Melanka building would obscure unequalled backdrop

p2166-Melanka-7LETTER TO THE EDITOR

 

Sir – The Committee of Heritage Alice Springs Inc. has deep concerns about the proposed development of an eight-storey building at the former Melanka Lodge site.

 

There is an established height restriction of three-storeys for buildings in Alice Springs. The policy exists because the community have understood that Alice Springs has a backdrop unequalled in most other places around the world.

 

As a result, we and our visitors can see this splendid landscape from anywhere in town. Now, though, this proposal puts at risk all the prolonged effort of consultation and sound reasoning by which this restriction was agreed upon. This eight-storey building will block our amazing outlook and, in particular, severely affect the world-famous panorama from Anzac Hill.

 

The Alice Springs Town Council itself has confirmed this community desire for development in sympathy with the country encompassing the town. Goal 4 of the Council’s Strategic Plan 2013-2015 reads as follows:

 

“The built environment of Alice Springs needs to complement the natural environment that surrounds the town as well as capturing the distinctive character of a thriving outback community. Council must have strong input into the planning process to ensure appropriate development of the built environment.”

 

In our view it is impossible to conceive of an eight-storey building complementing anything in the natural environment or capturing the distinctive character of our outback town.  On these grounds alone the proposal should be rejected.

 

We are aware that a review of planning provisions is currently underway.  We read that it is focusing on:

Clarifying what is expected of developers.

Improving investor confidence.

Providing assurance to the community that outcomes will contribute to a shared vision for the Alice Springs CBD.

 

Let us examine each objective of the review in light of the Melanka proposal, for we do not believe that any of these aims will be enhanced by permitting multi-storey buildings.  In fact, the reverse is more likely to be the case.

 

Rather than ‘clarifying what is expected of developers’, this approach of policy-on-the-run throws the planning provisions into confusion.  There is clearly a lack of connection between the planning provisions and the Town Council’s Strategic Plan on the one hand, and the proposal on the other.

 

Under these circumstances, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the main, if unstated, aim of the review of planning provisions is to remove the height restrictions for buildings.  If this pathway has been decided behind closed doors, then developers and Government should not be surprised when they end up being subjected to widespread community criticism and resistance.

 

What about ‘improving investor confidence’? As of last week there were 16 vacant shops in Gregory Terrace and the Todd Mall.  In September this year business owners and others met to discuss how the Mall could be re-vitalised. If we are going to improve investor confidence we must start with the Todd Mall – on ground level and sticking with the 8.5 metre maximum height that has been a signature of the town for years.

 

Investor confidence is not going to be improved by flooding the market with motel rooms when accommodation houses are closing up, or with office and retail space when there is already an oversupply. We envisage that an eight-storey development on the Melanka site will go the same way as the Alice Plaza of the 1980s, which continues to struggle for economic viability even today.  How much of our money will be used to prop up such an unwise decision?

 

Finally, the proposal is hardly designed to ‘provide assurance to the community that outcomes will contribute to a shared vision for the Alice Springs CBD’. In 1969, the American consultants Harris Kerr Foster were engaged by the Federal Government to assess the local tourist industry and to suggest how development could be encouraged.

 

The height restriction was proposed at that time and was wholeheartedly accepted by the Town Management Board and the Territory Government. That there was an idea at the time that buildings should be no higher than the highest gum trees in the Todd may only be a local myth, but nevertheless it expresses a sound and widespread expectation.

 

When, in the late 1980s, the Town Council proposed removing the height limit, it was rejected by the Government.  For this reason, the Council now states its wish for development to complement the natural environment and capture the distinctive character of an outback community.

 

Some, such as Dean Osborne, the Project Director for the Melanka proposal, argue for different approaches.  Mr Osborne has commented that a “progressive city in Australia or the world … has high rises.”

 

We respect his right to express a view, but the history of town planning in Alice Springs shows a wide belief that we should aim to be a progressive city by NOT building high rises. Let’s embrace what is unique to Alice Springs and adapt to the future in new, imaginative ways.

 

Heritage Alice Springs strives to preserve the cultural and environmental sites of the Central Australian region. Our Members represent an important section of the community of Alice Springs.

 

We are the locals, the ones who live here, the artists, architects, teachers, gardeners, town planners, historians, doctors, scientists, builders, lawyers, road workers, environmentalists, shop owners – the list goes on. We have already recorded our objection, on the same basis, to a different building, on the former Commonwealth Bank site in Parsons Street.

 

This four-storey building is inappropriately designed to sit next door to The Residency, the historic house of former Administrators of Central Australia.

 

Faye Alexander

Chair of Heritage Alice Springs Inc.

 

 

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9 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Tony Meman
    Posted January 4, 2015 at 6:11 am

    One thing I miss about Alice Springs is that people get carried away with things that won’t happen. It’s a proposal. It won’t happen. Move on.

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  2. Jack D
    Posted December 19, 2014 at 11:37 am

    As I understand it, builders simply have an economic size to which they build.
    Perhaps the offer is: take it or leave it. Given that Alice Springs may benefit from new tourist hotels, a Chief Minister of either political party might well take up that offer.

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  3. Russell Guy
    Posted December 18, 2014 at 9:36 am

    @ Hal.
    You are drawing a long bow to associate the number of empty shops with building heights in Alice Springs. And your interpretation that “negativity” is being directed to the Melanka proposal is disputed.
    There are many ways to drown a cat, as Joh Bjelke Petersen used to say.
    I interpret the comments as suggestions to the developer that it could be done a different way than how it has so far been planned, and I’m sure that the architect presently engaged is sensitive to all posts.
    The real estate-driven boom of the past decade inflated prices in Alice Springs – it needed to cool. Other issues like tourism need to regroup around the positives in a changed financial environment. Discussing these things, is, in my opinion, not negative.

