Wednesday, September 17, 2014
I’ve just discovered how libertarian local government can sometimes make you feel over some issues.....
You wouldn’t think choices of where to park the car and who gets to provide the car park could create some real internal philosophical struggles for a person, but today, at the Open Finance Committee meeting, I discovered a surprising streak of latent libertarianism in myself over these issues.
If you want to know what caused this, download the .pdf of the Open Finance Committee Agenda for 16 September, 2014, Item 6 (Municipal Rating Strategy – Differential Rating Vacant Land) and Item 7 (City Parking Requirements), http://www.hobartcity.com.au/Council/Council_Meetings/Finance_and_Corporate_Services_Committee
The report over differential rating came about from a desire to stop buildings being left to fall apart, and usable land ending up as car parks all over the city – in effect, an attempt at halting what is perceived as urban blight, and creating more pressure for inner city living development. The Council officer response was to suggest differential rating for three classes of land, Vacant Residential, Vacant Commercial, Vacant Industrial, to encourage building and discourage the spread of car parks for commuters. Yet what were discussed were a range of issues around the unintended outcomes of pursing the suggested differential rating policy.
The report on the state of car park provision confirmed there weren’t any parking shortfalls yet it did point to the strong demand for parking within the city convenient to workplaces.
So why was I battling the inner libertarian dragon? These were the sorts of questions I found myself asking:
If you own vacant land and if you decide that you don’t want to build for some time, why should you be forced to by a Council charging you differential (for this read higher) rates compared to other ratepayers? Is it wrong to wait until you have sufficient capital or have accumulated more titles so as to get the right size land for a particular project? What is wrong with simply wanting to hold the land in trust for future generations so they can subdivide it as part of their superannuation, or keep it as form of superannuation for when you’re ready to retire?
What if you own land classified as Vacant Residential that you’ve deliberately kept bushland on because you see the highest and best use is to encourage biodiversity? Why should you be penalised by differential rating for keeping the land for conservation (say, a Land For Wildlife program) rather than clearing it, subdividing and building McMansions?
And just how high should Councils be able to raise rates to such a point that you are forced to accede to development demands? At what point does concern over urban blight shift into a revenue raising exercise?
What if you decide that, given the motza that can made by renting the land out for commuters to store their mobile lumps of metal, plastic and various oils during working hours (yes, the family car), you’d rather do that than invest scarce capital in a building? It may well be the best use of land at that time given a shortage of commuter parking close by to particular workplaces, especially if your land is classified as Vacant Industrial.
Why is it not a good thing to alleviate the clogging of outer residential streets during the day, thus improving residential amenity, by allowing car parks closer to a place of work for commuters living in other cities in land classified as Vacant Commercial?
You’re reading here the words of a person who in her teen years had posters on the bedroom wall deploring the impact of urban blighting on people places in cities, and who believed that governments could and should determine how a city was designed and occupied. And to a certain extent I still do, which is why I surprised myself sitting in that committee meeting.
But just what are we talking about here? The problem in front of us, or an underlying cause?
The outcome of the debate over differential rating was to try to find a finer-tuned solution that avoided the unintended policy outcomes. More work to be done. Good outcome.
However, the outcome over parking resulted in something quite different, and in fact pointed to a singular State government policy failure that contributes to the problem attempting to be addressed in the first matter.
For some time I’ve been aware of the boiling frog of commuter parking clogging residential areas (South Hobart, Battery Point, West Hobart, North Hobart, the Glebe and the top part of Sandy Bay, as well as places on the Domain and around the Regatta Grounds). Council has acted on these issues, particularly when the residents make their disquiet known through the Local Area Traffic Management committees.
You may have also noticed the howls of commuters kicked out of the Regatta Grounds and the growls of those who now have to pay to occupy areas on the Domain. Council is even exploring the option of parking meters in Battery Point to sort out the ongoing conflicts between residents, commuters and tourists.
We’ve all talked about park and ride options over various collections of elected Aldermen, but have they happened? Will people leave the car behind and get on a bus? The outcome of the parking report was the call for yet another look at park and ride options with neighbouring councils in the Greater Hobart area.
What today’s debate really came down to was local government, yet again, trying to fill the gaps created by a lack of co-ordinated public transport policy from the State and Federal governments.
We’ve had reports by the metre on transport planning in Hobart and the greater Hobart region, and yet still, there is a continued absence of a State government provided competent public transport system that can innovatively manage to employ drivers and utilise buses during peak hours and during down times.
Where is the innovative thinking on the cost economics of dealing with off-peak demand?
Why is Metro being forced to abandon new timetabling to meet changed demands through lack of State funding?
Why can we not get the State to intervene in the market and get both Metro and private bus companies working together on park and ride schemes? In the absence of the State, local government tries to find solutions, yet we lack both the capital and the legislative powers to get a result.
So what choice do people have but to seek parking in the city by any means possible and pay the price?
And what else will car-parking provision companies do in seeking to grow their profit pies but provide more lucrative car parking rather than invest in buildings for people to live and create communities in?
Is it any wonder that my inner libertarian, on contemplating the root cause of issues, exits left to allow the inner policy dictator to occupy the stage in one long howl of exasperation?
Authorised by Eva Ruzicka, 10 Congress Street, South Hobart