ACT Housing Minister Yvette Berry said today that recently announced locations for public housing precincts in Weston Creek, Woden Valley and Molonglo were locked in, and suggested concerned residents should focus their efforts on learning about the program and providing feedback on the size and appearance of developments.
Ms Berry said the use of six sites was not a matter for consultation – “in the same way that hundreds of other sites each year are selected for new and improved public housing developments”.
Speaking ahead of a series of potentially heated community meetings this week about the contentious public housing proposals, Ms Berry said she was focused on ensuring that “everyone had an opportunity to learn about the proposed developments – whether they are residents of the suburb who want know more about public housing, people who support the developments or neighbours who want to input into the physical aspects of the proposed developments”.
“To achieve this the Public Housing Renewal Taskforce is providing individual sessions where residents will have the opportunity to ask all their questions and provide their specific feedback about the designs, size and scale of the projects,” she said.
“This individualised approach is not possible in a meeting with hundreds of people.”
Community outcry about proposals had been exacerbated in recent days by an ACT Government decision to bypass a key community meeting on the issue, with the matter to be discussed at an event at which Public Housing Renewal Taskforce staff will appear in Woden tonight, another at which they won’t in Chapman tomorrow night, and at a series of consultation sessions at which they will in Weston Creek on Saturday.
Last week, a meeting of the Weston Creek Community Council at which taskforce was scheduled to appear to discuss the developments was cancelled due to an overwhelming attendance.
More than 250 people attempted to join the meeting at the Weston Raiders Club. Organisers had to cancel due to fire safety regulations, and had planned to call a new meeting at a larger venue, but late last week the taskforce informed them that its members would not attend a rescheduled meeting.
The arguments given for non-appearance were that “persons supporting the proposed development may not be heard in a public meeting” and that there was “concern that taskforce staff may not be treated with respect and that there may even be abuse”.
Ms Berry defended the taskforce’s position on protecting staff.
“Meetings that are poorly organised and managed that result in unconstructive and disrespectful engagement do not provide an opportunity for all members of the community to express their views and have meaningful input into the planning and design of the new public housing developments,” she said.
The Weston Creek Community Council said it viewed the decision as “a form of disenfranchisement of the Weston Creek community”.
A spokesman for Ms Berry said the taskforce had offered on the night of the original meeting last week to organise and host another meeting for Weston Creek residents at a more suitable location and provide a facilitator to ensure all views could be heard.
“This was to be in addition to the already planned upcoming consultation events, which included a presentation to the Woden Community Council on April 5, a drop-in information session about the Monash sites on April 7, a drop-in session for the three Weston Creek sites on April 8 and two drop-in sessions for the Mawson site on April 10,” she said.
“The Weston Creek Community Council declined this offer.
“Given the amount of consultation already happening during this short period, the taskforce was unable to commit to an extra consultation event at short notice. Instead, the taskforce offered to attend another Weston Creek Community Council meeting at a time after the already planned consultation events to present to the council. This offer is still open to the council if it would like to accept it.”
Shadow Minister for Housing Mark Parton said the fact that taskforce members would not attend the rescheduled meeting was “a shameful rejection of meaningful community consultation”.
“Minister [Yvette] Berry is running scared in Weston Creek,” he said.
“If the taskforce cannot engage with residents then the Housing Minister should front up and defend the Government’s position on housing developments in the area.”
A spokesman for Ms Berry said the Minister had flown interstate today and was away until Friday at an education ministerial meeting, making it impossible for her to attend either tonight’s meeting at Woden, or an “emergency meeting” of residents in Chapman set for tomorrow evening.
“Minister Berry has spoken to members of the community and has undertaken to meet them in person soon,” she said.
Residents of Weston Creek have been invited to attend tonight’s Woden Valley Community Council meeting at the Canberra Southern Cross Club at Woden at 7.30pm, where the executive director of the Public Housing Renewal Taskforce, David Collett, is scheduled to discuss the proposed public housing developments from 8.40pm.
