Tainting big visions with blinding choices

There are varying opinions on the value and efficacy of Ballarat’s railway station precinct. However most would agree that allowing a valuable central site as large as the precinct to decay through lack of vision or action would be a great shame for a growing city.

Few things upset Ballarat folk who genuinely love their city as lost opportunity. So in most regards the announcement this week of a huge investment in the precinct is to be welcomed. The Courier agrees this much with the minister that a project of this scale is genuinely transformational for Ballarat’s heart and is to encouraged.

But there are thorns on this rosy path. Few people would also disagree with the concept that the station precinct is and will remain fundamentally a transport hub. Not only for the increasingly important fast rail link to Melbourne, itself a credit to the current governments investment, but also to the ancillary transport forms that connect this rail hub to the rest of Ballarat. People are sensitive about public transport because they see its intrinsic worth and in a way believe they own it.

And this is what leads us to the latest turmoil of the rearrangement of bus stops in Lydiard Street. Few people wouldn’t recognise the value of a centralised bus hub and all routes leaving through this hub.  Most would consider it reasonable that some disruption comes as a consequence of growth and better ends, if the these conditions were detailed to them in timely and clear fashion. But there is a dispiriting sense that public transport elements of the proposal are an afterthought; changes and plans to be relayed at the last moment or simply left unknown.

This is not to advocate for an endless round of public consultation or no changes but rather, having established a clear outcome, to clearly and openly communicate these changes. Naturally those affected will have a range of questions but these need to be answered not avoided. Residents may not like all the answers but they prefer the facts to obfuscation. The later simply breeds resentment, disillusionment and conspiracy theories.  Even those who feel their amenity had been compromised by the relocation might have been more amenable if, when told it was temporary, were given a reasonable end date.

The great danger of modern communications is to be so afraid of honesty as to prefer “messaging”. Again a reasonable end is compromised by underestimating people.