Costigan / Directorate doublespeak clouds parkland plans

PAUL COSTIGAN traces a sad tale of how the ACT Planning Directorate has worked hard to destroy any trust with local residents over the Dickson Parklands.

Dickson Parklands… locals have been suckered into feel-good “consultations” . Photo by PAUL COSTIGAN

HERE’S a sad tale of how the ACT Planning Directorate has worked hard to destroy any trust with Dickson residents – and, yes, there was not much there to start with.

Paul Costigan.

In mid 2016 a group of residents met with the planning and LDA bureaucrats to discuss options for the valuable community site – the Dickson Parklands (Section 72).

After a couple of hours of healthy discussion, we left. Within an hour of us departing a press release appeared that set out an agenda to build apartments on the site we had just been discussing. We were not impressed and it lowered even further the trust in dealing with the then-planning bureaucracies.

Before Christmas last year some of the same locals met with the Planning Directorate to discuss the “open” consultations to be held in 2018 on future options for the Dickson Parklands.

At that meeting several of us talked about trust and how we hoped that this new consultation could rebuild some of this.

During early 2018 there have been consultations about the Dickson Parklands. These were not that successful – but – still being optimistic we were looking forward to the next stage of the consultations.

In the last weeks several of us managed to view a copy of a tender that is now closed and is about the implementation of an Estate Development Plan (above). Yes – that word “estate” means loads of buildings such as apartments on the available land down the centre and to the east across the Parklands.

So while residents have been involved in feel-good “consultations” run by one arm of the planning bureaucracy, the same directorate initiated a housing development plan for the site to go through to the design stage by August this year, with a DA to be in place in February, 2019, and for there to be a tender called for work in March, 2019.

The Planning Minister made a big public announcement in January about these consultations. It is very obvious that the consultations are a diversion run by very talkative and smiling planning bureaucrats. But meanwhile the real work to build stuff (wanted or not wanted by the community) progresses.

On Wednesday night (May 16) at the North Canberra Community Council meeting, planning representatives presented spin and loads of user-friendly jargon. If you didn’t know the backstories it seemed like a great presentation on how well things are going – despite there being another parallel stage to implement a housing development plan.

The most insulting and divisive question being tasked of residents is: “Do you want social housing or a community (Parklands) site?” The reality is that there is clear support for social housing across the inner north but there is a huge support for this site to be enhanced as a community/cultural site. There is no real evidence for residential apartments – mixed use or otherwise.

At the same meeting the representatives ducked the question as to whether these consultations included research to identify all options across the inner north for not only Common Ground but for the long list of social housing.

As the planners know, with more social housing and more infill within the suburbs, the need for open spaces, parklands and more cultural facilities on this site will become very pressing. Then there is the question of greenery, trees, open green spaces and biodiversity. Does all of that no longer count with this push to consume available land?

This latest trickery and spin disguised as “consultations” has not been helpful. It is very frustrating to be constantly revisiting such matters. The 2014 workshops were clear: Enhance this site as a community cultural parklands site. The presentation on Wednesday night has angered people with several asking me to write about it here at citynews.com.au – so here it is.

Trust? There seems to be absolutely no concern that there has been the evaporation of trust between residents and the planning directorate.

PS: What is the best model for improving this Dickson site? Have a look at the wonderful Hazelhurst Art Centre in the south of Sydney.

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