Rosanna Library Redevelopment
A proposal by the City of Banyule to redevelop the Rosanna Library as part a partnership with a supermarket chain should be opposed.
The City of Banyule, which covers parts of Melbourne’s leafy north-east, is proposing to redevelop the Rosanna branch library in partnership with Woolworths supermarket. The proposal would see the library rebuilt alongside a new supermarket in Turnham Avenue, opposite the Rosanna railway station. The existing library building would be demolished and part of the land sold.
Rosanna Library needs fixing
There’s no doubt that the Rosanna library needs an overhaul. The current building was opened in 1973 and is showing its age.
Rosanna library is a modest single-story building clad in brown brick and bluestone. Large timber-framed windows on the north of the building provide a view of the garden and allow plenty of light inside. The current building has a floorspace of 508 m2 and is set within landscaped gardens. There is an undercover car park for staff beneath the building and a public car park at the rear of the property.
The interior of the library is well-maintained but constricted in size and showing its age. The floor plan is simple but the lack of study spaces and limited children’s area is obvious.
Architecturally, the building is not especially noteworthy either internally or externally. Its design is simple and utilitarian. I don’t object to the demolition of the Rosanna library building to make way for a newer one.
Further down Turnham Avenue and next door to the library is a former council depot, which Woolworths purchased from Council a few years back. A planning permit for a new supermarket was issued in 2017 with the proposal being for the construction of a supermarket with a leasable floor area of 2,702 m2, including a liquor component of 135 m2. The building would have abutted the land’s Turnham Avenue frontage and appeared as two storeys.
Woolworths did not proceed further and the existing buildings are currently leased to Kalparrin.
During late 2019 and 2020, Council and Woolworths undertook confidential discussions to explore a range of development options for a new Rosanna Library, developing a project proposal involving the library development and land acquisition and negotiating a “Heads of Agreement” (HoA) to enable the project planning to take place. The Yarra Plenty Reginal Library (YPRL) were consulted.
The current proposal before Council is for the sale of 828 m2 of the council-owned land to Woolworths to facilitate their supermarket development which would have a floorspace of 2824 m2. In return, Woolworths’ land management company Fabcot Pty. Ltd. would build a new library for the council. The new library would be built on the portion of remaining council-owned land and would be owned by City of Banyule.
A library should not be an adjunct to a supermarket
Libraries are places of learning and study. They are community assets paid-for with ratepayers’ money and built-up over many years. I don’t consider it appropriate for the library to be built as an adjunct to a supermarket. The purpose of each facility is very different in both social and economic contexts and the two should not be mixed.
This is a very different proposal to a situation where a municipal library sits within a bigger shopping centre complex alongside other services (Knox Library comes to mind as an example). This proposal is for the direct connection of a supermarket to a library, with liquor.
Public land should not be sold for private benefit
This proposal presumably works for Woolworths because they appear to have purchased land in Rosanna which is still too constrained for their needs. By pushing the Rosanna library further towards the north, they can move their own supermarket further down the street, thus allowing more parking and/or more floorspace.
In my view, it is not the role of Council to accommodate private commercial developments by selling public land and moving public services. If Woolworths’ site is too small, perhaps the wealthy supermarket giant should make a better offer to buy other adjoining private properties.
Woolworths have undertaken to build car parking for library patrons, staff and customers but the reality is that there will be competition for those spots between library users and supermarket patrons that doesn’t currently exist, and wouldn’t likely exist if the properties remained separate.
The City of Banyule council published an assessment of options to upgrade the Rosanna library in their recent council agenda. It wasn’t very convincing.
The cost of a standalone library is described as “high”, whilst the cost of the Woolworths option is described as “medium”. Figures are not provided to support these statements. But let’s look a bit closer at the table:
- The possible size of a new standalone library would actually be bigger if Woolworths didn’t get involved (1333 m2 compared to 1303 m2).
- “Feasibility and delivery” would still be good with a standalone library. One of the ‘benefits’ of the Woolworths proposal is a new library sooner, but what does that mean and how do we know? What is so urgent that a new library can’t wait another year or two?
- “Statutory processes” are simpler for a standalone library. Council is the owner and council is the regulator. Easy!
- “Streetscape Impact” is cited as being only “good/average” with a standalone library option despite the fact that the standalone library would maintain a bigger setback and much of the existing vegetation could be retained. The cited reason for the rating is that the library would not be “integrated” with the adjoining site. Does this even matter? Arguably, this is a benefit.
- “Woolworths Delivered” – now this is a strange one. Why is this a concern for Council? Of course Woolworths would question the viability – that’s a standard business tactic in these situations, but the duty of Council is to look after the interests of residents first and foremost.
I do accept that a library refurbishment would not be a good option and I’d much rather see council seriously investigate the cost of a standalone library and leave Woolworths to sort out its own supermarket concerns.
It’s very difficult to objectively assess the feasibility of the Woolworths proposal when no costings are provided for either it or the “standalone” option. How could a councillor make a clear and honest decision when the full facts about likely expenditure are not known? It would not be difficult to commission a suitably qualified expert to provide a likely cost analysis for each option. The challenge would then be to prevent Council from declaring it “Commercial-In-Confidence”.
Clearly Woolworths think they’ll do well out of all of this and good luck to them. They’d not be making an offer to buy land from the City of Banyule and build council a “free” library if they didn’t think they’d make a good return, which suggests that the viability of the proposed supermarket isn’t as fragile as is suggested.
What I don’t like is the idea that any corporate entity could seek to “entice” – let’s keep it polite – a level of government to sell an asset (land) and have another asset (library) rebuilt primarily to suit the commercial interests of said entity. Council is hopelessly conflicted too because it is both co-investor and approver of planning permits. Without active community involvement, this could all look like a fait accompli.
The bigger question is why Council can’t afford to undertake this work itself?
I note that as part of the proposal, City of Banyule will make contributions towards upgrades at the neighbouring Heidelberg Theatre to a maximum of $1 million and “entice” the members of the Rosanna Traders’ Association to support the scheme (or deline to make negative public comment about it) by paying the 2021/2022 Traders’ Contribution to the Special Charge Scheme of $40,000.
This is money that could otherwise be put towards a new library.
When the supermarket was first proposed in 2017 (without any impact on the library), objectors complained that the supermarket would remove the “village feel” of Rosanna and ruin the streetscape.
Since then, the Level Crossing Removal Authority has raised the railway line above Lower Plenty Road and this has transformed the area. Aesthetically, I don’t think a supermarket would be especially out of place in this location and I have no particular objection to a Woolworths opening on Turnham Avenue either, although I do understand that this would not be in the economic interests of some of the nearby traders.
Given all this, what I would like to see is:
- City of Banyule maintain ownership of the entire library land as it currently stands.
- City of Banyule building a new stand-alone library in Rosanna that meets residents’ needs when it is able to do so.
- Woolworths building a stand-alone supermarket on their own land as originally intended, subject to all the normal planning processes.
- Heidelberg theatre receiving any additional funding to which it may be entitled on terms unconnected with the library project.