Sack all town planners

There is a story in The Age today about a group of lefties who worked out their utopian plan for Melbourne to the year 2050 (you know the sort of thing – emissions targets, more public transport, in-fill development, innovation clusters, restricting the outer boundaries to prevent bogans ever affording a house) on the invitation of Liberal Planning Minister, Matthew Guy.

What was he thinking?  Why would you subcontract this task to this group?  But why does Melbourne need a plan?  Surely a few set of principles, including enlarging the size of the city boundary (or not having one, even better) should be sufficient?

There have been a few interesting documentaries recently (I think on SBS) about the tragedy of town planning in London and New York.  Large swaths of those cities were demolished and low income families with strong links to an area were forced out.   Beautiful buildings were demolished and in the place monstrous high rise blocks were erected.

And has anyone been to Milton Keynes, that poster child for town planning?

My advice: never ever listen to town planners, let along Professors of Urban Planning.

Here’s the story:

Roz Hansen remembers the meeting at No. 1 Spring Street as particularly unpleasant. Hansen and her handpicked team of six had been working away on the draft planning strategy for Melbourne, a vision that would guide the burgeoning city to 2050.

The group had the official title of the Ministerial Advisory Committee, appointed by Planning Minister Matthew Guy in May 2012 to ”direct the development of the strategy”.

That is precisely what it had done for the previous 12 months, which included exhaustive public consultations to tap into the concerns of everyday people.

Planning expert Carolyn Whitzman: “It’s a plan built around the justification of the East West Link, which nobody involved, with the possible exception of the premier’s office, was talking about in the initial stages.”

The Spring Street meeting in June 2013, at the Planning Department, was the culmination of this work, a chance to discuss a draft strategy produced by Hansen’s committee and working groups comprising external experts and government staff.

Around the table were senior planning public servants, staff from the minister’s office and, at the start of the day, the minister himself.

”Some of the public servants and ministerial staff at the meeting were snotty and arrogant, and quite frankly, offensive at times, in my view,” says Hansen, an internationally renowned urban planning expert.

As Hansen tells it, the day-long meeting was the start of the demolition of the draft document: it was too long, it shouldn’t have targets, they didn’t want to talk about encouraging housing density in the suburbs. And some people in the room who had contributed to the draft were now effectively disowning it, or merely sitting silent without defending the content.

”It was as though the document had suddenly become the Ministerial Advisory Committee’s document and that the other people, including some in the room, had had no input,” recalls Hansen. ”They certainly didn’t put their hands up to declare that they were contributors.

”The commentary coming from some of the public servants around the table quite frankly was insulting.”

The end result was that in August, five of the six committee members, including Hansen, told the minister that their work was finished. It is a point of contention whether it was a resignation, as Hansen describes it, or the end of their job. Regardless, it ended badly.

Hansen has since become a vocal critic of some of the planning decisions being made by the state government, including its focus on building the East West Link. How did it come to this?

For the first time, Roz Hansen has detailed what happened, providing an account of the collapse of the process, which she agrees has all the hallmarks of a Yes Minister script but without the laughs.

The office of Planning Minister Matthew Guy did not provide answers to questions put by Fairfax Media.

In 2010, Victoria’s new Coalition government had decided that Melbourne needed a new plan. In 2001, the then Labor Bracks government had produced its Melbourne 2030 strategy, meant to guide the city’s development for the next 30 years. In response to a booming population, that was tweaked in 2008 to become Melbourne @ Five Million.

The general theme was urban consolidation, and a focus on development and resources around suburban centres – hardly rocket science in theory, but much harder to implement. The urban fringe kept expanding, but without the basic services and jobs to support the new communities.

The incoming Coalition government wanted a strategy of its own. The population and development pressures Labor had attempted to deal with were increasing by the day. Roz Hansen remembers being approached by Matthew Guy on International Women’s Day in March 2012 at a breakfast in Queen’s Hall, Parliament House. Hansen had helped establish the Women’s Planning Network in the mid-1990s.

His staff prepared terms of reference, and Hansen says Guy ”very generously” asked her whom she would like to be committee members. The group she nominated included Tony Nicholson, head of the Brotherhood of St Laurence; transport expert Professor John Stanley; and planning expert Bernard McNamara.

”It was a great group,” says Hansen, ”and we weren’t the usual suspects.”

