What can create the Inner City Ballarat doesn’t have?

Published 20 August 2022, The Courier, Ballarat

Long before we knew about COVID-19, the Bakery Hill Master Plan was released with its vision: “…the new destination for Ballarat – a cosy quarter within Ballarat’s grand historic CBD – setting a standard for urban renewal which fully embraces the unique heritage canvas.”

The Commonwealth Games Athletes Village can be the impetus igniting the Bakery Hill Vision and breathing new life into our CBD.

Imagine; our inner city that features open space and parklands where we can meet, play and walk bare-foot among the trees. Curious laneways to explore, creative ventures, fully occupied retail shops and vibrant hospitality venues open into the evening. Undercover access to the supermarkets and rather than dominating the streetscapes, they nestle subtly into a broader build environment.

Pop-up markets that showcase our wonderful fresh local produce. The Yarrowee as an exposed aquatic eco-system, complete with indigenous plantings to reflect and pay tribute to the Wadawurrung’s connection to the land and waterways. Imagine the life mixed residential apartment can bring to our City!

The work in re-imaging what is possible for Bakery Hill and its impact on the CBD, has been done. The Bakery Hill Master Plan is it. All we need is the impetus for action and the leadership to drive forward the public and private partnerships that will make this happen.

The Commonwealth Games are the impetus. We now need to lead the discussion and ensure decisions made about Ballarat’s Athletes Village, leaves a beneficial housing legacy. Steve Moneghetti has said that Legacy is not just about infrastructure, it must be about human impact. The human impact a revitalised CBD can have on our community is infinite.

Inner city apartment-style living may not be for all of us, but it is an option that many want and currently cannot access. Some rough back of the envelop figures: for a city with annual population growth of somewhere between 2-3 per cent: that’s 3600 people. Let’s say three people live in each dwelling: that’s 1200 new dwellings per year. It is simply not possible nor desirable, to see all these new dwellings as 3-4 bedroom houses with a double garage, on 400+ square metres of land in the city’s designated growth zones.

We need housing diversity to cater for our diverse population’s needs and the sheer volume of our growth.

We know Cities that have a ‘living inner city’, have vibrancy, are well connected and tell a distinctive story. The Bakery Hill Master Plan identifies these three elements; 600 new jobs, 5000 new residents, a genuine mix of affordable housing, architectural excellence in design and construction, the highest levels of environmental controls and energy efficiency.

Eighty per cent of all activity accessible by foot, thus drastically reducing our reliance of cars and the needs for parking. All this meets the definition of legacy that has ‘human impact’.

The Commonwealth Games can change our city for the better, if we grasp this opportunity to activate inner city living. The biggest land owner in the inner city is the City of Ballarat and as such, is the logical location for the Athletes Village.

The Little Bridge street and Curtis street carpark and the surrounds, is the place to start. Multi-story developments that combines the supermarkets, retail and commercial space, undercover accessible car parking and residential apartment living is a realistic outcome. With appropriate planning and considerations for access and security, it can be Ballarat’s unique Athletes Village, made even more vibrant with the new Bridge Street precinct between the two.

The Games will create their own energy and with 2000 people in the heart of the city for two weeks, let’s imagine how it will feel. Not only for the athletes and officials, but for our wider community, what better way to experience the buzz of the Games than to have so much of the out-of-stadium activity, focused in the heart of our thriving city.

After the Games, what a wonderful legacy this would leave, with affordable, accessible inner city living a reality, for 1000+ people.

Let us think again about people and where they live. If magically we could solve all our workforce issues in the next few years, where would all the new people who come to our city live? Where will the healthcare workers for a new expanded hospital live? Where will the students who in a few years time will be taking classes in the new inner city campus of Federation University live? Where will those who are looking for rentals live? And where will those most vulnerable, many whose need is for a 1 or 2 bedroom apartment live?

Concept plans for Bakery Hill include the possibility of parks and inner-city living.

Affordable and accessible housing, including affordable rental accommodation and social housing, is a priority for our growing City. We know the social and economic cost associated with not investing in social housing and we know the great stories of those whose lives have been transformed by having a place to call home.

The Commonwealth Games can be the impetus to help deliver at least some of the additional housing we need for our current and our growing population.

The Bakery Hill Master Plan articulates a vision for the city that incorporates apartment style accommodation. The Games needs an Athletes Village and car parks of Little Bridge street, Curtis street and their surrounds is the place to start with a significant and realistic urban renewal project

The Games Legacy and human impact of such a development, will be an emerging Bakery Hill, a place where people can live, work, gather, and experience the wonder of our amazing history, whilst embracing the diversity of the next generations. A place we can truly be proud of.

Michael Poulton, CEO, Committee for Ballarat.