Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Video from last night's Moreland climate event

I'll be writing more on this event shortly, but for now here's the video of presentations by Climate Code Red co-author, David Spratt, and Kelvin Thomson MP, Labor MP for Wills. David has also published an extensive post on the event at his Climate Code Red blog. This excellent and well-attended event was organised by the Moreland Climate Group.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bushfire museum must record the truth

The proposed Victorian bushfire museum considered in a recent editorial of The Sunday Age is a laudable idea. It would offer a fitting way to remember our catastrophic fires and their victims, but can only be justified if it has permission to tell the truth.

The editorial describes Victoria's February fires as 'popularly blamed on climate change', whereas a more accurate statement would have said that scientists themselves are increasingly drawing this link.

As I have noted elsewhere, the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, the head of Victoria's own climate change reference group, Professor David Karoly, and now US researchers using satellite imaging to study increased fire risk all believe that the February fires were consistent with human-caused climate change.

Yet the same edition of the paper carried a report that the royal commission promises to investigate all aspects of the fires - hard to believe when its terms of reference are silent on climate and there is no obligation on commissioners to investigate the issue or to make recommendations upon it.

How can this politically motivated climate blindness be justified as the Australian Government heads towards international climate negotiations in Copenhagen this December?

Finally, as also reported in last Sunday's edition, Liberal MP Greg Hunt may be right when he suggests that youth may be brainwashed by a federal government school promotional campaign about climate change - but only if our kids falsely believe that the prime minister and his government are doing what is needed to avoid climate tipping points that will be irreversible once crossed.

Will the bushfire museum tell the misleading story of one more tragic episode in a long line of bushfires, or will history record that we faced the truth, that the February fires opened our eyes to the impacts of climate change, that, with belated urgency, we started the long but crucial battle to stop more frequent and severe fires through our international leadership on climate?

Read more about the 2009 Victorian bushfires and climate change.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Route 86 submissions due today

If you haven't already done so, please consider making a submission on the Tram Route 86 Corridor Project by close of business today (14 April), which is the deadline for the initial consultation. Details on how to make a submission are available in this post, or at the Route 86 project page.

For those who are interested, my submssion is now available as a web page at Google Docs. Agree, disagree, or discuss here, but make sure you have your say to Council. Community input at this stage will be very valuable as consultation progresses to the next stage and the project is further refined.

Comments, anonymous or otherwise, are most welcome.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Fire missing from climate debate US scientists say

A report on the 8 April edition of Radio National's World Today program details US research employing satellite imaging to study increased fire risk from climate change. Scientists interviewed about the research, which features the 2009 Victorian Black Saturday bushfires, say that the increased rate of change of fire risk features in the outcomes, that the Victorian fires are consistent with climate change, and that fire has been missing from the climate debate - in fact, there is no 'fire chapter' in climate reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

One way to bring fire back into the climate debate is to make sure climate change gets the air-time it deserves at the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, the terms of reference for which are silent on this issue, leaving investigation of climate change as a contributor to the Black Saturday bushfires to the discretion of the commissioners when other factors are specifically identified for investigation.

If we can face up to the role of climate change in Victoria's devastating bushfires, then maybe we can look at Australia's proposed emissions reduction targets in a new way - namely, do they contribute to long-term bushfire prevention through international advocacy on a stronger global climate policy? Or are our current, inadequate targets in fact entirely consistent with more frequent occurrences of the fires that burnt so much of Victoria and took so many lives back in February? I fear the answer is 'yes'. If that's not a call to action by the Australian Government, I don't know what is.

Read more coverage on the 2009 Victorian bushfires on this blog.

Monday, April 6, 2009

One week to make your Route 86 submission

While the consultation for the Route 86 project has been extended, your submission should still be sent in by Tuesday 14 April 2009 - the first business day after the Easter break commencing this Friday.

You can have your say by completing an online survey, completing the survey in person at a customer service centre or Darebin Library, sending your submission by email, or by mailing it to Transport Management and Planning PO Box 91, Preston, 3072 (clearly marking it as a submission for the Tram Route 86 Corridor Project).

Inquiries can be directed to 8470 8341, and you might also like to contact your Rucker Ward Councillors. Mayor Diana Asmar and Councillor Trent McCarthy have been active participants in the consultation process, so let them know your concerns and ideas, as well as including your views in your submission.

Before penning your submission or completing the survey, it's a good idea to have a look at the Route 86 project page, the Westgarth Residential Access page, and the related posts published on this blog.

Remember that, following last Tuesday's public meeting, Council officers have explicitly ruled out using the service road on the western side of High Street south of Westgarth Street as a sliplane to enter Westgarth Street/Merri Parade. However, it can't hurt to acknowledge this in your submission and to briefly say why you think that decision is so important in addressing community concerns.

Other key areas you might like to cover include the positioning of the tram stops in and around the Westgarth strip, the potential impact on residents and businesses from any loss of parking in the strip or nearby (especially from Ruckers Hill), the integration of cycling in the plan, and, of course, issues of safety and access to public transport.

