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Canberra’s planning madness

Paul Costigan 4 February 2015 26

Northbourne

There was an announcement recently by the planning authority on the fate of the three blocks of flats along Northbourne Ave in Dickson. I used to walk past these buildings regularly and noted that some tenants had established quite attractive small gardens and had comfortable seating gathered together for social occasions.

Unfortunately the buildings are very plain boxes on stilts occupying a prime spot that welcomed tourists to the National Capital.  They may have been a wonderful addition to social housing in their day, but they are very basic by 21st century aesthetic and sustainability standards.

I think the first signs of the madness about these towers appeared when architectural specialists claimed that the buildings were a significant part of Canberra’s heritage. The most amazing response was when one guy argued that these buildings were the equivalent to the famous and beautiful New York Brown Stone apartments. I think I can see a difference in the styles!

The general consensus was that the time had come for these towers to go. I would like to be able to say that any new development in Canberra should be welcomed, especially if it were to be sustainable and well designed. A lovely optimistic theory!

The trouble is that in recent decades new development in Canberra has meant very ordinary, or more often, very ugly new bland box buildings. The Canberra planning and development agencies continue to allow developers to build new buildings that do nothing for the environment, that ignore all the climate change issues and have little or no aesthetic values.

I was not optimistic at all about what was to be built on this site on the edge of Dickson. I was also very concerned that this site along with the whole of the redevelopment of the Northbourne corridor was not being overseen by anyone with any sort of vision. We do not presently have any visionary or well-informed politicians leading urban development in Canberra.

The proposals for demolition of the Dickson Towers went to the local planning authority (ACTPLA) for final sign off. The common perception is that ACTPLA is locked into being an arm of the development lobby, so the decision should have been easy to predict.

ACTPLA recently announced that while development had the nod for most of the site, one of the towers had to be retained as a token gesture to the heritage of the original buildings. So according to this decision, while the majority of the development will be dominated by the usual glass and metal apartment tower boxes, at the northern end there will be a solitary block of ‘heritage’ on stilts in honour of the former social housing flats.

This decision is way beyond the usual madness of our planning authority. I have yet to work out how to colourfully describe such an utterly stupid bureaucratic planning decision. But then, maybe it is beautifully perverse. This thing will sit there to greet tourists and to remind future generations of the stupidity that is the norm within Canberra’s planning and development agencies. Shall we call it ‘The ACTPLA Folly’?

The Dickson precinct, in which these flats are located, potentially has a great future but I fear we are not going to see it. There are so many bad decisions being thrown about to destroy the good things about the precinct.

Madness indeed!

It must be time for a cup of coffee and a long sit down on my front verandah.


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Canberra’s planning madness
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rubaiyat 11:25 am 08 Apr 15

arescarti42 said :

If developers could actually build an apartment that was aesthetically pleasing and environmentally sensitive at a price new home buyers could afford, don’t you think they would?

No. Because most developers are sitting on their taste buds and as mired in retro-think as their customers.

There is a very simple and inexpensive way to make housing more affordable and remarkably less energy consuming.

Simply turn it to face north!

But both developers and house buyers would rather saw a leg off than change their thinking.

rosscoact 11:24 am 11 Feb 15

dungfungus said :

rosscoact said :

rommeldog56 said :

And remember, there is only 3 stops along Northborne Ave (+ Dickson) and its 3 minutes faster Gunners-Civic than an express bus……….

This is rubbish.

Are you referring to the wine you sourced from Melbourne?

No, that was superb grower champagne. Top notch fizz for only little money

dungfungus 11:22 am 11 Feb 15

JC said :

dungfungus said :

rommeldog56 said :

HiddenDragon said :

That whole area is dismal – I still recall my heart sinking the first time I drove into the town down Northbourne.

It is utterly typical of the weird values and thinking which dominates Canberra that one, token, mistake from the grim, grey past should be retained and juxtaposed with a yet to be created mistake. Add in the trams and the resultant scarring of Northbourne, and the PC neo-Stalinist fantasy will be complete!

The decision to retain one is, well, unbelievable.

