Serge’s Column

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Hello again, people of St Kilda,

I hope you’ve all had a good month. We’ve been very busy at Council since my last column. The budget kept us all on our toes during May, and I have been hard at work with the assessment of the cultural development grants. We have looked at 44 projects that deserve support. As usual, though, we don’t have enough funds to support them all.

As I mentioned in my last column, this month I am going to talk about the St Kilda Triangle. I’m sure that many of you know the history of The Triangle, and my own involvement, but, for those that don’t, here is a very quick summary.

In May 2007, the then City of Port Phillip Council revealed plans for the development of a large shopping and recreational complex on the site of the car park next to the Palais Theatre. It was to have 186 shops, a supermarket and an entertainment complex to cater for up to 6000 people.

The plans for the redevelopment caused a public outcry. Many people thought that what was proposed was too big and too unsympathetic to its surroundings, and that the number of people the complex would attract would add to the existing problems of traffic, noise pollution and anti social behavior.

As a response to the objections of local residents, the activist group unChain St Kilda was formed. When the Council approved the plans, the group helped to turn public anger into political action. A high profile media campaign was launched. Rallies were organized. The Council was ousted at the elections of 2008.

The new Council then began a process of negotiating a settlement with the developers of The Triangle, who finally settled and walked away from the project in 2010, after two years of discussions.

This outcome had the benefit, however, of giving the council time to canvass opinion from local residents as to how they wanted the site to be redeveloped. The result of these discussions will be presented in a report, called The St Kilda Triangle – a shared vision, to be made public for consultation on the 14th of June.

The current set of ideas for the redevelopment of the site considers such aspects as landscape, the need for open space, architectural forms, heritage, the use of public space, culture and recreation, transport and access, commercial limits and opportunities, and sustainability.

We at the Council need to know what the residents of Port Phillip want to see on this site. But I have been surprised at how difficult it can be to get feedback. We do what we can to encourage people to talk to us, but I think that many in the area feel that they can’t, or don’t know how to, contribute to the planning process.

It’s difficult to know how to reverse the trend. Like other councils around the world, we at City of Port Phillip are always looking for ways to keep local residents interested in affairs that affect them.

A few weeks ago I was part of a panel in a forum called ‘Localism and Civil Engagement’, set up to discuss ways of tackling this problem of a lack of political engagement in local affairs by the public. Panelists came up with all sorts of ideas on ways of raising political awareness – from the use of games to that of social media on the Internet.

I believe in using a combination of methods, the traditional as well the modern – such as keeping people informed by writing for this paper, for example. And the good old-fashioned rally, which I think is a very effective way of bringing people together to fight for a common cause.

However it is done, I believe that decisions on local matters should be made by the people most affected by them. That means you, the local resident.

So, citizens of St Kilda and Port Phillip, I urge you to become involved in this phase of the redevelopment of The Triangle. The site is in the middle of one of Melbourne’s most iconic spots and we want to make sure that it is developed in a way that is attractive, that blends well with its environment and is an asset to St Kilda.

It is also on Crown Land. It’s up to all of us to decide what to do with it.

So, from mid June, take the time to look at the report, either on the City of Port Phillip’s website, at local libraries or at the various consultations we are organizing until mid July. And give us your thoughts and ideas on how it could be improved. It is important that we get as much response as possible, so we know whether we are on the right track or not. This time, we want to make sure that this development of the Triangle site will be the right one.

Till next month.

By Serge Thomann


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