Several articles recently in The Courier are cause for reflection as to where our city is heading. Population and planning resonate as common and connected themes.
Back in 2003, with a population of some 12,000 around Wendouree to the west of the Ballarat CBD, the local shopping centre was redeveloped as Stockland Wendouree.
Whilst population growth in the immediate neighbourhood was slowing, it was a smart move by the Stockland Corporation as the adjoining suburb of Alfredton was about to take-off and, as reported recently in The Courier, its population has grown some 161% between 2001 (5,756) and 2020 (15,037), a breathtaking year-on-year hike of 5%, including the more recent new suburb of Lucas where the Lucas Town Centre (Coltman Plaza) opened in 2013.
South of Alfredton, the Delacombe area started from a population base of 4,154 in 2001 and has also grown at around 5% year-on-year to 9,238 in 2020, with the Delacombe Town Centre, shopping and entertainment mall, opening in 2017.
This flourishing growth has not been enjoyed by Ballarat Central where the population has moved just a total of 5% from 2001 (11,197) to 2020 (12,099), a lethargic 0.5% year-on-year.
This brings me to Bridge Mall which last saw through traffic (east-west) in 1980 as Bridge Street in an attempt to turn-around declining patronage.
As the Ballarat population push has moved westwards, Bridge Mall has lost its momentum and is in need of intensive-care with part of the proposed solution now to reintroduce traffic (west-east) along with circulation and design initiatives.
Clearly there is no quick-fix as the site has languished for decades with little signs of recovery, let alone healthy growth.
Council is responding with a $17M+ redevelopment plan for Bridge Mall, widely reported in The Courier, and the community has suggested many initiatives that might reignite the animation and business dynamics of the area.
It seems to me, however, that the most important impetus to the future of Bridge Mall is people, a vibrant resident population.
Tourists and out-of-towners are great for marginal expenditure but that has implications for the retail mix that may not align with the day-to-day needs of the locals.
The proposed redevelopment of Norwich Plaza with an element of residential accommodation sounds good. Could our planners perhaps set a population target for the central city area of 5,000 additional residents over the next decade to be supported by innovative strategies.
It's a big claim requiring a 5% year-on-year growth but would underpin the future viability of Ballarat.
The development of planned greenfields suburbs will continue with their residential neighbourhoods, retail malls, transport, health, education and community services but it's critical to be thinking about where the city is heading as it edges closer to celebration of its bicentenary in 2038.
It's sooner than you think!
Roger Permezel, Buninyong