This is the personal blog of Ian Ker, who was Councillor for the South Ward of the Town of Vincent from 1995 to 2009. I have been a resident of this area since 1985. This blog was originally conceived as a way of letting residents of Vincent know what I have been doing and sharing thoughts on important issues. I can now use it to sound off about things that concern me.

If you want to contact me, my e-mail is still ian_ker@hotmail.com or post a comment on this blog.

To post a comment on this blog, select the individual post on which you wish to comment, by clicking on the title in the post or in the list to the left of the blog, and scroll down to the 'Post a Comment' box at the foot.

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Monday, March 4, 2019

Improving Local Government in WA

The WA Government is undertaking a review of the Local Government Act. Stage 1 covered areas where some immediate improvements could be made. Stage 2 covers more strategic issues:

The review is probably timely, given that the current Act was passed in 1995 and represented considerable change from the way local government in WA had operated since the 1960s. However, it is unfortunate that neither the discussion papers nor any other documentation relating to the Review clearly defines problems that the Review is intended to address. Instead, they set out a broad vision for local government without providing a context for assessing whether proposed reforms would improve the performance of local government. 

This is particularly pertinent in the case of the pro-forma surveys attached to each of the detailed discussion papers, which ask for simplistic responses (eg ‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘Unsure’) to a series of questions without adequate (or, in many cases, any) supporting information. This 'tick-a-box' approach to consultation is an insult to those wishing to make a considered submission to the Review and is unlikely to provide useful information.

I'd strongly encourage anyone still considering making a submission to do so in their own words rather than simply ticking boxes defined by the authors of the Review.

Anyway, here is my submission, for what it is worth. [NB click on each page to enlarge.]


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Friday, December 28, 2018

Building Up: Does Anyone Do Risk Analysis?

I've often wondered why there is such a mania for building up to the heavens, when there are so many examples of cities that work (and work better) on a more human scale (see, eg, Richard Rogers (1997). Cities for a Small Planet. Faber and Faber, London, UK). High-rise buildings are inherently energy-inefficient, with their reliance on vertical transport and energy-intensive materials such as concrete, the need to lift heavy building materials to great heights and their inevitable reliance on air-conditioning because of the dangers of windows that actually open.

They are also socially-inefficient, because people rarely talk to each other, or interact in any way at all, in lifts. This lack of community has resulted in widespread demolition of 1960s public housing in many cities - a fate that could all-too-soon await more-recent high-rise apartment buildings.

But these concerns almost pale into insignificance compared to the potential consequences of structural or other failure. The stresses on a 40-storey building are many times those that a 5 or 10 storey building has to withstand - not just the weight but the wind stress and the effect of any shifting in the ground beneath.

It took the recent major cracking of a recently-constructed Sydney high-rise for someone to point out that it had been constructed on a reclaimed swamp and is only 300 metres from a still-existing swamp. 

NSW Urban Taskforce chief executive Chris Johnson has said that the problem with the Sydney high-rise would either be a 'fundamental error' in how the building was constructed or the ground it was built on.

It remains to be seen whether Sydney's Opal Tower can be made safe, but even if it is made structurally safe it will be a long time before residents actually feel safe. It is already being suggested that the problems in the building could trigger a fire sale, bringing financial as well as psychological losses (https://www.afr.com/personal-finance/opal-cracks-a-minefield-for-investors-20181226-h19h7b).


As one whose first sight of Australia was the stub-end of the then-recently-collapsed Westgate bridge in Melbourne looming out of the morning mist early one morning in July 1971 (and having many friends and former colleagues who are road and bridge engineers), I am perhaps more aware than most of the potential for, and consequences of, structural failure.

A key issue, in this and so many of the other instances of structural failure around the world, is the extent to which the risks of such failure were identified, managed and, where possible, removed. 
https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/huge-pressure-developers-cutting-costs-are-root-cause-of-defects-20181226-p50o97.html
So far, we have not been reported to have been faced with this sort of situation in Perth, but the existence of other, apparently unreported, major problems in other Sydney/Canberra high-rise buildings (https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/huge-pressure-developers-cutting-costs-are-root-cause-of-defects-20181226-p50o97.html) suggests we should not be complacent. In particular, where there are real identifiable risks, we should, at the very least, be wary of high rise development.

Which brings me to the Mill Point Area of South Perth. This is an area virtually surrounded by the Swan River and with a water table very close to the surface - indeed, recent experience indicates that groundwater here is also flowing rather than being a static water table. Most of the ground on which high-rises are proposed to be built is, effectively, saturated, which makes it very difficult to stabilise and compact. Deep piles down to bedrock, through saturated sands, increase the effective height of a building from stable foundations.

