19 February 2021

ACTCOSS calls for new planning debate to embed social infrastructure

| Ian Bushnell
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A dearth of services and facilities has clouded the development of the new Molonglo suburbs. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

The ACT planning system needs to put people first so community facilities, public spaces and affordable housing are not afterthoughts as Canberra grows, according to the ACT Council of Social Services.

ACTCOSS says in a submission to the ACT Government’s ongoing Territory Planning Review that the planning system was not keeping pace with the Territory’s growth and the ACT’s most vulnerable were being left behind.

It argues for a new evidence-based system that adopts a social planning approach and broadens a consultation process dominated by well-heeled developers, and resource and time-poor community council and residents groups.

ACTCOSS Acting CEO Craig Wallace says Canberra needs a new Canberra planning conversation.

“We need to ‘reboot’ planning conversations in our city so we break the David-and-Goliath loop of important neighbourhood voices pitched against developers,” he said.

“It is ironic that the planning debates we have in Canberra often completely miss those who are most affected by planning decisions, and wind up leaving them least engaged in creating a city which actually makes their lives better.”

He said Canberrans with disadvantage were ‘canaries in the coalmine’ when planning, design, transport and city integration went wrong, and “we should call on their knowledge to forge a better city”.

ACTCOSS says new suburbs such as those in the Molonglo Valley are being developed without sufficient facilities, services and public spaces, while older areas are fraying and in-fill areas are experiencing rapid population growth with pressures on their remaining open space and ageing community infrastructure.

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Even the 20-year-old Gungahlin Town Centre is only just getting facilities such as a cinema, it says.

The submission calls for a social planning unit to be established within the planning system to ensure social infrastructure proceeds in hand with development, with a focus on liveability, equity and sustainability.

It also wants a community-needs analysis of transport, community facilities and community development services.

“Canberra is growing denser and opening to new suburbs so a priority must be ensuring developers take a curatorial approach to building communities and vibrant public spaces that will serve us well for the long term,” Mr Wallace said.

This includes parks for children to play, community centres, squares and plazas and sheltered spaces and airconditioned public buildings and foyers that can provide free places of refuge for people during heatwaves, storms and other weather events, he said.

ACTCOSS says the planning system has failed to produce enough affordable housing and the ACT faces a shortfall of 3000 dwellings.

It says the new system should ensure there is sufficient land for community housing providers and that public housing is spread across every suburb in Canberra, with residents having equal access to transport and essential community services.

It also wants a planning system that drives better design, including greater accessibility for people with disability and reduced mobility, and higher building standards, increased energy efficiency and adequate green space.

Mr Wallace said an access committee comprising people who face these barriers and a commitment to universal design in new residential buildings would help get this right.

The submission can be found on the ACTOSS website.

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What a great article! These are issues that have been brewing for over a decade. The focus on Civic development and infrastructure by the ACT Government has created unintended consequence for other parts of Canberra. Sell off inner city public housing and ship the tenants off to the bus and community service lacking burbs

It was absolutely laughable when City Renewal Chief Malcolm Snow falsely claimed Civic had been ignored and all the money was going to places like Woden and Tuggeranong.

Hopefully this ACTCOSS Submission will provide a more accurate and honest reflection on planning, services and facilities for all Canberrans not just the lucky few in key electorates or who are Mr Barr and Rattenbury’s key voting constituents.

None of this should be expected of property developers. This is what the ACT Government should be providing, if anybody.

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