When developers push the planning envelope

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The Doma Group’s four-hectare development around the old CSIRO headquarters site in Campbell… why is more than 20,000 years of settlement being set aside in a rush to build 241 dwellings?

“Two current examples highlight the problems we have in planning and development. To what extent do the governments and the planning systems counter the greed of developers?” asks MICHAEL MOORE

WHAT is it that makes ACT planning and development go wrong? Is it incompetence, complacency, corruption or stupidity? At least, if the cause is corruption, it would be easy to understand. 

Michael Moore.

Much more frustrating would be if the cause is complacency, incompetence or stupidity. These are things that a capable government and minister can, and should, tackle.

There are many examples that have appeared in “CityNews” over the years. However, two current examples highlight the problems we have in planning and development. To what extent do the governments and the planning systems counter the greed of developers? 

The big development companies do have a right and responsibility to maximise profit for their shareholders. Governments have a different role. Their responsibility is to contain that drive for profit in the community interest.

Ignoring environmental and cultural issues provides the first example. The Doma Group describes “The Foothills”, a four-hectare development on the old CSIRO headquarters site and surrounding lands in Campbell “as reflecting its elevated position at the foothills of Mount Ainslie”, with the site comprising apartments and townhouses that ”will take advantage of the northern aspect and views over the city and lake”. 

The Ngunnawal and Ngambri Elders have expressed serious concerns about the treatment of the site. Shane Mortimer, working with Environmental Sciences Australia director Dr Shane West, has highlighted the lack of “due diligence” in examining the site. 

Anyone who even gives a perfunctory look at the site would be aware of the very prominent group of boulders. Planning responsibility for this site is with the National Capital Authority, which has already granted approval to clear this rocky outcrop. They have not yet given final approval for the development.

As Mr Mortimer and Dr West point out, apart from Aboriginal knowledge, there is considerable other evidence about the prominence of the site for the local Aboriginal Peoples. 

A collector of Aboriginal artefacts, Will Kinsela in 1933 donated implements from this site to the British Museum, which still holds them. In 2013 the ACT Environment Directorate identified the rocky outcrop was likely to have indigenous significance.

Federal Minister Sussan Ley must be frustrated with her Environment Department that originally found no reason for a cultural or environmental assessment, and had not consulted with local Aboriginal groups as “no world or national heritage sites had been identified on the land”. 

In response to the recent concerns, Chief Minister Andrew Barr wrote to Ms Ley. Her response was to publish a statement stating: “I have instructed the department to review the heritage claims as new information”.

Following an investment of $20million to buy the site, the Doma Group originally tried it on with an application for 600 dwellings on this land. The National Capital Authority cut them back to 241 dwellings comprising 112 apartments and 129 townhouses. 

In Denman Prospect, land is selling for close enough to half a million dollars a block. Granted it has amenities provided including power, sewer, water and roads. However, even with just 241 dwellings, it does make the $20 million look like an extraordinary deal.

Why is more than 20,000 years of settlement being set aside in a rush to build 241 dwellings? Incompetence, complacency, stupidity or corruption?

Move directly towards Civic from “The Foothills” site down Ainslie Avenue for the second example. There on your left at Cooyong Street is the Geocon construction. This is the responsibility of the ACT government. How did this development get approval to build so close to the road? Whatever happened to appropriate setbacks? It was bad enough having the temporary building site cabins in the middle of Ainslie Avenue. 

However, the question remains, just how far can developers push the envelope? Is it incompetence, stupidity, corruption, or complacency of a bureaucracy too long with the same government? 

Perhaps the new ACT Integrity Commission could examine some of these planning issues and eliminate corruption. This way, when Canberrans vote in the ACT election in October they can consider what to do about complacency, incompetence or stupidity.


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Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.

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