Clifton Gardens, Balmoral, Beauty Point – these are all highly desirable addresses, but Spit Junction just doesn’t cut it, does it?. It is not just the name, it is the very ordinariness of the place. And yet as a location it has so much going for it…. [Photo: NSW State Records]
It is the highest point in Mosman and the point where the two principal ridges of Mosman intersect. It is a natural meeting of the ways and the community heart of Mosman with the Art Gallery, Library, the Swimming Pool, Council offices and Bridgepoint shopping centre all clustered around public space that extends from Myahgah Mews to Alan border Oval. Spit Junction also bookends one of the best preserved and most successful high end strip shopping streets in Sydney, running for over a km to Centenary Circle
It is also a key transport node with express buses to the city and the northern beaches and local buses to most parts of Mosman as well as Chatswood, St Leonards and Milson’s Point. It is also the starting point of the high frequency Metro bus service through the city to Sydenham.
It is good the Council has recognised that redevelopment of its own land holdings represents an opportunity to transform this iconic site into something really special, particularly if the development was done collaboratively with other property owners in the vicinity. Perhaps not quite on the same scale, but something akin to how Willoughby Council has transformed what 40 years ago was a very shabby Victoria Rd into the award winning development of the station precinct and Concourse that Chatswood is today.
Sure, there will be challenges. The biggest is what the late Dom Lopez used to describe as the ‘traffic sewer’ that runs right through the middle of the site. Whatever is done at Spit Junction is going to need to work however the traffic situation plays out, whether that be a Rapid Bus Transit system as currently being considered by the State Government and advocated by SHOROC, or a tunnel that diverts Northern Beaches traffic from Spit junction altogether, or a light rail system or (as Cr Reid advocates) an underground metro. It is also going to need to work with the status quo as we wait for one of these ‘solutions’ to be thrust upon us.
Because of its geography, we can be pretty sure that Spit Junction is always going to be place through which a lot of people pass and which is very easy to get to, both from the City and the Northern Beaches. Because of this and its pivotal location within Mosman, it is going to be an ever more attractive place for people to live, work and do business.
In my view the foundational requirement of any Spit Junction redevelopment is to make it easy and pleasant to arrive, whether you come by car or transit (or for that matter by bicycle or by walking). Underground we need a large car park that is directly accessible from all three main roads – Spit Rd, Military Rd (the Cremorne side) and Military Rd (the Mosman side). In effect you should be able to park in the car park in the middle of a U turn that would take you back to the road from whence you came. Above ground what is needed is an attractive public transport node with clean comfortable waiting areas and direct access to the exciting public spaces that will be a feature of the redevelopment.
The parking area would serve many purposes. It would provide parking for clients and customers of the businesses at Spit Junction. It would be where shoppers and restaurant patrons wishing to enjoy the ambiance of the Military Rd shopping strip would leave their cars and start walking. It would be where residents of any housing development at the Junction would park their cars and it would function as a park- and-ride terminal for visitors to Balmoral and the Zoo (should we bring back the trams to provide this service, like Manly is proposing to do?). The car park could even be a central drop off pick-up point for parents at the hub of a series of safe walking routes to schools as Cr Halloran advocates).
Should the day ever come that our love affair with private cars ownership fades, some of the underground space could be used for a metro station, car-share parking and bicycle parking.
The trouble is, underground parking , transport interchanges and attractive public realm spaces are very big ticket items. The only way they could be afforded would be by ramping up the development yield of the site. Putting it plainly, this means a big development in terms of the number of dwellings, and /or retail/commercial space.
In my view it should be possible to come up with a design which makes this an acceptable trade off. Good design and big developments can coexist – just look at recent developments at Balgowlah and Cammeray. By carefully crafting the mix of dwellings from small and utilitarian to large and luxurious, complemented by the right mix of retail and office space, the development would be have appeal across many demographics. People are what give places vitality. More people means more services on offer. A vibrant street life in Mosman (think Neutral Bay) needs a sufficient number of locals to sustain it – although once there it will bring in visitors from further afield.
Good design is going to have to deal with the traffic sewer issue. I am sure the professional urban designers and architects can come up with something. One idea can be found in the Pedestrian Access and Mobility Plan that has recently gone on exhibition. It involves shifting pedestrian access within the area from Spit and Military Roads to either a circular route using the laneways that parallel the main roads – in effect reversing the shop frontages . Another option would be to put more first floor level bridges across the main road and have most pedestrian activity at that level –possibly even roofing over the main road.
Finally the development represents a great opportunity for Mosman to show case its commitment to environmental sustainability, with high star rating green buildings and on-site energy generation, water re-use and best practice waste handling.
But I wonder whether we should also be considering a name change from Spit Junction to something more ethereal?