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Reinvigorating a great city

The Urban Development Institute of Australia (NT) has been a strong supporter of the Darwin CBD Masterplanning process, submitting an article to Business Review back in 2013 which described the plan as “masterful”.  We were also active participants in all the consultations conducted during the formulation of the Masterplan.  And it was an excellent document, developed following extensive research, strong consultation and with apparent support from the City of Darwin and the then NT Government.

Three years on and we have seen only limited progress on the plan.  So what has gone wrong?  UDIA (NT) believes there have been three major failings:

First, the plan was intended to provide a long-term blueprint for Darwin’s development as a city and identified about 70 projects which would help to guide us along the right path.  But the plan was not an end in itself, and the projects were not set in concrete.  It was always intended that the plan would evolve through ongoing community consultation and that the project details would be adjusted over time, following consultation with a much wider cross-section of the community.  Unfortunately this has not happened – the debacle of the Daly Street roundabout is an example of this failure.

Second, the plan’s implementation was always going to need strong commitment and engagement from all the major players, including the NT Government, the City of Darwin, business and the community.  While each of these sectors can criticise the past level of commitment and communication from at least one of the others, there is little to be gained by finger pointing now that we have a new Government and a new attempt by the City of Darwin to get things moving again.  But any attempt to revive the plan is doomed unless there is a strong level of commitment and regular, effective communication between each sector.

Third, all of the identified projects need to be funded and this has proven to be a significant challenge.  Innovative funding models, such as industry contributions offset by reductions in rates or other levies, have been considered, but no effective funding model has been developed so far.  Although there may be some potential for funding from the Commonwealth Infrastructure Fund, it will still be imperative for the NT Government, City of Darwin and businesses to find ways of working better together to ensure project implementation is properly and systematically funded.

It seems to be assumed by some groups that the original 70 projects are now in final form and just need to be systematically implemented.  This was not the intention of the plan’s architects; in fact three years on there are legitimate reasons to reconsider the merits and details of some projects.

One example UDIA (NT) has already drawn attention to is the Masterplan proposal for a new entrance into Darwin along the Stuart Highway, by-passing the current section which directs vehicles through Stuart Park and over the Daly Street Bridge.  Because it will be very costly to build a new road as originally proposed, we believe the option of progressively enhancing the existing route through Stuart Park should be considered.  This is not to say that some form of new road is not needed – for example new developments completed or approved for Mirambeena Street since the Masterplan was published, have already created traffic problems at the junctions of this street with Finniss Street and the junction of Finniss Street with McMinn Street.

A new minor road connecting the northern end of Mirambeena Street into Stuart Park could alleviate this congestion and also potentially provide for improved traffic flow through The Gardens as infill developments are completed.

There is enormous potential for Darwin to grow into Australia’s capital of the north. Our advantages include the fact that we are the only Australian capital city located in the tropics, our geographic position on a peninsula surrounded by a deep harbour, our relative proximity to major population centres in Asia, our existing road, rail and air links to the rest of Australia, our strong multicultural mix, and our strategic importance for defence and border surveillance.

We can make Darwin a great tropical city and it will be in Australia’s best long-term interests for us to do this.  But we cannot expect someone else to do it for us; we need to work together effectively to make this happen.  A new Government, new public service structure, new people in new positions and a renewed commitment from the City of Darwin have provided us with another opportunity to learn from our past mistakes and get this right!