Image for A letter to the Prime Minister ...

*Pic: Flashback to 2015 floods ... the area of the proposed relocation ...

To: The Honourable Malcolm Turnbull MP
Prime Minister
Parliament House

RE: The proposed relocation of the University of Tasmania to the Inveresk Precinct in Launceston Tasmania.

This is an open letter from a group of Launceston citizens, who have come together to express serious concerns, challenge the wastefulness and question the merit of the proposed relocation of UTAS from the Newnham Campus to Inveresk. This letter represents the strongly held concerns of the wider community.

The proposed site for the relocation away from the established site at Newnham, which is just a 6-7 minute drive from Launceston’s centre, is towards the commercial centre of town and located on twin flood-plain sites connected by a proposed footbridge across the North Esk River.

The parcels of land in question are:

• The sites of former railway terminuses and industrial workshops – now owned by the Launceston City Council.

• A Federal Government $10.28m ‘Better Cities Site’ which is a rehabilitated former industrial site project from1994 and …

• Sites where there is considerable and documented flood risk.

The unsuitability of this site would immediately become evident to anyone conducting even the most minimal research and/or engineering studies. UTAS and partners have failed to provide this highly relevant information and to date, have never been requested to do so.

There are both undeniable flood risks and unacceptable flood evacuation issues associated with the Inveresk site that will place human life in danger if the convergence of flood waters from all three sources occurs simultaneously (unlike the last major flood event) and despite the recently upgraded levees. There are only two narrow bridges linking the central area which places serious restrictions on any required emergency service attendance and evacuation of the area. Added to this unacceptable flood risk is the very real seismic threat to the Launceston area and the potential liquefaction that would occur within the tidal mud-flats of the proposed Inveresk site should it be impacted as it was in 1947. (See geophysical studies pertaining to this risk by highly regarded experts in this field such as Owen Ingles, Marion Leiba and David Edward Leaman).

The Inveresk Precinct land has long been used by community groups over many years and there is a considerable history of proposed alternative uses for the Inveresk site however, this is sadly balanced with an equal history of these suggestions being dismissed or ignored by the Launceston City Council. This is for example, despite the 2003 Museum Search Conference, which was followed up by a public process including written submissions, which led to a document titled “Inveresk Statement of Opportunities”. Also in existence are well-considered and well-designed Precinct Master Plans which were produced in line with the stated vision for the site and which should be read by anyone conducting due diligence on the relocation proposal.

Currently many large events are conducted in the Precinct such as Motor Home rallies, USA Day, Launceston Leisure Roadshow, Outdoor Adventure Leisure Expo, V8 Truck, Transporter Parade, Fire Fighting Championships, Circuses, RSPCA Million Paws Walk, Magic Millions Horse Auction and of course, up until 2017, The Royal Launceston Show (granted a Royal decree in 1984), originally called The Royal National Agricultural and Pastoral Society of Tasmania Limited, which commenced in 1873. The site adequately demonstrates the regular community need and use of the space. It must be noted here that despite the Show’s historical and community significance, it has not been adequately supported by the Council (in fact it has been strangled by Council actions for a number of years). Also of interest is the fact that UTAS published, as part of their so-called Master Plan of the site, a map showing the showgrounds area as designated UTAS parking before the Council announced the termination of the Show and despite The Show Society having a 99 year lease on the site.

YPIPA, The York Park, Inveresk Precinct Authority committee and some Tenants also put forward many and varied suggestions for the use of this public space. These were centred on full community use of the site based on the need and still current lack of such other such space close to central Launceston. However by around 2015 it had become obvious that council officers were not assisting or ’progressing’ any of the community members or tenants’ suggestions, and in part, actually redirecting resources and obstructing any plans for any community projects for the Precinct.

It is also worth noting here that UTAS, by contrast, was given special status over any community needs. The gifting of real estate (in the form of token lease arrangements or straight-out donations of land) were never afforded to any of the Tenants. This was following the claim/argument by Mayor, Van Zetten and Precinct Manager, Robert Groenewegen and others, that nobody wanted the land which is nothing less than incorrect and misleading. It is simply not true that any land at Inveresk (or Willis Street for that matter), is or was ever unwanted land. Interested parties were informed by a YPIPA committee of the price of the land, which had never previously been offered gratis. Some parties went on to submit expressions of interest complete with drafted plans, (which were actually more comprehensive than anything produced to date by UTAS). Moreover, as mentioned above, the land in question was in regular or constant community use. It is a sad state of affairs that none of these plans were followed up by the parties concerned due to the inherent difficulties of the site.

Overall, the city’s ratepayers, indeed Northern Tasmanian residents more generally, have expressed their disquiet that $4.5M worth of land has been gifted to UTAS without adequate community consultation, scrutiny and most importantly, any genuine business plan from UTAS.

Moreover, there is genuine concern that the main drive of this ill-conceived concept, is in fact little more than a smoke screen to disguise the continued ‘dumbing and winding down’ of the university facilities in the north of the State. The motivation appears to be an hierarchical view of the status of the Hobart Campus over the Northern Campus and a transfer of upper level courses from the North to the South.

The current proposal by UTAS to offer new Associate Degree courses only at the Northern Campus seems to be the main basis upon which UTAS claims an additional 10,000 - 12,000 students on top of the current 5000, will be attracted to the two new sites. No statistical evidence has been provided to verify that this number of new students could ever be achieved via this strategy, particularly as the completion of graduate programs would require students to later move to the UTAS Hobart campus or indeed interstate.