The feedback from planners to the appointments was positive – this would not be a ”business as usual” approach.

So far, so good. In October 2012, the group produced its discussion paper, Melbourne: Let’s talk about the future. The paper contained nine principles, from economic imperatives such as jobs and transport capacity to making Melbourne a 20-minute city – Melburnians should be within 20 minutes of jobs and services. Another principle was social and economic participation. This included a discussion of the emergence of ”two Melbournes” – a ”choice rich” inner core, and a disadvantaged fringe. It included ”16 big ideas” to start the conversation. But it was becoming clear not everyone was sharing the committee’s view, or indeed recognising its status.

Hansen started getting the ”very real sense” that the committee was not being welcomed by the public service. Requests were made by the committee for information from the Department of Treasury and Finance and to meet the department to discuss funding and financing issues related to implementing the strategy. Hansen says those requests were denied.

”I regard that as arrogant. After all, this was a 40-year strategy for metropolitan Melbourne and the big elephant in the room was how to pay for the city-shaping and community-making infrastructure our city desperately needs.”

And so to the June morning at the meeting room at the department.

The public servants did not want to commit the government to any targets. But what was the point of a plan for Melbourne without them?

Often, Hansen says, the response given was that the current government could not commit to something it could not guarantee to deliver. She pointed out that given the electoral system, no government could give those guarantees. Hansen believes that in many instances Plan Melbourne is more about the next four years than a long-term vision for Melbourne.

They also didn’t want to talk about increasing density in the established middle suburbs and delivering more services in the urban growth areas, especially public transport. When the draft Plan Melbourne was released, a directive was included by the department about protecting the established suburbs from inappropriate development.

Hansen says that is what the planning system is for – it determines what is or is not appropriate on a development-by-development basis, and believes the directive points to another agenda. ”You’ve really got to say that typifies this almost anti-density attitude outside the expanded central city,” she says.

But the majority of Melburnians do not want to live in high-rise towers in the central city, or close to it, particularly if they have social and family connections in the suburbs. ”And they do not want to live in one or two-bedroom dog boxes. I believe people want housing choice at a price they can afford to buy or rent and that means an approach to housing which has to include the middle suburbs for medium-density housing.”

The 20-minute neighbourhood concept was also targeted. In essence, the concept means being within 20 minutes of a job and services – that is, travelling by public transport, walking or cycling and not just by car. Density delivers more services and even jobs closer to home. Hansen says the idea was dumbed down to one thing, neighbourhood activity centres.

After that June meeting, Hansen agreed to go away and work with two government people to rewrite the document. Initially, she didn’t want to do it, but she didn’t like what was happening to the committee’s work. ”I could see that the bureaucrats were going to start to dismember this draft quite substantially and I wanted to prevent this happening if possible,” she recalls.

Over two weeks, they ”worked their butts off”. The reworked document went to the committee, and then to the minister’s office. The message was that it was still too long and they wanted to change chapters and essentially destroy the narrative that was embedded in the committee’s draft, says Hansen.

”So they basically started to put the political spin on the document,” she says. ”We went through this process in good faith and then certain individuals within the department decided no, they were going to write this document. So they started to completely reshape it even though I was being told they were just ‘tweaking it’.”

They took out the targets for greenhouse emissions, and the committee was told to use the term ”changes in climatic conditions” rather than ”climate change” – a few references to the latter slipped through, says Hansen, she suspects because of poor editing.

A fundamental change was watering down the nine principles to the point where they have become almost lost despite the ”resounding support for them by submitters to the discussion paper …”

Hansen says she tried to speak to the minister a couple of times, but with no success. She had given up trying to speak to his staff or bureaucrats. ”It was like talking to deaf ears. It was clear that they were on a mission and they weren’t interested in what I or the other members had to say. It just reeked with arrogance and ‘I know best’ culture.”

So on August 30, Hansen met Guy and handed him a one-page letter from her and five of the six committee members. With that letter was a draft of what the committee believed should be the draft strategy for public comment and discussion.

In October, Plan Melbourne was released.

Hansen believes there are some good things in the document, such as its proposals on water and waste and focus on national employment clusters – even the word ”innovation” was removed from the title of these clusters. ”These clusters are all about health and education, research and innovation – the ingredients of a knowledge economy – and not simply about jobs,” she says. ”But the document is not the work of the committee because too much of their content was removed.”

