How good is Watson when it comes to planning?

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A nosy native looking around New Watson. Photo: Paul Costigan

“There are massive residential developments going on in New Watson and little offered to deal with traffic, the enormous number of trees being cut down and the lack of facilities,” writes PAUL COSTIGAN.

THE Watson Community Association recently conducted consultations to produce the community’s own visionary plan for their suburb.

Paul Costigan.

The document is labelled with key phrases: “A Vision for the Future” and “A Plan for Sustainable Development”. How good is that?

The next step would be for one of the many ACT ministers for urban stuff to engage with the association to embrace such sound strategic thinking based on real resident feedback and participation – rather than the superficial and questionable fluff generated through the government’s Your Say surveys.

The association’s hard work could be the model for how the government could work with residents to undertake intelligent consultations to deal with suburban redevelopment while addressing community needs, climate change as well as embracing a proper planning process for redevelopments within established suburbs.

To quote from the Watson Plan:

“It is an injunction to urban developers, speculators, builders, business entrepreneurs and real estate agents that the people of Watson insist on high quality of planning, design, building and community infrastructure.

“It is a challenge to urban planners, architects and consultants to offer exemplary standards of liveability. It is a reminder to government ministers and their respective agencies to ensure the implementation of their espoused principles in their urban planning statements.

“This especially includes the decision makers in the portfolios responsible for housing, urban planning, education, environment, transport and traffic.”

Engaging with residents and addressing their aspirations can still be addressed while delivering on the ACT Labor/Greens government agenda of “jobs and growth” and economic outcomes. That is both the residents’ and governments’ goals are compatible and equally achievable by an honest government working with their electorate rather than as has been – working with the focus on someone else but not the residents.

That’s the good news. Unfortunately for Watson residents the government’s lack of community-focused planning and the ad hoc development continues.

There is a growing list of concerns – both in the older established areas as well as the New Watson developments at the northern end of the suburb. Where to begin? Here’s a few and apologies that there is not enough space to spell them all out.

There are two massive vacant areas on the Federal Highway down from the petrol station corner as you arrive in Canberra. Both are to be sold and residents have asked that apartments be well designed and attractive given they will be the first buildings on entering into Canberra (Gateway).

Also given the lack of community facilities in New Watson, residents have politely asked that land be set aside for community facilities including a well-designed children’s playground.

Then there is the issue these large developments will add to the traffic (no trams up there), what can be done?

The answers have not been encouraging. Once sold, it is over to the developer to provide any facilities – and all the extra traffic will be channelled back on to the Watson suburban streets.

Trees in New Watson… there are massive residential developments going on and very little offered to deal with traffic, the enormous number of trees being cut down and the lack of facilities. Photo: Paul Costigan

Another serious concern is that there are hundreds of trees with established biodiversity – and this has not been addressed in conversations about the sale.

The Watson Community Association has had long-running conversations trying to secure the parklands next to the old Watson High School and to get a commitment to have community facilities provided on this important inner-suburb’s open space.

Meanwhile, on Negus Street in New Watson, all the street trees on one side were taken out by the developer and, without any notice, the street was narrowed to suit the massive new developments.

In short, there are massive residential developments going on in New Watson and very little being offered to deal with traffic, the enormous number of trees being cut down, and the continual lack of facilities across the whole of Watson; for instance no public toilets near the shops.

Given the friendly, constructive and strategic approach by residents, someone in this government needs to get seriously engaged with the Watson Community Association.

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