Costigan / When the government is poacher and gamekeeper

Construction of the first stage of Ginninderry. Photo by Paul Costigan

DESPITE promises at the last local elections, urban development decisions by the ACT Greens/Labor coalition government remain very problematic.

Paul Costigan.

Which brings me to the massive suburban development underway west of Belconnen alongside the Murrumbidgee River and across the border into NSW. Welcome to Ginninderry.

The project is promoted as an outstanding example of environmentally sound development. And that’s what it seems if you ignore its closeness to the Murrumbidgee, a key national waterway.

Before anything was built, Ginninderry was awarded Green Building Council six stars. I have never been impressed with this rating system, but you have to admire the developer’s efforts to improve environmental outcomes within urban developments.

This government has been terrible at ensuring environmental issues are addressed in the enormous amount of urban infill underway. Most of what is built is scandalous environmentally as well as boring.

Given that the ACT government is a partner in Ginninderry, why aren’t similar levels of environmental standards required for all Canberra’s developments and urban renewals? Only a month ago a developer was asked if solar-power panels were to be built on to towers for Woden. Nope. Double-glazing? Nope.

There are a lot of good things being done by the developer at Ginninderry. But it is hard not to notice issues around the ACT government’s involvement as a partner. This means that the government has the dual role as a developer dealing with well-informed and evidence-based opposition voices (largely by ignoring them) as well as the regulatory agent making the decisions on environmental issues and the planning and development approvals. No conflict there?

The list of questionable issues is long. Was the development initiated as part of the long-term, urban-development strategy or simply a developer being very smart in bringing a sale to a government looking for cash? Why are we building across the border when the Chief Minister and his obedient ministers constantly talk up making the city more compact? Then there’s the deal whereby having paid for the land, the government joined with the seller to be joint developers and share the profits. Full marks to the developer for being clever.

The questions that stand out are the potential risks to future residents from fire as well as the environmental impacts to the river catchment through housing being built close to the river.

It is this final matter that is murky. There are materials available to explain how there will be a buffer and friendly reports to back this up. The puzzle is that these questionable decisions have been made by the ACT’s coalition Labor/Greens government.

A diorama scene of the Murrumbidgee at the Ginninderry showroom.

When the ACT Liberal senator, Zed Seselja, proposed urban development close to the Murrumbidgee catchment area in Tuggeranong all hell broke loose and the progressives within government scorned him. And so they should have. So how is it now acceptable to have this development straddling the NSW border, impinging on the same river catchment system and impacting the Ginninderra Creek and the Ginninderra Falls area?

There are so many good things being done for the environment by this ACT coalition government – many of which the Greens have obviously pushed for. Yet when it comes to urban developments more often than not the same levels of care for the environment and climate become hazy.

Here’s a suggestion for any environmental-thinking politicians; there is still an opportunity to do the right thing for the future of the Murrumbidgee catchment.

The developments on the NSW side nearer to the Murrumbidgee and Ginninderra Falls are not due for many years. This later stage could be cleverly restructured so that the buffer with the river system is significantly increased and no houses built out on ridges, thus lessening the fire risks.

It is highly recommended that you visit the Ginninderry showroom to see all this for yourself and then support the arts with a coffee and meal at the nearby Strathnairn Gallery.

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