Opinion / Saga of tricks, half-truths and misinformation

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RESIDENTS in and around Dickson dealing with the government have had to continually deal with a raft of tricks, half-truths and misinformation.

Paul Costigan.

Three issues are hot topics. There is the proposal for a supermarket complex to be built on the car park next to Woolworths; the infamous land swap deal between the government and the Tradies (and loss of government funds); and the saga to have residential developments plonked on to a community site – the Dickson Parklands – bureaucratically titled Section 72 Dickson.

Following the 2016-2017-marathon ACAT appeal, residents were informed on the Thursday before Easter that the supermarket development application, as approved by the Planning Directorate, had been overturned. The real surprise was the depth of rejection by ACAT.

For a chief planner to state that they would simply look at this slap in the face to see if there was anything that needed to be addressed was a stunner. What words could have been harsher and clearer than those that indicated that the development assessment was a complete failure.

Residents have endured inappropriate proposal after proposal about how to develop the parklands site. There was the plan to plough down trees to make way for a car park; then a proposal to sell off land (following the land swap) to allow a developer to build an enormous number of apartments; that didn’t work, so in 2014 the government carried out an expensive series of workshops to identify needs – or to be more precise to get an answer to justify apartments; but people wanted green spaces, open spaces and community/cultural facilities.

This year residents were invited to participate in a new engagement process to identify needs for the parklands site (didn’t we do that in 2014?).

As the first stage came to an end in March it was obvious that residents were repeating what they said before (surprise!). But the context had changed. Late in 2016 and again in 2017 this government realised that by selling off land along Northbourne, and despite promises to the contrary, there was no social housing allowed for along the Northbourne Avenue corridor. Whoops!

Following a quick technical change, the government targeted the open spaces and community land around Dickson. Sadly, the pesky residents were not agreeing to this through this latest consultation.

The solution was to have someone in the Community Housing section ring a number of associations and “suggest” that they put in a proposal for aged housing, social housing, co-housing – anything to get those needs registered. No public call for such proposals was announced.

The result is that residents are now already hearing that while many said the obvious (enhance open spaces and provide better community/cultural facilities), the planners have other voices requesting apartments and/or social housing. At last – a balance!

As for the Tradies/LDA land swap, while it is not directly linked, there are of course linkages given the sites and the players involved.

Most important in all of this is not just the dubious proposals to ruin the urban fabric around Dickson, but it is the bureaucratic culture that has continued to make life difficult for residents interested in the area not becoming built out with badly designed and inappropriate developments.

Residents are not fighting development, but have seen no proper planning processes and have experienced a lack of transparency and respect for community aspirations.

These three major sites within Dickson are being dealt with through a culture within ACT government that has gone off the rails. We were promised changes following the 2016 elections. Some deck chairs were shuffled. But so far nothing substantial has changed and the official reaction to the ACAT decision points to more of the same.

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

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