What of the other committee members?

John Stanley declines to talk about what happened in the various meetings, taking the view that ”what happens on the football ground stays on the football ground”. ”My concern is that the community could get more out of this than they’re getting,” he says.

He is disappointed that so little of what was proposed has made it through, pointing to the fact that the committee’s draft plan reflected the community’s views. ”I think the community’s up for much more change than is in fact reflected in the draft.”

The biggest weakness, he says, is the lack of commitment to fund the plan. ”We were very keen to see that in there.”

But Bernard McNamara says the strategy was always going to be a government document. ”We were giving recommendations to the government, and it was on that basis.”

A lot of the committee’s recommendations were part of Plan Melbourne. ”Some of them weren’t, but that’s the government prerogative,” he says. He declined to comment on Hansen’s views about the opposition the committee faced.

Dr Carolyn Whitzman, associate professor in urban planning at the University of Melbourne who was consulted by the committee, dismisses Plan Melbourne as a ”beautiful coffee table book”. ”It’s got some very pretty pictures in it. But it neither reflects a developed consultation process, nor does it reflect the deliberations of the ministerial advisory committee.”

Whitzman says the only financial commitment in the plan is for the East West Link. She can’t think of another city where the central plank of a planning strategy is a downtown expressway. ”It’s a plan built around the justification of the East West Link, which nobody involved, with the possible exception of the premier’s office, was talking about in the initial stages,” she says.

Hansen, Whitzman and a group of other people concerned about key issues which are not being addressed in Melbourne have taken matters into their own hands, and are running a series of public forums, the first of which was held last week.

Roz Hansen believes that Matthew Guy began with the right intention. She says he publicly stated he wanted a robust plan, a plan for the people of Melbourne and not a political document. She believes the minister thinks the strategy plan delivers. ”But in my view and many others it’s business as usual,” she says.

She hasn’t spoken to Guy since she handed him the resignation letter. ”What do I say? ‘Matthew, you let me down?”’

 

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39 Responses to Sack all town planners

  1. Badjack

    Victorian Libs are different, they are a breed unto themselves. They love taking poor souls under their wing. Kroger loves Howes and has him to dinner parties, Reith tells us on The Drum Howes is smart and Bolt thinks he is highly intelligent so why wouldn’t Guy give the idiots some work.

  2. H B Bear

    Yes. Victoriastan is a different country and it is no surprise that Pravda-on-the-Yarra is the journal of record.

    … and Hansen says Guy ”very generously” asked her whom she would like to be committee members.

    and there is your problem right there.

  3. twostix

    They took out the targets for greenhouse emissions, and the committee was told to use the term ”changes in climatic conditions” rather than ”climate change” – a few references to the latter slipped through, says Hansen, she suspects because of poor editing.

    LOL, climate change as a political issue is even dead in commie infested Victoria.

    They also didn’t want to talk about increasing density in the established middle suburbs and delivering more services in the urban growth areas, especially public transport. When the draft Plan Melbourne was released, a directive was included by the department about protecting the established suburbs from inappropriate development.

    You’ve really got to say that typifies this almost anti-density attitude outside the expanded central city,” she says.

    Some of the public servants and ministerial staff at the meeting were snotty and arrogant, and quite frankly, offensive at times, in my view,” says Han

    No, they were unusually defending the public against the “snotty”, and “arrogant” “plan” of forcing Melbournians to live in UK style “dog boxes” so loved by left-wing academics.

  4. smcg51

    I heard on the ABC a while ago a Professor of town planning explaining to the gullible listener that town planning is not about outcomes but all about the process. Why even bother starting if it’s not about the outcome?
    This person is paid by us to create a new generation of town planners.

    For a good read visit the antiplanner http://ti.org/antiplanner/

  5. Baldrick

    The thing Hansen forgets is that it was always going to be a government document and was never about ‘look at me, look at me’.

    She was paid a salary to produce a document for the government, not to enhance her own C.V.

  6. nilk

    Ah, Victorial Liberals. What a pack of soft red muppets.

  7. Demosthenes

    There are good and bad plans, and for different reasons. They vary from Milton Keynes to Manhattan, from Tokyo to Canberra.

