Residents were shocked to learn on 17/4/20 of a plan by Armidale Regional Council to build a roadway in the Central Mall. The recommendation before council was included in the agenda for the Wednesday 22nd April online council meeting and the public was given three days to send in a submission.
The recommendation had been put to the Traffic Committee a month beforehand but councillors were not informed. Cr Libby Martin (Deputy Mayor) is the councillor representative who was present at that meeting and the proposal was introduced by Mr Mark Piorkowski (General Manager Operations).
A few years ago the Armidale public told council after an extensive and expensive consultation exercise that there was no way they would accept vehicle access to the mall apart from the current emergency services and council vehicles.
As a result of the public outcry, council was forced to drop the failed urban landscape plans by King & Campbell, which had been commissioned by council at great expense to the ratepayers of Armidale.
At that time those plans were kept secret by council for months before being revealed at a meeting of Mall traders in November 2017.
A subsequent petition of residents containing just under 4000 signatures was accepted by the CEO, Mr Peter Dennis, but disappeared soon after and was not recorded in the consultation report despite photographic evidence being published in the Armidale Express.
A written complaint was sent to the Ombudsman, the Minister for Local Government, the Office of Local Government and the Premier but was not acted upon.
It appears that the reason for this current proposal is to provide an after hours pick up and drop off point in the Mall for a single business and the NEV 2030 Think Tank was told that by a reliable authority that the owner of that business had offered to finance the roadway.
The ensuing permanent roadworks would include bollards, signage and the removal of the stage area causing major disruption to the aesthetics and public usage of the Central Mall area.
There has been no development application, no community consultation and no councillor consultation. Councillors were expected to vote on an open-ended proposal which does not follow due process.
Several years earlier when the business in question put in a development proposal for refurbishment, it was documented that all vehicular access was to be from Cinders Lane and a carpark be installed behind the business in question. That carpark was subsequently built. Therefore in proposing this project to the Traffic Committee the General Manager (Operations) was acting against an approved development application which has not been amended. At the council meeting held on Wednesday 22nd April, Cr Robinson asked the Deputy Mayor Cr Martin (Traffic Committee representative) if any drawings or documents had been presented to their meeting of 3rd March. She declined to comment. The proposal has now been voted down by ARC councillors. However many questions still remain as to how the proposal came about, who would have benefited and who offered to pay for it.
Why was the item placed on the agenda within the Traffic Committee Report without informing councillors or the public beforehand, knowing this was a highly contentious issue for the people of Armidale.
Answers to these questions need to go on the public record. The Office of Local Government has now sent a memo to councils across the state warning them of corruption during the pandemic.
Maria Hitchcock OAM,
New England Visions 2030 Think Tank
Damaging for Armidale
This proposal damages one of Armidale's great visual and community amenities. Although pedestrian traffic has thinned in recent years with the closure of several businesses in the mall, it is still vibrant at certain times of the day and when special events are scheduled. These include regular markets, the Autumn Festival, family events like those targeting children, and the recent, pre-COVID-19 lock-down, foodies evening.
The old Courthouse, whose future is uncertain, at the eastern end might have its options reduced by the proposal before us.
Given the proposal's potentially wide-ranging impacts on our community and various businesses, we would have expected it to have been:
(a) considered by council's planning staff;
(b) subjected to the usual processes of community consultation;
(c) and be discussed and potentially amended after discussions between those staff members and the project's proponents prior to final submission to council.
What we see instead is an attempt to by-pass due process by sleight-of-hand focusing on just the interests of one applicant and its potential traffic impact. Community and wider business input is sought only at the very last minute.
Council itself has almost been entirely by-passed in the process and unable to offer ideas and suggest amendments in the formulation stage, despite its duty to consider wider community interests.
The issue raises numerous questions that could take several hours to resolve by council itself, but there is insufficient time to debate the matter given council's extensive agenda. In short, the whole matter should be granted due process.
Finally, the idea of a short trial is appalling since the construction of road access will be costly and potentially make the proposal irreversible. If the proposer is offering to fund the project that comes close buying one's preferred outcomes and stuffing the community in the process.
Dr Tony Sorenson, Armidale
In a creative interpretation of the true situation Mayor Murray has now stated that no vehicles at all will be allowed in the Mall as a result of Council's rejection of a roadway into the Mall.
The Mayor states that "the debate was around a drop-off zone". Not quite! It was in fact about putting a roadway into the Mall, involving bollards, traffic signs, removal of infrastructure, and other works needed to turn the current pedestrian area into a legal road. This was the proposal rejected by Council, and it has no implications whatsoever for any existing usage.
I should add that in the extremely unlikely event of there somehow being a hindrance to the currently very restricted vehicular use of the Mall, then it would be the responsibility of the Mayor and CEO to seek a solution to this in accordance with Council's wishes on the matter (if necessary by slight amendments to the Mall Plan), rather than petulantly spitting the dummy.
It has come to my attention that Council management is now actively pursuing erecting traffic signs and punitive measures to block previously existing access, including deliveries etc on Market days and similar.
It would seem that instead of facilitating issues, the Mayor and management seem intent on punishing Councillors and the public for having the temerity to reject the road in the Mall.
Herman Beyersdorf, Armidale
Problem with language
English is our common and legal language, yet, like all languages the meaning of words and phrases are highly dependent on grammar and context.
The Armidale Regional Council agenda for its Wednesday, 22 April 2020 meeting (freely available for download from the council website) contained the motion (17.1). In reference to the proposed changes to Armidale's Mall, the following was recommended:
- That a Shared Zone in the Armidale Mall be endorsed for a trial period of 12 months trial with a review to be undertaken in 6 months of operation;
- That the Shared Zone in the eastern half of the Central Mall be formalised with permanent signage, bollards and line marking and is at no cost to Council;
- That the Mall stage be removed to allow for an access driveway for the shared Zone in the eastern half of the Mall;
- That the entry times into the shared Zone in the eastern half of the Mall be between 5pm and 8.30am.
A Shared Zone is defined under Rule 24 in the NSW Road Rules (2008) (www.rms.nsw.gov.au/trafficinformation/downloads/ttd_2016-001.pdf) as:
"a road or network of roads or a road related area where space is shared safely by vehicles and pedestrians and where pedestrian priority and quality of life take precedence over ease of vehicle movement".
Let's look at a few issues here:
- The first point in the agenda doesn't make any sense;
- The second point is confusing because of the changes in tense: "be formalised" (future) and "is at no cost" (present). Is this a slip of the tongue, or a reference to funding having already been sought and promised? If the latter, who is the provider of such funding?
- With regard to the third point, removal of the stage, will limit both options for the old Courthouse and amenity (or "quality of life") for which shared zones are designed;
- The fourth point emphasises this loss of amenity. The recent evening food celebration was highly successful, yet activities of this kind would be severely compromised by a shared roadway that becomes shared "between 5pm and 8.30am".
In days of "fake news", our use of language, especially in documents of this kind, becomes more and more important, as does the education of our young in the development of a discerning citizen.
In www.digitalcitizenship.nsw.edu.au/articles/become-a-discerning-digital-citizen, Jenny Luca makes the point that "The Australian Curriculum provides a passage with the General capabilities. Critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability, and ethical understanding all lend themselves as key tenets of what it takes to be a discerning digital citizen."
What a great discussion starter for an English class.
Martin Levins, Armidale