CityVision – Elizabeth Quay Project:
Conclusions and Recommendations drawn from Submissions by Invited Experts
A major enquiry into Elizabeth Quay was initiated by CityVision and prepared by three prominent citizens: the Hon Robert Nicholson AO, Emeritus Professor Geoffrey Bolton AO and retired Associate Professor of Architecture David Standen AM.
The enquiry invited submissions from twelve experts; these have been published in full. A condensed version of the submissions is contained in a Summary Report.
The following Conclusions and Recommendations are taken directly from the Summary Report.
Overriding Conclusion: the Elizabeth Quay Project is fundamentally flawed and should not proceed in its present form
The clear consensus of the experts is that the project and the scheme contain many flaws, including several that are so significant that they cannot be remedied by adjusting the current scheme and design. Two of these have major significance for the planning and development of the Metropolitan Region as a whole and run directly counter to long-established and bipartisan planning policy. These are the closure of Riverside Drive and the decision to open the area up to massive commercial (office) development. Aside from several objections on other grounds, neither of these is sustainable in terms of serving the vehicular and public transport needs of the City Centre and Metropolitan Region. It is also the clear consensus that the project can be much better and much less expensive, providing a much better social and financial return.
Recommendation 1: Halt the project immediately and carry out a full and proper review
This is neither such a bold step nor as costly as might be thought. Firstly, much – probably most – of the construction work carried out to date will still be required under any likely alternative scheme. It would, of course, be necessary to renegotiate contracts and either vary them or compensate the contractors. Any money thrown away will be very small compared with either the damage that will come with pushing ahead, or the savings to be made with a better project.
Secondly, there is no compelling reason, other than a desire to “get on with it”, for proceeding in haste. There is nothing to be lost, and everything to be gained, by putting the scheme on hold until there is confidence that it will be the best that it can be.
Conclusion 2: The closure of Riverside Drive is highly detrimental to the scheme, the City Centre and the Metropolitan Region
The closure of Riverside Drive has emerged as the most immediately compelling public issue arising out of the Elizabeth Quay proposals. At the very time when traffic congestion has become a major issue of public concern, and we are planning for a rapid and large metropolitan population increase, this project proposes to reduce the traffic capacity of this major east-west by-pass route and city access road, one of only two by-pass routes and for which there is no city access substitute. At the same time the foreshore development itself will generate significantly increased traffic, while the City of Perth is also actively reducing the capacity of streets within the city centre
The government’s own consultant’s report – commissioned long after the decision was made to close Riverside Drive – is clear about the detrimental effects of the scheme, even based on 2009 data and ignoring both future population growth and the traffic generated by the development itself. There will be immediate traffic congestion, alleviated in the short term by increasing the capacity of the Farmer Freeway tunnel, by utilising the safety lanes, itself not without traffic safety and congestion problems, and upgrading its connections. Remedying the longer term consequences of congestion on both the public transport and vehicular networks will be an extraordinarily expensive and difficult exercise, as other cities have discovered.
Closure of Riverside Drive also seriously disrupts pedestrian and cycle movement along the foreshore.
Closure of Riverside Drive is also detrimental to it valued function as a parkway, part of Perth’s heritage.
Recommendation 2: Ensure that Riverside Drive remains as a continuous by-pass, city access and parkway route
Under any feasible and viable plan for the foreshore area, Riverside Drive must remain as a continuous route. If there will be an inlet, then Riverside Drive should be carried across the inlet on a bridge of the highest design quality. As with most inner city bridges all round the world, this should be an attraction in its own right, not an obstruction to be tolerated reluctantly.
If there is to be a perched lake the road can continued more or less on its present alignment, or on a causeway. The elevation of the road can be such as, whether bridge or causeway, to allow free pedestrian and cycle access beneath, connecting the city centre to the foreshore. In any event the road can be controlled to reduce speed and allow safe access across it, especially on the critical stretch between Barrack and William Streets.