  8. Nanuestalker

    And has anyone been to Milton Keynes, that poster child for town planning?

    Ah those lovely cows!

    [Google: "cows milton keynes" if interested!]

  9. Robbo

    Judith I share your disdain for town planners. I have had close contact with many of them over years and it has always seemed to me that they epitomise the nanny mentality of the socialists who would dearly love to control our lives from cradle to grave.
    Having said that I read the article and it appeared to me that among the stuff that committee recommended to the Minister was the sensible step of better utilisation of existing large allotments that already has the infrastructure in place. Stopping the sprawl of cities is a commendable aim. To simply stand back and let things happen is expensive and unnecessary. Matthew Guy, the Minister for Planning in Victoria, should do more about this issue than appoint a committee, pay little or no attention to what it has to say, and then sit back and let the sins of omission by his predecessors repeat themselves under his watch. His approach may be popular with the development industry but it is the taxpayers who have to foot the final bill.

  10. Nanuestalker

    My advice: never ever listen to town planners,

    mkay!

    [Couldn't help it ... Milton Keynes humour]

  11. manalive

    There are good and bad plans, and for different reasons. They vary from Milton Keynes to Manhattan, from Tokyo to Canberra …

    Which are the good ones?

  12. Andrew of Randwick

    A bit off topic but I will add to Badjack (#1239666 at 12:01 pm) because you Melbournians are a bit blind when it comes to “the Left”, e.g. a former fence minder and dial-a-quote bloke is a good choice of leader of a political party.

    Victorian Libs are different, they are a breed unto themselves. They love taking poor souls under their wing. Kroger loves Howes and has him to dinner parties, Reith tells us on The Drum Howes is smart and Bolt thinks he is highly intelligent so why wouldn’t Guy give the idiots some work.

    On Monday night Andrew Bold (2GB with Steve Price) had a “bromance” moment over Paul Howes. Yes he is a friend, capable and young, and goes to Kroger’s dinner parties. And yes he is resigning before his prime.
    But one possible reason why he has resigned now from the AWU, is so that he can get independent legal advice before the Royal Commission comes calling, and not be beholden to AWU lawyers.
    So you see, he is intelligent.
    .
    And he won’t be going to the private sector any time soon, I suspect he will have other things on his plate.

  13. John Mc

    Social engineers never understand the difference between a plan and a framework. If you don’t have detailed control over 85% of the variables affecting your program, over the full schedule to get to your endpoint, your plan will be irrelevant in the first five minutes. It will be changed so many times over the course of your program, if you do ever get to an endpoint before your program in cancelled in public disgust, it will unrecognisable to the people who initially developed the plan. And the product that you deliver will be unrecognisable as well, and usually a dud. Hence, just about every social engineering program in human history.

  14. Demosthenes

    Which are the good ones?

    Practical ones.

    My point being not all town planners need sacking. We can make up the numbers with short-sighted self-interested government bureaucrats who oppose allowing denser neighbourhoods in order to protect favoured constituencies. Then we can vote out all those Green councillors and their blue-hair Liberal allies who say no to every modest apartment building because they want their suburb to remain just how it is, wanting to prevent the constant change it underwent to get to that point in the first place!

  15. Squirrel

    There are encouraging signs that the standard formula dished up by town planners is starting to be questioned, particularly by some of the smarter younger people who are waking up to the fact that the formula often contributes to higher housing costs and – propaganda aside – a reduced quality of life.

  16. Peter H

    Well Barry O’Farrell has big plans for NSW. The first step was / is to remove all property rights associated with planning from every land holder and every council in the state. Step two is to vest all authority for all planning and all development consents in one person the minister for planning. The ministers position is absolute with no right appeal. He has already tried to get this through late last year and was narrowly defeated. Could you imagine someone like the corrupt obeid or mcdonald being that minister, or unionists like stephen conroy, or brian burke.

  17. James of the Glen

    “And has anyone been to Milton Keynes, that poster child for town planning?”.

    To actually arrive in MK first you need to recover from spinning vertigo caused by negotiating an unending series of roundabouts on the town approaches.
    And then discover the trip was not worthwhile.

    However, Bletchley Park is nearby and that more than makes up for the torture. One of the greatest triumphs of WW2.

