Costigan / NCA goes soft on ‘shocking’ Campbell development

“The NCA used to be regarded with respect as the barrier to the avalanche of bad planning decisions by the ACT government. This is no longer the case and best of luck to anyone who […]

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

A SNIDE comment often used when talking about Canberra’s planning issues is that “everyone is an expert” or in another version seen recently, “in a city where everyone has an opinion”.

Paul Costigan.

The ACT government’s planning ministers and bureaucracies use these words to put down residents who speak on planning matters. Sadly, journalists regularly repeat such comments.

There is nothing wrong with “everyone” having an opinion on planning. That’s the way that democracy works.

What is the alternative? There are at least five ACT ministers whose portfolios involve planning and all five prefer that residents leave matters to do with planning to the experts – the non-elected planning bureaucrats.

We are experiencing how well those experts are doing for this city right now.

There is a shocking case underway in Campbell. The cause of the troubles is the National Capital Authority and its planning decisions. Why the NCA has a say about Campbell is very silly – but that is another story.

This Federal agency used to be regarded with respect as the barrier to the avalanche of bad planning decisions by the ACT government. This is no longer the case and best of luck to anyone who still thinks it is.

The cause of the anxiety is that a developer has progressed a development application (DA) that clearly breaks well-established heights restrictions on this part of Constitution Avenue.

The NCA has pleaded innocence in that it says it is yet to consider the DA formerly. Yet the developer and NCA have met. If the NCA was doing its job, then surely the developer would have been delivered a simple message – it isn’t within the rules, go away.

If this were so, then the developer would not be wasting time and money on plans that so obviously flout the rules.

It is obvious that the developer has not been given the clear message that anything that breaks the rules would not be considered.

Instead we are witnessing this charade with the NCA being all innocent and the developer investing in the development design that clearly is about making stuff up as to why it needs to go beyond the rules.

The NCA’s own National Capital Plan zones this area for buildings up to 25 metres – this one is proposed to be 30 metres.

As with so many ACT government planning decisions, the NCA planners are doing nothing while this proposal tests whether the Campbell residents will invest their precious volunteer time yet again to object to such nonsense.

They did. The image above is the gathering of about 60 on Sunday, December 16, outside the site for the development at 71 Constitution Avenue, Campbell.

Why do these agencies spend resources and take up the time of residents in bringing together bureaucratic fabrications such as the National Capital Plan only to have developers feel safe to ignore them?

The Campbell residents have had a hard year. Development continues in an ad hoc fashion with many questionable DAs and all manner of rules being stretched or ignored. This is why residents are seeking a full master plan for the suburb.

The result for this wonderful suburb has been diminished livability, ambience and environmental values – all the things the ACT government and the NCA state that they are promoting when they produce their many glossy planning documents (more on them in a coming article).

Canberra is indeed a city where everyone has an opinion on planning. They may not be experts but they definitely know bad design and minimal planning when they see it and they see a lot of it far too often.

Campbell residents have responded to many issues and consultations. Unfortunately, the planners and their many ministers have not taken all these efforts and responses seriously.

Maybe Canberra residents’ mistake has been to seek solutions from the very people who have got this city into the mess it is in. Time to think again about all this in 2019.

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