Dickson’s supermarket chaos ends and starts again

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The lay of the Dickson land from Google Earth..

If anyone has questions around the Dickson supermarket chaos, please check in with your local politicians who have collectively sat back watched all this happen, writes Canberra Matters columnist PAUL COSTIGAN

THE chaos around the new Dickson supermarket nears the end

Paul Costigan.

Sometime recently the ACT planning goblinhatched a plan to cover up their planning ad-hocery for the Dickson supermarket development. They trundled down to Mick Gentleman’s man cave, woke him up and as the planning minister got him to scratch a signature on a “call-in” approval document.

The use of the minister’s call-in power means that almost no doors are left open to question the development. It is almost a final decision – no more appeals and stuff like that.

On Thursday last week mainstream media fell into line and quoted from the superficial media stuff that distracted from the facts of this long-running chaotic planning event.

This planning chaos started years ago under the watchful eye of the then planning minister. This car parking site was sold with no thinking about the consequences.

A little later this questionable development continued with the assistance of the minister for urban redevelopment and finally was always blessed by the latest Chief Minister. The media release does not mention that it was Andrew Barr in those positions and that it is Barr and his barbarians who should be taking responsibility for the years of planning mismanagement – let alone the questionable land swaps in Dickson.

The media release does highlight how brave Mick Gentleman was to call-in the development of the new Dickson supermarket and apartment complex.

The Dickson development from images from the development application documents.

Out came the usual suspects to join the chorus of how great this was and how the minister was being forward looking in ensuring that the development was to commence at last. One naively boasted that this latest design was 1000 times better than the original. Really!

Most said that this stuff had gone on for too long and this brave decision would stop pesky residents from taking the new proposal to appeal through ACAT.

But wait – last year when things were off the rails thanks to the governments inability to negotiate following the findings in ACAT on how bad the planning system was functioning, wasn’t it the residents who knocked on the door of Coles and said let’s talk? They did and came to an agreement on what could be acceptable.

It wasn’t the residents who were threatening to take Coles and the government back to ACAT where questions would be asked about how planning processes were supposed to be fixed. As we know, nothing has changed.

Maybe what the planning directorate feared was that Woolworths were worried that the carpark outside their front door was about to disappear and despite everyone knowing that this was going to happen, the ACT government has done nothing to plan for the closure of these 250 car spaces while construction gets under way.

Also causing concern was that the minister’s own City Renewal Authority had submitted that the plans still had major faults – including that the frontage to Antill Street was aesthetically boring and that there were traffic problems with the car park exit. They also mentioned trees and how the developer needed to do more.

The planning minister dismissed all these concerns. And so Mick Gentleman has looked as though he has solved a problem. Sadly, as everyone knows, the problem remains him and his Planning Directorate.

When they threw out the development application in early 2018, ACAT produced evidence of what is seriously wrong with planning in Canberra. Residents constantly point out that the directorate makes decisions contrary to its own rules, that their Heritage Council makes very strange decisions and that the city’s trees continue to be lopped with no plans for adequate replacements.

At least the planning minister’s response is consistent when questioned about this and other planning disasters – “nothing to see here!”

So what’s next in Dickson? The supermarket development is happening although there is a list of requirements still to be signed off by the Planning Directorate. We all have confidence in them, don’t we?

The car park will become a building site probably for three years. The stream of shoppers who are used to parking in the Woolies car park will be wandering around trying to find a park. The car park on the other side of the library is half the size and is usually busy and the Tradies Club car park is well used. So best of luck with that.

If anyone has questions, please check in with your local politicians who have collectively sat back watched all this happen.

As for the politicians who suddenly appeared to welcome this call-in decision, will they now work with locals on getting Section 72 Dickson (The Parklands) enhanced with community facilities? Or will they continue to hide under logs and not involve themselves with community aspirations that are being rudely ignored by the ACT’s Labor/ Greens government?

Finally on the Dickson supermarket mess, recognition must go to a small band of residents who have put themselves out there to get a better result. The last proposal they saw was an improvement – but still not what could have been achieved had the government been honest and transparent and made informed and intelligent decisions right from the start.

Residents have benefitted from the leadership and planning expertise of Jane Goffman who must be wondering whether she will ever get back those years she has dedicated to working with and for her local communities.

Jane – we all salute you. I am sure the minister and his chief planner were thinking of you when he signed. Maybe the message of thanks for doing their job is held up in the post.

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