Is it possible to recognise climate change as a global emergency and order a newly built bike lane demolished at one and the same council meeting? Well. Geelong Council managed to do just that on 25 February 2020. The late evening debate in the chamber split the 11 councillors in two specific groups, just like it did five months ago, when a motion to declare a climate emergency was discussed and then turned down – at that time influenced by a tiny but loud minority who had been contacting councillors in that powerful Block of Six, which de facto runs the city.
Geelong is now set to lose an important part of its new so-called ‘Green Spine’ in its central business district. Shortly after the first etape of the infrastructure project was completed in Malop Street, including two new safe bike lanes, six out of eleven councillors at City Hall decided to spend $2 million on demolishing one of the two bike lanes and turn it into car parking space and increasing the car traffic.
The decision-making process, which was labelled as ‘impulsive’ and misjudged by the councillors who objected to the decision, resembles exactly how it has been possible that the ambitious bike lane plans for Swanston Street and High Street ended up being watered down and in some road stretches were cancelled completely.
With this move, Geelong has once again consolidated its reputation as a city with lousy and dangerous infrastructure for cyclists and e-scooters. As you will hear if you listen to the audio excerpt below or see the live-streamed video from the meeting at Geelong City Hall, it didn’t happen without strong objections from five of Geelong Council’s eleven councillors.
In an attempt to politely reject Councillor Eddy Kontelj‘s notice of motion and its suggestion to remove one of the two newly established bikelanes in Malop Street, Geelong Concillor Jim Mason proposed an amendment to the motion, which would keep the best of Kontelj’s suggestions and ideas for improvements, but which removed the order to demolish one of the bikelanes.
Councillor Mason explained at the meeting:
“Increasing traffic flow and increasing parking spaces flies in the face of the orginal purpose [of the Green Spine in Geelong’s CBD]. The original purpose is to reduce the traffic flow and increase the walkability, cycle-access and liveability of the precinct. (…) Online shopping and changing community needs is causing a problem for traders. Increasing the traffic flow won’t fix this. Indeed, a different mindset is required. I am sorry that a noisy minority – and I am assured it is a noise minority – cannot adapt. There is a silent minority who support the Green Spine and have adjusted their mindset.”
“The Green Spine in Geelong’s city centre was recognised last year by the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects and the Victorian State Government and was given various citations. One citation was that Malop Street’s Green Spine “is a shining example of how traditional retail streets can become inviting public spaces during the day and night. A horticultural connection to Johnston Park and Geelong Botanical Gardens is established through the use of indigenous and exotic species.” And this is going to be damaged by increasing the traffic flow and providing more parking spaces for traders who don’t feel very happy because they are not successful. Well, the big players are there, and they are quite happy there. So why is it that some of the traders are not happy. Perhaps they need to adjust their operation.”
Councillor Ron Nelson commented that it would be “Chinese communism” if Geelong Council was to express an opinion on what traders should be trading with.
Councillor Sarah Mansfield, who is a member of The Greens, raised concern about the way this expensive modification on something which the councillors already had made a decision on, considering it was based on suggestions from a relatively small group of traders, and there were no figures or stats to back the decision:
“I would like to express my concerns about the decisionmaking process being used here. This isn’t being based on expert advice. This [notice of motion] is calling for concrete action to take place to change the structure of the Green Spine, and we don’t know what the consequences of that are going to be. Whether it WILL actually result in improved traffic flow which has been one of the intents of these changes. We are basing this decision on evidence provided by some members of the community who have spoken to one of the ward councillors about these concerns.”
~ Sarah Mansfield, Geelong Councillor
“There has been nothing produced other than that we have been told that there are a segment of the community who are not happy with the Green Spine. It is the only piece of information that I have heard so far. And I cannot understand that councillors are going to vote to spend $2 million dollars on the back of that comment, which is what it appears to be.”
~ Pat Murnane, Geelong Councillor
“All the progressive cities of the world advocate for its city centres to have more cyclists, more pedestrians. It is the pedestrians who spend the money, not the cars travelling through east-west. We shouldn’t be advocating for more cars. There is no evidence to suggest the Green Spine is not working. To rip part of it up would be a backward step.”
