Costigan / NCA affirms rules and rebuffs developer

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Campbell residents rally outside the development site at 71 Constitution Avenue on Sunday, December 16. Photo: Paul Costigan

THERE was a murmur recently through the suburb of Campbell. It was about planning and it was good news.

Late in 2018 residents rallied about a questionable development proposal for 71 Constitution Avenue. This development comes under the National Capital Authority and the residents were dealing with the fact that the development broke the NCA’s own rules yet somehow it was being progressed.

Paul Costigan.

The Campbell community had spent precious time during 2018 putting its case.

The news received on January 11 is that the NCA knocked the development on its head – to quote: “The NCA has reviewed the works approval application and has advised the applicant that it does not support the application due to inconsistencies with the National Capital Plan. The consultation report will be published shortly on the NCA website.”

This is good news.

There are several matters to be considered following this decision.

One is that our planning authorities need to be upfront with developers when such questionable proposals appear for the first time. The bureaucrats need to show the developers the door and state clearly “it is not going to happen”. This would be an efficient and effective use of everyone’s time and developers would learn not to try it on.

The NCA is to be congratulated for its decision on this one. Compliments go to Campbell residents for their united actions and for bringing this to the public’s attention.

However, people were not celebrating, as they do not know what processes are open to the developer to see the decision reversed. The other question circulating was whether this is the first time the NCA has refused such a development proposal.

There’s a big message in this for the ACT government’s own planning authority. It is commonly accepted that the ACT’s planning authority approves developments that clearly do not conform to the rules. Residents spend an enormous amount of time and energy dealing with these unwarranted attacks on their suburban environments.

Despite the work of residents to point out the obvious, many questionable developments continue to be approved with the ACT’s planning authority then daring residents to take such decisions through the complex and exhausting processes of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The message from the NCA’s decision on Campbell is that the ACT’s planning minister, his grand chief and his bureaucrats need to do their job. Is that why we pay them?

This would make life easier for communities groups from such suburbs as Molonglo, Weston Creek, Chapman, Rivett, Woden, Griffith, Narrabundah, Barton, Campbell, Dickson, Turner, Reid, Braddon, Watson, Downer, Dickson, Hawker, and I think you get the picture…

These residents would love to have a positive relationship with the planning bureaucracies.

It is not happening because of the games being played, the consistent spin being published and, of course, the damage being done to the amenity of our suburbs as well as the long-term environment effects – fewer trees, less biodiversity, fewer birds and more heat-island effects.

This decision by the NCA may restore some credibility of this authority with residents. Good news. Before we get carried away, there remains many issues to be resolved such as the NCA’s wondrously stupid backing of the ACT government’s off-the-planet proposal for suburb developments along West Basin.

So what about the credibility of the ACT government’s planning processes? Hands up those who think that if the ACT government had been the sole authority for this block in Campbell that the decision would have been business as usual with the development approved with conditions that the developer would have then worked around.

There’s the challenge for the ACT’s Labor/ Greens coalition government – get some credibility and intelligence back into planning in Canberra – and do that now.

I suspect the Campbell residents are relieved, despite all the bad news in 2018, that 2019 has commenced with some optimism. Let there be much more!

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