Costigan / High-rise development terror looms in Downer

“Given the combined history on Canberra’s development and the lack of empathy on planning matters from the Chief Minister, Planning Minister and the Urban Renewal Minister, things are not looking good for Downer,” writes PAUL […]

In red, Downer’s RZ5 proposed developments… “this classification allows very little means for pesky residents to object”.

DOWNER is the next inner-north Canberra suburb to be subjected to the reign of development terror from our “much-loved” planning authorities as they allow the developers free rein to maximise profits.

Paul Costigan.

The spin has been put in place ready for announcements before the end of the year – probably gift wrapped with questionable justifications to be enjoyed over Christmas lunch.

What the residents are concerned about is the way their input will be misinterpreted following the “community engagements” on the development of the “City and Gateway Urban Design Framework”.

To paraphrase their own words: “The ACT government together with the National Capital Authority have developed the ‘Framework’ to optimise the benefits from urban renewal by prioritising people and how they interact and move about the city.”

Should be good. Exciting. Oh, how we wish!

At a hastily convened meeting in the Downer community hall on October 15, residents were informed by their community leaders of the scenarios that could be announced soon. The prospects are not good that the suburb will do well from the new apartment tower developments along the Northbourne edge to the suburb.

The “prioritising-people” authorities have deemed this zone to come under the notorious RZ5 zoning – which is code to the developers, here are a few rules, but do what you wish as this classification allows very little means for the pesky residents to object.

As the meeting discussed, if the government was interested in having this new development zone fit in alongside this established and cherished suburb, it would look at a zoning mechanism more relevant for this strip of land (and others along Northbourne).

Blackett Street, Downer… the spin has been put in place ready for announcements before the end of the year. Photo by Paul Costigan

Residents reported formerly “significant” trees on one of the few parks in this area have been sacrificed to the greater good of construction of the tram; that former conversations have vanished about how these high-rise developments would deliver infrastructure improvements into the suburb and that nothing has appeared to allay the fears of residents along streets behind Northbourne that they will soon be looking up at high rise looking down on their front doors.

There were moments of amusement when documents were read out about how the development would offer active lifestyles including opportunities for walking and cycling.

There are streets in Downer with no footpaths and there are no cycle paths. And when it comes to parking – the suburb has its problems closer to Dickson.

The narrow streets have day-time restrictions on parking but by night congestion has been caused by the new apartments having limited parking and residents have to park on the streets. One story told of trucks not being able to enter one street with cars parked along both sides leaving a tiny space in the centre.

There was the argument that Canberra is increasing by 7000 people each year and therefore had to expand to house these people. No one had trouble with that. It was the complete lack of confidence in those charged with getting this done. None of these agencies or individuals seem to have any commitment to good design, to enhancing urban character, to biodiversity, to climate change urban issues, to providing infrastructure including access to services, to community and arts facilities… the list goes on.

Given the combined history on Canberra’s development through the efforts of the National Capital Authority, ACT Planning and the lack of empathy on planning matters from the Chief Minister, Planning Minister and the Urban Renewal Minister, things are not looking good for Downer.

The Downer meeting discussed the need for people to get informed and to start to make their voices heard by contacting local politicians, who have largely kept their heads down – again (these people are supposed to represent this electorate). Is it time to learn from other electorates (Wentworth?) and encourage independent candidates for the 2020 ACT elections?

The message from the meeting was clear – get active now.

Paul Costigan is an independent commentator and consultant on the visual arts, photography, urban design, environmental issues and everyday matters.

 

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