October 17 - 23, 2021: Issue 514


Save Robertson Road Community Group: Good Urban Design Is Vital To Mental Wellbeing

Robertson road, Newport. Image supplied.

Save Robertson Road on Facebook:  www.facebook.com/groups/409043120382225
Website: www.saverobertsonroad.org
Newport Residents Association: newport.org.au
Contact email: saverobertson@gmail.com

There can be no doubt that living in a place which allows you access to open spaces, fresh air and views has been of benefit to residents during the recent months of stay-at-home safety measures to protect the physical health of people. 

Being able to go for a run, surf, swim, a walk to Barrenjoey Lighthouse and back or nod to each other across the street has kept us in contact with where we live and each other in a way that has helped ground us or granted a time out and the relief maintaining perspective brings through such connections to nature and each other – even if only calling ‘good morning’ from across the street.

Our outdoor spaces are vital to our physical, emotional and cerebral health. Although numerous studies have now pointed out the health benefits of maintaining green spaces in our urban environment, having spaces where we meet each other, as instanced in the Open Streets programs; focused on the 'heart' of every suburb, have been a success as the people have reclaimed the street as a place to meet by removing them from being a transport thoroughfare where you must stand aside in deference to a vehicle.

This is a harkening back and bringing forward of that shared Australian space the urban street once was - the place children inhabit in a game of skipping rope, hopscotch, footy and cricket, their parents gathered too, happily watching on, birds carolling in the trees above extending the ring of laughter and voices skyward. These are the market day mornings, where those who toil all week pause for minutes of asking a new mum about the new bub or enquiring how old Fred's rheumatism has been in this changeable weather. A musician is busking amongst the crowd, testing out a new song, the tinkle of teaspoons on teacups adds a crystal bell ringing quality over the thoroughfare lit up with colourful wares, the smell of good food, and more laughter.

The importance of public spaces in urban settings is obvious without all the scholarly studies, what we term in our vernacular a 'no-brainer'. 

Public areas shape community ties in neighbourhoods. They are places of encounter and can facilitate political mobilization, stimulate actions and help prevent crime. They are environments for interaction and exchange of ideas that impact the quality of the urban environment. While not considered “public spaces,” cafes, bookstores and bars have similar impacts. 

Public spaces also present health benefits, both physical and mental: people feel better and tend to be more active in attractive, public spaces. - 'Public Spaces: 10 Principles for Connecting People and the Streets', Priscila Pacheco, June 9, 2017   [1.]

The Newport Village Masterplan years ago identified the street 'heart' of Newport as Robertson road - that quieter off the main road space where people can gather, as they had already been doing so. Always a central part of the annual Newport Sculpture Trail, where Christmas Carols occur and great food and coffee may be enjoyed at leisure in the open air, the future potential for these events has been placed in jeopardy.

Two recent developments proposals, whose proponents may not have had access to or been aware of the Newport Village Commercial Centre Masterplan, seeks to have entrances to underground car-parking for units on Robertson road itself. 

The Newport Village Commercial Centre Masterplan was developed and adopted by Pittwater Council on November 5th 2007 after consultation with Newport residents and community input. The masterplan focuses on the commercial core along Barrenjoey Road and includes the side streets. As part of the masterplan study, Pittwater Council investigated the linkages between the commercial centre and the oceanfront areas to identify strategies to strengthen the relationship between the village, beach and community centre and included a preliminary proposal for a small urban plaza in Robertson Road. 

The rationale for identifying Robertson road as such then was:

  • to create a village ‘heart’, edged by active uses
  • to consolidate the existing pedestrian focus on Robertson Road, effectively creating more frontage
  • to take advantage of the northern orientation for sun access
  • to create a haven from the main road but still located in the centre of the village, close to the proposed signalised crossing to the beach


''There was broad support for the principles and considerable discussion about how to achieve them, in particular the potential for and desirability of a civic plaza. Whatever form this might take, there was consensus that Newport would benefit from a “heart’ or focus for the community, and that a location in the middle of the village, for example on Robertson Road, would be appropriate.'' (HBO + EMTB URBAN & LANDSCAPE DESIGN NEWPORT VILLAGE COMMERCIAL CENTRE MASTERPLAN page 25.)


