Planning’s brutal behaviour goes unchecked

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“There was spin and more spin and loads of quotes from the chief planner, but nothing about what was happening with the master plan for the Manuka Oval precinct.” The inner south is angry about planning, writes PAUL COSTIGAN. 

TWO months out from the 2016 ACT election, Chief Minister Andrew Barr made a statement following his decision to kill the GWS Giants’ massive proposal for the Manuka Oval precinct. 

Paul Costigan.

What was reported and noted with some relief was that a panel of community representatives would be established in late 2016 to advise the government on a detailed master plan for Manuka Oval. The residents of Barton, Forrest, Kingston and others waited for the call… and waited.

Meanwhile, things happened within the oval (the giant broadcast box, for example). The Planning Minister justified his inappropriate decisions (he does this a lot). There was no master plan and no panel of community representatives to provide the advice. People around Manuka waited.

In April this year, the Inner South Canberra Community Council (ISCCC) ran a well-attended forum and workshop on what residents value about the area from Manuka to the foreshore and what opportunities and challenges they see ahead. Following several informative presentations, the workshop produced several pages of well-informed ideas and aspirations.

A set of motions were then supported by the forum relating to the Chief Minister’s commitment to call a meeting to advise on the Manuka master plan, another about recognition of the complexities of heritage in the precinct and a third to call for better engagement on the Kingston Arts Precinct.

Locals were definitely ready to discuss Manuka and related areas and issues. So when a notice announcing that the planning directorate was calling a stakeholder panel session for Monday, July 29, for consultation on Manuka and the inner south, people thought the Chief Minister’s commitment was about to be delivered. Yes, it was about three years late – but who’s counting?

And when I saw the 8.32am media statement the next morning, Tuesday, July 30, it was hard to work out what had happened. There was spin and more spin and loads of quotes from the chief planner, but nothing about what was happening with the master plan for the Manuka Oval precinct. 

To the shock of the residents, the master plan concept was now history as were all previous master plans across Canberra. Despite the many years of work and all those taxpayers’ dollars, all master plans are now trashed. This is what the locals were told when they asked about the Manuka master plan.

So why was the meeting called? The planning bureaucrats explained that the meeting was to discuss the chief planner’s new territory plan and the priorities for the whole of the inner south. But wait – the meeting was about Manuka, so except for the nearby residents’ groups, most of the others did not attend. The response was that people had got it wrong and had not read the notice correctly.

And then, despite the well-publicised long lists of priorities and aspirations produced by inner south residents in April and the mountains of submissions over the years, the planning bureaucrats produced their list of priorities and asked residents to work from those. 

This was definitely not the meeting the Manuka community was promised by the Chief Minister. As you could guess, the locals are not impressed. They have been treated with disrespect yet again. This was reinforced by that early Tuesday media release as it is obvious it was prepared the day before and only required residents to show up for the generalised alternative facts to become the government’s take on progress to meet the Chief Minister’s 2016 commitment. I don’t think so!

On April 17 this year I scored the chief planner against his own key performance indicators that he published two years earlier when he came into the job. He scored 19 out of 100. Given the deception and barbarous behaviour being continually used by his directorate, that score was far too generous. And the residents around Manuka continue to wait.


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