Conclusion 3: The scheme has significant negative impacts on the planning and development of the City Centre and the Metropolitan Region
The scheme appears to have been conceived in a planning vacuum, without serious regard to its external impacts, except to the extent that they require treatment to support the scheme. This is, to put it mildly, putting the cart before the horse. These have been dealt with earlier in this report. The two principal serious defects are, as noted:
- the proposed closure of Riverside Drive; and
- the proposed concentration of commercial office development, that is, of city office workers, in the project area.
The negative impacts have also been spelled out elsewhere. Briefly:
- serious congestion, and at times gridlock in the system, due to inadequate provision for traffic to by-pass the city centre, as a result of closure of Riverside Drive;
- reduction in accessibility to the city centre as a result of the closure;
- loss of the continuity of Riverside Drive as a parkway and for pedestrian and cycle traffic;
- consequent increase in travel times and other costs of congestion; and
- aside from the Riverside Drive issue, the significant increase in city centre workforce, contrary to government policy, causing additional stress on a public transport system almost at capacity now, as well as increased congestion on the road network.
Recommendation 3: Retain a continuous Riverside Drive, and remove the commercial content of the scheme
A revised scheme must retain a continuous Riverside Drive and delete the commercial office content of the scheme.
Conclusion 4: The scheme is a bad investment of public money
The scheme has been costed at $440 million, and the return from land sales at $170 million. Serious doubts are expressed about both these figures. The former does not take into account the high cost of the roadworks necessary to support the scheme or alleviate the traffic problems it will cause elsewhere. The latter is susceptible to the likelihood of the land, in a softened market caused by the competing government projects of the City Link and Riverside projects, to being difficult to sell, even at the subsidised prices expected. The expected sales prices appear to be below market values for comparable land. The commercial viability of the scheme is in serious doubt.
At the same time the scheme, as noted elsewhere, fails to deliver the social return that it should, so a high price is being paid for a less than satisfactory scheme. The scheme should be viewed as a civic enterprise, not a commercial one.
Recommendation 4: Review the scheme and its costs and benefits
A revised scheme, with the exception of a bridge to carry Riverside Drive, which would be an attraction in its own right, can be carried out on a less elaborate basis, with a more modestly scaled inlet or perched lake, at significantly less public cost, and for greater public benefit.
Full benefit/cost studies should be a part of the scheme, and the evaiuation of alternatives.
Conclusion 5: The process followed has been badly flawed, resulting in a flawed scheme and design
The consensus of the experts was that the planning process followed failed badly to be effective, open or accountable. It was flawed badly in terms of:
- flawed information base: either missing, inaccurate or provided too late;
- failure to properly consult the community or respond properly to submissions made, including by independent experts in relevant fields;
- losing sight of the true objectives of the project;
- failure to consider alternative possibilities and allow these to be debated publically;
- doubts on the integrity of decision-making by government agencies;
- premature adoption of the scheme and design, prior to receiving vital information and professional opinion;
- focussing on ‘selling’ the adopted scheme rather than using resources to seek improvement to it
Recommendation 5: Carry out the review using a better process
The basic concept – that of a waterfront development that makes a better connection between the city centre and its foreshore, and provides for maximum enjoyment of the foreshore by the public – has been widely welcomed, and the considered views of both proponents of and objectors to the current scheme, especially the latter, are known, so the review does not need to start completely from scratch. The elements of a better, more effective, process should follow these guidelines:
- invite public submissions and comment at the outset and at key points in the ongoing process of design;
- obtain and provide public access to all relevant and up to date research, including making good to deficiencies identified in transport and heritage information and advice;
- provide prompt, honest, full and accurate responses to public questions and comment; and
- invite public comment on any alternatives being considered, at an early stage and as preliminary plans, not pre-empting public opinion
Conclusion 6: The heritage of The Esplanade would be destroyed by the scheme
This is well understood fact. The very special Moreton Bay Fig trees have already been destroyed; the Florence Hummerston Kiosk has been dismantled, with no promise for its future; the scheme destroys The Esplanade; other elements, or their settings, would be destroyed; visual relationships with Kings Park and the city have been ignored; the heritage value of Riverside Drive has not been understood; the research into heritage has been flawed; and the proposals for interpretation are questionable, at best.