The Public Domain Character aspect states; ''Design Robertson Road to be able to be closed off to vehicle traffic for special events (for example street markets) that open the whole street and associated public plaza to pedestrians. '' (HBO + EMTB URBAN & LANDSCAPE DESIGN NEWPORT VILLAGE COMMERCIAL CENTRE MASTERPLAN page 37)

This week a few insights from Save Robertson Road founder Simon Barlow on why it is vital to ensure this much used as a pedestrian street is maintained as a public space.

When and why was the Save Roberston Road community group formed?

January 29th 2021. It started off as a bit of a personal crusade, to draw attention to the two DA’s on Robertson road, both of which had the proposed entrances to their underground garages on Robertson road itself. This would have destroyed any future opportunity for the street to be realised as a pedestrian plaza either permanently or irregularly, as proposed in the Newport Masterplan.

Where would be the best place for these proposed entrances?

That is a huge question and what we’re actually negotiating now. They should obviously not be on Robertson road, the preferred options is for the sites to be amalgamated and underground parking shared. Ideally the entrances should be on Foamcrest Avenue.

Will that funnel a lot of extra traffic through Foamcrest?

It would as, if units are going to be built, and parking is required, that will happen. Foamcrest avenue has had an increase in traffic volume, not only because people use this to access the supermarket and other retail outlets, but also because people use the carpark.

Robertson Road has always been a heart of Newport for a while; it’s always a central part of the annual Newport Sculpture Trail and was part of the Streets as Shared Spaces event in December 2020 – how did that go?

I saw this and saw the potential epitomised through this event. Sadly this was affected by the Covid lockdown we had at that time, along with really bad weather, but the feedback was extraordinary. 

Newport has one opportunity for a community space off the main road and that is Robertson road. The other streets to the east and north and south can’t be utilised in this way – this is right in the centre. If we lost that opportunity it will be gone forever.

We have sat down with every possible office from the federal level to state to local government to discuss this.

This is a no-brainer and no one argues with the fact as it’s obvious it is.

The unique character of Robertson Road is its location off the main road, the streetscape of outdoor tables, umbrellas and trees, and the atmosphere created by the restaurants, boutiques and pedestrian traffic. This will be lost if the current DA's that plan roller door entrances to underground carparks on Robertson Road are approved. It will not only break the continuity of the shop frontages and pavements, but will forever destroy the opportunity for Robertson Road to be closed to traffic and ideally function as a pedestrian plaza. Included is the obvious opportunity to develop the precinct South of Robertson Road, including the Foamcrest Ave carpark. We need thoughtful and sensitive development to not only save Robertson Road, but create a "Heart of Newport". 

What are the main objectives in the Newport Village Masterplan?

This document is a reflection of the community’s aspirations for Newport – this was created by the community. It includes what we’re talking about – moving traffic flow away from Roberston road, becoming more pedestrian, enhancing a centric design with more attractive buildings.

This was created to achieve the desired future character of the Locality, including:

  • To provide a sense of place by acknowledgement of the setting, history, landscaping and built character and to give residents a sense of belonging, community pride and security. 
  • To encourage vitality within the Commercial Centre and to give people the opportunity to meet most of their needs locally. 
  • To reduce pedestrian/vehicle conflict and to provide good accessibility to the main elements of the Commercial Centre. 
  • To provide urban design elements at a human scale at which people do not feel overwhelmed by buildings. 
  • To encourage a high standard of architectural design in development to ensure an improved individual identity and seaside character for the Newport Commercial Centre. 

Why is it important to have a place within a suburb that can be considered the 'heart' of the community?

This is at the crux of why I got involved – the proposals as they are currently represent a form of town vandalism and dispossessing the community of amenity. 

I would refer people to this:

One of the most important opportunities for promoting good mental health is natural, positive social interactions, from close, confiding relationships to feeling part of a community.

How it works: Social interaction builds our self-esteem, self-confidence, and empathy; it increases our feelings of support and belongingness in a community, helps us cope with life's challenges, and mitigates feelings of loneliness, anxiety and isolation. Regular social interactions can also improve cognitive function, particularly memory and intellectual performance. 

Urban design action points: Urban places should have places that facilitate positive social interaction. Compact, walkable neighbourhoods provide opportunities for natural, daily social interaction. Mixed-land use can also be helpful, with welcoming shopfronts and nearby amenities, enabling people to browse and interact. 

