Costigan / The complete planning mess that’s Coombs

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Coombs Community Local Shopping Centre… untroubled by tenants. Photo by Paul Costigan

EVER noticed politicians at your shopping centre doing their “mobile office” thing to get your attention?

There is one Canberra shopping centre where you can be sure that this does not happen. It is a case study in how our planning minister continues to live up to his reputation of doing very little.

A couple of weeks ago I parked in front of the Coombs Community Local Shopping Centre and wondered how such a stupid thing has been allowed to happen.

The building was built a couple of years ago but the developer has not brought in tenants. There is no shopping centre yet for the neighbouring suburb of Wright. This means that people in these suburbs (about 4000 plus residents and growing) travel three-to-four kilometres to Cooleman Court for the nearest supermarket. If you do not drive and want to buy basics such as milk or bread, then best of luck with that!

The minister has been asked to intervene. The response so far has been that there is nothing he can do. Locals have asked for some master planning to see some community facilities provided. No response.

So we have a Chief Minister pushing development, a planning minister (doing something), an urban renewal minister (don’t know what she does) plus the local in-government politician, now a minister for something, yet Coombs residents cannot get a shopping centre opened. Who pays these people?

The Coombs block that was sold for a maximum of 44 dwellings – the DA now lists 212 apartments… an eight-storey thing in amongst others that are six storeys maximum. Photo by Paul Costigan

But it gets worse. Locals circulated information about an outrageous development application (DA). The apartment development proposed is on the corner of Terry Connolly Street and John Gorton Drive. Concerns include that the block was sold for a maximum of 44 dwellings – the DA lists 212 apartments; it is an eight-storey thing in amongst others that are six storeys maximum; the DA diagrams show that there will be substantial overshadowing of nearby low rise townhouses – and the residents point to a host of other errors and false claims.

Many of us are used to dealing with DAs that contain many obvious flaws and are flicked out to the community for them to unpack the planning mess. So yet again, the planning directorate and its planning bureaucrats have failed in their prime task – to ensure developers stick to the rules within the DAs.

Most of us have busy lives and have come to enjoy our cherished suburbs. My sympathies go out to these Coombs residents who have been confronted with a package of 69 documents.

The difference here is that while they also have busy lives, unlike the rest of is in settled suburbs these people have little chance of getting a community group together as their suburb is so new. That means that most residents are still engaged in the basics of setting up and getting their homes sorted – where to buy a vacuum cleaner? What curtains to get? When is that furniture to arrive? Etcetera.

Canberra community groups keep hearing wonderfully reassuring statements from the various ministers listed above as well as the chief planner about how changes are being made to improve the planning and development processes. We wish they meant it. Listening to the people of Weston and Molonglo, one has to assume that these improvements are happening somewhere else – because they are suffering the same as all of us – with inappropriate planning decisions, no master planning, few if any community facilities and little support on planning matters that cause huge stresses for residents.

Canberra is promoted as a planned city and as the “bush capital”. As I toured around Coombs, I wondered if the residents of Molonglo identify with these optimistic descriptions. There are some nice green spaces, but not a lot of trees in these suburbs. Even the Charles Weston School looks sort of interesting architecturally – but for a school named after a famous horticulturist who was responsible for the afforestation of Canberra – we could have done better.

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  1. Paul Costigan’s article about the planning mess that is Coombs is spot on. He might also have mentioned in addition the grotesque imbalance in Coombs between apartments and townhouses on the one hand and detached housing on the other, the former leading to streets clogged with car parking and the latter to inflated prices for detached housing. Why did this happen? Because the ACT Government was/is more interested in maximising receipts from the sale of land zoned for high density development than in striking a reasonable balance between the different forms of housing. If ever there was and is a good example of the present ACT Government’s incompetence in planning and implementing a new suburb Coombs is it.

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