22 November 2023

ACAT waves through Anglican Deakin childcare centre proposal

| Ian Bushnell
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An artist's impression of the Deakin child care centre.

An artist’s impression of the Deakin child care centre showing the streetscape. Images: Cox Architecture.

The Anglican Church has won its battle to build a child care centre on the former St Luke’s site in Deakin. But a disappointed residents’ association says the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) decision “has got it completely wrong”.

The Anglican Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn first proposed the 120-place early learning centre and two townhouses for church workers on the island site between Newdegate Street and Macartney Crescent in 2019.

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But the Deakin Residents’ Association (DRA) believed it was too big, that a child care centre of this size should not be built in a residential area and on-street parking would lead to traffic chaos.

Nonetheless, the ACT Planning and Land Authority approved the development application in September 2022 and the DRA took the matter to ACAT.

But ACAT only found two rules had not been met, ordering minor adjustments to the proposal, including some screening of the waste enclosure on the north-east frontage and improvements to the streetscape.

It did agree with the DRA that the wall facing Macartney Crescent was not articulated or broken up enough to provide an attractive streetscape, and supported the planning authority’s changes set out in the approval conditions.

ACAT accepted there was ample parking on the streets around the site for the 11 spaces required for staff on top of the 24-space carpark proposed to cater for drop-offs and pick-ups.

It also rejected the argument from the DRA that under the Community and Recreation Facilities Location Guidelines General Code only small child care centres should be sited in residential areas. It said the guidelines were just that, not rules, and the land was zoned for community facilities.

DRA president John Bell said the outcome was disappointing.

“There are a number of errors in the judgement but I imagine the [Anglican] Church will be quite happy, make the adjustments that are required and go ahead,” he said.

“The tribunal has accepted our view that the wall facing Macartney Crescent is not adequately articulated and they’ve proposed some minor changes to that which don’t amount to much.

“They are also proposing a minor change to the parking but in our view have completely misread the requirement that only small child care centres should go in residential areas.”

An artist's impression of the Deakin child care centre car park.

The onsite carpark. The centre will cater for 120 children.

Mr Bell said the guidelines were there for a purpose, and asked why have them if they were just going to be ignored.

“Their really unacceptable argument is that this is a community facility zone so you can do anything you like and ignore the fact that it’s in the middle of a residential area,” he said.

Mr Bell said the DRA was astonished ACAT did not accept the evidence of its traffic expert, who advised the Commonwealth on these issues.

“The site is completely surrounded by a residential area with narrow Burley Griffin streets,” he said.

“If staff park along Macartney Crescent it won’t be two-way traffic and because it’s got a curve you can’t see what’s coming from the other end.”

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He said on-street parking would make it difficult for emergency vehicles and garbage trucks to access the area.

“We already have on-street parking problems here in Deakin.”

Mr Bell said it was unlikely the DRA would appeal to the Supreme Court given the cost, but that would be up for discussion in coming days.

Bishop Mark Short said the diocese welcomed the ACAT decision and was excited this project would now be able to get underway.

“The ACAT decision confirms and demonstrates that the project is compliant with all planning requirements,” he said. “We look forward to moving forward with the project and commencing construction next year, with an opening date target of 2025.”

The Deakin Early Learning Centre (ELC) will be operated by the Anglican Diocesan Services (ADS) – under the St Luke’s brand – which has just completed a sister project in Chapman scheduled to open in January 2024.

Colliers has been engaged to manage the Deakin and Chapman ELC projects on behalf of the diocese.

The disused St Luke’s church will be demolished to make way for the Deakin development.

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