~ Peter Murrihy, Geelong Councillor
“It is creating this impression in the community, ‘Do these guys really know what they are doing? Are they working to some plan or strategy here, or are they just acting impulsively? Where is the leadership and direction around what is happening?’ And most commonly I have been asked, ‘Why are we wasting money?’ So it is creating a very poor opinion of Council’s management of this issue. It is giving the community the impression that we have lost the vision. The vision for a cleaner and greener city. They are asking: ‘Do we still have it?'”
~ Pat Murnane, Geelong Councillor
One hour audio excerpt of the three hour meeting
The audio recording is an excerpt of the almost one hour long debate in the chamber on 25 February 2020. Councillors are first heard recommending Cr Mason’s proposed amendment of Cr Kontelj’s notice of motion. This amendment was eventually voted down by the same six councillors who supported Kontelj’s motion, and who voted down Cr Mansfield’s climate emergency declaration on 24 September 2019.
In the second part of the audio excerpt from the Council Meeting, we hear councillor’s comments to the Sustainability Framework, which included a climate emergency declaration. The full three-hour video recording of the meeting can be found here.
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Cars not the future
In not so many years from now, more and more people will be using other means of transport than cars. Selfdriving taxis are around the corner, and who needs parking space when you arrive in a taxi?
E-scooters are getting more and more popular, and they need protection from the cars, just like bicycles do.
Cancelling newly built bikepaths would appear to be the most short-sighted waste of ratepayers’ money.
There’s a lot more to a thriving city than seeing loads of polluting cars parked in those roads that can serve so many other functions. Geelong councillors should take a look around European cities and see how well it works for a city’s economy when it is done right, and not just halfhearted, as currently is the case in Geelong.
. . .
“Save our Green Spine”
At Geelong City Hall on Friday 20 March 2020 from 17:30-19:30
“It is crazy to me that Geelong Council can make a decision to rip up Malop Street Green Spine Project based on a vote of 11 people (6v5 in favor) and create a cost of $2 million. This decision should be a community one. Not a decision of 11.”Anne Lane
→ Add your name to the petition against the changes to the Green Spine in Malop Street if you disagree with Geelong Council’s decision
Jim Mason: “This should be above politics”
Jim Mason has substantial training and experience in teaching Environmental Science and Emergency Management, and he has worked with the United Nations. He has had a long history with the knowledge of climate change. At the council meeting on 25 February 2020 he elaborated on the topics:
“Climate change is a threat to us all and should be above politics. One of my campaign pillars was the environment, and I have a strong mandate since I’ve known about climate change ever since I was an environmental science teacher back in the 1980s. So it almost broke my heart when late last year six councillors were unable to acknowledge the existence of a climate change emergency.
Hope springs eternal and so does forgiveness. I have to say an emergency call is a very optimistic act. When we call the fire brigade or the SES, we have hope. We aspire to overcoming the problem. Just as the fibres of the cable give it it’s strength, all allies large and small in world wars pooled their strength. They became strong and overwhelmed an existential threat.
It’s the pessimists who are fatalistic and want to adapt with no attempt to mitigate. Now more and more people understand the complexities of climate change where for example CO2 already absorbed into the sea will heat the sea slowly while the CO2 continues to absorb the extra energy.
Sustainability lies within my professional domain. It has lain there for 25 years or more. When working with the United Nations we had catch phrases like “Build Back Better” and “Do No Harm”. In the 1990s we had Logical Frameworks called Logframes. They morphed into the failed Millennium goals – the eight millennium goals: poverty, education, gender, child mortality, HIV, environmental sustainability and global partnerships.
These transitioned into the 17 Sustainable Development Goals into 2030. They now include Climate Action, Clean Energy, Cities and Transport.
Our One Planet Living policy grew out of this, and so I fully endorse the intent of establishing a sustainability framework. Mindful of the SDG’s we will soon develop goals beyond 2030. There will be a move towards regenerative development goals. Inside the current sustainability framework climate action will be urgent. For without local and global climate action we have an empty framework with nothing to sustain.
So Im please that we have now reached a point where the council can recognise a climate change emergency, and I have a new catch phrase City of Design; creative and clever building back bridges better together. I support the motion.”
This was Mayor Stephanie Asher’s response to Cr Jim Mason:
“Thank you Cr Mason. No other comments from councillors? In closing: Sustainability is about endurance. It’s about survival and in this context, it’s about survival of this organisation so that it can continue to support communities, just as the local council is charged to do.
