Monday, October 20, 2014

Not for us any of Oxford's gentle spires if Hobart is to become the UTAS city

UTAS Proposal for Melville Street

Oxford University, UK

Other entries on my blog have me on record as promoting Hobart as an education city, and particularly in favour of expansion of University activities in research, medicine, marine and oceanography and the like. 
As I’ve said, education at all levels is the most crucial tool to success in our western social and economic system, and for any other economic/social system that is predicated on human curiosity.  No education, no futures, as the inability to understand the environment around us and what makes it tick, to engage with changes that occur in how we order our societies, means a slide into superstition and mental neglect and downright environmental degradation.
And more so for women, as an educated woman is society’s principal change agent.  Witness the efforts of one young Pakistani teenager, Malala Yousafzai.[1]  For Tasmanian women, the right to an equal education has been a hard fought win, and to consider going to university as the norm is something that most women today don’t even consider and issue. 
As late as the 1970s for women to attend university was the exception, and if they did, it was for roles such as teaching, rarely medicine and other fields such as engineering or marine research. 
And as late as the 1970s, if you married you had to resign from the public sector.  When I first started working in the 1980s, it was considered a threat by senior nursing teaching staff to “proper” teaching by giving nurses a university qualification in addition to the practical training of their jobs.”
Once you teach women, and give them all the opportunities possible for education that they are capable of undertaking, you really start to get a progressive society that ends the divisiveness of today’s adversarial “boys” system. 
Too harsh?  Too feminist?  Consider the facts.  Under our current system, in Tasmania, 50% of our population is functionally illiterate.  No one was more blunt about this statistic and the outcomes that persist to affect Tasmania’s future than Professor Jonathan West in his best-selling, highly controversial article for the Griffith Review.[2]  It remains the most emailed about and contested article the Review has ever published. 
The consequences of this high rate of illiteracy are horrendous in terms of even menial jobs.  Today, even to lift a shovel in a road crew needs the capacity to comprehend the simplest of workplace health and safety requirements and these are written, not oral.
If you want to just about end teenage pregnancies and improve babies' mental and physical health, educate the girls.  Get them reading. Give them choices.
Less education means generational attitudes that predicate a downward slide in expectations.
And recent statistics continue to bear out the poor educational outcomes for Tasmania.  In August 2009, the apparent retention rate of full-time Tasmanian students from Year 10 to Year 12 was 64.1%, compared to 67.8% in 2005. 
In 2014 it was reported that the “(l)atest figures from the annual Report on Government Services show(s) the rate of full-time Tasmanian students going from Year 10 to Year 12 was 67 per cent, down from 70 per cent in 2011 and just over 70 per cent in 2010.”[3]  
Today, one year out from school, about 30% of Tasmania’s Year 12 graduates are studying at University.  That doesn’t mean that the other 70% is not studying for some other qualification, but it is a low percentage.  And even if one year out from school, about three quarters of those not continuing study are employed, that isn’t necessarily the best they can achieve.  At least some realise that more qualifications are worthwhile.  Five years out from school, 45% of Year 12 graduates are completing a non-school qualification and a further 23% are studying towards one.[4]
Let’s be honest, there’s still around 30 per cent not going forward to matriculate, and then after that, of those that do, around another 70 per cent fall out of the ranks when it comes to a tertiary education.  So who’d going to replace our teachers, medical professionals, statisticians, geologists, biologists, etc, etc, etc.?  And I ask this question in light of the baby boomer generation getting to retirement age and finding the generations behind them are just not making up the qualified experienced numbers any more.
And no, you can’t import from elsewhere – other countries are experiencing the same skills shortage issues.
I’ve also commented on how Tasmania was settled by accident.  The British took the island from the local people who roamed its mountains, plains and coastal areas by force and genocide, all so the French wouldn’t get possession during the Napoleonic wars.  And after that, it was attempt after failed attempt to get a sufficient economic reason to invest monies in the island, other than by subsidy of one form or another of various classes and investors.  Today, still, the island still cannot find its own economic feet and remains hostage to global economic changes and a cargo cult mentality at all levels of society.  Once it was said the US gets a cold, Australia gets pneumonia.  Today the global economy gets cold feet and Tasmania is plunged into recession, and usually this means lurching from recession to recession with very few historical bright spots ever recorded.
So today, being the end of the economic railway, we have to think differently.  We have to have economic and social capital that is mobile and nifty on its feet to accommodate the rate of change we all experience and have very little control over.  So you can see where I’m coming from when we argue Hobart needs to be an education and research city.
As you can see I’m passionately biased about education and research being top billing in Tasmania’s economic and social future – we’re the end of the railroad when it comes to commodity and manufacturing economies – we just can’t compete on freight distances to market, but this is the way we can.
In educating people – here’s where we have all the advantages in providing good if not excellent teaching and facilities for research, yet also a safe, beautiful, happy place in which to provide it.  So yes, I have a real interest in promoting education and related development.
Enter the University of Tasmania.  It’s changing its thinking about the rest of the world and reaching out to campuses around the world to get innovative education agreements in place.  However, for Tasmania’s tertiary sector it has to compete with the rest of Australia’s university campuses. 
For UTAS to get onto a national stage, it needs grow its student population to 20,000 students and house those students.  Moreover it needs to get international student numbers up.  The University is looking to spread affordable accommodation across its three campuses.  As you may have noticed, UTAS is getting into affordable student housing in a big way.

