10 March 2023

ACTPLA slammed for approving government's non-compliant supportive housing project

| Ian Bushnell
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Heritage house Griffith

The site at 33 Captain Cook Crescent in Griffith where Housing ACT wants to build three supportive housing dwellings. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

The ACT Government should stop trying to cram sub-standard supportive housing on insufficiently sized blocks and the planning authority should stop approving them, according to a community association that successfully had another project approval knocked on the head.

The ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal has thrown out planning approval for a proposed Housing ACT development at 33 Captain Cook Crescent in Griffith.

Housing ACT wanted to build three two-bedroom homes with parking on the triangular 1173-square-metre site at a cost of just $701,000.

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ACAT found the development application did not comply with the Australian Standard for Adaptable Housing with inadequate open space, lack of functionality and unworkable parking, and slammed ACTPLA for approving it.

This is the third approved Housing ACT DA that ACAT has knocked back since December 2022, following reviews instigated by the Griffith Narrabundah Community Association.

Griffith supportive housing

An aerial view of the proposed Griffith supportive housing development. Photo: GMB.

Association president Dr David Denham said Housing ACT insisted on trying to build too many homes on blocks with insufficient space.

The results were proposals that did not comply with the planning rules and substandard developments.

“It is time for ACTPLA to do their job properly and only approve DAs that comply,” Dr Denham said. “And ACT Housing should only propose applications that meet the legislated standards to build suitable public housing.”

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Dr Denham agreed that there were probably supportive housing projects in other areas of Canberra where the local community did not have the wherewithal to mount challenges in ACAT that would be substandard.

He said the GNCA backed the construction of quality public housing and was happy with two dwellings on this particular block, but Housing ACT was trying to do too much with the land it had, probably in a bid to meet its renewal targets.

Under the rules, three dwellings could only be built on the Griffith block if they were supportive housing.

“Of course, as soon as you want supportive housing, then you need all these things to cope with wheelchairs and extra parking for people to visit the aged, and wider doors,” Dr Denham said.

“So as soon as you do that, you don’t have room on the block for three decent dwellings.”

Griffith supportive housing

A street view of the proposed development. Photo: GMB.

Dr Denham said Housing ACT had wanted to “tweak” the DA in a bid to get it through, but ACAT rejected this, saying it would have to go back to the drawing board.

He said the GNCA believed that prospective tenants should not have to live in substandard dwellings and that compliance with the standards should be dealt with in the DA, not brushed aside to be dealt with ‘later’.

“What we shouldn’t have is a system which treats people in public housing differently,” Dr Denham said. “They’re the same as you or I, they’re residents of the city, so we shouldn’t treat them differently, and therefore there should be the same standards for each.”

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Dr Denham rejected arguments that third-party appeals were frustrating plans for much-needed housing in the ACT.

“We’d be very happy if they complied with the planning rules, but when they don’t, they’re not fit for purpose, then Housing ACT and ACTPLA are not doing their job,” he said.

“The public should be concerned by the waste of resources in proposing sub-standard proposals when funds should be invested in suitable public housing for Canberrans that badly need housing assistance.

“How much of ACT taxpayers’ money has been wasted on legal fees in defending development applications that were never compliant?”

Dr Denham feared that the government wanted to give ACTPLA even more power and discretion under the new outcomes-based planning system.

The property currently on the Griffith block had also been the subject of heritage listing nomination but that fell through when the government disbanded the ACT Heritage Council.

Comment was sought from Housing ACT.

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The Pritzker Prize for 2023 was given to an architect who redesigns old buildings with sustainability in mind. The current planning rules allow 2 dwellings on blocks like this.

I don’t see the problem. The houses appear low, so there shouldn’t be a major shadow problem for the neighbours. Although small there is some outdoor space. More than apartment dwellers have. The people are disabled. I can’t imagine them being able to look after a large garden.

It should not be a surpise that they cannot follow their own guidelines. The Heritage Council was an obvious cause of conern for them so it has been shelved. Pathetic planners, now the Planning review wants to give Ponton the ministers call in and approval powers. Go no further than to look at 40 Allara St- Meriton Apartments https://the-riotact.com/privacy-out-the-window-as-meriton-rises-centimetres-from-park-avenue-apartments/575059 Who is taking reponsibility for this planning disaster. Gentleman or Ponton?

If three “units” on one block in Griffith is bad, imagine what five units in Weetangera is?

Robert Thomlinson8:34 pm 09 Mar 23

Interested in what might be happening in Weetangera. Do you know where the five units are to be built?

Housing ACT (and ACTPLA) can build appropriate medium-density housing, all that is stopping them from doing so is there inability (or refusal), to follow and adhere to the planning guidelines i.e. they need to do their jobs properly and stop wasting tax payers money on lawyers.

Michael Cuddihy2:28 pm 07 Mar 23

I find the whole “missing middle” arguement to be weak in a town with many medium and higher density areas. Every suburb has an RZ2 zone + Mr Fluffy blocks + whole purpose built areas of suburbs full of medium density. And that is before we talk about most areas developed in the last 20 years (ie Gunghalin, Molonglo) which fall into the lay person’s view of medium density housing given the size of the blocks.

It seems bizarre that ACT PLA and Housing ACT are actually exemplars for breaking their own rules. Sadly this is also not surprising because the community perception is that ACT PLA is also not good at enforcing the existing rules, and has a clear agenda to enable massive levels of infill in the older suburbs.

I fear for future development that occurs under the more permissive, vague “outcome” approach that ACT PLA, developers and their supporters (eg Missing Middle lobby group) are advocating. The block by block battles will continue as long as ACT PLA treat existing residents will barely disguised antipathy.

We do need more medium density housing, but I dont think the current draft strategies will deliver housing diversity, affordability or anything much more than windfall profits to some existing landholders, and developers. It also means that the ACT Govt does not need to actually invest and lift social infrastructure in outer areas.

Maybe it’s time to change the planning rules so they can build appropriate medium-density housing where it belongs, although it is a shame that a beautiful old home like that would be knocked down

Michael Cuddihy2:16 pm 07 Mar 23

ACT PLA are in the process of giving tehmselves more power to ignore good practice and reduce community ability to appeal to a 3rd party (eg ACAT). I assume that ACT PLA and Housing ACT have won some of these appeals, but I have not read any news articles about them winning. Hence, they are seeking to change the legislation.

Canberra doesn’t realise it but they effectively did this when they “marched” the Supportive Housing Territory Plan Variation through the process and allowed all this to happen in RZ1 zones!

The GNCA has been successful in all five of the 3 dwelling supportive housing appeals they have contested so far.

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