Community can do it’s piece, people will take their individual actions and local government operates within the act to assist that. So we’re not wholly responsible for the survival of our communities but this organisation must endure to provide services and facilities that assist the people in our communities.
And the framework shows where the city’s sustainability actions fit and who is involved. The policy will guide future decisions of council and how to prioritise the strategic actions that we take. And local government isn’t great at accountability.
This action plan is specifically about what we’re going to do and by when. The reporting system that we’re introducing is to bring the City of Greater Geelong into the 21st century into 2020 and allow us to actually manage our impacts because if we don’t measure it, we can’t manage it.
Now to say six councillors did not acknowledge climate change is utter rubbish and bordering on defamatory. The moral grandstanding in the chamber tonight has been quite breathtaking and to say that a professional approach to action on sustainability is in any way not approaching and not responding to a climate emergency is actually a false equivalent of epic proportion.
Putting together a practical plan in the broader context of survival is about being intelligent and adopting a leadership position. This isn’t about sophistry or self-righteousness, it’s common sense and being practical for all councillors and our community. Thank you.”
→ Geelong Council invites you to have your say and fill a survey about the Sustainability Framework
“Cycling infrastructure in Geelong is generally very poor and that’s a major barrier for people getting on their bikes.”
~ Simon Howell, Bicycle Users Geelong
Related articles and information
Clippings from the 4 March 2020 issue of The Geelong Advertiser
Geelong Advertiser – 4 March 2020:
Petition supports Spine
“Wellbeing: Proponents say community will suffer”
A petition calling for Geelong council to reverse its decision to rip up a bike lane through Malop St has gathered more than 1000 signatures. Petition organiser Anne Lane said council’s planned destruction of the Malop St bike lane would be detrimental to improving the community.
“I love how Malop St has been set up. It’s very welcoming, soft and a pleasure to walk through with all the trees etc. The council wants to put back a row of car spaces along this section, remove the cycle lane and reinstall a U-turn facility. This will cost $2 million. This would be terrible for the Geelong community. It will be detrimental to improving our community,” Ms Lane said.
State funding frozen
After the council vote, MP Lisa Neville froze State Government funding for Geelong Council’s CBD infrastructure projects.
“As of right now we won’t invest any more in their infrastructure in the CBD, unless we find a way that we can guarantee that council doesn’t have the ability to overturn that investment in the future. They can’t expect us to have confidence in their ability to make the right decisions … We just can’t afford to risk spending money on their infrastructure when they’ve got the power to do this,” Geelong Advertiser quoted Ms Neville as saying.
Addy readers have their say – letters and texts
Geelong Advertiser page 15
GREEN SPINE ADDS FRESH TOUCH TO CITY CENTRE
I vote to keep the Green Spine. In Geelong last week I commented to my husband how green and pleasant the street is and we admired the plants and how well they have grown. The council should look at traffic control and consider making it a one way street.
~ Glenys Francis, St Leonards
Mayor: “This is not a council backflip”
Under the headline “Logical decision”, Mayor Stephanie Asher wrote in Geelong Advertiser on 4 March 2020 on page 15 (in excerpt):
“Taking a middle ground approach to the road treatment of Malop St is no peaceful picnic. While opponents have been publicly vocal, councillors have also received supportive feedback since Tuesday’s decision. Indeed, the Geelong Advertiser poll showed 40 per cent support for the decision, and a multitude of comments verify what we hear from the community.
Anyone reflecting honestly on discussions about the Green Spine since 2012 would appreciate the large and vocal resistance to the project since day one. Council is aware of that sentiment and we continue to support the project and the long-term intention.
For now, it is important to clear up some misconceptions regarding the chamber decision to modify some elements of the completed section of the Spine.
Firstly, this is not a council “backflip”. The council had no part in approving the detailed design of the Green Spine’s first stage — this was done by government appointed administrators.
For me, the logical approach to building a Green Spine would start with tree planting the length of Malop St, closely followed by a two-way bike lane down one side of the street. This would have sent a visible message about project aims to reduce vehicle traffic and connect our botanic gardens to our train station.
However, council administrators agreed to develop a wholly completed section of the Spine instead. A valid approach but one that forced behavioural change and so required ongoing communication.
This first stage, recently described by its original architect Hisham Elkadi as a diluted version of the intended pedestrian-only zone, was installed with an inadequate public transport system and without appropriate explanation.