  18. LordAzrael

    Doesn’t help that lots of town planners are ex-lawyers, so share the lawyers philosophy that you need laws and regulations as a solution for any perceived problem – the concept that “do nothing” is a acceptable, and often optimal outcome is anathema to them.

  19. thefrollickingmole

    Our town planners need shooting.

    Their latest “brainwave”, gift up to $50,000 to any of the property owners of the derelict and empty shopfronts downtown if the “spruce them up” a little.

    Meanwhile planning has taken more than 8 months (so far) to approve my modest little shop. They quote back to “Australian standards” for everything adding tens of thousands of dollars in costs for no tangible outcome.
    The CEO of the council changed the rules so councilors cant ask direct questions to any employee, just to him.. Its as corrupt as all buggery.

  20. .

    I like the idea of assigning everything a value/zoning now and selling up.

    This would remove the typical problem of changing zonings to unfairly benefit a party.

    “Old taxes are fair taxes”

  21. Andrew

    I’m shocked. The people who live in Toorak do so by choice and are rich (I would have never figured) and the people who live in Frankston are poor. How much did taxpayers pay for this tripe?

    And what made them think that about 1/4C of global warming could be detected in an urban heat island where the temp of an asphalt road was measured by the City Council at over 80C?

  22. Free Advice

    Town planners and their profession in general are the single most significant reason why house prices in Melbourne and Sydney are so high. Their restrictive development policies and regulatory interpretations prevent anyone building anything anywhere.

    They don’t realise that this town (Melbourne) was built by speculators and developers during the gold rush, hence so many rows of terraces. A building model they want to preserve from the past but restrict developers from doing today.

    I recently I had to apply for a signage permit over the front door of a pub in inner melbourne.
    The cost of the sign was $ 200- but the cost of the permit application including consultants was
    $ 1,500- and eight weeks wait. Can you believe it?

    The default position of every planner is to say no. Not over there either.

    Once upon a time if one of your parents died, you built a granny flat in your back yard for the remaining parent, thus strengthening the family unit. Today your not allowed so granny has to go to a home.

    The best city is one that is carved up into little blocks and you let each owner do what they like, within reason. So long as its not toxic, allow it.

    Never ever listen or accept the advice of a Town Planner.

    Town Planners are like Nutritionists. They don’t know anything and are proved completely wrong decade after decade. Their industries wouldn’t exist without government regulation so they’re heavily into rules and new laws by definition. They both pop up year after year preaching the new fads and conveniently forgetting they were banging on about the opposite previously. They have no shame and no integrity or credibility.

    Do not pay them any attention whatsoever. In fact tell them and their profession to get stuffed.

  23. johanna

    Town planners are so predictable. They have this list of mantras that they learn at Town Planning School, or wherever they go, and it never varies.

    They are for public transport, cycling and walking, and against travelling by car. They are for people living and working and socialising in a small area, and against them utilising the larger city that they live in.

    They are for smaller living spaces, and against freestanding homes, which they call “urban sprawl.”

    They are for micromanaging planning and zoning by people such as themselves, and against land finding its most economically efficient use via the market.

    They are for slapping “heritage” orders on private property, at the owner’s expense, without compensation.

    They are for imposing expensive regulations on everyone in the name of “sustainability” and “climate change,” and against letting property owners manage their own risks.

    And most of all, they are for an endless income stream for people like them via the ongoing development of planning blueprints that start at the metropolitan level and then have (like Russian dolls) smaller and smaller plans separately created within them.

    Has anyone ever done a cost-benefit analysis on these oh-so-predictable parasites?

  24. thefrollickingmole

    This should be the guiding and only principle for town planners.

    The best city is one that is carved up into little blocks and you let each owner do what they like, within reason.

    This crap about looking after the property value of an “area” is just a smokescreen for “look after the people who already own the center of town”.

  25. Alan Moran

    The end result of the planners seeking to foist their own undoubtedly good and wise tastes on the rest of us has been a remorseless increase in the price of land for housing.

    That land which is artificially segregated from the other 99 per cent of land in Australia has in Melbourne risen to be well over twice its price in 2007 when land constraints had already vastly increased its value over and above the market value.
    The price of a fully serviced block on the periphery of all our suburbs should be around $80,000 yet it varies from upwards of $300,000 due to the planning fraternity and to spineless politicians acquiescing in the planners’ land rationing policies.

