varying kinds, suggesting that the economic impact assessments are out by a factor of nearly 10. This does not include the 4200m2 supermarket with its own butcher and baker.

"Mr Mayor, it has been put to me that the council cannot refuse a development because it might be to the detriment of other businesses. If that is the case, why has the developer been put to the expense of commissioning an economic impact statement?

"What does our planning scheme say about all this? The introduction in Section 3.1 says the principal focus for retail, business, office and civic activities is within the existing town centre. Section 3.2 says the intention of the commercial zone, is 'to maintain the existing town centre of New Norfolk as the principal focus for retail, business, office and civic activities within the municipal area' and 'to consolidate commercial activity within the Zone through the efficient use of land and buildings.'

"The planning scheme also has a local business zone, with the intent to: 'limit the range of commercial activities to those that do not conflict with the intent of the Commercial Zone within the town of New Norfolk.' The planning scheme also has its special development zone for the former Royal Derwent Hospital site, but even this section says the council 'may impose conditions or restrictions to ensure compliance with the intent of the Scheme' and as we have heard, the intent of the scheme is to preserve the existing town centre.

"Mr Mayor, the application before us describes this proposal as a neighbourhood shopping centre that will be no threat to High St, but in fact at 14,135m2, the proposed shopping centre has nearly double the floorspace of the existing central business district, based on the figures provided in the impact study.

"In the early 1980s, Woolworths and the Savings Bank of Tasmania wished to build a new supermarket on Hamilton Rd. This council acted to preserve the central business district by insisting the supermarket be built here in the town centre – and it was.  It is time for the council to show the same determination again.

"Like many people, I would welcome a supermarket and takeaway on this site near the Gateway Estate, but not a major shopping centre with potential to devastate our existing town centre. The original plans for the Gateway Estate included just a local shop and a childcare centre on the opposite corner of Glebe Rd and, having changed the Gateway plan already, I respectfully ask the Sadris to think again."

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Paranormal documentary

THERE has been a lot of online discussion about the council's decision to approve the release of a documentary about a paranormal investigation at Willow Court. The video has been produced with council permission by a group called the Australian Paranormal Investigation Unit which is keen to share its work with the viewing public. The similarly passionate Willow Court Advocacy Group opposes the release.

Some months ago the advocacy group approached the State Archivist with its concerns and as a result a lot of footage was removed from the film by the producers. This particularly related to historical images of children in care who might still be alive today. It's my understanding that the State Archivist's deliberations included consultation with the Mental Health Services division of the Department of Health and Human Services for its professional opinion.

One day prior to last week's council meeting, the council was contacted by the Australian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner who asked that the documentary be provided to the State Anti-Discrimination Commissioner prior to release. The council's general manager sought legal advice on the commissioner's call and following this the council subsequently voted to approve the release of the film after it had been viewed by the council's solicitor. The implication is that should the solicitor find anything of concern in the film, he will advise accordingly. Social media commentary that the council acted without legal advice is wrong.

The following paragraphs are my speech notes from Thursday night's council meeting.

"Mr Mayor, I believe a large part of a councillor’s role is to represent the various views of our constituents. I fear that role is not performed often enough. It is ironic that in a state with such a vast number of federal, state and local government representatives, so many people feel their views are not heard.

"I would like to place on record that some in our community do not agree with the release of the documentary film produced by the Australian Paranormal Investigation Unit. They believe that the film derides, dehumanises and belittles the sufferings of those afflicted with mental disorders.

"They believe that the recordings made in the Alonnah and Carlton Wards are brief, indecipherable background noises which do not constitute sufficient material for a documentary. They do not approve the intent and language of the commentators in the film.

"Those are the views of some in our community and I am representing them tonight. But I am also aware that another cohort is eagerly awaiting the release of the film - and there are still others who will be possibly bemused by the search for paranormal evidence, but fascinated by the historical content in the film. I am one of those.

"The producers of the film have offered to donate 100% of the proceeds of the film to the fund for the restoration of Willow Court. I believe this shows the calibre of the people involved in this project and my personal view is that it is not their intent to belittle the mentally ill. In fact, several of the team have personal or family involvement in that field.

"Mr Mayor, I believe the next stage will be for the Australian Classification Board to determine the appropriate rating for this film, and it is not our role to act as the official censor."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Council "reforms" proposed

THE Deputy Premier and Minister for Local Government, Bryan Green MHA, today informed the media of his intention to introduce a Bill to State Parliament for "major local government reforms". I'm not aware of any information being provided to councillors at this stage.

I've tracked down a copy of Mr Green's media release on the premier's website and have posted it below. The proposals appear to include:
  • Four-year terms for mayors and deputy mayors
  • All-in, all-out council elections every four years
  • Opt-in compulsory voting
  • Ending "dual representation" (councillors also serving in parliament)
With the possible exception of the issue of "dual representation", I'm not aware of there being any groundswell of public opinion seeking these changes, which do not address the major problems facing local government; those (in my opinion) being funding and the powers of general managers. The government would appear to have decided to implement the recommendations of its own discussion paper from late last year.

My own term on council reaches its end later this year, but I will be interested to know what will happen to councillors who will be only part-way though their terms when the proposed reforms are due to be implemented.

I'll look forward to seeing something more detailed than the minister's media release (below).

Major Local Government Reforms

Sun 17 February 2013
Bryan Green
Minister for Local Government

The Deputy Premier, Bryan Green, today announced a package of major local government reforms that include new set terms for Mayors and full council elections.

Mr Green said Mayors and Deputy Mayors will face electors every four years together with all elected local government representatives.

"Rather than elections for half the council ever two years this will provide continuity for our leaders in local government and the communities they represent," Mr Green said.

"All-in, all-out council elections will enable councils to focus on delivering their policies over a fixed-term like all other levels of government.

"Rather than being in constant election mode, these changes will help ensure councils are even more accountable and responsive to their communities, while also letting them get on with the job that voters have elected them to do.

"Communities can then make decisions on whether their elected representatives have performed well over that period.

"These reforms are about ensuring our democracy is strong and works well by engaging and involving local communities.

Mr Green also announced the introduction of opt-in compulsory voting for councils and an end to dual representation.

"We want to encourage greater community participation in the election of councils which provide many services directly to their local communities.

Mr Green said preventing dual representation would ensure that elected representatives can focus all of their efforts on the interests of their local communities.

"This will relieve elected representatives of conflicting demands on their time."

Mr Green said public consultation on the reforms would begin immediately before legislation is introduced in April to allow the changes to be in place for local government elections later this year.