Image for Will Ross be Moved? (Part 2)

*Pic: Next to the Town Hall in the heart of Ross is the Old Ross school and oval. ~ Photo by Kim Peart

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In part one of this story I wondered if the proposed Upper House seat of Prosser, with a boundary drawn north of Campbell Town, will lead to the boundary of the Southern Midlands Council being moved north to match that of Prosser.

I argued that the current boundary between the Northern and Southern Midlands is in the wrong place, with a much better boundary now being identified with the proposal for Prosser.

In this article I focus on planning issues in Ross under the Northern Midlands Council.

The burning question, is why the Northern Midlands Council sold the old Ross school, a gift to the people of Ross by the Tasmanian Government, which would have been perfectly suitable for a town park, with old trees, a tennis court and an oval located next to the Town Hall.

Why did the Council then buy more land in Ross to develop a town park at a cost of at least $537,660, in addition to the cost of buying the land? [1]

The sale price of the old school is not revealed, but may have been around $300,000, or less, considering the value of properties in Ross, and the poor condition of this neglected old school when placed on the market.

These questions were brought into focus when word emerged that the Council was interested in selling the old Ross school oval just before Christmas last year, which had been subdivided from the school. [2]

Still being the owners of the old school oval, a further question emerges, as to why more land was purchased in Ross for a town park, when the oval alone could have served as a town park at much less cost, located next to the Town Hall and the public toilets in Ross.

We can also ask why the heritage values of Ross have been so severely neglected, with favour being given to a big bright new expensive town park development.

There may be a good explanation, and anyone aware of this can present their case following this article, but when I step through the planning history in Ross, I do not see a pretty picture in recent years.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

Under the old Ross Council there was a strong vision and passion for Ross, which saw many of the buildings and the whole town and surrounding region listed nationally on the Register of the National Estate.

The old Ross Council came to appreciate that the future for Ross was with tourism, especially when the Midlands Highway bypassed Ross in a great curve to the west in the 1970s, and foundations were laid for the establishment of the Tasmanian Wool Centre.

In 1976 a team of Environmental Design students prepared a vision document for Ross. [3]

When the small town councils were amalgamated in 1993, the natural place for Ross would have been with the Southern Midlands Council, as Oatlands and Ross have much in common with sandstone industries in a rural setting of convict history.

As if there was some dispute over where the southern boundary of the Northern Midlands Council should lie, it ended up across the northern streets of Tunbridge, instead of half way between Tunbridge and Ross, which is bad planning for Tunbridge and may have become a hindrance to the development of that town.

UNDER THE NORTHERN MIDLANDS COUNCIL

When the old national heritage list, the Register of the National Estate, was closed in 2007, there was a grace period of a couple of years when listed places in Ross could have been more easily moved onto the new National Heritage List.

That nothing in Ross is on the National Heritage List is the first sign that planning in Ross has gone astray.

This may be due to the Council seat of power in Longford being a long way from Ross.

There are World Heritage places in the north of the Northern Midlands, but only Tasmanian heritage listings now in Ross.

For a place to be considered for World Heritage, it must first be on the National Heritage List.

The Female Convict Factory in Ross was recommended for World Heritage listing in the 1990s, but is not on the National Heritage List.

The famous Ross Bridge, unique in the World, should at least be on the National Heritage List, but is not.

THE ECONOMIC STRENGTH OF ROSS

The main economic strength of Ross is tourism, so all efforts need to be made to improve the heritage protection of Ross.

When places have National Heritage listing, they are a trigger for grants that can only be obtained with National Heritage listing.

Ross is a very popular visitor destination, but this popularity has not been backed up with adequate protection measures of the heritage values of Ross.

It will be seen that the opposite is the case, with a series of appalling planning decisions that have undermined the heritage values and economic foundations of Ross.

The northern Council’s neglect of the heritage listings in Ross is a tragic sign that planning is off the rails.

Heritage values are very fragile, like a flower, and must be fiercely defended, lest they be crushed.

THE OLD ROSS SCHOOL AND OVAL

Following the closing of the old Ross school in 1999, the property was gifted to the people of Ross in 2001 by the Tasmanian Government.

The old Ross school and grounds have old trees, a tennis court and buildings that could serve for a community centre, art classes, history meetings, an art gallery, and even for the development of an artist in residence program.

From the Town Hall, across the oval and around the old Ross school was a natural town park, rich in history.

Rather than talk to the people of Ross about what they would like for the old school, the property was leased to the Tasmanian Wool Centre, who pursued the idea of a stone masonry college for many years.

During these years the buildings remained empty and were allowed to deteriorate.

