A Tale of Two Waterfronts: how Belfast can anchor the development of Hobart’s Macquarie Point

The development of Hobart’s urban centre can learn from its long-lost European cousin, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Samantha Dixon and Emily Jarvie

Hobart’s waterfront is an iconic area for locals and tourists. Source: Pete Harcourt

Two seaside cities, 17,000 kilometres apart: Hobart and Belfast. Despite the distance, the cities share surprising similarities, not the least their plans for waterfront development and revival by concentrating on cultural appropriation and historical identification.

In Hobart, the plans for the prime location at Macquarie Point, previously used by TasRail and TOLL Transport, present a new future for Hobart’s waterfront area. The most recent unveiling by Tasmanian cultural icon, Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), and their thirty-year plan, shares qualities of Belfast’s new Titanic Quarter, an area that has been developed for the last decade, with another twenty-plus years to go.

Both sites are brownfield locations, Macquarie Point used for freight and shipping, and the Titanic Quarter an ex-shipbuilding ground, renowned for White Star Line’s R.M.S Titanic. The cities are connected via their colonial pasts, with many convicts from Northern Ireland transported to penal colonies in Australia. Both cities are car dependent, and have continual issues creating alternative sustainable methods of transport. And of course, the pair have a rich cultural heritage that must not only be celebrated, but dedicated to the locations’ history in the development of the sites.

Hobart has put a focus on the redevelopment of its city and waterfront areas in a process of urban renewal through the creation of cultural hubs. The reduction of traffic on Liverpool Street to make the area more pedestrian friendly, and the creation of central student accommodation for the University of Tasmania, are just two projects that aim to bring life back into the city centre. The continued improvements into the Salamanca, Franklin Square, and Morrison Street areas show a ongoing desire to redirect business into these central locations.

With such comparable cities, by looking toward Belfast there is a unique opportunity to see the successes and downfalls the Hobart waterfront may experience over the next ten years. For example, the plans for the Belfast waterfront have already changed dramatically, said Chaplain to the Titanic Quarter Chris Bennett.

“Some of the plans are vaguer than others, some of them are ‘something will go there, just draw some squares on the paper’ whether they will be apartments, affordable housing, office blocks, whatever it might be,” Bennett explained.

The view over the Titanic Quarter, Belfast. Source: Titanic Belfast.

One of the most important aspects appears to be flexibility over time. For instance, in Belfast the movie studio was not in the original concept, but with the sheds lying empty an opportunity was found, Bennett said. Although not part of the master plan, this development has brought tourism and investment to the area, thanks to the HBO series Game of Thrones utilising the location for studio work.

In Hobart, flexibility may be key, particularly with the Macquarie Point redevelopment already a contentious issue. Independent MP for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, has criticized the work so far.

“The Macquarie Point redevelopment has lost its way. It urgently needs to be redirected and rebooted with an abundance of vision,” Wilkie said. “That more than four years of planning and expenditure has been wasted on the work to date is deeply disappointing. In mid-2012, when I secured the $50 million to remediate the site, I said publicly to the State Government “don’t stuff it up” but that’s exactly what’s happened so far”.

Direction will create high stakes in Hobart as the conflicting forces of the Hobart City Council, State Government, and David Walsh’s MONA army continue to clash over ideas, disagreeing on requirements, potential, and capacity.

The resignation of Elizabeth Jack, the now former-CEO of the Macquarie Point Development Corporation leads to questions regarding the direction of the committee, with interim-CEO Mary Massina appointed for a period of six months. Such turbulent moves at a critical time in Macquarie Point’s development could spell the fate of the future plans. It will be a crucial goal for Massina to take a hold over the developmental path and create a more coherent future in her half-year appointment, before handing over to her hopefully more permanent successor.

These concerns are illustrated in the blown-out timeline. In the Macquarie Point Development Corporation 2015-16 Annual Report it stated the anticipated timeframe to bring the plans to life would be “ten years or more”. However, after MONA’s concept unveiling, it is now anticipated to take approximately thirty years, in what the State Government called ‘resetting’ the Macquarie Point development.

