Saturday, October 23, 2010

Opinion: Are Community needs being met by Railway Precinct Project?

In a previous post I wrote that the Ferny Grove Railway Precinct project is being driven by the concept of Transport oriented development. My scant research shows Transport/Transit oriented development (TOD for the jargoneers) is being given a lot of attention by Queensland Government planners. I worry local needs might not be addressed in favor of a one size fits all approach.

Transport-oriented development involves developing retail, commercial, residential and transport infrastructure  together, and the precinct project certainly has those elements. But is it right for the surrounding suburbs of Ferny Grove and Ferny Hills? In my way of thinking - no!

Vision 1

Do we need additional retail areas in the community? I am not sure we do. Close by to Ferny Grove station is a service station, the shops at the bottom of Ferny Way and ten minutes walk away the Cole shopping complex at the corner of Archdale Road and McGinn Road. A ten minute drive away is the Kmart Arana Hills and Keperra Great Western Shopping Centres. Can we fill additional retail space at Ferny Grove? If we can, does it make the other centres less viable?

View Ferny Blog: Retail Areas around Ferny Grove Railway Station in a larger map

The precinct plan calls for parts of the current train station to be converted for use in medium density residential. I might be nuts, but this seems backward. Retail, commercial and transport development should follow residential development in the normal course of affairs. Is cannibalising the railway station property to create residential areas simply to complete to the TOD checklist? Is it a way of justifying the TOD methodology in the first place? Why should we give some of this precious space to residential use, when the station is already surrounded by residential areas?

Vision 2

One vision of the precinct plan has an area reserved for the (a?) Tavern. The current tavern is being acquired under the auspices of the railway station upgrade to provide more parking. I'm not an efficiency expert, but if the (a?) tavern is to be kept on the current station land, why go to the hassle, expense and inconvenience of acquiring the land and moving it 150 metres?

Speaking of the tavern acquisition, the objective of improving the parking situation is totally ignored by the precinct plan. The precinct plan has a very weak and uncomforting statement that the need for commuter parking will be 'taken into account'. What does this mean? I would be somewhat mollified if a simple statement that the capacity of commuter parking would not be decreased was included, but the precinct plan does not even go that far. 'Taken into account' sounds like doublespeak to me for 'will be reduced but not completely eliminated'.

In the original railway upgrade the objective of improving the commuter parking capacity was front and centre, and an issue during political campaigning. The Railway Precinct Project ignores this as an issue that needs specific vision.

More broadly, the process of hearing first about a Railway upgrade to improve station and parking only and than this seemingly unrelated precinct vision focussed on additional residential, retail and commercial spaces was jarring and reinforces the belief that one half of government does not know what the other is doing.

Its worth remembering that 'Transport-oriented development' is being pushed in many communities, of which the Ferny Grove community is only one. A cookie cutter approach to suburb development might make for shorter and easier reports, and possibly less planning requirements, but if the precinct project is not more richly justified I believe it could be the wrong move. Cynically I wonder whether the development of residential, commercial and retail areas on the property helps the bottom line, lending this and other TOD projects credibility in government circles.

Whatever happens with the Ferny Grove Railway Station and the land it occupies, Its important to recognise the importance of choosing wisely. Once it is carved up into retail, residential or commercial areas, acquiring the land for future community needs will be difficult, and from a government perspective, possibly impossible. It is not a lot of land, and I wonder if rezoning around the existing land might retain our flexibility for dealing with future requirements.

It is too easy to criticise a plan without proposing an alternative. Perhaps if the government was more transparent about how its planning groups arrived at these results I would be more satisfied with the outcome. As it stands I can't help but think that now Ferny Grove railway station is getting the attention that it deserves we might not be getting the outcome that is best for the community.

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