  26. wreckage

    Stopping the sprawl of cities is a commendable aim.

    Not really, no.

  27. wreckage

    Well Barry O’Farrell has big plans for NSW. The first step was / is to remove all property rights associated with planning from every land holder and every council in the state. Step two is to vest all authority for all planning and all development consents in one person the minister for planning.

    I don’t think knocking councils out of the approvals process is necessarily a bad thing.

  28. Michel Lasouris

    “let alone” perhaps?

  29. Streetcred

    There are 3 types of town planners … academic, bureaucrat, and private. Academic TPs are clueless socialists with jumped up egos, bureaucrat TPs are the spawn of the academic system with a Nazi-like zealotry to control all before them, and the private TPs are ‘friends’ … choose wisely your friends. However, a word to the private TPs, I pay your fees for you to represent my development aspirations, not for you to polish your marble with the bureaucrats … got it? ;)

  30. Larry

    Do we really need to ask why housing has become unaffordable?
    I know who to ask.

  31. Streetcred

    Stopping the sprawl of cities is a commendable aim.

    May I refer you to the writings of one Wendell Cox.
    http://www.newgeography.com/

  32. Hasbeen

    The only thing you have to consider to understand town planners, is that they like bike lanes.

    No one lets their kids ride bikes on the road. No sensible person rides a bike in peak hour traffic, breathing in all those fumes.

    In fact no one with a brain could ever see a reason to clutter the roads with imaginary bikes, but planners do.

    Enough said.

  33. Andrew

    While Matthew Guy has made an error in judgement on this point, he is one of the few ministers in the government who has actually performed quite well.

  34. David Brewer

    …and don’t forget what centuries of intrusive town planning caused here

  35. David Brewer

    …and don’t forget what centuries of intrusive town planning caused here

  36. Yohan

    Town planning gives full flight to the dreams of social engineers who want to plan our lives down to the last detail. Full restrictions on zoning and development, large communal housing blocks, no car parks and discouragement to even owning cars, bicycle tracks everywhere and controlled and heavily regulated local business rules.

    Their vision is essentially like the socialist utopian posters of the Soviet Union and China.

    But the real end result of planning and zooming restrictions is increased cost for regulatory compliance, misallocation of scarce resources and reduced supply of cheap land. This causes young families to have to move to far flung areas outside the tight urban boundaries, thus actually increasing urban sprawl and car usage for travel to work. The exact opposite result of the social engineers dream, which is always the end result.

  37. Alex Davidson

    What planners are talking about is actually central planning, as opposed to planning in the sense most of us use when thinking about our own lives and future. Omitting the word ‘central’ allows planners to argue that planning is necessary, so we need to put it back in, and always refer to it as central planning. Then it becomes clear that what they are doing is no different failed experiments of the former Soviet Union and Cuba.

    To implement central planning, property rights must necessarily be set aside. So the only real defence we have against might is right – respect for and enforcement of property rights – is gone, and we end up in the situation we all find ourselves in now, where the proper roles of government and citizen have been reversed.

    Our misleadingly-titled ‘Local Environmental Plan’ is 139 pages of controls over how we may use land we own. It should be called ‘Violations of Ownership Rights’. The accompanying ‘Development Control Plan’ – many more violations of ownership rights – is over 1,100 pages. There’s also a ‘Land Use Matrix’ listing the 165 uses the council has managed to think of, only 8 of which are ‘permitted without consent’, and then only in certain zones. Land owners have been utterly and completely reduced to nothing more than caretakers, stripped of the very essence of ownership – control over the owned resource.

    It is time for an end to central planning. It is ruining our cities, our lives, and eroding the very foundations of freedom and prosperity – property rights. It has degenerated into nothing more than a giant protection racket benefiting those with political influence, at the expense of everyone else.

  38. rickw

    The whole circus is a massive infringement of individual property rights. Your land, your choice.

  39. James Hargrave

    Yes, I have been to Milton Keynes, or at least made the acquaintance of so many roundabouts and underpasses… I always thought that it would be an ideal place to which to evacuate the UK parliament and several ministries – Britain’s own Canberra? Highly secure because you could never find anything, nothing would be worth blowing up, except on aesthetic grounds, and the road system would ensure that any culprit would be trapped going around in circles.

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