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Name it Domain!

Hodyl’s report implausible

12 Mar 2015

Hodyl’s report implausible Image

By Sean Car

The manner in which City of Melbourne planner Leanne Hodyl chose to represent Southbank in her recent Churchill Fellowship report diminished its credibility.

The comparative study, which received a lot of coverage in the mainstream media, concluded that “hyper-dense” apartments in Melbourne were being built at a rate that would never be allowed overseas.

While the study tour took Ms Hodyl to New York, Vancouver, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Seoul to meet with a host of planning experts, it would almost appear that she had determined its findings before she left.

In terms of providing shock value for a tabloid publication it certainly delivers. But for an academic study it possesses a number of gaping holes, which would render it irrelevant in the eyes of most policy-makers.

Almost the entire study focuses on development within the CBD, which is why her decision to cast a spotlight on Southbank in a particularly critical and yet brief manner seems like a strange call.

Within the 40-page study, Southbank is mentioned on a mere three pages. And yet, while she raises legitimate issues in Southbank to overseas planners, her assessment leaves much to be desired.

The report quoted University of British Columbia urban designer Prof Scot Hein as saying that the Southbank project was a “mistake”.

“It overreaches with respect to scale, form and spacing of proposed individual buildings collectively contributing to a questionable civic image for Melbourne,” he was quoted as saying.

New York chief sustainability officer Gary Lawrence, was reported as saying that the rate of development in Southbank was “crazy”.

“This cluster of towers would never be built in New York,” he was alleged to have said. “The idea of creating a liveable city at this density is crazy.”

Few would disagree that Southbank is challenged by the current planning regime and that the nature of development is a concern, which is why Ms Hodyl’s report is so disappointing.

The “cluster of towers” quoted by Mr Lawrence refers to a diagram (pictured) of a block in Southbank, which encompasses Power St, City Rd, Queensbridge St and Southbank Boulevard.

This diagram appears to be the only example Ms Hodyl elected to showcase to her overseas contemporaries and, on paper, has all the makings of a Lego-city.

In theory, this scenario might happen. However, the diagram is, in the words of Prof Hein, “questionable”.

In her diagram, Ms Hodyl claims that the controversial proposal at Queensbridge Tower and the accompanying hotel are approved when, in fact, they are awaiting approval. With a change in government, there is a very real chance that this proposal could get knocked back.

Another so-called “approved” tower, located on the current site of Hanover House at the corner of City Rd and Power St is yet to be approved.

Planning Department spokesperson Kirsten Howe confirmed this, stating: “No approval has been granted, as further information has been requested from the proponents of both applications.”

Ms Hodyl includes a further three imaginary City Rd towers in her diagram on the very non-specific basis of “potential towers based on existing development patterns within block”.

What her overseas counterparts were left with was a false diagram, which validates her conclusion that high-rise apartments in Melbourne are being built at four times the densities allowed in Hong Kong, New York and Tokyo.

Ms Hodyl made the point that “Southbank has no density controls” and that height and separation controls are mandatory and “rarely met”.

However, had she presented an accurate and in-depth analysis of the situation, it would have made a far more sustainable argument for reform.

What is left, instead, is a falsely-spun portrayal which received a lot of media coverage.

Leanne Hodyl declined to be interviewed by Southbank Local News.

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