I also note the new powers that the ACT Gov’t is seeking to just about over ride all planning requirements and consultations with/forbid objections from, the local community along the tram line, in order to fast track the developments. Even scrutiny by the Legislative Assembly on development proposals will be severely reduced.

I think you can forget about the asthetics and the green credentials of the new developments along the tram line in the made rush to approve developments- particularly if many of the new developments elsewhere in Canberra are anything to go by.

This just gets better and better……….

The new Euro inspired stanchions and shiny wires are indeed visionary. It’s all part of the cultural cringe we have.
Corbell will immediately declare the tram system and associated (ugly) infrastructure as heritage value so it can never be pulled down.
The Euro love affair has also extended to new French cars (Renaults probably made in Turkey or China) being brought into the Government car fleet.

That would be an improvement over the US centric design influences that have dominated Canberra town planning over the past 45 years or so. Big black roads designed for bit fuel guzzling cars linking homes in suburbia to massive car parks next to big office blocks.

Ironically though even the yanks are embracing light rail though for the most part their idea of light is a bit heavier than the rest of the world. But it works. Look cities like Dallas for example.

I guess Canberra looks US-centric because it was deigned by an American.
Walter B Griffin was an American architect and landscape architect, famously known for designing Canberra, Australia’s capital city. He has been credited with the development of the L-shaped floor plan, the carport and an innovative use of reinforced concrete.
Comparing Dallas to Canberra is the old chalk and cheese argument again.
Dallas has a population of 1.4 million people and has two major airports one of which is Dallas-Fort Worth which is fifth busiest in the world.
Your comment about some US light rail being heavier than the Euro type one we are getting in Canberra is correct. The US calls them street-cars instead of trams and the heavier trams are more akin to regional rail-cars operated in the Hunter Valley and regional Victoria.
These are called tram-trains in the UK and Europe.

Mysteryman 11:14 am 11 Feb 15

JC said :

Mysteryman said :

JC said :

But to use it correctly, the reason it is planned to cost $600m (remember the $1b is a Liebral figure, the real figure is actually around $525m)

What a load of garbage. Even the Canberra Times, a devout Labor praising rag, is reporting it will cost $800m.

The Canberra times is and has always been negative towards light rail. Same to with the SMH in Sydney towards the recently opened extension(that is doing better than anticipated) and the eastern suburbs extension.

If if that’s true, your numbers are way off.

JC 11:04 am 11 Feb 15

dungfungus said :

rommeldog56 said :

HiddenDragon said :

That whole area is dismal – I still recall my heart sinking the first time I drove into the town down Northbourne.

It is utterly typical of the weird values and thinking which dominates Canberra that one, token, mistake from the grim, grey past should be retained and juxtaposed with a yet to be created mistake. Add in the trams and the resultant scarring of Northbourne, and the PC neo-Stalinist fantasy will be complete!

The decision to retain one is, well, unbelievable.

I also note the new powers that the ACT Gov’t is seeking to just about over ride all planning requirements and consultations with/forbid objections from, the local community along the tram line, in order to fast track the developments. Even scrutiny by the Legislative Assembly on development proposals will be severely reduced.

I think you can forget about the asthetics and the green credentials of the new developments along the tram line in the made rush to approve developments- particularly if many of the new developments elsewhere in Canberra are anything to go by.

This just gets better and better……….

The new Euro inspired stanchions and shiny wires are indeed visionary. It’s all part of the cultural cringe we have.
Corbell will immediately declare the tram system and associated (ugly) infrastructure as heritage value so it can never be pulled down.
The Euro love affair has also extended to new French cars (Renaults probably made in Turkey or China) being brought into the Government car fleet.

That would be an improvement over the US centric design influences that have dominated Canberra town planning over the past 45 years or so. Big black roads designed for bit fuel guzzling cars linking homes in suburbia to massive car parks next to big office blocks.

Ironically though even the yanks are embracing light rail though for the most part their idea of light is a bit heavier than the rest of the world. But it works. Look cities like Dallas for example.

JC 10:59 am 11 Feb 15

Mysteryman said :

JC said :

But to use it correctly, the reason it is planned to cost $600m (remember the $1b is a Liebral figure, the real figure is actually around $525m)

What a load of garbage. Even the Canberra Times, a devout Labor praising rag, is reporting it will cost $800m.

