UNDER our systems of government when things go seriously wrong and continue to unnecessarily cost the taxpayer heaps, the relevant minister should step aside or resign. For reasons unknown to anyone outside the ACT government, ACT ministers do not follow this protocol.
The latest case concerns the disgraceful, long-running mess created by planning ministers and bureaucrats about the establishment of a second supermarket in Dickson. This mess is typical of how business is carried out under this planning minister.
The latest chapter was the announcement of a development application (DA) for a revised design for the supermarket and apartment complex on the carpark next to Woolworths in Dickson.
This recent DA has not surfaced because of sensible actions by the government. It was residents who thought that it was a waste of time and money for any further court actions, who went to see the developers and then negotiated a way forward – without lawyers.
The people who have caused this decade-long mess include the ACT planning minister and planning bureaucrats who consistently fail to properly assess such DAs, agencies who could assist such as the City Renewal Authority who pointed fingers at the planning directorate, and let’s not forget the chief minister and his formerly compliant Land Development Authority.
When the ACT’s Administrative Appeals Tribunal handed down its mid-2018 damning report on how the former supermarket DA had breached a huge number of the government’s own rules, it should have been shockingly clear to the planning minister that something was seriously wrong with how DAs are handled.
We heard nothing along the lines of how they were shocked. Instead, this was taken as normal and that it would be business as usual. This has since been confirmed when residents raised the issue of how often DAs were being approved despite the very obvious non-compliance. The response was that it is up to residents to take their challenges to the appeals tribunal.
In the case of the Dickson supermarket appeal, this meant that having failed to properly assess the previous DA, the government then doubled down to defend its questionable approval by throwing hundreds of thousands of ratepayers’ dollars at the exercise. This mean-spirited action meant that others had to allocate similar resources through legal fees or, in the case of residents, an extraordinary amount of time and energy to slog painfully through the complex legal processes. A big public thanks to the few who did that work.
There’s a heap more that went wrong with this significant DA. Sadly for residents who care about the city, so many of these faults continue to be played out through the processes for other DAs.
There are also issues that the chief minister and planning minister are neglecting and for which they deserve to be shown the door. When this development goes ahead it will take over a main parking area. Knowing the effect it will have on the present shops, the government is doing nothing to prepare for this. Nothing.
Given that within the planning directorate there are mountains of learned reports on climate change, heat islands, urban health, green spaces, green infrastructure etcetera, what has this Greens/Labor government done to mitigate the flow-on effects of removing another 70 trees from the area. Nothing. And I could go on but there’s a word limit here.
Given the extraordinary costs to the Canberra ratepayer caused by the serious mismanagement of so many aspects of the planning regimes, how is it that Planning Minister Mick Gentleman and Chief Minister and former Urban Renewal Minister Andrew Barr keep their well-paid jobs?
The solution is to see off those responsible and to reallocate the equivalent of funds previously used for lawyers and appeals to employ new, expert planning staff to deal with DAs including to seek through transparent negotiations solutions on any objections.
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Ian Meikle, editor