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Sneaky weekend changes threaten backyard greenery

Been green… a cleared building block in Dickson. Photo: Paul Costigan

“It looked as if the Planning Directorate had quietly slipped in these massive variations… hoping that no-one was going to notice until it had become enacted as the legislation.  And the minister signed this? Did he not read it?” “Canberra Matters” columnist PAUL COSTIGAN exposes some bureaucratic funny business.

WHILE voters were occupied with the federal election, the ACT Planning Directorate slipped through a variation to Variation 369 – the one that was to deliver greenery to the city’s backyards.

Paul Costigan.

This is the planning culture within the ACT government’s Planning Directorate that the politicians seem to have little control over or, worse still, remain wilfully blind to doing anything about.

Variation 369 as announced in late 2019 was to bring about changes to residential developments – more greenery, more shade and more permeable surfaces. The ACT Greens boasted at the time that this was their doing – their success.

More than two years later and nothing much happened, except for many more announcements by the ACT Greens of how wonderful it was.

Then on the Friday, April 29, the Planning Minister Mick Gentleman signed something to get his Planning Directorate to fix things. I have avoided all “planning speak” in that statement!

On Monday, May 2, this same minister signed a final document to get variation 369 into legislation. The community was told of this advance and most thought that, at last, something is being done for the backyards of the city that will assist people to live comfortably in their homes as the temperatures rise.

A keen eye in the Campbell Community Association read the legislation and discovered that sometime on that weekend, between Friday, April 29 and Monday, May 2, significant changes were introduced to the wording that would see most of the 2019 announced changes not apply to most of Canberra. 

In other words, the proposed variation was rendered useless.

The Campbell Community Association urgently sent a letter pointing out this change (or error) to Gentleman and Rebecca Vassarotti (Environment Minister and a local member for the inner north).

This was the hot topic at the North Canberra Community Council meeting on Wednesday evening, May 18. The technical details were explained. This involved a lot of planning speak.

Members were taken aback by how such a dramatic change was quietly introduced during that weekend. 

People wondered how the minister signed off on such a backflip on what had been presented in 2019 and had been talked about for the last two years.

It looked as if the Planning Directorate had quietly slipped in these massive variations to the variation hoping that no-one was going to notice until it had become enacted as the legislation. 

And the minister signed this? Did he not read it?

At that same meeting, held online, were both Shane Rattenbury and Vassarotti. After a lot of meandering chatter, they realised this was serious and agreed to hold some further conversations and discussions and meetings.

They said they were keen to have the variation match the original intent.

The elephant in the room was “what the hell is the Planning Directorate up to?”

Someone has to take ownership of this behind-the-scenes action to completely undermine and to alter the intention of the original 2019 proposed changes to the planning legislation. 

If this is yet another example of the Planning Directorate doing the bidding of its developer mates to ensure that residential developments will not be climate ready, then someone needs to be moved out of that directorate.

The ACT Greens in this coalition government need to defend some basic values. They need to stand up and be seen to make a difference to planning.

They have been shamefully silent about the cruel forced relocation of ACT Housing tenants. Apparently, they do not hold the hose for that issue

Are they going to hold the backyard hose when it comes to greenery, trees and permeable surfaces for the houses of future generations?

 

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Paul Costigan

Paul Costigan

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5 Responses to Sneaky weekend changes threaten backyard greenery

Bjorn says: May 21, 2022 at 11:36 am

Can a little bit of detail be provided in this article as to what the “massive changes” actually are? A comparison from the original 2019 proposal to the 369 variation changes would be of benefit to the casual reader as they would be able to determine if statements such as “significant changes”, “dramatic” and “massive variations” are true and if it justifies the accusation of “..the Planning Directorate doing the bidding of its developer mates..”.

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Gavin Mount says: May 22, 2022 at 8:59 am

Previous V369 Plan:
https://hdp-au-prod-app-act-yoursay-files.s3.ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/8516/5274/2630/DV369_-_Information_Session_Slides_-_May_2022_A34219410.pdf)

2019 Consultation Process:
https://www.legislation.act.gov.au/View/ni/2019-807/20191213-72898/html/2019-807.html

Recent (29 April, 2022) Change:
https://www.legislation.act.gov.au/View/ni/2022-239/current/html/2022-239.html

—-
Direction
(1) Under section 76 (2) (b) (iv) of the Planning and Development Act 2007 (the Act), I direct the planning and land authority to revise DV369 to amend the Single Dwelling Housing Development Code in the following ways:
Amend the proposed provisions to state that they do not apply to blocks approved under an estate development plan after 1 January 2020 and renumber the provisions accordingly;
Amend R39 to reflect changes made to private open space for blocks less than 360m2 through Technical Amendment TA2020-11;
Adjust the definition of deep soil zone to include the word ‘adequate’ before ‘dimension’, to be consistent with the definition in the Multi-Unit Housing Development Code;
Amend criteria where relevant to refer to ‘all of the following’ to clarify that a proposal needs to demonstrate compliance with all the requirements in the relevant criteria.
(2) I further direct the planning and land authority to revise DV369 to amend the Multi Unit Housing Development Code in the following ways:
Amend the proposed provisions to state that they do not apply to blocks approved under an estate development plan after 1 January 2020 and renumber the provisions accordingly;
Remove reference to “Not less than 20% of the total site area is planting area” in Rule R39D of the Multi Unit Housing Development Code, as this requirement is dealt with in Rule R39B;
Amend criteria where relevant to refer to ‘all of the following’ to clarify that a proposal needs to demonstrate compliance with all the requirements in the relevant criteria.

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Bjorn says: May 22, 2022 at 3:30 pm

Thanks Gavin, a bit to go through there, but at a glance I took away that there is no proposed change to Action 2 of Canberra’s Living Infrastructure Plan “..achieve 30% tree canopy cover (or equivalent) and 30% permeable surfaces in urban areas by 2045” as initially highlighted in the Dec 2019 Draft Variation to the Territory Plan. This is not altered by V369 (May 2022).

Reply
Gavin Mount says: May 22, 2022 at 5:11 pm

If they wanted it to be clear and transparent, it would be…

The Territory Plan is being altered by stealth. Usually, this takes the form of Technical Amendments (“TA”) which do not require legislative oversight or debate.

The upshot of this is that, as a community, we will lose (significant) trees on RZ1-5 (not to mention CFZ) land and legislators will claim “they [developers] are well within their rights”.

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