Which universe do Barr’s ‘barbarians’ occupy?

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West Basin contains huge parklands and important lakeside biodiversity areas. Photo: Paul Costigan

IN among the multiple planning and development issues that residents have to deal with, one major conversation has emerged.

Paul Costigan.

People have become convinced that this government operates in a completely different universe. This separation is having a huge impact on people’s lives.

Let’s start with Thursday, May 8. On that day the ACT’s Chief Minister delivered his annual “State of the Territory” speech to the Canberra Business Chamber. It sounded like any other self-congratulatory speech that he has delivered many times before. There was nothing approaching a vision.

The speech was delivered days after the UN’s biodiversity experts delivered their wake-up call on the risks to extinction of one million species.

The Chief Minister must have missed that announcement, otherwise so many things he has encouraged would have to be put on hold.

The most obvious being the biodiversity of Lake Burley Griffin is now to be further reduced with his plans for West Basin. His justifications continue to ignore that West Basin contains huge parklands and important lakeside biodiversity areas. Every piece of biodiversity now needs to be guarded.

The more demoralising part of his speech was towards the end when he said: “Canberra isn’t like other cities – and we don’t want it to be. We want it to be better.

As people with the most basic knowledge of Canberra know only too well, until recently the city was indeed planned not to be like any other city. That has changed thanks to Andrew Barr’s government and also thanks to the membership of the Labor Party who endorse the damage being done to the bush capital.

I could write pages on who and what has delivered the bush capital previously so admired internationally. Instead, I recommend that anyone interested in the city’s heritage buy the second edition (2019) of Rosemarie Willett’s locally published book: “The National Capital in the National Interest”.

This book should be mandatory reading for this cohort of Labor/Greens politicians and planning bureaucrats. They would then realise that they have entered the history books as the latest idiots who are doing their best to wreck the joint. They have joined the ranks of those who have interfered with good landscape architecture, complex integrated planning and human-focused design that until recently came together to deliver the basics of this city.

Despite their efforts and male egos, the good parts of the city survived these previous stupidities. Until now! The bad news is that the biggest threats have arrived in the form of the narrow-minded approach being taken to the city’s urban infill.

The Barr government continues to use the much-maligned neoliberal market approach to development. When it comes to planning and development, being about the health and wellbeing of residents and the urban and biodiversity framework that makes up the city, this Labor/Greens government is more akin to being a conservative group of fundamentalists. Their approach to development locates them in a remote part of the universe to the right of what progressive thinkers would regard to be the traditional Labor or Liberal commitments to equity and looking after constituents.

Instead of an evidence-based approach based on bringing together the expertise from within government and drawing on the best minds in Australia, Barr’s barbarians have outsourced planning and development to the market forces. There is a constant stream of statements from developers in the mainstream media that the current style of development will be great for the city. And of course, we believe them!

Unfortunately, this ACT government continues to do its best to ignore the founding vision for this national capital. The delivery of that vision requires a people-focused integrated planning and design approach. It requires an appreciation of heritage – something this government works against fearing it may hinder their development mates. Something needs to change.

There will be more on the Barr at the end of the universe in a couple of weeks.

 

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