Council must encourage investment and be proactive with developers

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An artist’s impression of the proposed Welcome Stranger development, as seen from St David’s Park.

THE aldermen and councillors on the Hobart City Council can’t have it both ways. They are either serious about doing all they can to help solve the housing crisis that has beset the city — or they aren’t.

And, sadly, by their decisions we have seen time and time again that it appears to be the latter.

What developer in their right mind would bother rolling the dice on a new development in Hobart when they can jump through all the required hoops and still find their application rejected by a council where the majority have an ideological aversion to progress.

COUNCILLORS AT ODDS OVER APARTMENT BLOCK

WHY OFFICERS REJECTED WELCOME STRANGER PROJECT

That is not to say it should be a free-for-all. One of the unique things about Hobart is that our cityscape has not become one you could find anywhere in the world. It remains unique. And the council does have a role to play in protecting that. But the council also has a responsibility to encourage the ongoing — appropriate — development of the city, rather than just firmly holding down the pause button on progress forever.

The current Welcome Stranger site on the corner of Davey and Harrington streets. Picture: RICHARD JUPE

Those on council say they aren’t anti-everything. They point to the fact they actually end up approving the majority of reasonable development applications that come before them. But that ignores the elephant in the room: that Hobart is increasingly seen by developers as somewhere just not worth the effort.

As Quinten Villanueva, the spokesman for the development of the Welcome Stranger site that was rejected by the council’s planning committee on Monday, said: “You need to show that you’re willing to work with developers and not just slam them.”

That is not to say that the 52-apartment, 13-storey building proposed for the site on the corner opposite the Mantra Hotel and St David’s Park should have been approved in its current form.

Spokesman for the proposed Welcome Stranger development Quinten Villanueva. Picture: RICHARD JUPE

As council officers — the experts, not those elected — ruled, there were what appear to be seven legitimate grounds for the proposal to be rejected under the Hobart Interim Planning Scheme. In short, those concerns mainly related to it being an “incompatible design through height, scale, bulk, form, fenestration (and) siting“ — and that the development would result in “the loss of a building and a historic wall that contributes to the historic cultural heritage significance of the precinct”.

But again, it’s the vibe. What council should be doing is sending a very clear message to developers that we want them to invest here … and that council will proactively work with them to ensure they can.

Instead, we see Hobart’s Deputy Lord Mayor Helen Burnet declare after the latest rejection that it’s “questionable” that “high-end housing is the solution for the housing affordability issue” — and it’s wrong to think “more housing at any cost is the way to go“.

Hmmm. Well, what we desperately need is more housing. This crisis is one driven primarily by a demand-and-supply equation. And considering the traffic issues that Hobartians commuting from the outer suburbs now have to endure every day, we should surely be encouraging developers to build that new supply that we need in the inner-city.

Hobart is in a sweet spot at the moment with housing prices having reached a point at which developers can invest with confidence. The last thing we need is a group of aldermen/councillors sending the message that they don’t want development. That attitude will only ensure this crisis continues.

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