A Plan for Northbridge : The NPA Submission

Willoughby Council recently sought community input into ideas that would contribute to a new Housing Strategy and Local Centres Strategy for Northbridge.
Council’s proposal was outlined in the following document: Northbridge Centre Concept

Below is a copy of the submission drafted by the Northbridge Progress Association Inc (NPA) on behalf of its members, in our endeavour to address the ideas and plans presented.


30th January 2018

Attention:
Ms Debra Just
General Manager
Willoughby City Council
PO Box 57, Chatswood NSW 2057

Dear Mrs Just,

Local Centre Plan for Northbridge

On behalf of the Northbridge Progress Association (NPA), I would like to provide some feedback to the Council on the draft Local Centre Plan for Northbridge. Thank you for providing the opportunity for us to comment.

1. The context for our feedback

NPA welcomes the opportunity to be engaged in meaningful consultation with Willoughby Council (the Council) in finalising the Local Centre Plan for Northbridge.

Over the years, we have participated in providing feedback throughout this, and other planning processes about the Northbridge Local Centre.

We regard this Local Centres Project as an opportunity for the Council to establish the planning framework and conditions that contribute to achieving good urban design for Northbridge. This means being able to demonstrate how the options being considered by Council can achieve outcomes with regard to such factors as liveability, productivity, equity and sustainability.

NPA has recently made some changes to its Committee. With this comes new ideas, that add value to the contributions of past NPA committees. Our members have overwhelmingly expressed concern about the effectiveness of past planning attempts for Northbridge.

Specifically, we refer to the 2003 Northbridge Town Centre Master Plan and the 2007 Northbridge Plaza Master Plan, which was shelved by Council in 2009. Northbridge Plaza is central to this Local Centre Plan for Northbridge. Various studies and proposals for the Plaza and the car park have been undertaken by Council and never implemented.

NPA wants to see that this process yields positive results and that Council engages with the community in a meaningful way.

We appreciate the work that has been done by Architectus in producing the Willoughby Local Centres Project (Northbridge) – draft for consultation.

This submission attempts to set out what we believe is necessary for voluntary community-based organisations such as NPA, to be able to form a shared view among its members about a preferred option.

We are concerned the current document has some shortcomings that make it difficult for us to form this shared view about each of the three proposed options, or to consider whether there are other options.

Specifically:

  • We are not clear how the Architectus document relates to other strategic plans and published positions by the Council and the NSW Government;
  • There are no outcomes or principles against which we can assess and evaluate each of the three options proposed, or consider other options;
  • There are different stakeholders with an interest in the future development of Northbridge. The report is silent on this. In trying to assess each of the three options, we have no way of knowing how the Council values the interests of different stakeholders or how the interests of these stakeholders are represented in each of the three options.
  • We are aware of design-led consultation and community engagement approaches that are being used to help implement a good urban design for cities and towns; in public places and buildings across NSW. We would like to see the Council adopt these approaches as a way of getting meaningful community feedback and greater accountability for how the final position is determined.

2. A shared vision among the stakeholders and a focus on outcomes should guide the development of a preferred option

In considering the Architectus report, the NPA has no sense of there being a shared vision for what success could look like in a Local Centre Plan for Northbridge (and also for other Local Centres).

The NPA membership is disappointed in the quality of urban design in Northbridge. Without exception, NPA members who contributed to this feedback commented on how Northbridge lacks the vibrancy of some adjacent Local Centres (e.g. Cammeray and Crows Nest). We have no sense about how the Council incorporates the principles of good urban design in developing local and city plans.

As residents, we recognise that we are one of many stakeholders with an interest in this plan. Within the resident population, there are different segments including, for example, those who live on the boundaries and adjacent to the Northbridge Local Centre and those who don’t; families with children; younger people; older people; people who use public transport and those who don’t.

Other stakeholders include Council, the NSW Government, politicians, developers, business owners, visitors, motorists and people who use the Northbridge Local Centre as a transport corridor and thoroughfare etc.

Because each of these stakeholders has different interests in the plan, it is important for the Council to be transparent about the stakeholders and to have a view about the relative weight given to their interests.

To help inform the development of a shared vision for this plan, NPA has documented some outcomes which we consider are important to us in assessing the merits of the three options proposed.

Considered together, these outcomes align with what the NSW Government Architect proposes in a (2017) draft consultation paper on an architecture and design policy for NSW. In that paper, the indicators of successful cities and towns include livability, productivity, equity and sustainability.

NPA is also supportive of establishing objectives and principles to guide the development of the built environment in Northbridge (and more broadly across the City of Willoughby). The NSW Government Architect provides some guidance on this by suggesting seven principles to describe the sort of built environment we want.

These principles are:

  • Contextual, local and of its place
  • Sustainable, efficient and durable
  • Equitable, inclusive and diverse
  • Enjoyable, safe and comfortable
  • Functional, responsive and fit for purpose
  • Value creating and cost-effective
  • Distinctive, visually interesting and appealing.

