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BEING disparaging about Canberra is easy. Our city is not like any other in the world, which should be a point of pride.
However, there are constant voices seeking to implement the same mistakes as in other cities. The latest attempt is on billboards. The last thing that Canberra needs is a free-for-all of these eyesores to “uglify” our city.
The Standing Committee on Planning and Urban Renewal of the ACT Assembly monitors Canberra to protect the environment, ensuring liveability and maintain its status as one of the healthiest cities in the world.
The committee is in the process of considering whether rules on billboards should be relaxed. The submissions published by the committee a day after submissions closed, without exception, provide a big thumbs down to any such relaxation. There may be more submissions that have been received but not published.
Canberra should be well served by this committee. All members are university graduates and most have postgraduate degrees. The chair, Caroline Le Couteur, holds degrees in economics and business and a graduate diploma of environment and development management. Deputy chair, Suzanne Orr, is a planning specialist with a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Canberra. The experience of all the members is broad and relevant.
With such a committee issues ought to be considered carefully, intelligently and thoughtfully. The members will need to resist the movement amongst those that do not understand Canberra – that “it has no soul” or the joke that “Canberra is 100 suburbs in search of a city”. This is the sort of derision that results in an unnecessary inquiry into billboards. At least the published submissions simply nail the issues.
Robin Sevenoaks’ submission argues an issue of visual amenity. The submission cites “the damage caused by billboards in an otherwise beautiful environment that is Canberra, our national capital”.
Support comes from Craig McGill, arguing billboards undermine our “unique city” and our “bush capital status”. He points out “billboards are ugly, distracting, and serve absolutely no-one except advertisers and the owners of the boards (who receive the advertising revenue)”.
Hugh Dakin can see some room for limited-time advertising on billboards for community organisations and schools. However, he is scathing about commercial billboards that “insert themselves, uninvited and unwanted”. He opines: “Advertisers have no right to do this and should not be allowed to do so”, arguing they are “litter on a stick” and should not “uglify our city”.
Liam Lilly, of See-Change, opposes billboards and asks if the traditional owners of Canberra have been consulted.
Strongly opposing “full-wrap advertising” on buses and the proposed light rail trams are Conrad Burden with Barbara and Geoffrey Nelson as a stealthy way of billboard advertising. Their argument is about a “detrimental effect on passengers” and is “inconsistent with the visual aesthetics that make Canberra a unique city”.
The submissions are united in ensuring Canberra’s distinctive aesthetics are maintained. The common thrust of the submissions to the ACT Parliamentary Inquiry is that Canberra is a “unique city” and this is how it should remain.
However, the blight has already been creeping in. As just one example, how distracting is the big screen billboard on the National Convention Centre at the corner of Constitution Avenue and Coranderrk Street? The committee should ensure it, and modern-style billboards like it, should not be permitted.
On the day after submissions closed there were no published submissions supporting the idea of relaxing billboard regulations. It is possible that more submissions are to be authorised and published. Where has the idea come from? Is someone looking to expand their business? Has someone whispered in an appropriate political ear? Are the disparaging comments hitting home? It is not clear why there is such an inquiry.
We have a strong Planning and Urban Renewal Committee. Any recommendations should further limit new types of signage and findings should ensure Canberra’s distinctive environment.