It is developer’s dollars versus good urban design, and rarely are these two influences so starkly opposed. The case is in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, but some wonder whether it is already a done deal. The Advertiser quotes VCAT President Justice Stuart Morris as saying that if he approves the flyover, it is likely to include cars. Justice Morris believes shopping centres spread across separate properties do not work unless they have linking car parks. He says that without the flyover he is concerned Westfield will abandon the whole project. Now the Government would not want to see that, but some Government local members are supporting the local opposition.
The City of Geelong has received numerous awards and accolades for its city centre revitalisation program over the last decade that has helped turn the city image to a positive one through high quality public realm improvements followed by considerable private investment – all within the clear recommendations of the planning policies and Waterfront Geelong Design and Development Code.
While there is considerable professional and public enthusiasm for Geelong’s urban design achievements strong underlying influences remain – a brittle economy and working class community values. Councillors and staff don’t stay forever and new councillors often react against the work and approach of those they replace. Westfield have ignored the Council’s planning scheme and urban design policies by proposing the substantial bridge across Yarra Street incorporating shops and car parking within the bridge link. This crude idea flies in the face of long held policies that emphasize that maintaining and enhancing views to Corio Bay down Geelong’s main streets (including Yarra Street) is of paramount importance to the character of central Geelong.
The carrot of what this investment can do for Geelong’s economy has been put before the State Government and Council as a seemingly irresistible reason to abandon their well-conceived planning policies. It can only be hoped that sensible urban design rather than legal and economic argument determines the outcome.
Upper level bridges are controversial
Upper level bridge connections for shopping centres have a controversial history in Victoria. They have been canvassed before in Melbourne’s CBD and have been built across the little streets of Little Bourke and Little Lonsdale Streets. The one crossing of a major street, Lonsdale Street, is a particular intervention to be regretted from an urban design perspective. Bourke Street Mall works perfectly well for example, as an a-grade, high volume retail pedestrian circulation space. The only precedent for such a crude intervention as proposed in Geelong is the Southland bridge across Nepean Highway. This is an entirely different context because Nepean Highway is virtually a freeway and the bridge enabled re-connection of a community, however even in this instance both the bridge and shopping centre design is regrettable.
It is to be hoped that Westfield can be persuaded to modify their proposal to drop the bridge idea entirely and redevelop their shopping centre in a manner that respects the streetscape and established development guidelines. This approach is likely to be just as financially viable while better benefiting the community, including existing businesses, in the long term.
Geelong is a big country town with plenty of space for development and a benign climate. There is no need to create Singapore-style overhead solutions to provide a car park link and a few extra shops. If Westfield feel the link is so critical to the design of their centre then it could be created below street level.