既非高层,也非蔓生
It’s neither Tall nor Sprawl

  • It’s Neither Tall nor Sprawl

Mass Transit Scheme: ABC Sunshine Coast – Radio Interview
Drive with Annie Gaffney

 

The Sunshine Coast continues to build a case for the development of an integrated mass transit system to service the Sunshine Coast’s growing population. The linear city continues to grow, with majority of population existing within two-three kilometres of the coastline, and with people continuing to make more of a coastal shift with working from home opportunities upon the rise.

Place Design Group Director, James Birrell sat down with ABC Sunshine Coast Radio Host, Annie Gaffney to discuss the Mass Transit Scheme for the future of the Sunshine Coast.

 

Annie Gaffney:

“The Mass Transit is a topic of conversation for our Sunshine Coast community, and James you’ve been part of this passionate discussion for a number of years now haven’t you?”

James Birrell:

“My father and I first tabled the idea back in 2006 and it didn’t really get anywhere. I spent about six years working on it and it wasn’t until 2012 when I released a report on Light Rail and Urban Infill that it pricked a few ears. Bill Hoffman of the Daily helped generate quite a lot of impact around it, and Cr Vivian Griffin with The Public Transport portfolio from council took it under her wing. Vivian and I went around and really drummed up a lot of support in the hinterland and the whole of Sunshine Coast to give people an understanding of what was going to happen in terms of population growth and urban sprawl if we didn’t start to think a about where we are housing people and how we are moving people around.”

Annie Gaffney:

“Given that there is at least 15 years that had past since you first muted the idea, there is still a lot of concern in the community about what the mass transit may actually look like, so much so that Council had to go back out for community consultation, which it is doing right now. Light Rail isn’t the only option on the table, and a lot of people have questioned whether it is the best option – In your view, is Light Rail still the best option 15 years later?”

James Birrell:

“Yeah, I think it is still definitely up there, there are other modes which are very interesting, like Trackless Trams which is another option in this latest round of consultation. There are no working examples of that in Australia however, there is a trial that is starting in Wellington this year and we should see that working in September. It would be good to get over there and see it working outside of China. I think Scarborough in Western Australia are also looking to trial one as well. It is going to take some time for those types of technologies to translate into an Australian situation.”

Annie Gaffney:

“One of the points that is often raised in the community at the moment is – the preferred corridor for the Light Rail or Trackless Trams, this seems to centre along the coastline from Alexandra Headlands going South. People are concerned that this will break up their interaction with the coastline and will spark a development rush along the corridor with high rise buildings and a change to the feel of the Sunshine Coast going along Nicklin Way. Would the Light Rail or Trackless Trams system destroy the look and vibe of the coast?”

James Birrell:

‘”I don’t think so, I think it will actually improve the corridors, they are pretty nasty relatively higher speed corridors with lots of traffic on them. I think there is an opportunity to beautify the corridor with this kind of infrastructure. The biggest issues that we are dealing with on the coast is the talk about density as skyscrapers, when density covers everything from low to high density. Too often we talk about tall vs sprawl, when in fact what we need is the “missing middle” as distributed density along the mass transit corridor. What I mean by distributed density is that it is the mid-rise, the 5-11 storey high, which is based on adjacent streets, with higher storeys set back from the street wall. Then you have walk ups and townhouses up to 4 storeys. Then conversions, converting existing single dwellings to multi unit/family duplexes, and then there is accessory dwellings, like granny flats or lane ways flats. You can actually densify through those types of buildings typologies. Look at Alexandra Headlands for example, it’s got a lot of that building typology already and that’s exactly what we are looking at. If you can distribute that density, it gives you a diversity of housing products, which then promotes housing affordability through diversity, which is what we are trying to do as well. If you trade out of the situation, where you’ve got a big backyard and you’re going to move into property in a higher density situation, you want access to amenity, you want access to the water and to be able to walk to those things. Along Nicklin Way, which for the most part is about 800 metres back from the beach you can get that density in, not impact the beach and people can still walk everywhere. They can still be connected to the beach and connected to the City Centre, the hospital and the beach at Mooloolaba and Alex Heads. Hopefully when CAMCOS comes to Maroochydore they are then connected to the Heavy Rail as well.”