Repeatedly suggestion emerges in Council minutes of selling the school, which may have undermined efforts to attract funding to build a stone vision with the school.

For a short time the Men’s Shed was located in the out-building of the school, but gave their reason for moving out, as talk of selling the school.

When the lease was up for renewal in 2007, I applied to lease the property for art and history projects, but was unsuccessful, with the Wool Centre being allowed to continue leasing.

When I inspected the property, the wood fire was full of dead bees.

The preference of the Council appears to have been to sell their neglected old school, which they could do after ten years of ownership.

After subdividing the oval from the school buildings, the old Ross school was put up for auction in 2014, but passed in with no bids, and then put on the market.

When I inspected the building in 2014, the wood fire was still full of dead bees.

The old school sold later in 2014 and is now in private hands.

NO DEVELOPMENT PLAN FOR ROSS

In 2012 development plans were produced for 5 towns in the Northern Midlands, but not for Ross. [4]

The 5 plans made are very comprehensive, drawing on old studies and providing a vision for the future direction for commerce and community.

We can now but wonder if Ross did not get a development plan, because it would have brought too much focus to the community role of the old Ross school, the need for national heritage listings, the potential for World Heritage listings, the need for a scenic protection area on the southern slopes of Ross, and the connection between robust heritage values and commerce in Ross.

With no development plan made for Ross, the history became foggy, key heritage values were missed, and a clear vision for the future of Ross was not there.

The Council giants of the north would now stumble blindly with the heritage values of Ross.

THE ROSS LOCAL DISTRICT COMMITTEE

Saddled with a long stretch of road between Ross and the seat of Council power in Longford, the Council decided to use the Special Committee of Council provision in the Local Government Act to form a town committee in Ross.

The Ross Local District Committee is made up of volunteers, with Council officers deciding who will be on the town committee.

This selection process may lead to committee members being beholden to Council officers.

This is far from a fair and democratic process, where committee members do not secure a mandate from the residents of Ross to serve on the town committee.

The Ross committee is governed by Council officers, using the same laws that govern elected Councillors.

The Ross Special Committee of Council functions like a mini-council of unelected members.

When contacting elected Councillors on a matter in Ross, I would frequently be told to contact the Ross Local District Committee.

I am left with the impression that democracy is frozen in Ross, replaced by the power of Council officers governing a town committee.

Development proposals are sent to the town committee by Council officers, but the committee rarely communicates with the residents of Ross.

The Council frequently uses the Ross committee as a form of consultation, without taking a matter to all the residents of Ross.

There is an assumption that the Ross committee communicates with the residents of Ross, but this is not the case.

The Ross Committee did not fight for a development plan for Ross.

The Ross Committee did not fight for a community role for the old Ross school.

The Ross Committee did not fight for the old Ross school being a town park for Ross.

When asked by the Council for ideas for Ross in 2014, their main proposal was to buy more land in Ross for a new town park, that ~ “The vacant land next to the Hotel be purchased using the funds from the sale of the Ross School and developed into a town square” [5]

INTERIM PLANNING SCHEME

In the 2013 Interim Planning Scheme for the Northern Midlands we can read ~ “Ross will continue to be supported as a heritage based tourist centre, retirement community and local service centre to stabilise its population and protect its heritage significance by ensuring its viability as a community.” [6]

Ross is the only town in the Northern Midlands municipality that is described as a “retirement community” with a population that must be stabilised.

The planning scheme was prepared in the absense of a Development Plan for Ross.

No Scenic Management Areas are included around Ross, even though the southern slopes of Ross are highly scenic, and include the Convict Female Factory and the Old Military Burial Ground.

The historic sandstone cottage where Daniel Herbert, the stonemason carver of the Ross Bridge, once lived was included in the Council heritage list within the planning scheme, but with the wrong address, and when this was discovered recently, the apparent heritage protection of Herbert’s cottage vanished.

During the advertised period for public representations on the new planning scheme, the Ross Local District Committee made a submission with only one item, with the proposal that land belonging to one of the members of the committee be rezoned to Light Industrial. [7]

The normal procedure is for a land owner to apply to the Council for rezoning of their land, costing over $3,000.

As recently as August 2015 this rezoning was still being pursued by the committee, with Council officers finally laying down the law. ~ “In order to progress the rezoning of a parcel of land, a private property owner would be required to make an application to Council for a formal amendment to the Planning Scheme.” [7]

The Tasmanian Government has since made comment on this approach to gaining a rezoning, stating ~ “No action is recommended as the matter is beyond the scope of section 30K(4) of the Act. This would need to be done as a draft amendment. The Panel encourages council to pursue this taking into account candidate sites, assessment of services, traffic, use qualifications, development standards and amenity impacts.” [8]

Considering the demands at this level of planning and all the reports required, the rezoning costs could be tens of thousands of dollars.

