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Canberra Today 3°/5° | Friday, August 19, 2022 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Kingston building approval sends wrong signals 

The developer’s impression of the four-storey Kingston building.

“Worrying for people who want to trust this ‘Greenslabor’ government is that elected politicians remain wilfully blind to the damage being done to what was once a well-planned designed city,” writes “Canberra Matters” columnist PAUL COSTIGAN.

The ACT’s government planning system is under review with the first badly organised and inadequate consultation stage completed in mid-June. 

Paul Costigan.

What is being proposed by this “Greenslabor” government will deliver less transparency, more complex and inaccessible governance, less political oversight and reduce opportunities for community engagement.

On June 22 something happened that reinforced the above points. On that day, the planning authority released its decision on the development application (DA) for a questionable, four-storey office building across two blocks on Giles Street, Kingston.

Just before the 2020 ACT elections, there was a DA for this site for an eight-storey residential building despite a former ruling in 2014 by the present planning minister that development on this site was restricted to two storeys. The chief minister and the leader of the ACT Greens expressed their opinions publicly that eight storeys across these sites was an overreach. This rare public comment on planning matters was put down to the coming elections. 

That DA disappeared. In November it reappeared as a proposal for a four-storey office building – apparently the previous need for crammed apartments was no more. Given that many in the local community group, the Kingston and Barton Residents Group, had just completed a hard look at the operations of the planning authority, it did not take long before people realised how bad a decision it was to even consider, let alone approve, this DA for these two sites on Giles Street.

It is as if the planning bureaucrats who make these approvals are ignorant of their own rules, under which DAs are supposed to be assessed. It also follows that for the consultants to lodge such a faulty application they must have already known that pesky planning rules would be ignored in approving this DA.

A serious matter raised during the first stage of the planning review was that the decisions on DAs are taken behind closed doors with vague statements released on how decisions are made. This lack of transparency is normal for the “Greenslabor” planning bureaucracy and is an on-going concern for residents who wish to have a planning system they can respect and trust. 

The bureaucrats did say something about this assessment – stating that “a thorough Territory Plan assessment was undertaken” but there is nothing presented to back this up. The reality is that the decision published on this Giles Street DA seems to ignore aspects of the Territory Plan. 

The kindest conclusion has to be that they did indeed make the thorough assessment, and then ignored what they had read. It is either that or there is something seriously missing in the levels of expertise in the planning directorate. For instance – can they read?

There are numerous faults with the DA. You cannot go past the claim that the development “respects” the character of the centre (Kingston). Whoever wrote that must be still laughing and similarly the planning bureaucrats who accepted this as a true statement. What is proposed is at best a very ordinary 21st century example of bulked-out, dark-windowed “blandscaping”. 

The bureaucrats have done what they do best when it comes to community involvement. They ignore them. The locals had submitted comprehensive details on what was wrong with the proposed DA – including the detrimental impacts, the incompatibility, the non-compliance, the negative environmental impacts including dramatically reduced solar for the neighbours, how the DA failed the parking requirements and finally how community feedback had been misrepresented (as it is too often).

The fact that this DA was submitted with any confidence and then taken seriously by the bureaucrats adds to the view that planning in Canberra lacks transparency, is constantly being varied to be even more inaccessible, decisions and rulings lack proper governance and community engagement is a joke. 

More worrying for people who want to trust this “Greenslabor” government, the elected politicians remain wilfully blind to the damage being done to what was once a well-planned designed city.

Paul Costigan is a commentator on cultural and urban matters. There are more of his columns at


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Paul Costigan

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5 Responses to Kingston building approval sends wrong signals 

DCH says: July 27, 2022 at 3:05 pm

It is the garden city principles that have given us the most expensive housing in the country and some of the highest rents.
Infill is the best and only practical way in the short to medium term that Canberra can combat the affordability crisis, and places like Kingston, within a few KMs of the ACTs largest employment centre are the perfect places to do this.

S. Draw, K. Cab. says: July 28, 2022 at 11:59 am

Yes agreed in principle, but no excuse for shite design. Furthermore, IF a gov process can be subverted to meet your personal desires, then, there is no process and it’s basically a form a of corruption. [ IF ]

Prefab concrete block construction, shipped in on truck should be banned. That simple edict would change development across this city o’night. You’d never have an eye-sore slap-up like the Molonglo Valley suburbs again.

With high rates + high land tax, comes high rent. A Labor government created problem.

Colin Walters says: July 27, 2022 at 8:26 pm

The height doesn’t seem excessive but what an appallingly ugly design. Why bother with architects any more when a box of Lego will do the trick? Seriously, the architects should hang their heads in shame for this future eyesore.

S. Draw, K. Cab. says: July 28, 2022 at 12:02 pm

Is this building an empty void? The artists impression would have me believing so. Some years back a developer was wrapped over the knuckles for false imaging on a design. Maybe this artistic impression is accurate and it is indeed empty.


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