Disappointment with Civic Hall site redevelopment decisions

Disappointment with Civic Hall site redevelopment decisions

Published 18 June 2016, The Courier, Ballarat

Committee for Ballarat made a series of representation to the City of Ballarat as part of the community consultation process on the future of the Civic Hall site. In our submission in 2012, we confirmed our position of supporting the City of Ballarat’s strategic aspiration for “Revitalising the CBD” and delivering a vision that aims to see Ballarat develop into a vibrant and exciting city. As part of that development, the Civic Hall site needs to be activated to unlock its full potential and create a sense of place indicative of a progressive and forward-thinking regional city.

We do not deviate from that position or from previous recommendations, but given Council’s recent decisions regarding the Civic Hall site, we are concerned about the future underutilisation and lack of activation of the site as indicated in the recently approved Council plan.

The Committee for Ballarat recommends the following actions for the precinct:
• The Civic Hall site must incorporate an iconic building that will act as a magnet for both residents and visitors and as a centrepiece for the CBD.
• The site must be respectful of Ballarat’s cultural heritage and be a place of which future generations and new residents can be justifiably proud.
• The site must feature enclosed and open spaces designated for public use.
• The site must provide for commercial activity that will deliver services to a growing population and provide valuable income to Ballarat’s economy.

However, at a recent Civic Hall site briefing for Committee for Ballarat by the Mayor and Acting CEO of the City of Ballarat, members were dismayed at the design that had been approved. Both the decision-making and approval processes appear to have been undertaken without strategic backing and therefore the whole procedure seems to have been compromised.

Plans for the Civic Hall site cannot be implemented in isolation; its future must be considered in conjunction with the masterplans for the Ballarat Railway, Hospital and Australian Catholic University precincts, together with the SMB Campus, Armstrong Street and the Eureka Stadium upgrades.

A consultation process had been agreed to and the community together with the Committee of Ballarat had invested into the design process. The consultants engaged had brought together in a structured manner the evolution of everyone’s ideas and had encapsulated it into a fully detailed proposal. The process had strong community traction and was receiving broad support – why was there a backflip on the agreed process ?

Strong and progressive leadership is required from Council to realise a vision for future generations. We now have the opportunity to create a unique regional Australian space – a community hub that provides a healthy environment, with arts, culture, entertainment and green space featuring strongly – that will deliver economic benefits to Ballarat through a mixture of private and public investment.

Committee members agreed that the manner in which the City of Ballarat has handled the redevelopment of the Civic Hall Site has lacked leadership and visionary thinking, particularly with regard to its most recent decision, which appears to have come from out of left field. The current proposal is not underpinned by any strategic masterplan for the site. It is a “proposal of convenience” that satisfies the demands of some community members but it will not provide activation of the CBD nor generate new jobs for Ballarat.

There has been no consultation with developers on the potential regeneration of this site by the private sector, a startling omission that shows not all redevelopment options for the site have been canvassed.

Committee for Ballarat believes that Council should be acting with strong leadership and conviction to pursue the vision outlined throughout the consultation process, backed by a both a comprehensive strategic plan and business case.

Melanie Robertson – Chief Executive Officer of Committee for Ballarat
16 June 2016