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  4. Hal Duell
    Posted December 18, 2014 at 9:07 am

    Agreed that there has been an established height restriction of three storeys for buildings in Alice Springs, but hasn’t the new court house breached that restriction and set a new precedent?
    As for proposed eight storey Melanka building severely affecting the world-famous panorama from Anzac Hill, the computer generated picture leading the article “The Big One that could end the gloom” suggests that it would not, or at least not from the top.
    I have no reason to doubt that as of last week there were 16 vacant shops in Gregory Terrace and the Todd Mall. The question I then ask is how well is the three storey height restriction working for Alice today, as opposed to how it worked 45 years ago?
    I have no idea if the proposed building will get off the ground, never mind to eight storeys. It may easily not. And I question why anyone would want to spent $100 million in a town so negative to his proposal. But I hope he perseveres. We’re dying at three storeys.

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  5. Jamie Debrenni
    Posted December 17, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    Moving forward is what is needed. We have to start thinking about our youth and opportunities for them. This development and others that hopefully that will follow will create work and social reasons for the youth to maybe come back from the cities.
    We have a highly educated generation of local young adults that are staying away because we have nothing to offer.
    If we don’t start encouraging private investment we are going to sink more and more into a government dependant community for employment and benefits.
    The heritage of this town is going change for the worse if what is here today cannot be maintained because the care factor of a depressed and stagnate town in 10 years’ time is zero.
    Why can’t we create a new community while maintaining the old by being proactive not reactive to any change that might upset a minority.
    Time to move forward and create reasons for youth to want to come back or relocate and invest, and contribute the realities of how the world is changing and maybe us dinosaurs might listen.

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  6. Russell Guy
    Posted December 17, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    “Let’s embrace what is unique to Alice Springs and adapt to the future in new, imaginative ways.”
    This statement is at the heart of a town that was once marketed as The Red Heart of the nation, but it has endured a triple by-pass for the past three decades.
    Alice was envisaged this way by Australians from all walks of life, many of whom made the journey for business or pleasure – by air, or overland – to arrive at a unique destination within their own country. This sentiment was expressed outwardly and drew visitors accordingly.
    It is difficult to adapt to governments who wish to enforce a vision (or lack of) from outside and despite certain sections of the community embracing investor confidence, sites such as the Melanka remain burdened with a concept that has a foundation in nothing else.
    I’ve expressed a vision for this site via these posts on several occasions and have done so on many others around Alice as a member of HAS for over a decade.
    HAS exists, at least in one way, as a forum for those who are concerned about how the town develops and maintains its once iconic place in the nation’s history.
    I’m reminded of certain beachside towns on the east coast which have been developed beyond a sense of community because they were re-designed according to investor confidence.
    There was lip service attempt to understand the landscape connect and developments were pushed through that have since been exposed as planning authority corruption.
    Alice has a vibrant arts and cultural community that strives to thrive in a difficult social environment and does so. These successes are confident community statements.
    They are what many other Australian towns would love to have. Artists adapt or protest and do both in the creative realm.
    It seems that in Alice, this could be recognised and embraced as the vanguard, rather than given a ride at the rear end of the rattler.

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  7. Jones
    Posted December 17, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    Mike, good point about the woeful state of “public consultation” with the Giles government.
    It is a complete farce as shown by the “consultation / mature conversation” before the sale of TIO.

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  8. Hal Duell
    Posted December 17, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Agreed that there has been an established height restriction of three storeys for buildings in Alice Springs, but hasn’t the new court house breached that restriction and set a new precedent?
    As for proposed eight storey Melanka building severely affecting the world-famous panorama from Anzac Hill, the computer generated picture leading the article “The Big One that could end the gloom” suggests that it would not.
    I have no reason to doubt that as of last week there were 16 vacant shops in Gregory Terrace and the Todd Mall. The question I then ask is how well is the three storey height restriction working for Alice today, as opposed to how it worked 45 years ago?
    I have no idea if the proposed building will get off the ground, never mind to eight storeys. I question why anyone would want to spent $100 million in a town so negative to his proposal. But I hope he perseveres. We’re dying at three storeys.

    View Comment
  9. Mike Gillam
    Posted December 17, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    While I broadly support the views of the writer, I’d like to correct what is clearly a typo.
    The building height limit in the CBD is 14 m. not 8.5m, and for the record, I won’t be making a submission to the NT Planning Commission, a Statutory Authority advising the NT Government on planning matters including building heights in Alice Springs because I don’t regard the public consultation process as genuine.
    Recent calls by the Chief Minister for expressions of interest in the development of land at Whittaker Street, just outside the western boundary of the CBD and in an area with a LOWER height limit, makes a mockery of this public consultation.
    The artist’s impression shows a building that dramatically exceeds the stated limit for this area, from memory, not even 14 m but currently 8.5m.
    Of course, the nature of legislation, regulations and town plans may be subject to the extraordinary powers granted to the responsible Minister who can always find some justification.
    In closing I would give credit to the NT Planning Commission for its recognition of the value of protecting some critical east west sight-lines across the CBD.
    However the town’s future shape and collective massing of buildings will be determined to a large extent by the uncoordinated actions of individual developers and politicians in the decades ahead.
    Ultimately this is a game of chance and DESIGN, that elusive collective vision for Alice Springs, appears to be taking a back seat in the process. As a struggling tourist town we can and should do much better.

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