Woden redevelopment. Photo: Paul Costigan

“After Minister Berry had left, last night’s meeting returned to talking about the state of the government (being not responsive to community), the need to continue with their advocacy, and how difficult it is to get their local politicians to pay any attention to the realities of Woden’s needs,” writes PAUL COSTIGAN

THE Woden Valley Community Council (WVCC) meeting last night (September 4) was an evening of massive contrasts. It will be listed locally as being very memorable – for the wrong reasons.

Paul Costigan.

There were two key presentations high on the agenda. The first was the report from the WVCC president, Fiona Carrick, on community facilities in Woden to be followed by a presentation by the ACT Sport and Recreation Minister Yvette Berry. 

Fiona’s report was of the highest calibre. This was a community leader at her best. It was a presentation that politicians need to observe to see how important it is for democracy to have such a person present focused, advocacy-based on facts, facts and more facts – being a reality check on how to deal with the ACT government’s massive redevelopments in their area. 

The WVCC knows what should be happening to deal with the enormous increases in population given the onslaught of the 20+ towers about to be built – all of them allowed to be 16+ storeys high. This will be a huge densification in population for the inner-Woden precinct. 

The community council has accepted this and has concentrated its efforts on arguing for quality architecture, good urban design, green spaces and facilities. 

The WVCC has set out in detail what is required for community, sports, and cultural facilities. It was an impressive presentation. The big impact came when Fiona produced a set of illustrations that clearly pointed to all the facilities around Canberra.

She referred to this as being the doughnut. Woden being the vacant hole in the middle with very few facilities – with most being on the northside. This means that many parents are having to drive north to deliver children to sports events and training. Key sports representatives in the audience backed this up.

The big question, as put so clearly many times before by the WVCC, was what is this Labor/Greens government to do to rebalance things and to provide essential community services to Woden as it undergoes the massive expansion in residential towers?

Then came the next agenda item – being the time allocated to Minister Berry. What happened next was extraordinary. 

First, she said she could not stay for very long (bad luck for 100+ plus people in the room). Then she was dismissive of the requests and the logical positions being taken by the WVCC. 

She demonstrated no capacity to react to the requests with anything that sounded supportive of all the work being done by the WVCC to advocate for what the locals are clearly asking for. She was obviously totally unaware of how negative she was sounding.

To the evidence-based request that Woden requires a multi-purpose sports facility and an arts facility, Minister Berry repeated several times, that her government does not do multi-purpose sports facilities.

This minister was clear that she has priorities that do not match the well researched evidence for what is required for Woden. 

So what did she offer? Get ready for this (no laughing!)

She said – Woden will have light rail, there are improvements to the hospital, there’s a chance that CIT might move here (maybe?), the government is examining whether more school halls could be available after hours (we have been hearing that for decades – and it would provide only a small part of the solution) and the government is building a leisure centre in Molonglo (Molonglo is not Woden, in case you are wondering). 

The audience was not impressed. Were they hearing a northside politician dismiss completely the needs of the southside?

A little after Minister Berry had left, the meeting returned to talking about the state of the government (being not responsive to community), the need to continue with their advocacy (despite Minister Berry’s non-response), and how difficult it is to get their local politicians to pay any attention to the realities of Woden’s needs.

There is no doubt that Minister Berry’s presentation would not have done any favours for local Labor candidates for the 2020 ACT elections.

CORRECTION: The initial version of this story wrongly recorded an audience of 1000 at the meeting. It was 100. The extra nought was a sub-editorial error. 

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