The bike lanes currently sit in isolation — not connected at either end — with no communication about the vision. And, yes, I have requested this communication many times. The year-long construction devastated many local traders and put community members off-side. Traffic has been congested since.
It is clear some design elements, while well intentioned, have created problems for accessibility and pedestrian safety, and slowed traffic more than was necessary.
Hence the chamber discussion, which had been flagged repeatedly by Cr Eddy Kontelj.
What’s the decision? The details are available online in the council meeting agenda and, in summary, include reintroducing turning lanes to keep traffic moving, improving disability access and parking, and replacing the bike lane on the north side of the street, ideally with a two-way bike lane on the south side. The botanic walk and all landscaping elements remain unchanged.
What happens next? The work is proposed for 2020-21 and the estimated cost of these adjustments is over several years.
As for the next block of the Spine, we are awaiting a decision by State Government on bus movements to allow for bike lanes. Having recently met the Department of Transport, I’m optimistic about a collaborative solution through the state government’s newly integrated approach to transport planning.
This is no knee-jerk response and nothing to do with party politics — the majority vote was bipartisan. This is a longdeliberated and sensible move to the middle ground on a project that has been clumsily handled. Muttering is expected.”
“No numbers, no anything”
“Eddy Kontelj had no numbers, no anything. He sprang this on the council. His business buddies had been in Kontelj’s ear, and the Mayor had done a deal to get elected. The council is split into two groups and the block of six always out vote the five.
Gees I must have been naive. Knew politics was dirty but expected more from Council – but they are just as dirty. The decision probably won’t get overturned. Only way is if the council gets thrown out.
I have emailed them all and Lisa Neville, but will handwrite letters too.
What a pathetic council we have.”Comment on Facebook
Companies use sustainability reports to greenwash
“I think the recognition of the global climate emergency was packaged up with the GRI Sustainabilty Framework to avoid scrutiny of GRI or the next stage worth $250,000. Even then it’s not really about the cost so much as who is getting to influence our local government and what their agenda is.
As GRI do sustainability reporting for the worlds biggest fossil fuel corporations why are they on board here?”Comment on Facebook
Fact: Out of all the companies in the world that are reporting sustainability results, 72 per cent are using GRI standards – in 45 countries and regions.
Is there a risk that companies are using sustainability reports to greenwash? Tim Mohin, Global Reporting Initiative chief executive, answered this question in 2017. He told Eco-Business:
“It’s a very serious issue. Although we don’t check for reporting quality, it’s something we’re very concerned about because as sustainability reporting takes root, people start to rely on the information to make decisions. If the data is not reliable then the wrong decisions can be made. I really want to make this point very clear that it’s not about the report, it’s about the results that we get from that disclosure. Sustainability reporting is actually a transaction. Somebody creates the information, and someone uses it to create change.”Tim Mohin, Global Reporting Initiative chief executive, in 2017
. . .
“We have included the declaration of a climate emergency as a key action! All 11 councillors endorsed a comprehensive change and complete paradigm shift regarding the approach to sustainability and environmental management at CoGG and everyone recognises a global climate emergency. I really don’t know what you want.”Stephanie Asher, Geelong Mayor, in a responding comment on Facebook
ABC News wrote:
Bicycle Users Geelong spokesman Simon Howell said the decision to remove one bike lane in favour of cars was disappointing. “We believe there is sufficient parking, these bike lanes don’t impact on the use of the major shopping area and I think it seems to be a very backward step by the council,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne. “Cycling infrastructure in Geelong is generally very poor and that’s a major barrier for people getting on their bikes.”
As a ratepayer, Mr Howell also feared the council’s decision to rip up sections of the green spine would impact the city’s ability to attract future government funding. “This has enormous repercussions,” he said. “This is a real risk for future state government funding.”
Cyclist Tony Gleeson said council should encourage more cyclists in the CBD, not remove bike lanes. He said the changes were a waste of money. “More and more cities that are really serious about sustainability, and aren’t just talking about it as a feel-good thing, are getting rid of cars from their CBDs,” he said.
→ ABC News – 26 February 2020:
Geelong council votes to spend $2 million to rip up part of the city’s $8 million ‘green spine’
“An $8 million, award-winning stretch of tree-lined street in central Geelong, which was designed to keep cyclists safer, will be partially ripped up after the council decided it was causing too much congestion for cars.”
