Costigan / What a mess, time for a new planning minister

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The empty shopping centre at Coombs… the planning minister can’t get the developer to open the shops. Photo by Paul Costigan.

HAVING spent time talking with numerous community council leaders, one thing stands out. What a job!

These volunteers dedicate so much of their precious time and resources (phone, petrol, internet etcetera) that they should be seen as philanthropic supporters of the city’s community councils.

Paul Costigan.

Does this ACT government make their life easy? Nope!

Their days and nights are filled with dealing with dodgy development proposals, corrupted and inadequate planning rules, the constant degrading of biodiversity, the reduction in the tree canopy and other issues such as traffic problems and questionable decisions on bus routes.

The Weston Creek Community Council has its complex matters. On the one hand, they are dealing with questionable issues that affect the well-established suburbs – with Weston celebrating 50 years. On the other side there is the massively expanding new suburbs of Molonglo including Coombs and Wright with as yet no shopping centres and minimal services and infrastructure plus up the hill is Denman Prospect that is rapidly expanding to be 7000 residents.

To make matters difficult, when planning for Molonglo was finalised the then planning minister removed building height limits and the requirements for community consultations on development applications. The legacy for Molonglo residents of decisions by that planning minister, Andrew Barr, is a lot of unnecessary life changing and time-consuming problems.

The stories are endless, such as: As densification continues, the already congested traffic on the Cotter Road has become horrendous; street parking around high-density, multi-unit apartments is out of control; the amenity is something less than attractive with developers delivering uniformly bland (usually grey/white), simplistic designs for most of the ever increasing apartment blocks and towers – and the list goes on.

It isn’t exactly the bush capital in Molonglo. It certainly did not have to be like this.

Given the commitments of the community councils to see services and infrastructure enhanced, the government has wasted fantastic opportunities to work with these people to deliver on what the community continues to list as priorities.

The energy and commitment within larger community councils such as the Inner South, Woden and Weston Creek could be so much better utilised to bring about many positive changes to people’s lives instead of having to go into battle over questionable and corrupted decisions – and all that endless mind-numbing spin (enough spin, please!).

Mention master planning to any of the current, hard-working community councils and they will most likely shudder. It is not that they don’t believe that decisions in their suburbs should be done in the context of modern and relevant master plans.

It is more that this planning instrument and its processes have been so corrupted in the hands of the current ACT Planning Directorate that it is now a tool to usher in fixed agendas – such as most of the inappropriate developments across Canberra.

Sadly, the current planning minister is fairly useless. This one cannot get shops to open in Coombs as the developer sits on the site and refuses to get in tenants. This planning minister is also doing little in Curtin with his planning mess delivering fenced off vacant shops.

This city needs a real-life planning minister who works with the electors to get great results – not one that sits on his hands and watches the city’s amenities being degraded.

It is time for a planning minister and planning bureaucrats who actually insist, not just talk about, good, intelligent planning that delivers attractive, innovative and sustainable integrated design in urban areas – with loads of trees and biodiversity. The planning minister should not simply repeat the boring spin churned out by the planning bureaucrats.

Having such dedicated people as the Weston Creek Community Council executive needs to be celebrated. But for their efforts to be really effective, this government needs to be shaken up and a real planning minister appointed – along with a complete change in culture within the planning directorate.

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  1. Hi Paul
    I read your column with interest, and could I suggest that it would have more impact if you actually NAME these ‘lame’ government ministers as most of the general public don’t even know who they are to put more focus on their inept representation?
    Keep up the good work with your scrutiny of these ‘numb nuts’.

  2. A development minister should be a qualified town engineer (planning) at the minimum, not a disgruntled ex primary school teacher, sacked union leader, accountant who can’t get work elsewhere etc.

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