The outcomes the NPA considers to be important are:

2.1. Community

This means we want to understand how the plan:

  • Reinforces the Village feel of Northbridge
  • Provides for a diverse and interesting mix of services and retail outlets that encourages social interaction, attracts visitors and builds sustainable employment
  • Provides a vibrant town centre with mix of natural vegetation and recreation open space.
  • For pedestrians, connects the Junction shopping precinct with Plaza shopping area
  • Rationalises access to off-street parking north and south of Sailors Bay Rd to reduce the number of unsafe vehicle crossings in the shopping precinct.
  • Provides for diversity in housing design including designs that encourage downsizers (empty nesters) to move to smaller homes.
  • Enables ease of mobility and provision of services for people with a mobility disadvantage including older people, people with disabilities and family carers.
  • Provides for social inclusion through the provision of affordable accommodation for key workers.

2.2. The quality of the built form

This means we want to understand how the plan:

  • Greatly improves the urban design and aesthetics of new and existing buildings
  • Creates a built urban environment that is sustainable with zero impact on energy, water, sewage and waste.
  • Facilitates good urban and building design to promote a harmonious blend of architectural styles.
  • Preserves and incorporates some old houses to retain a connection with the heritage and history of Northbridge.

2.3. Accessibility and inclusion

This means we want to understand how the plan:

  • Provides a protected and efficient Transport Interchange at Northbridge to connect bus services to North Sydney, the City, Crows Nest, Chatswood and Frenches Forest.
  • Relocates commuter parking from local streets to accessible parking stations convenient to a Transport Interchange.
  • Provides safe and accessible lockers for bicycles (including shared bicycles) and mobility scooters and safe access from these to the Transport Interchange.
  • Improves road accessibility out of Northbridge (e.g. exclusive left turn lane onto Strathallen Ave)
  • Improves road accessibility in and out of Northbridge Car Park area (i.e. Harden and Eastern Valley Way access)
  • Improves pedestrian access safety and across Sailors Bay Road to Northbridge Plaza (e.g. overhead footbridge from Baringa Road to the Plaza)
  • Creates a safe and accessible built environment for pedestrians (including those walking with pets), people with mobility difficulties including people with disabilities, older people and family carers.

2.4. Respects the different interests of neighbours living on the boundary of the Northbridge Local Centre

This means we want to understand how the plan:

  • Limits medium density to designated areas and prevents encroachment on the blocks with single dwellings.
  • Respects privacy in adjoining properties through providing green space and setbacks.
  • Manages the risk of overshadowing through height and setback controls.
  • Ensures no loss of sun on installed solar panels or provides compensation where this is unavoidable.
  • Ensures greenery is preserved and wherever possible, enhanced, as part of a DA approval.
  • Limits the type and height of trees that can be planted to prevent future overshadowing and loss of outlook.
  • Guarantees the approving planning authority adheres to the planning controls, does not let them creep and create precedents unless there are full community consultation and revision.

2.5. Economic sustainability and productivity

This means we want to understand how the plan:

  • Provides a balance between retail and commercial opportunities so that spaces are not left vacant due to over-supply.
  • Improves off-street parking at the Junction strip and enables outdoor dining areas (i.e. Crows Nest style).
  • Promotes an arcade from Bellambi Street to Harden Ave to move pedestrians away from noisy and windy Sailors Bay Road and connects to the Park as entry to the Plaza.
  • Is transparent and accountable to all stakeholders about the costs and benefits of options presented to the community for consideration. For example, some may consider that Option 3 has the potential to produce better community outcomes as a result of enabling higher density. Alternatively, others may consider that Option 1 may preserve the status quo, however, does not provide the economic parameters to support increased community benefits.

3. Ideas to be investigated in further community engagement

By trying to build our shared understanding of the outcomes that the plan needs to achieve, the NPA has some suggestions for the Council to consider:

  • Lower the density/height on Eastern boundary adjacent to Harden Ave and increase density/height along western side next to Eastern Valley Way of the Northbridge Car Park. The outcome of this would be to improve privacy and reduce overshadowing to existing properties along Harden Avenue.

  • Plan for blocking Sailors Bay Road to Baringa Road as a whole. Minimise accesses from possible new developments along the northern side of Baringa Road and provide set back design and green space as a buffer to the southern side of Baringa Road.

  • Work with community organisations like NPA and the Federation of Willoughby Progress Associations to implement a design-led approach to developing and finalising these Local Centre Plans.

  • Council officers and consultants with a deep understanding of the Willoughby Local Centres Project engage further with the NPA in clarifying the issues we have raised in this feedback to help us form a shared vision with the Council on the preferred option.

Conclusion

On balance, none of the 3 options stands out as meeting our vision. We recommend that elements of the 3 options presented, as well as ideas presented here and through more specific community consultation, should be repackaged into another option and then assessed against the outcomes we document in this letter.

Thank you again for providing the opportunity for the NPA to provide feedback on this important Council initiative. To enable the NPA to better understand the Council’s view on the issues we have raised, I invite you and any Council Officers and/or consultants to address the next NPA Committee meeting on Monday 5 February 2018 at the Northbridge Library. Should this date not be convenient, I am open to you suggesting an alternative date.

Kind regards,

Max Menzies,
President
Northbridge Progress Association Inc.

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