→ ABC News – 26 February 2020:
Infrastructure Australia backs ‘cycling superhighways’ proposal for Melbourne suburbs
“A proposal to create hundreds of kilometres of “cycling superhighways” from Melbourne’s booming suburbs to the CBD has been backed by Australia’s infrastructure advisory body.”
Readers irate with ‘knee-jerk’ Green Spine move
→ The Daily Telegraph:
Readers irate with ‘knee-jerk’ Green Spine move
“Geelong council’s move to spend $2 million ripping up parts of its recently built, award-winning CBD Green Spine is not supported by majority of the wider community, polling has revealed.”
Bicycle Users Geelong wrote on Facebook on 24 February 2020:
“Your safety and the Green Spine bike lanes are in jeopardy! Councillor Eddy Kontelj will introduce a notice of motion at tomorrow’s Council meeting (7pm Tuesday 25th) to remove at least one of the bike lanes in the Malop Street Green Spine to put back a few parking spots and turning lanes! He’s sided with people who want Geelong to be tarmac rather than a city for everyone and is prepared to risk rider safety.
This is a huge back flip considering the long process to even get a two hundred meters of separated bike lanes in the first place. It will cost ratepayers about one million bucks to pull it all out all to save drivers only ONE second – yes you read right!”
Bicycle Users Geelong wrote on Facebook on 26 February 2020:
“We are in shock! Minutes ago Geelong Council has voted 6 to 5 for the removal Geelong’s greenest fatest seperated bike lane! Bicycle Users Geelong sends our best wishes to our Malop street bike lane (north side) that is to be removed at the price of $2million to accommodate turning lanes!
This is truly a nightmare for accessibility, pollution, transport and amenity in the Geelong CBD. Geelong is destined to be a filthy polluted car chocked city for a long time to come.
Thank you to the Councillors that tried to stop this ridiculous waste of resources and huge step backwards.”
The Geelong Councillors pass a resolution to recognise climate change as a “global emergency” and commit $250k, then minutes later decide to spend $2million on removing bike lanes to help cars turn corners… Dollars ALWAYS speaks louder than words.Bicycle Users Geelong
Geelong Council’s climate emergency declaration debate
When Cr Jim Mason’s spoke at the Council Meeting on 24 September during a three-hour long debate where councillors discussed whether or not to move Cr Sarah Mansfield’s motion to declare a climate emergency, he objected to what he described as attacks on the City of Greater Geelong Environmental Strategy.
Cr Mason told councillors that it would be incorrect to say the suggested amendment of Mansfield’s motion was a “strong motion”. The amendment deleted the word ‘Emergency’ twice and refused to support the MAV declaration of a climate emergency, which council signed up to as a member of CACIT (Councils and Communities In Transition) some years ago.
Here is an excerpt of what Jim Mason told Council:
“As sustainability portfolio holder, I’m uncomfortable with introducing sustainability issues which are very very much more complex than the original intent of this motion which was to co-operate with collective, coordinated action and a collective co-ordination plan for announcing a climate change emergency from which all other plans will proceed. [Cheering by people in gallery].
Global best practices are demonstrably not understood by the people making this amendment. Sustainability framework should include consideration of the 17 UN Sustainable Development goals of which climate change is only one consideration. This is not the time to discuss a broad based sustainability framework which ideally should lead to a strategy and then to a plan which ideally would be in our 2022-2026 council plan.
The 2030 SDG’s involve 17 wide ranging pillars. Those pillars include the elimination of poverty, addressing health, hunger, education, housing, gender, water and sanitation and many other things. It’s not just climate change. It’s much more profound and I put it to you this amendment is camouflaging a very weak approach to a climate change emergency, camouflaged by trying to talk about wonderful plans in the future which we should be approaching in a different way. [Applauded by people in gallery].
It’s improper, it’s most improper to mix and confuse these two important issues and as Sustainability Portfolio Chair I say again, I am completely uncomfortable with this and I do foreshadow a more deeply considered Sustainable Development motion in the future, and I want that to be recorded.
Consideration of a climate change emergency is the intent. That is the intent of the original motion to declare a climate change emergency. Nothing else. Nothing more complicated. That’s all for now.”
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Council’s climate emergency declaration was discussed in The Sustainable Hour no 302:
→ Bay 93.0 FM – 25 February 2020:
Council votes on climate emergency