It is our strong belief that these “Associate Degrees” would in fact have a negative impact on the number of International students who would be interested in attending the Northern Campus. Research demonstrates that the reason such students come to Australia is that they want quality, traditional university qualifications, hence the “estimated” numbers of extra students is highly fanciful and is definitely not supported by any concrete data.

From the knowledge gained on this issue through discussions we have had with a great number of people, approximately 85% of Northern Tasmanians, including both students and staff, do not support this proposal. Or in election language that you might better understand, it does not have a social licence. It will not buy you the electorate of Bass! Quite possibly the reverse and anyone who stands against the relocation will find a very strong bond with the wider community.

The overall opinion is that the very significant investment in buildings and infrastructure at Newnham must not be abandoned or destroyed. Current rumours suggest that Council’s plan is to obscenely and wastefully level the site for housing. To date, no documented future use for the Newnham Campus has been provided. Furthermore, it is believed that any new facilities that may be required by UTAS or possibly other educational institutions, can be easily located at Newnham where there is 51ha site already set aside for educational facilities all of which is on stable, high ground. There is in fact a fully developed, UTAS Northern Campus Revitalisation Plan document that more than adequately highlights the benefits of the existing site, especially if compared to the high-risk and limited size of the Inveresk site.

Our suggestion is that the most positive outcome for the Newnham campus would be for it to be divorced from the UTAS Hobart administration so it can be allowed to compete on a fairer and more economic basis, much like that which has occurred with Southern Cross University in Lismore NSW. Also of note is that the Lismore campus has intentionally been placed above the local flood plain. Two well-reasoned and logical decisions.

Newnham, which realistically has the room for 100 years of expansion if required, could easily become a campus that not only provides the proposed Associate Degrees but could also pick up the baton for the failing TAFE system with the provision of genuine trade courses linked to apprenticeships. This would provide invaluable support for the highly respected AMC for example. AMC also has facilities used by UTAS students such as an Olympic indoor swimming pool plus football and cricket grounds, a tennis court and gym with extensive parking areas and a cafeteria that would be available for use. These will not be mirrored at Inveresk.

There is even the room, and common sense would see the merit of this, for some symbiotic industries to be placed on site to make the Newnham Campus thereby creating a truly unique, energetic and necessary educational hub for all those who do not want or need a traditional university education. It would also alleviate the resource-sapping North/South divide in the education sphere and allow the best of both outcomes to thrive.

The absolute majority of people we have spoken to regarding the relocation proposal believe that the obscenely wasteful sum being allocated for this project could be better spent on upgrading or building onto the present infrastructure at Newnham campus. A professional study of the cost of a full renovation of UTAS buildings was conducted a few years ago and the Newnham Campus estimate at that time was approximately $60 million. We believe that this would be far more responsible spending of limited government funding than the wasteful and unnecessary, hundreds of million for the relocation proposal.

Despite two Memorandums of Understanding in 2013 and 2015, the undeniable fact is that UTAS still has no business plan or has conducted any due diligence evaluation of the true merits (if any) of the proposed relocation. This is without question, an unsafe and improper site for the relocation of the university.

In preparing this open letter, input has been invited from a broad spectrum of the Northern Tasmanian community including past and current UTAS academics and students. Consistent with the intelligent precedent established by Southern Cross University in 1992, and in order to find a satisfactory resolution regarding both the unnecessary relocation proposal and the current inadequately targeted education system for Northern Tasmania, we ask that via your good offices you facilitate the below suggestions.

• Instigate - an immediate and in depth inquiry into processes behind the push to relocate UTAS from Newnham to Inveresk. Question why it is even being considered given the plans UTAS issued in 2014 for the redevelopment/renovation of the Newnham site for far less cost.

• Create an Advisory Group to consider the implications of a proposal to dismantle the now amalgamated   campuses of the University of Tasmania.

• Followed by an Independent Advisory Group to advise government on the establishment of a new university/institute of learning on the Newnham Campus.

• Open up the opportunity of an academically integrated institution, incorporating another university or institution, with the potential to establish additional sites at other northern Tasmanian sites as required.

• And …

That Federal and State Ministers jointly appoint an Implementation Advisory Panel to determine the strategies necessary to implement the proposed new structures and appoint the successor institution to the current, monopolistic UTAS network, thereby re-invigorating Tasmania’s tertiary education system for decades to come.

It is also proposed that the new university/institution develop under the sponsorship of a major metropolitan university for approximately three years, whilst continuing to operate under its own name and Council and awarding its own appropriate qualifications in the longer term, be they degrees or certificates.

We welcome comment and feedback on these serious issues.

cc – Treasurer, the Hon Scott Morrison MP / Minister for Education & Training, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham MP, and other elected members.

Yours Sincerely,

Mr B. J. Fitch

Facebook: basilfitch journal

• Leigh Murrell ...

To All Aldermen,

I wish to raise the issue of Agenda Item 8.6 on your next meeting Jan 22nd 2018.

I am appalled that you have the arrogance to so brazenly attempt to further dismember proper and democratic communication with your rate payers by trying to further lock in your love of secrecy and drive for absolute power to the detriment of good governance.

You are all there to represent us, we are not mere pawns in your machinations and you show no respect for this fact. This agenda item is in my opinion, just another example of the quickly failing integrity and moral standing of this council and I remind you most strongly that we have an election coming up this year and attempts such as this to shut out and shut up the community, will be remembered most fervently.

If you have any integrity or strength of character left, if you can remember what your role is and should be, that is to both represent and include the community in caring for and progressing our city, particularly when it comes to such overriding changes as itemised in the despicable Agenda Item 8.6, then your only correct moral decision must be to vote it down.