The City of Unley has for many years held a long-term vision of revitalising the heart of Unley by generating new activity and more opportunity for residential living in the Unley Central precinct. The philosophy of more people creating more retail opportunities, attracting still more people and creating the vibrancy that is hoped for - underpins the strategy.
One of the most challenging aspects of planning for our City’s future growth, is that of striking a balance between delivering modern, attractive and sustainable buildings and facilities, while not degrading Unley’s rich history and charming heritage appeal.
With that in mind, Council needs to ensure that Development Plans encourage appropriate development that meet both the current and future needs of residents, businesses and visitors.
In 2014, Council prepared the Unley Central Precinct Plan to provide innovative and practical responses to achieving its vision of a vibrant community. One of the steps in reaching this vision is amending the Development Plan for this area.
As part of this process, we needed to consider how, and where, we could accommodate the growing population through higher density living.
As well as actively trying to generate development interest from the private sector, Council identified the Unley Civic Complex as a potential redevelopment site providing an opportunity for Council to demonstrate leadership and initiate further development in the precinct.
Whilst investigations of a potential redevelopment of the Unley Civic Complex will not proceed until the Development Plan Amendment (DPA) is finalised, there has been some concern from a small group within our community about how a redevelopment of this site could affect the Village Green (the open space behind the Unley Civic Centre).
We would like to assure residents that Council is committed, and has included in public policy, resolution of Council and repeated statements, that it will commit to retaining a dedicated Village Green area for the community to enjoy into the future.
Open Space in Unley
Subdivision of land for residential purposes in what is now the Unley Council area began as early as the mid 1850’s, long before there was any requirement for developers to make land available for public open space as part of their subdivisions. Edmund Trimmer, who owned and subdivided the land on the east side of Unley Road to the south of Glen Osmond Creek and north of Wattle Street, is remembered as the generous benefactor who gifted the Unley Oval land to the community, but that gift is less than half of what is required of developers under today’s legislation.
Consequently, Unley today has the lowest proportion of its Council area set aside as open space of any Council in Adelaide. When opportunities have arisen for Council to purchase suitable land on the open market for development as parks and reserves, Council has usually stepped in and made those purchases. The most recent of these purchases was Katherine Street at Fullarton (2015-16), but other notable purchases have been Orphanage Park and Soutar Park, although there have been many others. At no time in its history has Council ever sold any of these parks or reserves to developers for housing purposes.
History of the Village Green
In the early 1960’s the Unley Council made a decision to start acquiring properties on the block bounded by Unley Road and Rugby Street to the west and east, and Oxford Terrace and Edmund Avenue to the north and south. These acquisitions did not, and were never intended to; include the land owned by the Anglican Church. When Council wrote to the respective landowners, it was explained to them that these acquisitions were for the purpose of the eventual redevelopment of the existing Civic complex and construction of a new one. There was some media and community criticism of Council at the time that the acquisitions were ‘forcing residents from their homes’. All of the acquisitions were voluntary – no property owner was forced to sell – but Council offered good prices for the properties, and all of the owners eventually accepted the Council offers.
The final acquisition occurred in 1978 and so Council was then in a position to seriously consider the future of the land parcel that it had consolidated. An architectural competition was held to select a designer for the new Council offices. When the successful architect was chosen, the then Town Clerk, Murray Edmonds and the architects came up with the idea of removing the rear fences of all of the properties that had been purchased, including the three houses that were being demolished for the new Civic complex, and creating the “Village Green”.
Construction of the Village Green was completed in 1981 – one of the outcomes of a 20 year strategy.
Possible Redevelopment of the Unley Civic Complex
In alignment with the State Planning Strategy, Council is currently undertaking an amendment to our District Centre Zone planning policies to more overtly encourage residential development to occur. But, despite the efforts of Council, the very high property values and good returns for landlords from their existing activities have meant that, so far, no redevelopment in the Unley Central Precinct has occurred.
Consequently, Council has been pursuing initiatives to try and ‘kick start’ some redevelopment in the District Centre. Along the perimeter of the Village Green, facing onto Oxford Terrace and Edmund Avenue, are the remaining houses purchased by Council. A number of residents are urging that these old houses be retained. Most of the houses are not heritage listed, and consequently, Council has been looking at the option of allowing some or all of them to be demolished, if that is required to allow new development to occur. Until the planning policies for the area are finalised, these investigations cannot proceed any further and hence, no decision has been made in this regard. As stated earlier, when Council resolved to undertake these investigations, Council also resolved that any redevelopment must include a Village Green at least as large, if not larger, that the current one.
Any objective analysis of the Council actions to date, indicate there is no threat to the Village Green, only potential enhancement. It is unlikely that many residents of the Council area have lived in their houses for the last forty years without undertaking upgrades, modernisation and extensions. Forty years after the Village Green was developed, Council is looking at its future: whether it needs modernising, whether it can be extended. Council has already resolved to undertake investigations into a major streetscape upgrade along Oxford Terrace, and a future vision of a grand boulevard along Oxford Terrace from Unley Road, spilling onto an enlarged and enhanced Village Green, holds appeal for many.
Council is waiting until after the District Centre planning policies are finalised before progressing further with its redevelopment investigations. Any concern that has been expressed to date is based on speculation because there are no plans as yet. People are encouraged to wait until the proposals are presented.
When the winning design for the Sydney Opera House was announced, the then President of the NSW Town Planning Association, Mr B Ford, said it was “Insane, farcical and would completely disfigure the foreshore.” Thankfully, we know that there are residents in Unley who display a little more vision than Mr Ford, and these residents will wait to see what might be proposed before making up their minds.