The Route 86 project page sets out the consultation process following the close of submissions on 14 April, and offers notes on recent public meetings, so all the issues are now pretty much on the table - it's now a matter of what gets done with them. I encourage you to have your say to make sure this worthwhile project proceeds in a form that meets everyone's needs as far as possible.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Darebin gets smarter on consultation

Following the Westgarth Route 86 issues meeting on Tuesday, Council has promptly made available on the web the plan for the community consultation process from here, and you can also read the notes from the meeting in Word format (scroll down to the section about the roundtable discussions).

If you don't have Word, you can also view the notes here as a web page. The notes from the cycling issues meeting are also available in Word (here as a web page).

I've yet to read the Westgarth notes, but, together with Tuesday's big win for residents in the High Street service road, this is the sort of responsiveness that will bring big improvements to the consultation process from here.

Have a read of the notes, and be sure to tell your friends that they're available. It's also a good idea to let Council know if you think they've missed anything that you discussed on the night, or if any of the points could be made clearer etc.

The sharing of these ideas by Council offers valuable context for community submissions that are invited by 14 April.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Community wins on High Street service road

A Darebin Council community meeting last night saw at least one big gain for Westgarth residents in proposals to upgrade the Route 86 tram line. The service road on the south-western side of High Street leading to the intersection with Westgarth Street is no longer proposed for use as a sliplane for High Street traffic turning left into Westgarth Street/Merri Parade.

Council's change of heart on this issue means that residents of the service road will no longer face the prospect of heavy traffic - including trucks - entering the service road at Cunningham Street and passing by their front doors, not only threatening their amenity but compromising access of emergency services to their homes.

Council officers last night explicitly ruled out the service road sliplane option in the further development of the proposal. Instead they will consider alternative designs for left-turning traffic based on a possible re-alignment of tram tracks (as suggested by a local resident), or part-use of the strip currently separating the service road from High Street.

What was initially a very heated meeting evolved through compromise into what could be the start of more effective consultation by the City of Darebin, with benefits to this and other Council projects. Initial staunch opposition to a badly communicated format of small group discussions subsided when community members suggested a session at the end in which outcomes from each group could be shared among them all. This helped address the concern that the groups would split the consultation and hinder the communication of outcomes, an area in which Council has so far performed very poorly.

Instead, the group discussions produced valuable feedback that Council officers shared at the end and have committed to publishing on the web by the end of this week. Issues covered included the contentious, but now thankfully rejected, service road sliplane option; resident access to streets south-west of the High Street-Westgarth Street intersection; the positioning of new tramstops; business and resident parking concerns; the integration of cycling; and the consultation process itself.

The initial deadline for consultation of 14 April (by which date submissions are still invited) will now be followed by a report detailing the outcomes of consultation, before a further 'listening phase' refines the proposal with the input of a yet-to-be-nominated community reference group. The ultimate timeframe for consideration of any final report and recommendations is yet to be announced, and the community is also awaiting further advice on which councillors will be able to vote - four having previously declared a conflict of interest related to the Route 86 project.

The overall aim in the new process is for Council to shape the proposal in a more suitable timeframe to reflect community needs, rather than submitting to overly hasty consultation to meet the State budget deadline. The difference could be a good project well rather than badly implemented, provided feedback on more effective consultation is heeded.

The focus now shifts to the related questions of tramstop locations and parking - in particular whether stops should be located immediately south or north of the intersection of High and Westgarth Streets. This will partly be influenced by redesign of the intersection to avoid use of the service road as a sliplane, and partly by the impact of the northern option on parking in the strip. The community will be looking for clear options regarding this point as the proposal is refined.

At the other end of the strip, a useful contribution by the Palace Cinemas representative put forward the idea of north- and south-bound stops located immediately north of Union Street instead of just south of it in the strip. This may well have benefits for parking in the strip itself, and would move the stops closer to the proposed 47-unit older persons public housing development at Roberts Street, which will lose its current south-bound stop under the plan.

In my own view, this option could be enhanced by considering the repositioning of the light-controlled pedestrian crossing to facilitate the flow of bicycle traffic from the eastern to the western leg of Union Street immediately south of these stops. Better crossing arrangements for Westgarth Street at McLachlan Street would consolidate this move by offering a safer connection to the bicycle path network accessed via the Merri Creek footbridge near Rushall Station. A related cycling issue was continued concern regarding interaction between waiting passengers and cyclists riding over tramstops.

An unequivocal outcome of the meeting was that the loss of parking from Ruckers Hill would have a heavy impact on Westgarth businesses. It was also suggested that a broad traffic and parking study should be undertaken across a range of times to determine true parking capacity and how people come to the strip, and that acquisition of sites at either end of the strip should be considered for the development of underground parking.

While the meeting was a big step forward, albeit only after some community intervention on the night, it should now be clear to Council that the community will no longer tolerate bad consultation, and is fully capable of mobilising opposition to bad proposals.

To build on last night's positive turn of events, Council should acknowledge that the community's anger has been well-founded. It must also do more than one councillor's empty suggestion of clapping each other and council officers after the meeting. That said, there was certainly a mood of constructive progress that I hope will continue. This is a big chance for our new Council to re-establish the trust of its community.

Chances are in detailing such a busy meeting I have missed a few things, so feel free to comment about what you thought was important.