Creative Director for MONA Lee Carmichael said in an interview with ABC Radio: “we all want it to happen really quickly. I’d love to see the resources come forward so that we could see this happen in ten to fifteen years, but realistically we think it may be more like thirty”.

Premier Will Hodgman said in a press release “the new vision addresses the feedback we have received and offers a roadmap for realising Macquarie Point’s potential as a truly iconic national landmark.”

However, Wilkie showed concern over the new timeframe.

“I don’t support the 30-year timeline. The Government needs to finally get cracking and build this thing, starting with immediately securing the access to the waterfront, sorting out the sewage plant and finding the money for the light rail. It must not use its ill-considered plan to ship forest waste out of Hobart as an excuse for delaying the Macquarie Point project,” he said.

“I also support proper process and expect that the Government will now not do any cosy deals with any favoured proponent, architect or developer,” Wilkie said.

The upcoming use of the Macquarie Point area in conjunction with Tasmania’s controversial forestry industry is yet another point of contention. The plan for this area to replace Triabunna as Southern Tasmania’s major forestry export centre will begin from April this year.

Greens MP Rosalie Woodruff said in an interview with ABC: “timber exports and cultural precinct — they just don’t work”.

A move from industry to culture will be an important turning point in Hobart’s waterfront development. In Belfast, the incorporation of historical elements into the revitalisation of the Titanic Quarter has been a prominent factor in its success. With its master plan created by architect Eric Kuhne, composition details make connections to elements of the site’s past. Chaplain Chris Bennett describes how the design of the Titanic Belfast building celebrates the city’s shipbuilding industry.

“Every panel of the building is unique, a slightly different size, a slightly different shape. And that is a way of using the building to pay tribute to those who were lost when Titanic sank, they were all a slightly different size, a slightly different shape, and are all connected together like those panels today” he said.

In the same vein, MONA utilises culture as a placemaker and tool for regeneration. Since it’s opening in 2011, the museum has brought new life into Greater Hobart through a collection of cultural events. MONA FOMA (MONA’s Festival of Music and Art) and Dark Mofo are just two examples of festivals that draw in both locals and tourists alike.

Source: Paris Buttfield-Addison.

To encourage cultural-led regeneration of the Macquarie Point area, Melbourne based placemaking consulting company Village Well put the focus on the inclusion of state, local and community based stakeholders, through the transformation of spaces with public artwork to create a cultural destination.

MONA’s Macquarie Point plan pays careful homage to the Aboriginal population with the inclusion of a Truth and Reconciliation Art Park, featuring a fire and light installation, that celebrates 40,000 years of Tasmanian Aboriginal history. However, Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre chief executive Heather Sculthorpe said in an interview with ABC Radio that she was shocked at the lack of consultation with the Aboriginal community.

“When we saw this breaking news on the front page of The Mercury we were astonished because we hadn’t heard about it. And all this talk about being respectful and so on, well, it just hasn’t been happening,” Sculthorpe said, “so the ideas of the community have been taken and developed it seems, but in splendid isolation from those who have been thinking about this for decades.”

“The involvement of locals was an issue already experienced in the redevelopment of the Titanic Quarter. John Barry, Professor of Green Political Economy at Queen’s University Belfast, said a problem with this development is that is not connected in any way to the community in East Belfast that made the Titanic.

Barry believes that for an area to truly undergo urban renewal it involves more than just economic growth. “Prosperity is not just about money, it’s about leading good lives, connected lives.”

Belfast’s waterfront development offers an opportunity for Hobart to learn how cultural-led regeneration with community involvement is the key to creating a revitalised urban centre in Hobart. By learning from the experiences of other cities like Belfast, Hobart can successfully navigate and steer through the choppy water of redevelopment, writing a new chapter in the city’s history.

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