Of more general and fundamental concern is that Governments are increasingly giving effective control of development processes to the private sector, which has an obvious vested interest in maximising development yields and minimising construction (not necessarily maintenance or operational) costs. The process by which the Sydney Opal Tower was approved is not dissimilar to the Development Assessment Panels here in WA - to which the current state government is proposing to add a streamlined WA Planning Commission dominated by those same interests (http://ianrker-vincent.blogspot.com/2018/07/green-paper-modernising-western.html) and a Design Panel (for the purpose of approving 'development bonuses') also dominated by them (http://ianrker-vincent.blogspot.com/2018/12/wa-government-wants-more-conflicted.html).
https://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/property/opal-tower-residents-to-be-evacuated/news-story/ee8a7135eab1fc54996ef81ad05fc80c

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

WA Government Wants More Conflicted 'Experts' in Planning and Design

On 28th November, the WA Government called for nominations for a State Design Review Panel https://www.planning.wa.gov.au/sdrp.aspx. Nominations close on Friday 21 December at 2pm.

Pause to observe the timing of this nomination period when so many people have other things that require their attention - minor things like school holidays, getting ready for Christmas, going on Holiday. Indeed, the last day of sitting for the WA legislative Assembly was 29th November and the Legislative Council 6th December, so our pollies are 'out of session', too - not to say that they're not working in some form, but they're not actually doing the work of governing.

The role of the Panel is described as being to "help improve the design of development and infrastructure proposals, assist with achieving best value from investment, and ensure that projects maximise their contribution to the built environment for the benefit of the community".

Sounds good - but the devil definitely resides in the detail.

In practice, the effect will be to remove consideration of design (and associated development bonuses) from the JDAPs (which have two local council members (out of 5 total), so only require one 'renegade' specialist member to refuse an application). So, having removed all larger development decisions from elected councils, they are now, in effect, to be removed from the JDAPs to hide behind a totally unelected group of specialists whose independence is chronically compromised by their reliance on property, development and landowner interests for so much of their income.

Moreover, despite the Panel's being required to work "for the benefit of the community" there are no community representatives. This poses the considerable question of who determines what is for the benefit of the community?

Then, the membership. The 'core members' of the Panel will be drawn from the same 'specialists' as the majority membership of the Development Assessment Panels: architecture, landscape architecture, urban design and planning. Admittedly, there will also be a number of 'technical specialists' drawn from a wide range of disciplines, but their expertise will only be called upon "for those review sessions where it will be relevant".

It was suggested to me that I should nominate, as my qualifications and experience cover a number of these 'technical specialist' areas, but I have very severe concerns about the Terms of Reference for the Panel.

Most important of my concerns is the draconian requirement for confidentiality which, in effect, prevents Panel members, including technical specialists, from participating in other forums or communities covering matters of urban planning and design - potentially even when they are not specifically dealing with a development for which they have been a party to discussions.

Despite the high-sounding definitions of 'Best Practice' and 'Design Principles', the functioning of the Panel appears to ignore some key aspects.

Best Practice
- Independence. As I have previously noted, JDAP specialist members (and hence 'core members of the DRP) have an unavoidable and systemic conflict of interest, as much of their professional income is derived from large landowners and property developers.
- Accountability.  The advice that the Panel provides "must be clearly seen to work for the benefit of the public" - but all proceedings of the Panel are confidential and there is no mention of Minutes being taken or of their availability if they are.
- Transparency. "The Panel's remit, membership, governance processes and funding should always be in the public domain". Yet all proceedings of the Panel are confidential and there is no mention of Minutes being taken or of their availability if they are.

Design Principles 
- Context and Character. Good design "responds to and enhances the distinctive characteristics of a local area, contributing to a sense of place".  A 'sense of place' is more than just built form - without community input, this will be no more than technical 'experts' making their own judgment rather than being based on actual experience of people in the affected communities, each of which will have its own distinct and potentially very different characteristics.



Monday, November 26, 2018

Token Consultation on Flawed Report in City of Vincent

The City of Vincent Draft Open Space Strategy (https://imagine.vincent.wa.gov.au/public-open-space-strategy) was approved by Council for consultation on 13 November.

Consultation closes 28 November, which is, at best, effectively less than two weeks consultation time. Readers of the City's e-mail newsletter would only have found out 23 November, which gives less than one week to respond.

This is not good enough, no matter how much community involvement there might have been beforehand. Contributions made during the development process are important but do not replace the need for individuals and community organisations, including those who were unable to participate earlier, to be able to comment on the specific proposals and how they have been arrived at.

Some of the basic mapping information is wrong and/or misleading, too - for example, I live immediately opposite Hyde Park and 30m from a pedestrian-friendly crossing that goes directly to an entry path to the Park, but the map shows me being over 200 metres access distance from any public open space.

Maps also don't recognise that high-level parks also serve the functions of lower-level parks. The extreme case of this is that Banks Precinct is shown as being 801-1600 metres from a 'local park' even when just across the road from Banks Reserve, which has a sheltered playground typical of local parks.

I am bemused by Figure 4 (below). How is it that, for example, all properties immediately opposite Hyde Park are shown as being at least 100m for POS and in some cases (including my own house) more than 200m from POS. Even if I go to the nearest formalised pedestrian crossing point, I only have to walk 30 metres to it and then 20 metres across the road.

There's a big difference between 50m and 201-400m!

[Mayor Emma Cole has responded to me saying that the anomaly about Hyde Park will be rectified before further consideration by Council, but the problem with identifying one such anomaly so easily is that one is forced to wonder how many other anomalies/errors there are.]