Recommendation 6: Protect the heritage of The Esplanade
The revised scheme and design should ensure that:
- the lost Moreton Bay Figs should be replaced by species that reflect the history of The Esplanade;
- sufficient area of The Esplanade is retained to ensure that its traditional and recreational roles can continue;
- the Florence Hummerston Kiosk should be replaced in its original setting;
- the Talbot memorial should be appropriately relocated;
- sightlines between the key parts of The Esplanade and the Kings Park War Memorial should be guaranteed; and
- the continuity of Riverside Drive should be retained.
Conclusion 7: The urban design of the scheme is badly misconceived
The proposed scheme and design are badly misconceived, in several ways:
- failure to recognise and respond positively to the landscape, landform and other elements of its setting that define Perth’s well-loved ‘sense of place’ and the iconic view of the city and river from King Park;
- the proposed mix and density of uses at the foreshore that would be inimical to its public amenity and enjoyment;
- the concentration and volume of commercial use in the project area will generate an excessively large increment in the central city workforce, which will be highly detrimental to the future provision of public and vehicular transport in the Metropolitan Region, and directly contrary to government planning policy;
- the very large extent of commercial development in this location precludes the development of better located within the central city that is in need of regeneration;
- the proposed building form and, in particular, height, of buildings at and near the foreshore are detrimental in the extreme to both the enjoyment of the public spaces (due to overshadowing, wind funnelling and loss of human scale) and the visual setting of the city centre;
- the proposed inlet is too large, to the extreme detriment of The Esplanade area, and out of scale with its immediate surroundings, properly conceived and a perched lake should be considered in its place;
- there is an almost total lack of civic and other uses and buildings to attract visitors;
- pedestrian and cycle access to and along the foreshore is badly provided for; and
- Riverside Drive is proposed to be closed, with and the substitution of an island and bridges that are out of keeping with the sense of place of the foreshore.
Recommendation 7: Redesign the scheme to correct basic shortcomings and optimise the outcome
The redesign should allow for these key aspects, among others referred to in this report.
- retention of the continuity of Riverside Drive;
- retention of sufficient area of The Esplanade to enable its continued civic and recreational roles;
- only low (probably 2-3 storey) buildings at the foreshore itself, with the possibility of taller buildings closer to St Georges Terrace, to achieve the right scale and human comfort;
- a range of civic and entertainment uses that will attract visitors,( like the proposed indigenous cultural centre, museums, galleries, play facilities, etc);
- delete all uses at the foreshore that do not directly contribute to visitor amenity and enjoyment;
- delete all commercial office development that would not serve the recreational function of the foreshore;
- allow for residential apartments, but not above or too close to areas for public enjoyment of the foreshore;
- allow for hotel development at or close to the foreshore, but not in excess of low building heights;
- consider a perched lake in lieu of an inlet;
- continuity of pedestrian and cycle access along the foreshore, close to the water’s edge; and
- safe, grade-separated if possible, access between the city centre and the foreshore for pedestrians and cyclists.
Conclusion 8: The scheme performs poorly environmentally
The scheme shows little understanding of the micro-climate of the city and the site, and performs badly on these environmental aspects:
- the scheme layout leaves it excessively exposed to the prevailing winds, throughout most of the year;
- the public spaces will be excessively overshadowed by the tall buildings throughout the year, except in high summer, when shade is desirable;
- the public spaces are likely to be subject to wind funnelling as a consequence of the excessive height of buildings; and
- there is no assurance that the inlet will flush properly.
Recommendation 8: Ensure that a revised scheme minimises negative environmental aspects
This recommendation hardly requires elaboration. It should be a given that the scheme provides for public spaces to be protected from wind, open to penetration of sun in winter and the in-between seasons, and shaded in summer, to the maximum extent feasible.
These should be firm principles followed in a revised scheme.
Conclusion 9: It is not in the public interest to sell off the land
As a matter of principle public land, and especially land that had been granted to the people of the city in perpetuity for recreational purposes, should not be sold. It should remain in public ownership.
Recommendation 9: Retain all public land in the scheme area in public ownership
Where it is desirable to develop it for privately owned commercial development, to serve the best interests of the public, it can be leased.