Fine-grain street fronts can also be helpful: long, monotonous blocks of featureless walls make people prone to ruminations (negative thoughts) and reduce their interest in social interaction. Other opportunities range from street benches and chess tables installed in parks to multi-use public open spaces where people can get together for cooperative community events, ideally with opportunities for participation and volunteering. The research implies that quality is more important than quantity in ensuring good public open spaces. (urbandesignmentalhealth.com)

The design architecture needs to be sympathetic to where it will be placed and reflect the vernacular of a place – concrete bunkers do not meet what the community aspires to for Newport or the area.

What, ideally, would you like to see occur here?

For all of the landowners and local government get together, draw up a plan that includes input from the community, and crate a permanent or semi-permanent plaza around Robertson road.

We need this for the whole length of Robertson road - it has to be conserved. We have a once in a generation chance to do this – and this is for the next 100 years.

We’re not anti-development; we’re pro-development, but sensitive and smart development.

How is this being grown or progressed?

We have a Facebook page and within a month we had 500 people and now have 956 people following this. This has really tapped into a frustration in our community. 

The Save Robertson Road website has also helped people understand the issues and what's at stake: www.saverobertsonroad.org

The Newport Residents Association have warmly received what we have been doing, especially Gavin Butler – who is held in high regard and respected within not only the Newport community but in connection to his considered and careful representation of residents at federal, state and local government levels.

The Newport Residents Association also conducted a survey between December 2020 and May 2021 titled “Newport Village: Future & Improvements”, the results of which can be read using the following link:  http://newport.org.au/wpcontent/uploads/2021/08/NRA-Survey-Dec-2020-May-2021-.pdf

Another 1003 residents responded to these proposals. To have such a positive uptake of people voicing their concerns and aspirations for Newport is an indication of the Newport community's support for good design.  

How long have you been in Newport – and how did you first personally get involved?

20 years. I got involved through the DA on the south side, which is 349. I, along with other people in the community, made a submission regarding this. Then, watching in dismay as other developments in Newport were progressed where poor planning and no nod to the community these were being placed in was a key marker.

We have sympathy with developers but at the same time, not having a responsibility towards the community is not good design or good practice.

It’s a two-way aspect; developers have their rights under our democracy to be enabled to make money from private property but I feel there is an obligation to the community as well.

All those people that contributed to the Newport Village Masterplan have already demonstrated their sense of obligation by contributing to this. They are all bound to this beautiful place we live in and wish to see these principles upheld.

We can all talk and complain all we like – but if you don’t do anything it’s not going to get any better.

So we have taken up that obligation. We then pass that onto government, and to developers, and say; you also have an obligation – if we feel strongly about this, you are obliged to listen to us, obliged to do the right thing.

Simon, you have been in Newport for 20 years; what are your favourite places in Newport and why are they?

There are a million favourite places in Newport – it’s an extraordinary place. 

In the urban setting, my favourite place would be Robertson road. It’s without comparison. It’s that one little sanctuary away from the main road that’s extraordinary.

I also love the beach and the Pittwater; I exercise and swim and these are all great places.

The amazing views you may get from Newport’s bush reserves are a favourite too – the Crown to the Sea interlinked reserves is an outstanding community asset.

My regular walk is Bungan Head, so this too is a beautiful community space. You are looking down on one beach then turn around and you’re looking down on Newport. It’s hard to beat.

But as far as the village goes – Robertson road is it.

  1.  “Making good – shaping places for people,” produced by the Center for London - available here.
  2.  Newport Residents Association Update On Saving Robertson Road So It May Remain The Centre Of This Village
  3. Updates 2020 to 2021 in Community News page, Pittwater Online News
  4. Newport Sculpture Trail 2018
  5. Pittwater Roads II: Where The Streets Have Your Name - Newport

Robertson Road - named after Andrew Robertson, local businessman. He had a store in Newport and was President of the surf club from 1924 to 1930. He helped found the Newport Parents and Citizens Association in 1923. He and his wife had two sons, Colin and Gordon, who is remembered as being a great sweep for Newport SLSC surf boat crews. Apparently 'Andy' was a zither player. He passed away on September 22nd, 1931.

Robertson's store in Newport - photo courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.