Concerned residents of Chapman, Holder, Wright and neighbouring suburbs will gather for the “emergency meeting” of the Weston Creek Community Council tomorrow at 7.30pm at Chapman Primary School, Perry Drive, Chapman.
Residents can also book online to attend consultation sessions relating the developments at Holder, Chapman and Wright at the Weston Creek Community Centre this Saturday, April 8, between 11am and 2pm.
Resident groups have expressed concerns about the lack of early consultation on the proposals and the inappropriateness of sites selected by the ACT Government.
Chapman resident and social scientist Dr Chris Braddick said extensive canvassing of local residents indicated 98 per cent were opposed or strongly opposed to the proposed development on Darwinia Community Park in Chapman.
“Following the 2003 disaster, their strongest concern relates to the intensified bush fire threat that would inevitably result,” Dr Braddick said.
“This and the other development proposals are not even consistent with the ACT Government’s own policies.
“The so-called ‘salt and pepper policy’, especially this kind of ‘silo development’, has been entirely discredited by experts in the field based on decades of Australian and international experience.
“It’s a short sighted reaction to a crisis of the Government’s own making that will do irreversible damage not only to our community, but to the lives of existing public housing tenants.”
Dr Jodie Beitzel, a leader of the Holder Community Action Group, said she and other members of the community welcomed public housing tenants.
“The Holder site proposed would not integrate public housing tenants into the community in a considered way supported by evidence, and also has serious traffic safety and access issues,” Dr Beitzel said.
“We’re also concerned about the lack of nearby government services, employment opportunities, and good public transport needed by our most vulnerable citizens.
“The development would destroy Holder’s green space, important for the health and well-being of the Holder community, including any incoming public housing tenants.”
Kristine Riethmiller, spokesperson for the Wright Residents Action Group and semi-retired businesswoman, said a common concern in the Wright community was the potential loss of the only block of land planned for community use.
“Every other block of land is filled with, or about to be developed for, housing,” Ms Riethmiller said.
“Many residents feel a sense of betrayal by the government who promised that the dense housing development in the new suburb would be supported with a central community facility.
“There will be no church, community centre, child care or indoor recreation space; just houses and apartments.”
Ms Berry’s spokeswoman said the Government had carefully considered all six of the community facility-zoned sites recently announced as part of the public housing renewal program and believed they were all suitable for the purpose they had been identified for.
“The use of sites in established areas provides an opportunity to include public housing in established communities and this is balanced against other possible uses for the sites,” she said.
In response to a question about fire safety of the Chapman site given it had previously been deemed inappropriate for use as an aged care facility due to fire risk, she noted that residents of aged-care homes had a number of particular access requirements which were different to public housing properties.
“Public housing tenants have many different needs,” she said.
“Housing ACT (with assistance from community service organisations) will select the tenants on the basis of their suitability for this particular type of development in this area.
“Housing ACT works closely with all tenants who are being relocated as part of the program to ensure they have access to the support they need when they move home.”
The spokeswoman noted that the proposed development would require development approval and would need to meet all of the relevant building standards applicable to the site.
“Consideration is being given to the design to ensure it meets any bushfire-specific requirements,” she said.
Details of tonight’s Woden Community Council meeting at the Canberra Southern Cross Club at Woden are here.
Details of tomorrow night’s Weston Creek Community Council emergency meeting are here.
Residents can book online here to attend consultation sessions relating the developments at Holder, Chapman and Wright at the Weston Creek Community Centre this Saturday, April 8, between 11am and 2pm.
Members of the Weston Creek community will also be at Cooleman Court Shopping Centre this week with petitions for public consultation to be signed.
Pictured above are Weston Creek residents who had hoped to attend a Weston Creek Community Council meeting last week at which members of the Public Housing Renewal Taskforce were scheduled to discuss planned developments in Holder, Chapman and Wright. The meeting was cancelled due to fire regulations when more than 250 people turned up. Photo: Supplied