NEWS | Making a mess

Posted on 01/12/2011

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This week’s local newspaper carries a front page story about a proposed redevelopment of a sporting facility in a nearby suburb, Deagon. Interestingly, the local press is championing ‘community interests’ in these suburban conflicts about development. Perhaps unintentionally, this highlights the failures of governance and consultation. Local news doesn’t always attacted deeper analysis and the planning relationships often aren’t extrapolated.

Today, the Federal Government released its Urban Design Protocol which highlights a joined up approach for policy and planning – through which the highest ideals of policy are reflected in the development of local areas and single sites, as illustrated below. This principle is included in the SEQ Regional Plan, so the question remains about how this development really does address its context.

The report in the Northside Chronicle about the redevelopment of a throughbred horse training facility to a harness and dog racing track with night operations highlights the concerns local residents have about both the consultation process and the impact of the development. This proposal means relocating harness and greyhound racing from Albion Park to Deagon. Reports about inadequate and inappropriate consultation are common, indicating a higher level of process (power) literacy in communities who increasingly understand the division between consultation and engagement. Accounts of local experience seem to counter expert opinion especially on matters of noise and light pollution.

There are other issues too, perhaps overlooked, like the stables dotted through the locality which capture some of that heritage and connection to horses. The sight and sound of riders and horses on suburban streets is common and breadth of equestrian activity is notable in the northern suburbs and adjoining northern corridor. It’s an historically notable site, and was establised about a century ago. While originally established as the Sandgate race track, it saw its last racing in 1941. Incidentally, former racing tracks have been brought into a range of community uses – New Farm Park, for example, was once a racing track with racing relocated to Eagle Farm in 1865 to make way for residential development. Motorcycle racing has also possibly been held there.

Research undertaken by Harbinger Consultants (John and me) indicates that people want a say in the development of their community and that they seek to defend community interests. They know, from experience, that information delivery and message management will not give them that and will not allay their concerns. It was reported that residents do not feel that they have had sufficient or representative engagement. The plans to sell Albion Park and redevelop Deagon were announced late last year with opposition to both plans mounting since. Interestingly, Deagon residents have joined or formed a group to ‘save Albion Park’ in a bid to stop the redevelopment of the training facility. It’s a confusing set of issues with legal challenges, and events like the NRL proposing to set up facilities at Albion Park.

Another issue raised is that the developers have not outlined any benefits to the community arising from the redevelopment, which further indicates that residents are acquiring greater literacy about planning processes and developing agency within these processes. Clearly, they do not see economic benefits as community benefits. It has also become a political dispute with the Mayor and State Opposition voicing their opposition to the development. A facebook group and page, having bought into the political division, is now making statements such as “Albion Park’s future looks bright in a Newman led Queensland!”.

Even though I dislike racing and the gambling industry that fuels it, I recognise that it is a multimillion dollar industry in our state that receives significant subsidy and support. To be honest, I am not so moved by resident claims for lifestyle (there’s a need for more perspective on that) or the political alignment with the coalition. However, I am interested in the issues of amenity and design that have been raised by residents and the potential impacts of the development on other local infrastructure such as schools, churches, aged care facilities and the like, all of which lie in the shadow of this proposal, which just looks cut away and turned away from the locality. It really does look like plonking not joined up planning. Surely, there is value in social and cultural mapping and engaging the community prior to planning to consider opportunities and issues – planning for industry and community are not mutually exclusive.

While the contemporary approach to community facilities promotes a multipurpose approach, many sporting facilities are not. With the lack of cultural and social infrastructure in Brisbane’s north, the community and the developers could think more broadly about community benefits and shared resources (not just as sweeteners but as filling gaps in local infrastructure provision in an innovative way). Where a facility is multipurpose, it can be brought into the rhythm of the community and consolidates a recreational, active lifestyles and sporting precinct in the area – tennis courts, cricket grounds, walking and cycling paths and skatepark. There is a need for distribution of tourism, recreational and cultural facilities throughout the city and suburbs on transport routes – particularly bus and train lines – could be beneficiaries of that provided there is a better engagement with communities, recognition that they have to live with it,  and a better understanding of both their concerns and their needs.

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Posted in: community, planning