16 September 2020

Are we all NIMBYs or is poor planning to blame?

| Zoya Patel
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Community housing at Chapman

The community housing development in Chapman proceeded before the outcome of an ACAT appeal was released. Photo: File.

Development is always going to be a controversial topic in Canberra.

We love our planned city, and each new building or infrastructure project becomes a site for debate (and usually rightly so). But when the development in question is a community housing project, the terms of the debate become more fraught.

Suddenly, anyone opposed to the project is a ‘NIMBY’ (Not In My Backyard, for those not in the know), and the government is the progressive saviour of the disadvantaged.

READ ALSO As social housing projects roll out, beware an attack of the NIMBYs

Now, in the case of some opposition to community housing developments, this is, in fact, the case. When Nicholls residents protested the building of community housing in 2015, their concerns were that the development would bring a ‘negative impact’ on the community (which is code for ‘no poor people allowed here’).

Residents were concerned about the safety of their children at the primary school near the proposed site, which is clearly based on an attitude of prejudice against those in our community who access community housing for a wide range of reasons.

And the more recent resident opposition to plans for a community housing project in Ainslie also reeks of NIMBY-ism, given the argument against the building of 10 units specifically for use by women at risk of homelessness is that the green space (in a suburb with ample green space) is too prized by the community to be lost, as is an old preschool building that is used by the community. This is despite the fact that YWCA Canberra, the organisation that will be developing the site, has assured residents that no part of the public park will, in fact, be built on.

READ MORE YWCA Canberra sets record straight on Ainslie accommodation plans

But in other cases, it does seem like the Government uses the cry of ‘NIMBY’ to avoid addressing genuine development concerns by informed residents.

A good example of this is back in 2017 in Chapman, where a community housing development pushed ahead before the outcome of an ACAT appeal against the project by residents was released. In this case, residents were rightfully concerned about the bushfire threat to the development site and the distance from local amenities, even proposing alternative sites in the suburb.

READ MORE Bushfire re-zoning flawed, says Chapman public housing opponent

And in the current case of the Common Ground development planned for Block 25 Section 72 in Dickson, residents represented by the North Canberra Community Council are concerned about the flood risk to the site, the potential contamination by asbestos and, more importantly, the lack of an integrated development plan for Section 72 as a whole.

The issue here is no comprehensive planning from the government for the site as a whole, and the potential for the site to become haphazard with poor infrastructure if piecemeal projects like this forge ahead without further interrogation.

I’m no planning expert, but it doesn’t take one to see that development across Canberra, whether community housing or not, is unfolding rapidly and often without apparent thought for the flow-on effects to public transport, road use, and other amenities in the area for existing residents.

Turning the passion and dedication of residents with genuine concerns about a development project into an ideological stoush about progressive values and supporting the disadvantaged is disingenuous on the government’s part, and should be called out.

Just as not all community housing projects should be protested by local residents wanting to protect the reputation of their suburbs, not all residents opposing community housing are doing so because they don’t want poor people in their backyard.

Zoya Patel is a writer and editor based in the ACT, and was the 2015 ACT Young Woman of the Year.

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George Watling11:34 pm 18 Sep 20

No body is saying no community housing. What people are saying is don’t build it in our parks and open spaces. Once they are built over they are gone forever and what you end up with is a sea of roofs, driveways and pavement. There is not shortage of properties on the market that the government could buy for social housing purposes. There is no need to build over our green spaces. According to the Urban Development Institute of Australia 2,413 new multiunit dwellings (apartment and townhouses) were completed in the ACT in 2019 but only 316 of new stock dwellings could be sold.

Those charming and magical politicians performed a sleight of hand manoeuvre changing a law on rezoning community facilities land without asking the community. If you object, their magic word is “Nimby” . This is the case with the old Ainslie preschool . Just before Christmas when no one was looking some wand waving was done and and government changed the law allowing them to build on community facilities land.(when no one was looking..magic)
Imagine now..hey presto.. any park you drive past anywhere in Canberra that has a little scout hall or what not, the government wizard can manifest insta-units. And if you dare to wonder why didn’t anyone ask the community around that park if they wanted that building for anything meaningful too the community (and that means you and your friends and family).. everyone’s going to start hollering Nimby like the pollies told them to.

Well except for the fact that what you’re saying is totally incorrect, you may have a point.

The government is extremely restricted in the ability to put residential dwellings on community facility land and it can only be for specific types of housing that hardly make it massive win for the government. It’s not like they’re flogging this land off to developers, it’s supportive housing.

Astro-turf is my favourite kind of turf.

“… which is code for ‘no poor people allowed here’…”

You’re obviously not familiar with how housing in the ACT has worked for the last 10 years. It’s not income dependent, but “disadvantage” dependent.

The ACTs 11,000 dwellings are not allocated according to income, as federal payments for rent assistance cover that. And the +3 year wait list for most needy tenants shakes off most of them (almost like the delay is deliberate?!?)

The major cohorts are needy tenants whose lives have been complicated by a factor other than income levels. Long term unemployment because they suffer addiction and recidivism issues. Homelessness because their families refuse to maintain contact. Restricted housing choice because their mental illnesses make living with other people fraught.

Talk to residents of Oaks Estate, Red Hill, Ainslie, Narrabundah, Griffith. It’s not poor people they fear. And the cavalier disregard the ACT gum’mint shows towards planning ain’t nuthin compared to their total disregard towards high-risk high-needs residents, and how little they care when predictable problems grow.

“I’m no planning expert, but it doesn’t take one to see that development across Canberra, whether community housing or not, is unfolding rapidly and often without apparent thought for the flow-on effects to public transport, road use, and other amenities in the area for existing residents.”

That comment suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the planning process. Everyone is entitled to their opinion of course, but I’d suggest if your going to delve into the world of planning, how about sitting down and getting a full understanding of what is required as part of the planning process. Consideration of those sorts of areas are central to the process.

Whether they are done well is an entirely different question, but its completely wrong to suggest in the overwhelming amount of cases (there will always be exceptions) that such items go ‘without apparent thought’. Absolutely incorrect.

Are you seriously trying to use the Chapman and Dickson developments of examples of where Nimbyism wasn’t an issue?

The standard tactic of any NIMBY is to attempt to leverage what might be semi valid concerns as a cover for the true goal of preventing any development occurring.

The bushfire risk to the Chapman development is minimal and not greater than plenty of other areas around Canberra bordering bushland. This was simply a case of a well off area with low public housing rates not wanting any of “those” people living near them.

And the “Dickson Parklands” of section 72 as Mr Costigan likes to call them, were always an obvious site for redevelopment into housing. It’s a large dilapidated site within 1km of a major shopping centre, services and a major transport thoroughfare.

The opposition to development of the site into housing was pure Nimbyism, with members of the community, as above, attempting to redefine the reality of the site into something different because they didn’t want “other” people living near them.

There’s plenty of developments that are proposed in an unsuitable form that don’t match planning requirements but those aren’t among them.

Also, just because you don’t think mountains of work are being done on planning, doesn’t mean the government isn’t doing it. There’s reams of planning documents and reports on the government websites if you wanted to avail yourself of them.

If anyone needs an example of NIMBYism then Dickson Section 72 is exactly that.

We rarely agree but you are spot on with this.

The most recent attempt on Dickson – to ‘heritage’ the site because of a concrete aerodrome ring or something was just chefs kiss next level nimbyism.

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