Civic Hall is a stark illustration of a Council gone off track. Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Labor Government admitted after replacing Kevin Rudd as leader and Prime Minister that they had "lost their way". Ballarat City Council has done the same and needs to acknowledge as much and change tack quickly.
What is the proposal?
Ballarat City Council has commissioned an architect to provide a design for a redevelopment of the Civic Hall site and have now approved the proposal. At least two councillors objected to the demolition of Civic Hall and the development proposal, however a majority of councillors voted in favour.
Council recently released some details on the proposed development, estimated to cost $40 million, including this flashy 'virtual tour'.
The first question is, if councillors have mixed views and are still asking questions about the merits of the proposal, who's really pushing the development and why? All that was required for approval was a majority of councillors in favour and they have that, but there are still decisions to be made and it's not too late for councillors to reconsider. The whole Council, from the Mayor and Councillors to senior staff, will be held accountable by the community for their decision and the community are yet to really have their say.
What's wrong with the proposal?
Flaws with the proposal are quickly mounting up, but I'll be focusing on five problem areas. So here's the first of five 'C' problems with the Civic Hall demolition and redevelopment proposal:
Governments are becoming notorious for a new form of community consultation that involves either making a decision and then 'consulting' about it or 'consulting' on an issue and then making the decision they wanted to make anyway, regardless of community opinion. Local governments should be better at consultation and community participation than others, being closest to the people, but Ballarat City Council seems to have abandoned the principle.
Civic Hall is a community asset, not a plaything for any individual group of councillors at any point in time. For some time now it's been a relatively idle asset, however at least some of the space is being utilised by the community to this day with the skate park and youth events there still proving to be very popular. To commercialise or privatise this space is a huge decision for Council to make, yet we're already well past this point and the community has not had an opportunity to have a say.
Can Council honestly answer with a straight face that if the community was asked what they wanted to happen with their recreational and open space they would say "office space please"? Of course they can't, that's why they haven't asked the question.
So having skipped past the most important question about whether we want to sacrifice our community space for offices, Council jumped right into 'how does the community want the office space they didn't ask for to look?' Even on this they have stumbled, saying they will now consult the community - about the one, single choice they are offering. The single choice that they have already now approved.
It's an appalling state of affairs and it seems to have gone wrong some time ago. The previous Council, who certainly had their problems, had a community consultation process. They called it Blueprint Ballarat and it consisted of groups of community members responsible for different areas of Council operations. While not perfect, it was a process; one that the community was becoming aware of, allowed for participation and provided some vision for the future as well as a consultation process for immediate issues.
So what replaced the Blueprint Ballarat for consultation processes? In relation to Civic Hall, we have two relevant consultative committees. The CBD strategy and the Civic Hall itself each have consultative committees. Each have one 'community' representative. One. Council itself is made up of nine councillors elected by residents to represent them yet none appear to have asked the community if they want to give up their space, yet one person on a committee is supposed to represent the community.
The wheels of consultation have clearly fallen off.Check back on Monday for the next Civic Hall article, focusing on Culture and Heritage.