Simon, it’s simple, no mistakes this time

The Chief Minister has appointed Simon Corbell to a second stint as Planning Minister. Political commentator MICHAEL MOORE reflects on the mistakes of his first term…

CAN Simon Corbell learn from his earlier mistakes as Planning Minister?
From the time that he worked for then-Member for Fraser, John Langmore, more than two decades ago, Corbell has been personally committed to good planning for Canberra.
However, politicians are remembered more for their mistakes than what they have achieved. And Simon has made mistakes – not so much by pandering to developers, but rather by being too receptive to community groups.
Both Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and the new Planning Minister have defended the appointment, pointing out that the role requires hard decisions in the interest of the community and such decisions will invariably come into conflict with developers from time to time.

Incoming Planning Minister Simon Corbell... made mistakes – not so much by pandering to developers, but by being too receptive to community groups, says Michael Moore. Photo by Silas

The Liberal Leader Zed Seselja wasted no time in blasting the appointment, reminding the public that Corbell had been “unceremoniously stripped of the planning portfolio by Jon Stanhope”.
He then employed the Abbot mantra by associating poor decisions with “putting more financial pressure on families” adding: “First-home buyers and renters are struggling to find a home in one of the most unaffordable markets in the country. Much of this burden has come about as a direct result of policies put in place in Simon Corbell’s first stint as Planning Minister”.
In all other jurisdictions, the health portfolio is considered the political poison chalice. However, in Canberra, the planning ministry has proved an even greater challenge. It is not enough to make decisions “in the community interest” as there are invariably different opinions about how that interest is best served.
The Planning Minister’s role invariably degrades into balancing one set of vested interests against another. When this happens, one or both of the parties will invariably feel aggrieved and use the media to point out why they consider the Minister a failure. Those who are not aggrieved breathe a sigh of relief and get on with their business.
It is informative to consider two obvious failures that occurred under Simon Corbell’s watch – mistakes that were not about pandering to developers but rather to the loud voices of minority groups within the community.
The first is the Gungahlin Drive Extension: The costs associated with the failure to build a duplicate in the first place has been extraordinary and the inconvenience, delays and traffic gnarls for Gungahlin residents and anyone using the Glenloch Interchange are still continuing. The failure to duplicate the GDE was an attempt to find a compromise with the very vocal and politically savvy “Save the Ridge” group, which was largely based around O’Connor. There was no exit from the GDE on to Barry Drive – the most important of their goals as such an exit would have damaged the ambience of O’Connor Ridge.
The second compromise was just stupidity and it was a compromise that did not suit them – they were simply trying to stop any road for fear of adverse impact on their homes and the land around the ridge.  Interestingly, their dire predictions at that time simply have not come to fruition.
The second mistake was pre-empted by a similarly vocal, but much smaller politically savvy group in Campbell.
At their behest, Limestone Avenue remains duplicated as does the new section of road near the Mount Ainslie turnoff, but in between the modifications to Fairbairn Avenue remains a single lane in each direction. More stupidity!
It will not be long before this situation requires rectifying as well. Instead of the series of bridges being built to handle four lanes they are single lanes. As Gungahlin grows, especially when Majura Lane, past the airport, is duplicated, this road will also have to be upgraded.
The lesson is clear. The sensible compromise that was made at the time was the installation of a series of sound-deadening landscaping. A visionary approach would have taken into account the needs of the community as a whole to provide appropriate access and met the concerns of the local residents with the traffic-noise mitigation as was carried out in the end.
Planning is not an easy portfolio. The resurrected Minister should, where possible, find compromises that are consistent with the Canberra Plan to protect the interests of developers and community members. However, he must ensure that he is bullied by neither.

Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government.

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