Berry’s spin runs distraction from Dickson rezoning

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How the government sees the announced Common Ground development.

“The problem is the way Minister Berry and her colleagues go about talking down to residents. The government continues to be incapable of being transparent, lacks real listening skills and is unable to take residents with them on how such necessary developments could happen, says Canberra Matters columnist PAUL COSTIGAN. 

ON Friday (September 13), a photograph appeared in the daily paper of the Common Ground chair Diane Kargas Bray about the launch of the Common Ground Dickson (a social housing complex). 

Paul Costigan.

Curiously, she was alone in the photograph with a barren site behind her. It seems no-one else was invited.

This matched the photo from the day before when the minister responsible, Yvette Berry, was alone in a photograph but this time in front of the Legislative Assembly building. It seems that her announcement for Common Ground Dickson did not require a visit to Dickson to meet all the people the government says support her project. We assume she knows where Dickson is located.

Last week’s media blitz was obviously to deal with criticisms such as those by the University of Sydney’s Prof Peter Phibbs that the ACT Labor/Greens government’s affordable housing targets were “so small as to be insignificant”.

The good news is that all this questionable media did not deter several North Canberra community representatives attending a meeting on Thursday (September 12) with the bureaucracy to discuss the proposal for Common Ground to be located on the south east corner of the Parklands site (Section 72 Dickson). 

Despite the common perception of Minister Berry’s attitude to the local community (resistance is futile), the representatives approached the meeting with a positive openness seeking good architecture, good landscape design and as many climate measures as possible (solar, greenery etcetera).

The manner in which this government is handling this issue is akin to how it handles most contact with the community. In this case the community is largely on side for a range of social housing across the inner north. The preference remains that it should not be on this site. 

However, if you listen to the government’s media statements and spin, it would seem that most inner-north residents were against more social housing. Not true. 

The problem is the way Minister Berry and her colleagues go about talking down to residents. The government continues to be incapable of being transparent, lacks real listening skills and is unable to take residents with them on how such necessary developments could happen.

For instance, take the postcard that was dropped around the inner north about the Dickson Common Ground. The reality is that the next steps involve several processes to have a development application submitted and approved so that this site can be rezoned for Common Ground to be built there. 

Floor plan of the proposed Common Ground development at Dickson.

This important rezoning detail is missing from the postcard. Instead it makes a big deal about inviting residents to have input into the concept designs for the complex. The design (architecture, etcetera) stages will come later (most likely next year). People reading this postcard will not understand where things are up to. Is it really that hard to be transparent?

When making her announcements, Minister Berry made the request for local businesses to get involved by donating furniture, fixtures and landscape works. Is this government’s commitment to social housing limited to a modest amount for the building but not much for everything else? 

Residents need to be aware that as things progress the design concepts could turn out to be concepts only. They may be ignored in order to match that tight budget. As has happened on many approved developments, the actual designs for the building, the fit-out and the landscape designs and the greenery could be quietly and seriously compromised. Something to keep an eye on!

So back to the major issue here and to return to the job that Minister Berry should be doing.

What is under consideration for the next eight weeks is the draft variation, DV367, to rezone Block 25 in Section 72 Dickson from CZ6 to community facility zone (CFZ). 

The inner-north communities need to get involved as this is the most fundamental stage of the planning. It is about the community agreeing (or not) to the government changing the zoning for this part of the site. And to state the obvious, this rezoning could become a way of opening up the rest of the site for similar rezoning.

If you want to have a say about the future use of this site – click here to go to the planning directorate web pages and have a look at the information and make your comments before the close of business on Friday, November 1.

By all means have a say about design, click here for that, but it is the planning changes that are the immediate priority.

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