Ballarat has been given the narrowest of windows to prepare for the 2026 Commonwealth Games. What would usually be a decade's lead into the event must be delivered in just over three years.
It's no fault of the city - the Games were rescheduled - but it does mean there is an enormous amount to be planned, at a time when city planning staff are in turnover and land prices are at a premium. The City of Ballarat will most likely need to create a Commonwealth Games unit, while ensuring no other business area is neglected.
It's an enormous challenge. Aside from the Games precinct itself, a huge amount of infrastructure must be procured and delivered. One of those major developments is an athletes' village, which will house around 1750 people.
So where will the village be built?
The Commonwealth Games Federation has strict parameters for how villages must be constructed. They must be secure, self-contained, give easy access to sporting facilities, and able to be converted to social benefit after the games finish. In 2006 the Victorian Government delivered 155 detached houses, 32 studios, 28 townhouses, over 200 apartments and temporary accommodation buildings, with dining halls, training areas, a medical centre, religious facilities, an 'internet café', and other facilities in Parkville.
The Courier has identified four sites in Ballarat which fit the parameters: the current Ballarat Regional Athletics Centre (Llanberis); the former John Valves site on Creswick Road; the Eastwood Street CBD car park in front of Coles and Woolworths; and the former saleyards site on Latrobe Street.
Each has potential strengths, and some obvious weaknesses.
The Courier sought opinion from a developer with a history of working in social housing, Joseph van Dyk of Hygge Property; one of Melbourne's leading planning and urban geographers, Dr Kate Shaw; and a leading thinker in the city, Michael Poulton, who provided his opinions as a private citizen.
Dr Shaw was unfamiliar with the four Ballarat sites, but offered cautionary advice about the need to follow through with a strong program for social housing equity after the Games have finished.
She offered examples of where the athletes' village had good outcomes post-games (2012 Olympics, London); good and bad outcomes (2006 Commonwealth Games, Melbourne); and a very poor outcome (1956 Olympics, Melbourne).
"I think the idea is a fine one," Dr Shaw says.
"Wherever and whenever social housing is built, that is positive and should be supported. But there has to be follow through in terms of commitment to actually providing it in the first instance, and then secondly to maintaining it.
"In the case of (the 1956 Olympic Village at Heidelberg West), the public housing conversion was originally better maintained than public housing elsewhere in the state. Then it just became the same as public housing elsewhere: neglected and rundown. It was not the fault of the original intent; it was the fault of the follow through."
Dr Shaw says while there were good outcomes in the redevelopment of the former Parkville psychiatric hospital into a village, there were also 'sleights of hand' which meant promised social benefit outcomes were not fully delivered. For example, an aged care development was later rolled into a 'social housing outcome'.
Newspaper reports at the time not that while the government promised 1000 units at the site, the developer delivered just 200 by the opening of the games.
Both Michael Poulton and Joseph van Dyk, when offered the four likely sites for the village, opted for a CBD redevelopment of the Eastwood St carpark as the best choice, while acknowledging compromises have to be made in the tight timeframe.
"An opportunity such as the creation of a Commonwealth Games Village of 1500 residents is the largest opportunity for Ballarat to create the density and diversity of housing required for a successful village," Mr van Dyk says.
"This would be the advancement of 15 to 20 years of housing creation in a single project.
"Where would the best location for the Commonwealth Games Village in Ballarat? Of all the 'villages' in our great city, Bakery Hill has the greatest underlying potential and the City of Ballarat has identified Bakery Hill as its largest urban renewal opportunity.
"The City has significantly advanced the strategic planning framework for this area and it has a site of scale, the Eastwood car park, to accommodate an opportunity such as the Commonwealth Games Village.
"This area would leave the greatest legacy for the City of Ballarat and regenerate an area in great need of attention."
Michael Poulton agrees.
"I think we have to be realistic," he says.
"There are two factors here. One is that the games have to be delivered on whatever date it is in 2026. That's about half the lead-in time than traditionally we would have for planning processes for a major event like this. So inevitably, there's going to be some elements of compromise.
"The idea of an ideal games village may not necessarily be a reality, given that we're going to have some constraints in and around timing. Now that said, I think there are some terrific opportunities for urban renewal. So my view is something in the centre of the city or close enough to it. Eastwood Street car park, for example: develop a whole range of long-term legacy pieces around urban renewal, that would combine both affordable housing but also potentially other types of apartment living.
"I don't think we're looking to build a site that is just about social housing, because I think there's a failing in that model that's been demonstrated over generations. It's got to be a diversity; it has to be mixed. The Games Village in London, is a really good example of where you've got high end accommodation, and a percentage of affordable housing."
Of the other options, both men agree it's too short a timeframe to demolish Llanberris Reserve and build a new athletics venue at the same time. John Valves may come into play, says Michael Poulton, as a temporary accommodation site if it transpires time falls short.
"There are a whole range of options that government will be considering right now," he says.
"One of those, given the context of timing, might be that the games village is more like a temporary village, which could then be used for social good in a whole range of other regional towns."
The Latrobe St saleyards, says Joseph van Dyk, are probably not ready in either planning or development.
"(For the saleyards) it's too premature to handle this sort of opportunity," he says.
"If the village were elsewhere as part of a broader strategic plan, a series of villages, and if we acknowledge the need for a second, western CBD, then the saleyards could be part of that. But any Games development should only take two or three hectares. The rest should be developed for retail and office workers. Building 400 single dwellings on that site would be a waste. But if it's going to be there, build a few small double-storey dwellings, then develop it for high-rise medium density."
Where will the village be? The informed commentary says while the Eastwood car park is ideal, the former saleyards is the front runner, solving a myriad of problems about that site's future. Llanberris Reserve needs to be redeveloped, but taking it out during the lead to the Games may be too much. The John Valves land must be incorporated somehow, but those negotiations may preclude it being ready in time for permanent habitation, and its post-Games suitability. The good money is on the saleyards.
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