IT would reasonable to expect that the National Capital Authority (NCA) acts in the best interest of the national capital.
The NCA should be seen as the barrier to the planning disasters such as those currently overseen by Barr and his barbarians.
Well that’s the way it used to be. There are signs that something weird has happened to how the NCA makes planning decisions.
The most obvious has been the NCA’s involvement with the West Basin proposals and their acceptance of the ACT government’s off-the-planet planning that ignores heritage, aesthetics and the need for green spaces in order to fill in a section of the lake for more land for apartments.
Now we have the NCA’s curious role with proposals for the former CSIRO site on Limestone Avenue.
To be positive (just for a moment), the NCA’s boss has stressed that she is committed to improving consultations with residents (they all say that). The trouble is the translation of this aspiration is very similar to the questionable experiences people have when dealing with the ACT government’s planning agencies.
The former CSIRO site, now titled Section 38 Campbell, was sold ages ago by the Commonwealth with no master or neighbourhood plan in place. This was a serious lost opportunity given its place on the edge of suburbia and as a significant gateway to the national areas of the capital.
Instead ad hocery, spin and deception are now the key tools being used to decide this site’s future.
There was some initial hope. The NCA set out parameters with a Development Control Plan just for this site. Already amendments are appearing. Who are the influencers behind these changes?
This Control Plan highlighted the need for urban planning basics such as exemplary design, excellence in architecture, recognising the national significance of this section of Limestone Avenue, the need to reinforce the present character of the area and maintaining an appropriate scale to adjacent areas. There was even the mention of affordable housing.
What could go wrong?
Residents consistently request that development consultations should be predicated on planning officers doing their job. Questionable and non-compliant proposals should be stopped at the door.
What is now common is when complicated and fault-ridden assessments are too much trouble for the ACT government planning bureaucracy, they are thrown out for public consultations with residents taking the heat for pointing out the obvious faults. It is sad to see the NCA also adopt this thoughtless approach to the future of the city.
The latest event was a developer-led session about Section 38 Campbell where, with the apparent blessing of the NCA, the developer presented its proposals to residents. This was an information session (a done deal) and not the type of consultation process spoken of by the NCA.
While residents have accepted that some residential development will happen, on this occasion there was little open debate (consultations?) about the fundamentals of what was most suitable for this site.
Much of the inner-north near Northbourne Avenue has been designated for apartments due to the wonders of the tram. Last time we checked, Section 38 Campbell was still on Limestone Avenue and not on Northbourne and was well outside those designated Northbourne linked intensification areas – Planning Minister Mick Gentleman’s infamous purple zones.
While the current proposal highlights the number and quality of trees and how these will shield the eight-storey apartment towers from impacting on the vistas along Limestone, the developer’s own images tell another truth. The towers will dominate!
No matter how many long you stare at the images, it remains difficult to see them fitting in with the NCA’s own desire for excellence of architecture as set out in the Development Control Plan.
The apartments are taller than the trees and look very ordinary. Three storeys should be the limit to meet the NCA’s criteria that the development suits the character the area and fits in with the heights of buildings on Limestone and Ainslie Avenues.
The real surprise was to see that the National Capital Design Review Panel had reported on this development and had not questioned the quality of design and placement of these two towers given their proposed dominance of Limestone as part of this gateway into the national areas.
Other issues include the traffic from the site and given the minimal public transport along Limestone, most residents will use cars to travel out and as with all these mass developments, the traffic information is not accurate and those who know about these things are pointing to problems – that will need to be addressed after the developer has moved on.
The site contains all manner of significant and beautiful groups of rocks and very established trees – and the fate of these natural features has so far been of little priority for the NCA.
There are reports of harsh words being spoken by the NCA to residents about making demands and asking too many questions about what is being ushered through the NCA processes.
Has the NCA and their Design Review Panel been blinded to what is obvious and has everyone involved been asked to not upset an agreement between the NCA and the developer?
Who runs the show? Who is pulling who’s strings and why?
People wonder whether we will see the day again when the NCA looks after this city – the nation’s bush capital. What happens with Section 38 Campbell will be part of the answer to that quandary.
You can provide comments on the Section 38 Campbell proposals via the NCA site – click here – until August 9.
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Ian Meikle, editor