Costigan / Is working with residents really that hard?

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The Eyre Street Atria mixed commercial and residential development… praise all round from the residents. Photo by Paul Costigan

IT’S not often when discussing Canberra planning that there is praise for the ACT’s chief planner. So let’s do it.

The ACT chief planner revisited the former approval for an aspect of that waste disposal site in Fyshwick that had been previously approved. He admitted that approval should not have been given and so he reversed the decision. Full marks to the chief planner.

A little while ago I met with members of the Kingston and Barton Residents’ Association (KBRA). They tabled three-pages of the planning matters that they are dealing with. It is an amazing list. The most well known was the battle over the so-called “unsolicited” proposal to do a monster development on the Manuka Oval along with questionable land swaps that were at the cost of local amenities. This was backed by the then Urban Renewal Minister – the Chief Minister. The Manuka Oval proposal was eventually dumped.

Another major proposal relates to the Kingston Arts Precinct. This could be a fantastic development. Sadly, the people I spoke to have doubts about what is happening especially as there is no news on this since early 2017 when the goal posts moved from what was originally announced.

Given the habit of the government and the developers to suddenly hit communities with enormously complex and questionable development applications – with little time to respond – who knows what and when something will be thrown the community’s way for consideration. Will it be a set of tall apartments and/or giant hotel? Who knows?

Across Canberra the precinct codes now being used by the ACT government to define what should be in certain suburbs are not delivering quality outcomes.

There are some very ordinary, bland complexes now appearing in Kingston. As with communities across Canberra, the KBRA has a desire to work with the government and developers to see the character of their suburbs enhanced as development progresses – as it will.

This older Canberra area has heritage and historical values on top of the desire to maintain neighbourhood character and recognise residential aspirations.

What will it take to change the planning regimes – sooner rather than later – before too much damage is done and these older suburbs lose their historic character (the reason many people want to live there)?

But wait – the KBRA has had positive experiences with development. Yes, it can happen. The KBRG put out a statement thanking Roads ACT, Kingston Traders and the supermarket developers for working together on the Eyre Street Atria mixed commercial and residential development that all agree should benefit residents and businesses.

This is the development opposite Green Square on Eyre Street. Fingers are crossed that it delivers what has been agreed to.

There are many more stories. But what matters most is the lack of master planning for these suburbs as well as the commitment from government agencies to work with the residents rather than via a disjointed approach that results in getting the residents offside through exhausting confrontations.

So when the ACT chief planner announced that something was wrong with that Fyshwick proposal, he also drew attention to the issue that bothers most community associations. Just how do so many inappropriate ideas get to be taken seriously by this government? Surely there should be a mechanism to let developers know quickly – “don’t even try it”, “it is silly”, “it doesn’t meet the rules, so don’t submit it”.

Could the chief planner make “technical” changes now (not later) so that it is absolutely clear that it is not the role of government and community groups to spend days, weeks, months, if not years, trying to make sense of inappropriate proposals?

While most of us have sat at home over the seasonal cold evenings, there are dedicated residents, such as those in these inner-south Canberra associations, having to spend far too much time with issues that matter to all of us. All praise to them.

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  1. Paul should not be surprised that our muddle-headed chief planner or his directorate should change their minds. Here are some other examples:

    He increased the number of elements in the Territory Plan from ninety-five to more than three hundred. Now he says the Territory Plan is too complicated.

    He may be right. The Directorate rejected a Development Application for two new Dickson supermarkets. Then it approved it. Then ACAT rejected it.

    Before he became Chief Planner he created sixty new Precinct Codes. Then he realised that the Planning and Development Act requires Codes to include rules or criteria. Oops!

    In Notifiable Instrument NI 2012-622 he said that Technical Amendment TA 2012-06 amended Zone Development Tables, created Precinct Maps, created Precinct Codes, created a new Development Code and relocated Territory Plan provisions into both Precinct Maps and Precinct Codes. Did he realise that the Act requires major Territory Plan changes to be referred to the Minister and to the Planning Committee?

    He apparently didn’t notice when an official told the Planning and Development Forum that TA 2012-06 “simply relocated existing provisions in the Territory Plan into precinct codes,” when this claim was disputed, when the former chief planner endorsed the claim, or when the official disputed that the Forum had been misled.

    He later said that TA 2012-06 “merely relocated provisions to precinct maps and/or codes.”

    Since becoming chief planner he has declined to endorse the directorate’s claims about TA 2012-06, saying, “there is nothing further that I can usefully add.”

    Perhaps he took a lesson from the previous chief planner’s experience. She was alleged to have breached the Code of Conduct by failing to correct the claim that TA 2012-06 “simply relocated existing provisions in the Territory Plan into precinct codes.” After investigating that allegation, she made an official finding that the claim was “not inconsistent with the Notifiable Instrument” [i.e. NI 2012-622]. She later resigned.

    Ruth Park wrote a book called “The Muddle-Headed Wombat.” It is said that a wombat eats shoots and leaves. There may be a lesson in that.

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