The Canberra times is and has always been negative towards light rail. Same to with the SMH in Sydney towards the recently opened extension(that is doing better than anticipated) and the eastern suburbs extension.

dungfungus 8:50 am 11 Feb 15

rosscoact said :

rommeldog56 said :

And remember, there is only 3 stops along Northborne Ave (+ Dickson) and its 3 minutes faster Gunners-Civic than an express bus……….

This is rubbish.

Are you referring to the wine you sourced from Melbourne?

dungfungus 8:33 am 11 Feb 15

rommeldog56 said :

HiddenDragon said :

That whole area is dismal – I still recall my heart sinking the first time I drove into the town down Northbourne.

It is utterly typical of the weird values and thinking which dominates Canberra that one, token, mistake from the grim, grey past should be retained and juxtaposed with a yet to be created mistake. Add in the trams and the resultant scarring of Northbourne, and the PC neo-Stalinist fantasy will be complete!

The decision to retain one is, well, unbelievable.

I also note the new powers that the ACT Gov’t is seeking to just about over ride all planning requirements and consultations with/forbid objections from, the local community along the tram line, in order to fast track the developments. Even scrutiny by the Legislative Assembly on development proposals will be severely reduced.

I think you can forget about the asthetics and the green credentials of the new developments along the tram line in the made rush to approve developments- particularly if many of the new developments elsewhere in Canberra are anything to go by.

This just gets better and better……….

The new Euro inspired stanchions and shiny wires are indeed visionary. It’s all part of the cultural cringe we have.
Corbell will immediately declare the tram system and associated (ugly) infrastructure as heritage value so it can never be pulled down.
The Euro love affair has also extended to new French cars (Renaults probably made in Turkey or China) being brought into the Government car fleet.

rosscoact 9:40 pm 10 Feb 15

rommeldog56 said :

And remember, there is only 3 stops along Northborne Ave (+ Dickson) and its 3 minutes faster Gunners-Civic than an express bus……….

This is rubbish.

rommeldog56 9:37 pm 10 Feb 15

HiddenDragon said :

That whole area is dismal – I still recall my heart sinking the first time I drove into the town down Northbourne.

It is utterly typical of the weird values and thinking which dominates Canberra that one, token, mistake from the grim, grey past should be retained and juxtaposed with a yet to be created mistake. Add in the trams and the resultant scarring of Northbourne, and the PC neo-Stalinist fantasy will be complete!

The decision to retain one is, well, unbelievable.

I also note the new powers that the ACT Gov’t is seeking to just about over ride all planning requirements and consultations with/forbid objections from, the local community along the tram line, in order to fast track the developments. Even scrutiny by the Legislative Assembly on development proposals will be severely reduced.

I think you can forget about the asthetics and the green credentials of the new developments along the tram line in the made rush to approve developments- particularly if many of the new developments elsewhere in Canberra are anything to go by.

This just gets better and better……….

rommeldog56 7:18 pm 10 Feb 15

Mysteryman said :

JC said :

But to use it correctly, the reason it is planned to cost $600m (remember the $1b is a Liebral figure, the real figure is actually around $525m)

What a load of garbage. Even the Canberra Times, a devout Labor praising rag, is reporting it will cost $800m.

As I recall :

Cost to the private sector supplier will be min. est. M$620 to max. est. M$780.

+ Cost to ACT Gov’t to provide underground cables, power sub stations + other infrastructure requirements is as far as I know, unknown (?). But that is separate.

But, the private provider will want a substantial ROI to cover maintenance, rails, trams, risk, unforseen costs, cost of their money, etc. It is that cost + ACT Gov’t infrastructure costs, that will be the charge to ACT Ratepayers over the next 20 years or so. I reckon that it will blow $1 billion out of the water.

And remember, there is only 3 stops along Northborne Ave (+ Dickson) and its 3 minutes faster Gunners-Civic than an express bus……….

HiddenDragon 6:21 pm 10 Feb 15

That whole area is dismal – I still recall my heart sinking the first time I drove into the town down Northbourne.

