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The Northbridge Plaza Masterplan process has made significant progress in recent months. Most of the work has taken place within the Technical Working Group (TWG). There are two community representatives on the TWG—Mark Monk as a neighbour of the Plaza, and Russell Hand, a planning consultant retained by Northbridge Progress Association (NPA). They report that the TWG is working cooperatively and that all decisions to date have been by consensus. The committee has briefed a number of consultants, selected and appointed them and reviewed their work to date. AMP is funding all the work. Because TWG is only now finalizing the technical reports, the Reference Committee (RC) has not had much information to review but that’s expected to change in coming weeks.

A number of reports will be emerging from TWG in the next few weeks—among them a traffic report, the outcome of the community consultation surveys, an economic study and the results of a consumer survey.

The traffic survey shows that traffic volumes in streets adjacent to the Plaza (Harden Avenue and Tenilba Road) are already at capacity. Eastern Valley Way and Sailors Bay Road have traffic volumes typical of major arterial roads. The Plaza car park can readily handle current demand, although capacity gets tight for two hours on Saturday mornings. The Plaza is a very convenient place to park and shop – the survey showed that about 80 per cent of cars stayed less than one hour in the car park.

The response to the community consultation program was good. 315 survey forms were returned of which 70 per cent were completed by Northbridge residents. The community’s main concerns were: the retention of a village atmosphere in Northbridge, the loss of independent retailers in the Plaza, car parking and traffic issues, and the bulk and scale of any future development. A significant number of people said that ownership and development on the Council’s car park was a big issue. A number said that that the Plaza should not be changed at all.

The data-gathering and reporting to date comprises Stage 1 of the project and there have been few arguments or differences of opinion. Stage 2, which will start in May or June, is the generation of scenarios for the site. It’s at this stage that differences of view may emerge.

The view of the Northbridge PA is that the Plaza should remain a neighbourhood shopping centre with little or no retail expansion. If the Plaza were to be expanded substantially, NPA believes it would have a significant adverse impact on traffic flows in Northbridge and other parts of Willoughby; a negative effect on shopping strips in Northbridge and nearby suburbs, such as Castlecrag; and would reduce generally the amenity of Northbridge as a residential suburb. AMP made it clear at the February 20 RC meeting that it will be seeking a retail expansion greater than the “approximately 10 per cent expansion limit specified by Council’s resolution in mid-2007. An AMP representative said: “If AMP thought it would only be allowed a 10% increase in retail space, it wouldn’t be bothering with all this work.

At NPA’s suggestion, it has been agreed that public meetings will be held after Stages 1 and 2 of the project, at which consultants will summarise their work and Council and AMP people will be available to answer questions from Willoughby residents. The first is likely to be held in June. In the meantime, a comprehensive update of progress will be provided by speakers at NPA’s regular general meeting at 8pm on 14 May in St Marks Hall, Malacoota Road, Northbridge

Malcolm Lye, Northbridge PA