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Canberra Today 6°/11° | Friday, May 24, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

The planning authority is no longer fit for purpose

This is where we’re heading… the developer-driven, 21st century urban landscape. Image: Google Earth

“This city in a landscape urgently requires a new form of leadership, being one with professional experience and expertise in landscapes, design and urban environment issues,” writes “Canberra Matters” columnist PAUL COSTIGAN.  

MANY decades ago when talking to a staff member of the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) in their 220 Northbourne Avenue office about urban and social matters, I was distracted by the view south from the ninth floor window. 

Paul Costigan.

Eventually, I interrupted to comment on how lucky the person was to be able to gaze at that view every day. Before us was a city in a landscape. It was and still is stunning.

At the time, there were NCDC professional bureaucrats who were responsible for decisions about the landscapes of this city. Those professionals had a vision for the city and knew they were building on the rich legacy of those before them, who had placed an emphasis on the landscapes of this capital city.

Forward to 2023 and focus on the contents of the recent documentation for the proposed planning reforms. Despite being called planning reforms, the whole process over the last year has been a disingenuous exercise. It has not been about planning. It is about deregulation. 

This city is not, and was never meant to be, like any other Australian city. This is a landscape within which a city has been built. The emphasis, until recently, has always been on enhancing the landscapes. 

Within those landscapes former designers and planners delivered green spaces, trees, homes with ample garden spaces and shrubbery (and therefore birds and other critters), as well as the required social and community facilities as necessary parts of the suburban infrastructure.

The documentation produced by the current planning directorate on behalf of the Greenslabor politicians lacks vision about how the landscapes of the city will be enhanced for future generations. 

By neglecting the fundamental and historic issues about the city’s landscapes, the proposals ignored the city’s heritage while downplaying the importance of doing our bit for this planet – the only one we have.

Look at the image above from a notoriously badly designed suburb elsewhere in Australia. There you have the vision that Andrew Barr’s planners have been striving to deliver according to Barr’s ideological urban nightmare scenarios. If his proposals are accepted, that could be a suburb within the inner north or inner south sometime soon.

The changes proposed by Greenslabor are devoid of a passionate vision for the city. They were cobbled together by a directorate dominated by planners who are expected by the chief minister to deregulate what is left of the former planning system to allow developers to profit by their own rules. 

According to this scenario, landscapes, parks, trees, birds, open spaces, bushes and gardens are a nuisance and not valued. Their role in a development is as optional adornments to make an ordinary development look a little more attractive until sold.

The level of competence within the planning directorate has been laid bare through its questionable planning-reform documents that failed their own performance indicators. There is a better way. It is possible that this city can avoid becoming bland, boring and bereft of good design and biodiversity-friendly landscapes and from becoming one massive heat island. 

This city in a landscape urgently requires a new form of leadership, being one with professional experience and expertise in landscapes, design and urban environment issues. 

The current planning authority treats landscape and associated issues as optional extras that only require the views of hired friendly consultants. Wrong! Such issues are the core of the decisions about the design of this city into the next stages of the climate emergencies.

What the planning-reform circus has clearly demonstrated is that the current planning authority is no longer fit for purpose. It lacks 21st century relevance and its governance has been seriously brought into question by community groups. Obviously, this downgraded form of planning authority suits the chief minister’s weird vision for the city.

Planning as has been practised in the 20th century has become a subset to the required 21st century style of visionary landscape-oriented, highly-skilled and motivated leadership. 

A new form of urban landscape design authority needs to be put in place. This serious change is required for this city in a landscape to continue to be cherished by the people who live here. This is a policy area to be adopted by a landscape-focused and humane 21st century progressive political party wishing to be seriously considered as the alternative government.


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Paul Costigan

Paul Costigan

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3 Responses to The planning authority is no longer fit for purpose

Barbara Moore says: 31 May 2023 at 7:57 am

Does ACT Planning cost in the revamp required to the infrastructure under the roads in all the older suburbs to achieve 70% urban infill? In Kingston at the current 90% infill we copped the smell of raw sewerage for five years into our drains … to the lake? Good Planning law and competent bureaucracy, dream on.

Chris says: 31 May 2023 at 3:46 pm

For a planned city, the planning and infrastructure is terrible. New suburbs popping up everywhere driven by developers and tax revenue; years later the roads are upgraded to meet capacity creating traffic delays and havoc. Traffic lights every 100m with cars starting and stopping constantly (creating additional emissions and zero traffic flow), green spaces disappearing and the older suburbs with large blocks being filled in by cheap, poorly built units and townhouses.
Something needs to change but while property prices are high and tax revenue is pouring in, it’s not going to happen anytime soon.

Chris Emery says: 1 June 2023 at 12:58 pm

With grass growing in our road gutters and around traffic islands, our green landscapes are returning.


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