While the Ross Committee became engaged in this matter over a number of years, they missed the lack of a Scenic Management Area over the southern slopes of Ross in the Interim Planning Scheme.

THE ROSS BRIDGE

In September 2014, during a visit to Tasmania from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast with my wife, Jennifer, I was made aware that the Ross Bridge was not on the National Heritage List.

We were interested in a project on the Ross Bridge and a Council officer invited us to address the Ross Local District Committee to discuss this.

We raised the detail that the Ross Bridge was not on the National Heritage List, and this detail was picked up by the Council, who then included intention to apply for the National Heritage listing of the Ross Bridge in every Council meeting agenda over the following year.

When the time came to do the work in late 2015, the item went missing from the Council agenda, and the Council did not do the work.

The Council claimed that they did not have the funds available to prepare an application.

As private citizens, we prepared the application, without the services of a heritage consultant.

Our nomination of the Ross Bridge for the National Heritage List was accepted but did not proceed to full heritage assessment in 2016.

Nominations remain current for two years so it will be automatically reconsidered this year.

We do not yet know the final outcome.

OLD HOUSES

In 2015 the Council approved the demolition of an old sandstone house in the historic zone of Ross, which could have been restored, which should have been restored.

The sandstone was sold and vanished from Ross.

Can Ross afford to lose its history like that?

If the Council were more sympathetic to the heritage and commercial dynamics of Ross, would they have approved the demolition of that house?

There is another old house in the historic zone, neglected, in decay behind a fence.

If the owner applies to demolish this building, will it be lost with hardly a whimper or lament?

OLD MILITARY BURIAL GROUND

In 2015 the Council approved a new house on the scenic southern slopes of Ross, located on a small lot next to the Old Military Burial Ground, where Daniel Herbert is buried.

The development is on rural zoned land and outside the urban growth boundary in Ross.

If the Council had been sensitive about the heritage and commercial needs of Ross, would this development have been approved?

If the scenic southern slopes of Ross had been given a Scenic Management Area, would this development have been approved?

If the Convict Female Factory was on the National Heritage List, and even being considered for World Heritage listing, would this development have been approved?

If a development plan had been made for Ross, would this development have been approved?

There is plenty of vacant land for sale in Ross, within the urban growth boundary.

SCENIC MANAGEMENT FAIL

With no Scenic Management Area on the highly scenic and visual southern slopes of Ross, a new house was approved above the Female Convict Factory, with a roof that appears too large for this historic landscape.

NEW TOWN PARK

The residents of Ross were never asked if they wanted to buy more land for a new town park, just as they were never asked if they would like the old Ross school and oval to serve as a town park and community focus extending from the Town Hall.

The residents of Ross were simply asked what kind of park they would like, after the land had been purchased.

What the final cost of the new town park in Ross may be might end up climbing toward a million dollars, as it is now running beyond $600,000.

We now know why the Council had no money for a National Heritage application for the Ross Bridge, because they were preparing to hire a heritage consultant, and many other consultants, to work on the new town park.

The investigations included the old school oval.

Archaeologist and cultural heritage manager Brad Williams of Praxis Environment wrote ~ “It is unfortunate that the changed tenure of the school building means that the oval is now necessarily disjointed from the building to which it was traditionally associated, …” [9]

The new town park is not part of the history of Ross, but is a big shiny new idea added to Ross.

New development can be added to an historic town, but when the needs of history are being neglected, when history is being demolished, when historic assets like the old Ross school are being sold off for no good reason, when the oldest burial ground in Ross is crowded out with development, the new big shiny expensive town park morphs history into a Council folly.

BACK TO BASICS

The number one need in Ross is for a development plan, before any more damage is done to the heritage values and commercial needs of this historic town and popular tourist attraction.

While Ross lacks a vision document, there is no guide for the town to keep good planning on track.

SHOULD ROSS BE MOVED?

If the boundary of the Southern Midlands is going to shift to the northern boundary of the proposed seat of Prosser, then the sooner this happens, the better.

Ross can do no worse under the Southern Midlands Council than it has fared under the Northern Councillors, and may do a whole lot better.

A vision for Ross and Oatlands, towns with so much in common, may forge a whole new vision for the historic towns of the Midlands.

Is Longford, a satellite town of Launceston, really in the Midlands of Tasmania?

Moving Ross may be the whip that cracks a new beginning for this vital historic town, ringing in greater sensitivity to the heritage, sparking more activity with commerce.

Ross has plenty of room to grow, but there must be no further abuse of its heritage values, as they are the foundation of its economy.