UTAS is currently attempting to get student housing built on the Melville Street Carpark site owned by Hobart City Council.  I’ve had to declare an interest in this development application by way of a non-pecuniary conflict of interest (being a UTAS student), so I couldn’t sit in on the debate, let alone be part of the decision.  This blog is by way of me somewhat anxiously observing from the sidelines both for the cause of education and the cause of good planning.

The development application

Development application for the University of Tasmania’s proposed development at Melville Street and voting on this at Council.  Have a look at this at: and click on the agenda for 20 October.  It is Item 6.1.1 49 Melville Street, 46 & 64 Brisbane Street and 145, 147, 163, 165, 171-175 Elizabeth Street, Hobart – Redevelopment for flats, carparking, restaurant, university facilities and hydraulic infrastructure.  It’s a long read (including the supplementary reading) but check out the Executive Summary first. 

As you can see, “discretions” (the bit that gives a development wiggle room to fit the site) are for heritage, plot ratio, car parking, height and use.  The discretion for height is perhaps going to be most contentious, in that the limit is 12 metres and UTAS is asking for 40.32 metres.

Note that the Officer Recommendation is for Refusal.

From what I’ve heard, the application is running into problems as it well exceeds the limits of the City’s Planning Scheme.  What UTAS is asking for will create a large mass of building with four linked towers at 15 levels, which exceed the existing heights in the area.  In effect, lifting something like the State Library building and putting it down on the site, as one person commented.

So what is best for the city?
Okay.  Now to get UTAS off the Sandy Bay Campus and into the City satisfies a widely held desire around the table to re-invigorate the City.  The Medical Precinct and the Arts Precincts are two examples of where Hobart’s Aldermen have supported this.  And love or hate the architecture of the Menzies Centre (personally, I love the design of both buildings), both buildings and the activities within them have bought people into the City and circulated them around.
The Melville Street carpark has long been a site of heated conversation for development.  A previous Rundle government wanted to put a transport hub (read bus exchange) there; the Council went through an EOI process to get commercial development there (it fell over due to there being too many Chiefs in the decision process) and now UTAS want to put student accommodation and related activities there.  I’ve supported this as people means society and more people in an area means revitalisation through social and economic benefits.
And it is important to get UTAS on the site because it will market the accommodation to international students, and that will financially benefit the University.  It may also keep fees down and ensure the provision of better services and amenities to its students.
So you see why I’m a champion of the University.  And I’m not alone in this around the table at Council or in the wider community.
But do we do so at the expense of the style of how Hobart has developed?
How do we accommodate the style of buildings that reflect colonial and post colonial architecture, the Victorian style shop fronts, the genteel heights of early twentieth century prosperity with twenty first century architectural statements?  Can we live with keeping the shop fronts and massing large buildings behind them?
Do we accept that if Hobart is to get the most from a future predicated on education and research, that it will lose its people scale streetscapes when attempting to accommodate student housing?
Do we accept that the City of Hobart Planning Scheme, developed over a long period taking into account the existing and desirable uses of various precincts in the city should be set aside for this development application?  And if we do this for this site, what about the rest of the city? 
Do we accept that the 12 metre height rule suited the economic development height of other centuries, that buildings into the twenty first century should be allowed to scale up in both height and mass to accommodate new uses in the city?
Or is our city mature enough to enter the sorts of building heights other cities take as the norm?
And given the scale of existing heritage-listed buildings, at what point do we say a building is heritage or is a new type of heritage?
What is being proposed is definitely different from "Westella", the Congregational Church and the CWA Shop that sits in the row of little shops on Elizabeth Street.
There will be another attempt to resolve the planning differences between UTAS and the Council before next Monday.  It's in the best interests of UTAS to come to some sort of accommodation, as I understand the development timelines are getting a mite crucial in terms of meeting Federal funding timelines. 
However, if the application is refused, it raises the question of where else in the City 433 students can be cheaply accommodated.  It certainly is making folks think about just how serious we are in developing Hobart as a University city.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments will be moderated and if anyone thinks that appending "confidential" or "private" or similar to a comment, forget it. Democracy at its best is transparent, open and democratic.