Annie Gaffney:

“What about the aspect that people often raise that this is just a money grab by the Sunshine Coast Council to densify and capitalise on what money they get from the development rush that will come as a result of the land grab?”

James Birrell:

“It isn’t going to just be Council delivering this, it will also be the State and Federal Governments, all of those Governments will pitch in to deliver this essential infrastructure then there will need to be some type of payment for the value uplift that is created along to help pay for that infrastructure. You can’t just go and put that infrastructure in and expect that everyone who develops along there to get a free ride. There has to be some kind of value back to help pay for that infrastructure. I don’t see a problem with that, I think that is smart.”

Annie Gaffney:

“What are some of the concerns that you’ve heard from the community about this proposed mass transit corridor and associated infrastructure?”

James Birrell:

“The biggest thing is that we don’t want to be like the Gold Coast. I think if we unpack that, it comes back to my comment before about tall vs sprawl. When I first did investigations into density all over Australia, to look at the principal place of residence and where people live. It wasn’t in the tall buildings along the beachfront on the Gold Coast. The Gold Coast principal place of residence was the urban sprawl that was just behind that area all the way into the hinterland. There wasn’t that many people actually living along the Gold Coast Strip, it’s only now that they’ve got Light Rail that you’ve seen quite a big increase in principal place of residences in that area. The Light Rail has actually brought people in and made it more liveable for them.”

Annie Gaffney:

“People might have heard you talk about a mid-range building height along Nicholas Way and feel horrified by that and don’t want to see high rises there. If you look at the proposed station to station along that corridor, essentially it would be wall to wall high rise and by the time you build out to those station footprints – what is your response to that?”

James Birrell:

“I look at the whole region and I get very concerned about what it’s going to look like with low density housing across the corridor, up through our water catchments up through our small farmlands, all of those types of things are going to have a huge impact on the character of the coast. We need to think about how we manage population growth smartly, so we don’t destroy the natural assets and bring in infill development on stuff that’s already developed and already spent the last 50 years pouring money and infrastructure, roads and electricity, sewage, all of that stuff, it’s smart to use that and what we’ve already done. We should try and be protecting the whole region and beautifying. Nicholas Way, from my perspective it’s got a long way to go to be a nicer environment and I think bringing in that critical mass to 5-11 storeys, and around a station is going to give you the money to make those spaces more beautiful.”

Annie Gaffney:

“We are hearing a lot of concern from people about the Northern end of the proposal, Maroochydore along through Alexandra Headland and Mooloolaba. People are concerned about being cut off from the ocean.”

James Birrell:

“I don’t understand how you can be cut off from the ocean, I know with Light Rail you are going to have a power system which may look a little bit ugly. With Trackless Trams you don’t have any of that, they are all battery operated. The vehicles are coming every 5 minutes so I can’t see how it could cut you off from the beach.”

Annie Gaffney:

“What is the biggest myth that you’ve heard?”

James Birrell:

“Comes back to the tall vs sprawl, we need to be smart about the missing middle and looking at this diversity of housing typologies. When I see place cards with a massive skyscraper on it, of course we don’t want that. That’s probably the biggest myth that hasn’t been dispelled. This is the right time to be having this conversation, you have a new town plan coming in. And if we are doing taller buildings, they should have a 20% site coverage so they are opening up 80% of the site to landscaping. They should be having green rooves on top of them. Stop talking about height and start talking about storeys and that will help unlock where it goes.”

Annie Gaffney:

‘What type of height is 5-11 storeys?”

James Birrell:

“25m-30m”

Annie Gaffney:

“Which we already have in some parts of Mooloolaba along the spit, correct?”

James Birrell:

“It would actually be higher than that. I think we are 40 metres in some of those areas already. 40-60 meters on 6th Ave.”

 

The priority now needs to shift to preserve the coast’s natural assets and character, focusing on reducing our urban footprint and concentrating on growing areas that have already been developed with access to services and natural amenities. If we don’t do this properly then there could be significant impacts on what this region becomes over the next 10 years.


 

James Birrell

Director