When a Council attacks and undermines heritage values in an historic town, they undermine the economy and limit employment.

Forging connection with the Southern Midlands, footpaths may be made that connect towns for people to walk and cycle, footpaths that are not there now. [10]

The giants of the Northern Midlands, stumbling blindly without any vision for Ross and holed up in the far north, present a threat to the heritage values and economic viability of Ross.

REFERENCES ~

[1]  “The Ross Village Green Project. Council has secured an interest-free loan from the State Government of $300,000 towards this project. The cost of total implementation of the project’s masterplan has been costed at $537,660. Application is being made for the $237,660 required to fully implement the masterplan.”
Northern Midlands Council Minutes for 20 February 2017, page 200 ~
http://www.northernmidlands.tas.gov.au/files/2017_Council_Meeting_Minutes/2017-02-20_Minutes_open_council.pdf

[2]  And they’re at it again—-
Kim Peart, 23 December 2016, Tasmanian Times
http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/article/and-theyre-at-it-again-/

[3]  Ross : new life for old village, an environmental design study for the Ross Municipal Council / Ross Study Group, Dept. of Environmental Design, Tasmanian College of Advanced Education: Barry McNeil ... [et.al.].
Tasmanian College of Advanced Education, Ross Study Group, 1976
http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/13545252?selectedversion=NBD5633290

[4]  Development Plans
Northern Midlands Council
http://www.northernmidlands.tas.gov.au/Page/Page.aspx?Page_Id=351

[5]  5.1 Ross Strategic Plan
Minutes of the Ross Local District Committee
20 January 2015
http://www.northernmidlands.tas.gov.au/files/Minutes_Ross_Local_District_Committee/2015-01-20_RLDC_Minutes.pdf

[6]  Interim Planning Scheme 2013
Northern Midlands Council
Page A-12 ~ 3.6.1.6 Ross
http://www.northernmidlands.tas.gov.au/files/Planning_Forms/NMC_Interim_Planning_Scheme_2013.pdf

[7]  Minutes of the Ross Local District Committee
4 August 2015, page 3
http://www.northernmidlands.tas.gov.au/files/Minutes_Ross_Local_District_Committee/2015-08-04_RLDC_Minutes.pdf

[8]  Review of hearings
Northern Midlands Council Interim Planning Scheme 2013
Draft Findings ~ November 2016
http://www.iplan.tas.gov.au/Pages/XC.Track.Assessment/SearchAssessment.aspx?id=62

[9]  Letter from Praxis Environment
included in the Agenda for the Northern Midlands Council meeting of 12 December 2016
http://www.northernmidlands.tas.gov.au/files/2016_Agenda_and_Attachments/2016-12-12_Agenda_open_council.pdf

[10]  Moreton Bay to Port Arthur
Kim Peart, 30 April 2016, Tasmanian Times
http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/weblog/article/moreton-bay-to-port-arthur/

EARLIER ARTICLES by Kim Peart on TasmanianTimes ...

Should Ross be Moved? Part I
24 February 2017
http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/weblog/article/will-ross-be-moved-part-i/

And they’re at it again …
23 December 2016
http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/article/and-theyre-at-it-again-/

A Tasmanian Murder Mystery: Who is Killing Ross?
16 January 2016
http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/article/a-tasmanian-murder-mystery-who-is-killing-ross/

A Grave Matter in Ross
13 December 2015
http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/article/a-grave-matter-in-ross/

Moreton Bay to Port Arthur
30 April 2016
http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/weblog/article/moreton-bay-to-port-arthur/

The Mysterious Art of the Ross Bridge
6 August 2012
http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/article/the-mysterious-art-of-the-ross-bridge/

The Real Jorgen Jorgenson
30 November 2009
http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/article/jorg/

Kim Peart was raised in Howrah, Tasmania, from 1952, gaining a taste of history with expeditions to the Bellerive Fort and travelling on the old ferries across the River Derwent. The town of Ross in the central midlands captured Kim’s interest in the 1970s, as the place where there may be a portrait of the one-time governor of Iceland, Jorgen Jorgenson (1780-1841), as the king on the Ross Bridge. Kim organised a seminar on Jorgenson in Ross in 2004, as part of Tasmania’s bicentenary. It was a love of history and the country life that drew Kim and his wife Jennifer to Ross in 2014, where they now live. Kim also engages in the future, connecting with people around the World with an interest in space exploration, where meetings happen via avatars in the virtual worlds, including Second Life. With a head in the stars and a heart in history, Kim also looks to the health of the Earth.

EARLIER on Tasmanian Times ...

Will Ross be moved ... Part 1