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How poor planning is turning Canberra toxic

The Manuka Pool and tower… who cares for heritage, the amenity and privacy of swimmers? Photo: Friends of Manuka Pool

“There’s a long list of planning and development issues that community groups are grappling with now. Each is an astonishing example of how this city is being slowly rubbished through a lack of good governance,” writes “Canberra Matters” columnist PAUL COSTIGAN. 

CANBERRA’S community representatives struggle to find positive things to say about the ACT’s planning directorate. Most have seen too much bad stuff going down. 

Paul Costigan.

However, the planning directorate regularly manages to surprise the most seasoned representatives for all the wrong reasons. There are no signs of things getting better!

There’s a long list of planning and development issues that community groups are grappling with now. Each is an astonishing example of how this city is being slowly rubbished through a lack of good governance. Here are a few examples. 

ON the evening of May 26 there was a presentation to the online meeting of the Inner South Canberra Community Council about proposals for major waste-disposal facilities to be built in Fyshwick. These have been on the planning directorate’s agenda for a couple of years. The presentation provided heaps of evidence on how waste-disposal facilities (think dirt, dust, noise and a huge amount of traffic) should not be considered for the Fyshwick of 2020. 

The site in question is surrounded by shops, commercial outlets and light industry with residential areas close by or planned for coming years. As the facts were lined up, the obvious question was that surely no-one in planning or any of the Labor/Greens politicians could consider this as an appropriate location? 

Despite many submissions with overwhelming evidence from local businesses and resident groups, the directorate and the ACT politicians keep considering it as a possibility. Reckless or plain stupid?

THE Gungahlin Community Council is presently backing the YMCA’s child centre’s opposition to a huge apartment complex being plonked alongside it on the corner of Gundaroo Drive and Gozzard Street. During the May 13 online presentation to the community council, it was revealed the developer’s traffic experts offered one of those wonderful statements: “No traffic issues as residents will be catching the tram”. 

The child care centre will be forced to share a small driveway with the new towers (16 storeys – 290 apartments), which means parents dropping off and picking up will be competing for space to enter, to stop and then to turn to exit. There will be no visitor parking. There will be garbage trucks and deliveries to the building. The tram stop is almost one kilometre away. The traffic issues are unbelievable. 

There are logical and humane reasons for this proposal to be knocked back including non-compliance issues. But hey! The ACT government and its planning directorate favour a large developer’s profit over the fate of an established child-care centre, local children and their parents. Who needs child care anyway?

THE Manuka Pool has been threatened several times by Andrew Barr’s government. It is a significant heritage site. The might of Big Footy has been a challenge for local residents and the Friends of Manuka Pool. 

In the last round the planning directorate pulled a fast one. Hidden away in the proposals was another for a tower next to the pool. This tower appeared almost overnight with no realistic notice of its arrival. The tower looms large over the heritage site and allows for cameras to have a bird’s eye view of games on the oval and straight down into the pool. Think long lenses. Surely someone in planning would have thought of that! But who cares for heritage, the amenity and privacy of swimmers? After all, these people in the pool are being active and exercising whereas the crowd next door are mostly sitting and yelling. Why should the government and its planning directorate favour those being active and enjoying their pool?

There are decisions on the North Curtin horse paddocks, West Basin, Section 72 Dickson, Woden’s ever-diminishing cultural, sports and green spaces, and the list goes on. 

With the city’s rich heritage, its fabulous greenery and the amenity of the established urban areas, voters deserve to have an intelligent, creative, design driven and people friendly directorate overseeing planning and development and other urban issues. Which candidates for the October 2020 ACT elections are committed to delivering on this? Step forward.

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Paul Costigan

Paul Costigan

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7 Responses to How poor planning is turning Canberra toxic

Anthony says: 17 June 2020 at 7:32 am

I guess government planners feel that modern cities only need residential buildings and nothing else.

MiSe says: 20 June 2020 at 6:44 am

I would add to this poor planning the new LED Canberra streetlights. I understand streetlights will leak some light, but frankly, they have just installed one of those new streetlights in front of my home, it’s not contained and it’s a 4000K stadium strength light pointed at all directions including my bedroom, right at our home. It hurts our eyes just looking at the ground.
We entrusted whoever has signed off on these lights to have good judgement when making decisions such as street lighting upgrade and placement, to ensure the decisions made are based on criteria that meet requirements such as: the installation is adequately fit for the purpose and the area that needs to be lit, including the impact on residential properties.

There should be a planning involved in the study of all impacts the new lights will pose to its surroundings and ensure it is sound and fit for its placement.

I note these lights have not undergone a planning process of similar calibre as obviously they are lighting up my house (and many others) to daylight; this is not a minor overlook; this is not even a mistake that can be made at an amatorial level; this is a major flaw in planning.

To have a 4000K light directed to someone’s existing private property, is of no small impact. To install a 4000K light on a 8m pole to light up a small street that can barely fit two cars side by side it’s just a waste of taxpayers money and an invasion, it shows failure in planning that will cost critters and night species as well as families in their homes to having no privacy, no safety and sky to look at night.

Good planning would have involved a 2700K light, a diffuser or a light shield to aim the light to the road and footpaths and not to people’s private properties.

Just disgraceful

Palmerston's Lament says: 22 June 2020 at 11:12 am

Went through similar in the wilderness of Palmerston, if you go through Fix My Street you can request/demand a diffuser to make it less bright. It helps a little bit.

Nevertheless, the enduring narrative is the globe change is good for you because it saves money. Any discussion within the executive of other harmful effects is rapidly redirected. We have already seen changes in behaviour of birds in the area and street trees.

On the plus side, I do not need to switch an interior light on anymore – cost savings all round!

Jim says: 23 June 2020 at 12:30 pm

Mise – contact them through fix my street.

In a bulk upgrade program as streetlights is, they aren’t going to be able to go through and do meticulous planning of 40000 lights or whatever they are upgrading over a couple of years. They will fix it with a diffuser or whatever is needed for the specific circumstance.

Yes its an inconvenience, and a pain to have to contact them directly about it. But be pragmatic as well about it. Imagine if when announcing it they said ‘we will upgrade 10,000 lights, because we will have to go through a rigorous program of testing every single light to be upgraded to absolutely ensure it won’t ever inconvenience anyone at any time, at a cost of 5x the light bulb.’ People would be outraged at the over the top solution you are suggesting if it was applied to every case – whether it was needed or not, given the substantial cost.

As long as a government is willing to admit there is an issue when they arise (Which in the case of streetlights will be a minority of cases) and fix it (Which as PL says they have been doing), I really don’t see the problem. It’s when they won’t fix it that there is a real issue.

Jim says: 23 June 2020 at 12:33 pm

You obviously have no idea about the economics of municipal lighting. That streetlight installed probably uses about a 1/3 to a 1/2 of the energy of the previous globe installed. Its absolutely not a waste of money – its solely a question of what brightness in terms of lumens should have been installed. As a Government upgrade program, it makes perfectly logical sense to have upgraded the lights, as the savings comfortably outweigh the costs of it.

Martha Kinsman says: 2 October 2020 at 12:29 pm

share many of the sentiments expressed in this article. And there are plenty more examples – e.g. Lawson, the ugliest suburb in Canberra because of gross overcrowding and denuding of vegetation.
My main criticism of this article is that it does not call out the ACT Greens for sacrificing the opportunity to be a genuine third force in ACT politics for the price of a cabinet spot for the Greens ‘leader’ Shane Rattenbury. With the departure of the one truly independent Green, Caroline Le Couteur, the Greens will now be no more than a minor and weak Labor coalition partner.


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