Submission on the Hervey Bay CBD Urban Renewal Master Plan

Hervey Bay CBD Urban Renewal Master PlanThe Chief Executive Officer,
Fraser Coast Regional Council,
Dear Madam,

I refer to the above plan, and make the following comments in response to the invitation for public submissions.

I welcome the council’s addressing of this issue, and note that the draft plan makes some useful contributions to a programme which has been going on from the 1990s at least.  Unfortunately, I have not had the time to address the subject in full, but I wish to draw your attention to a couple of obvious shortcomings in the draft.

Proposed relocation of Memorial Hall and railway building

The draft says (page 15) that the Memorial Hall will be relocated “to a more prominent place” and the railway station will be relocated “to provide improved access to Freedom Park.”  No information is given in the plan, so far as I can see, as to where this prominent place might be, and it seems no promise is held out that the railway building will be granted even that obscure amount of prominence.  If I have missed something here, it certainly wasn’t prominent in the plan.

No reason is given for the need to relocate these buildings, apart from greater access to Freedom Park.  No argument is advanced to support this solitary reason, and the need for more space is by no means self-evident.  Indeed, the document elsewhere speaks of a significant open space in this part of the precinct, already existing, which makes the need for building relocation even less supportable.

At p 42 the plan says that there is “an identified desire to relocate the Memorial Hall and Railway Station.”  It does not say whose desire this is, nor why it is desired (or how it was identified).  Perhaps it is just the desire of the plan’s author.  If it is of someone else that person should perhaps be identified so the any relevant credentials and motives may be evaluated.  In any event such a comment is self-serving and does not advance the plan’s argument.

As against this, the draft notes (p 11) the aspiration that the plan will “reflect the unique identity of Hervey Bay and the local sense of place.”  The identity of Hervey Bay, its local sense of place, are intrinsically linked with its history.  These buildings are that history.  The draft speaks of a centre that “incorporates … community facilities to accommodate a range of … community led programs and activities.”  These buildings do just that.

These buildings represent a slice of Hervey Bay’s history, a piece of historic built environment in a city that has lost almost everything of this.  The railway station was an important part of the early transport of a town where day visitors flocked to the beaches by train on weekends.  It was still being used as a freight railway station until the early 1990s.  It is a link with the past that can be so easily lost.

The Memorial Hall is likewise a very old building.  It is claimed that the building’s historic value is diminished because it was moved to this location in 1941. That is hardly to the point. It was I understand, very near its present location; and in any event 1941 is still a long time back in our history, and its position still provides a valuable historic link.

The hall, moreover, is a living thing.  It is much used by the community for a variety of activities, and fulfils a niche need for these sorts of spaces.  It can be run economically and therefore lends itself to activities on a tight budget, thus enhancing accessibility for the public. The railway building is also used for community purposes.  It is important that this can be carried on in a location that is part of a developing civic precinct. These activities will give life and vibrancy to the overall proposals.

Previous councils, to their credit, managed to develop Freedom Park without sacrificing these buildings.  There is no reason why this one cannot do the same.

This morning’s Chronicle reports that the local RSL thinks removal of the buildings will enable them to erect more statues, and they seek more space.  With respect to the RSL, there are plenty of statues and plenty of space for more, even around the existing and proposed buildings.  There is ample room for their activities, even ANZAC day.  Even if there was a need for more space, our history should not be sacrificed for 2 hours a year.  The various celebrations have managed perfectly well to date and there is no reason to think they cannot continue to do so.

I have recently been holidaying in New Zealand and was impressed with the way its cities have retained their historic precincts.  See for example the street of original houses in Nelson, or the Victorian precinct near the waterfront in Oamaru. We don’t have much left to save but what we have we should cherish.

I urge the council to leave these buildings where they are.  They fit perfectly well with the overall proposal and no compelling reason for their removal has been advanced.

The building footprint

 Time does not permit me to deal with this in detail, but the artist’s impression of the proposal, especially north of the extension of Torquay Rd (see pp 17-18) gives the impression of many large clunky buildings that detract from the general ambience and frankly could be a poorly designed city anywhere.  The draft makes the point, in criticising the current streetscape (p9) that large buildings have inactive facades and generally detract from the interest and amenity.  Unfortunately, this plan seems to give us even more of them.  I suggest that more open space within the intensive building plan and more trees will enhance this part of the precinct without defeating its overall intentions.

Links to the foreshore

The area is close to the foreshore, but the plan does not address ways of linking the two.  The existing traffic arrangements and other features inhibit pedestrian access to the beach.  I suggest this be given more consideration, perhaps by considering an overhead walkway through the trees and across the Esplanade to link with the area at the eastern edge of the caravan park.

Defects in the history

In two other respects, this plan is defective, and while these points may seem trivial, they do highlight limitations in the current approach.

First, the report (p 37) says that Hervey Bay’s suburbs were discrete towns as recently as the 1970s.  This is just nonsense.  I have lived here since 1976 and they were totally integrated then and clearly had been for a long time.  I am advised by people whose links go back at least to the 1950s that they were not discrete even then, but that the Esplanade formed one continuous developed strip, with commercial buildings scattered along the length of it.  While there were some concentrations of shops, the development was continuous, and went back through Torquay Rd and Cypress St.  My recollection is that the old town maps and subdivision plans show subdivision into town sized lots going back until the late 19th or early 20th centuries.

While this may not be a major issue, it perpetuates a myth that has grown up over the last 15 years or so, and highlights the limitations of reports prepared by people who have a limited connection to the area and who perhaps choose to do their consultation after the event.

Secondly, the draft summarises earlier reports that have informed this one.  The earliest of these that I can see is 2011.  Work on this precinct has been going on since at least the 1990s, with people like Harry Bechervaise and others before him, Main Street committees and so on.  Then there was a lot of consultation.  Unfortunately, much of this good work is apparently now seen as of no value, or perhaps not seen at all.  There is an unfortunate tendency to devalue the accumulated wisdom of others.  Limiting our perspectives to those with whom we already agree will limit and distort the ultimate outcome.

I thank you for the opportunity to comment on the draft and trust you will give these submissions careful consideration.

Yours faithfully,
David Lewis
54 Lyons St,
Point Vernon.
0428 628 027