Town Planning

Town planning, the conscious intervention by government into the orderly growth of urban centres, aims to improve health, ensure efficient land use, protect the environment and facilitate economic development. Town planning began in 1811 when Governor Macquarie approved James Meehan's layout of the street pattern of Hobart Town. Generally, little attention was given to layout in the penal island's towns and, although some building regulations did apply, property speculators could build where they liked throughout most of the nineteenth century. Launceston led in supplying the city with parks and Hobart retained the Queen's Domain. The failure to establish noxious trades sites in the two cities was an early town planning setback in the late nineteenth century.

The modern town planning movement emerged in Hobart and Launceston in 1915, inspired by visiting British town planner Charles Reade, who advocated garden cities. Town planning associations were set up in both cities. Local enthusiasts discussed ideas for future growth, including the provision of playgrounds and reserves, and ways to improve architecture and housing. Although the associations did not achieve much in practical terms, they educated the public through newspapers. Business took the lead in town planning when after the First World War the Electrolytic Zinc Works at Lutana and Cadbury at Claremont built garden suburbs for their workers. Speculators built estates in some suburbs along garden city lines, such as Newlands estate off Augusta Road. Local government began removing insanitary housing and taking over, adding to and beautifying city parks, but the urban environment remained fundamentally unchanged.

During the Second World War housing reformer John Soundy, Hobart's Lord Mayor, made major advances, with the Hobart City Council obtaining new powers to control subdivisions and the width of streets. In 1943 Soundy set up a Town Planning Committee on Council, which commissioned Melbourne town planner Fred Cook to prepare a town planning scheme. His 1945 plan was shelved because it was too costly, placing industry along the foreshore attracted adverse criticism, and Cook omitted important elements such as a Greater Hobart. More important was the Town and Country Planning Act (1944), which gave to local government responsibility for planning. The first Town and Country Planning Commissioner, RA McInnis, had the unenviable job of persuading local councils to adopt the Act. When he retired in 1956, 41 of the 49 municipalities had done so, applying much tighter control over subdivisions.

Some regional town planning moves occurred from the 1950s. In 1958 the Southern Metropolitan Master Planning Authority was formed and in 1969 the Tamar Regional Master Planning Authority, but they were slow to take a genuine regional approach to planning. The state government and its instrumentalities, the marine boards, and the commonwealth government were not bound by planning legislation and frustrated local government initiatives. Major modernisation was afoot in the 1970s when many thought that strategic, policy and resource planning was imperative in an increasingly competitive economic environment. In 1977 the Neilson Labor government established the Department of Planning and Development, a State Planning Co-ordination Council, and a State Advisory Panel, but pro-development interests and local councils reasserted themselves after Neilson's resignation in 1977, and the status quo returned. In 1993 the Groom Liberal government passed new town land-use planning legislation to broaden the Tasmanian conception of planning by linking it to economic development, strategic planning on a statewide level, and planning for the longer term, but environmental concerns have often been overridden.

Further reading: F Bolt, 'James Meehan's survey of Hobart Town in 1811', PPRST 115, 1981; S Petrow, 'Making the city beautiful', THRAPP 36/3, 1989; 'A city in search of a plan', THS 5/1, 19956; and 'Planning for the state', THS 8/1, 2002.

Stefan Petrow