The bustling inner-city precinct of Braddon needs a big-picture overhaul before embarking on the sort of short-term government responses that have come under fire from businesses, according to leading Braddon architect AJ Bala.
The City Renewal Authority’s plans for Lonsdale Street that are out for public consultation have sparked a flurry of complaints, ranging from the loss of parking and high commercial rates to the maintenance levy imposed on landlords.
The $4 million streetscape upgrade will include widened verges at the Cooyong Street intersection, two landscaped mid-block pedestrian crossings, new paving, improved lighting, and more street furniture, bike racks and litter bins.
There will also be more protection for trees and new urban art.
The City Renewal Authority says the works will make the Braddon area more appealing and pedestrian friendly, as well as provide more scope for al fresco dining.
But DNA Architects director AJ Bala says these kinds of works should come after government, business and landlords have come together to sort out the planning issues Braddon faces and agreed on some design tweaks that would help to resolve some of the parking and accessibility problems bedevilling Braddon as it grows
“They’re not looking at it from a wholistic perspective – they’re trying to band-aid fix the issues,” said Mr Bala, who has worked on the street for 20 years and seen Braddon evolve.
He said looking at Lonsdale Street in isolation would not fix Braddon’s problems, and called for a precinct-wide approach that should look at creating more connections between the three main streets.
Mr Bala said converting the current easements between the blocks into laneways would provide a more permeable precinct with more avenues for visitors to easily get to their destinations.
It would also help ease parking issues if visitors could more easily access Lonsdale Street from nearby streets.
“There is plenty of parking on Mort Street, and that’s why I think creating that interconnectivity between those three streets will actually help with the parking issue,” said Mr Bala.
An underground parking station should also not be ruled out.
But with two Wilson car parks already in Lonsdale Street, Civic parking close by and light rail almost to the doorstep, Mr Bala believes parking is not Braddon’s most pressing issue.
He believes the laneways would add value to businesses and properties by increasing the frontages and exposure to customers, and improving the serviceability of the precinct in terms of deliveries and waste collection.
Mr Bala said high commercial rates and rents are real worries for businesses and landlords, but if they saw more foot traffic they might be more agreeable.
He said DNA Architects is already working with a couple of businesses on similar ideas, but it would be better if it could be done all along the street and across the precinct.
One obstacle is the rules-based planning system that leaves little scope for innovation, and the Braddon Precinct Map and Code would need to change.
The current planning review is looking at moving away from this prescription-based approach to provide more flexibility in the system to achieve better outcomes.
“I can see it’s going to get worse on Lonsdale Street – how the planning is at the moment if the blocks keep redeveloping,” said Mr Bala.
He said the issues started cropping up when the ACT Government began to meddle with the rules.
“The organic nature sort of disappeared – how do we get that back and have a good outcome, and not so cobbled together?” said Mr Bala.
Work on the Braddon streetscape upgrade is due to begin in early 2022.
To learn more about, or comment on, the Lonsdale Street upgrade proposal, go to the ACT Government’s YourSay website.