It is utterly typical of the weird values and thinking which dominates Canberra that one, token, mistake from the grim, grey past should be retained and juxtaposed with a yet to be created mistake. Add in the trams and the resultant scarring of Northbourne, and the PC neo-Stalinist fantasy will be complete!

Mysteryman 4:47 pm 10 Feb 15

JC said :

But to use it correctly, the reason it is planned to cost $600m (remember the $1b is a Liebral figure, the real figure is actually around $525m)

What a load of garbage. Even the Canberra Times, a devout Labor praising rag, is reporting it will cost $800m.

dungfungus 2:44 pm 10 Feb 15

1967 said :

Postalgeek said :

Instead we have Sky Plaza. I welcome cashed-up foreign investors if it means we are spared such coprolites in future.

I’m still waiting for the owners of Sky Plaza to glass up the two sides of that cube so I can get in a good game of “Extreme Vertigo Squash”

That space would make a great monorail terminus.

1967 12:36 pm 10 Feb 15

Postalgeek said :

Instead we have Sky Plaza. I welcome cashed-up foreign investors if it means we are spared such coprolites in future.

I’m still waiting for the owners of Sky Plaza to glass up the two sides of that cube so I can get in a good game of “Extreme Vertigo Squash”

JC 11:37 am 06 Feb 15

dungfungus said :

JC said :

chewy14 said :

Both Town Centres have had masterplanning studies done:

http://www.planning.act.gov.au/topics/significant_projects/planning_studies.

They are talking about gradual redevelopment and increased densitites in both.

Exactly, but I takes time (and money) to convert something from what it was designed to 40 odd years ago to do into something that we want it to do now.

Trams were designed 100 years ago so how come it will cost us $1 billion plus to replicate something that will do now what it did then?

Very poor analogy there Dungfungus, very poor.

But to use it correctly, the reason it is planned to cost $600m (remember the $1b is a Liebral figure, the real figure is actually around $525m) is because the route from the City to Gungahlin does not have tram tracks, overhead wires or stops, so they need to be installed and all services around moved to accommodate. You also then need to build a depot that doesn’t exist and then buy trams to run on the line. It cannot be done overnight too it will take a few years.

Which gets back to my point, the Belconnen and Woden town centres were designed for a different time and to change them into hip hop residential areas with all the amenity that goes along with that will take time and money, just like the light rail.

dungfungus 8:34 am 06 Feb 15

JC said :

chewy14 said :

Both Town Centres have had masterplanning studies done:

http://www.planning.act.gov.au/topics/significant_projects/planning_studies.

They are talking about gradual redevelopment and increased densitites in both.

Exactly, but I takes time (and money) to convert something from what it was designed to 40 odd years ago to do into something that we want it to do now.

Trams were designed 100 years ago so how come it will cost us $1 billion plus to replicate something that will do now what it did then?

JC 9:22 pm 05 Feb 15

chewy14 said :

Both Town Centres have had masterplanning studies done:

http://www.planning.act.gov.au/topics/significant_projects/planning_studies.

They are talking about gradual redevelopment and increased densitites in both.

Exactly, but I takes time (and money) to convert something from what it was designed to 40 odd years ago to do into something that we want it to do now.

rommeldog56 9:12 pm 05 Feb 15

JC said :

Affirmative Action Man said :

Good luck with trying to get some logic about sensible planning from this Government. They are so hard up for $$ they will approve anything.

Look at Belconnen & Woden shopping centres – both appalling dogs breakfasts, all over the place, no obvious entrances & badly organised green space.

Agree with first para, but do beg the question how else are they going to make money to run this town.

As for Woden and Belconnen shopping centres, Woden I agree with you, but Belconnen isn’t that bad. It has two clear entrances on main roads and not sure why you would want green space in a shopping centre. But in any case right across the road from one of the main road enterances is a park and 150m further on is the lake foreshore.

But just thinking I am guessing you are not referring to the shopping centres, but the town centres in general. If so keep in mind they were designed and built in the 70’s and 80’s when for general shopping it was felt driving to a mall was the future and everything else around was semi industrial.

It is only in the past 10-15 years that people have felt the need to live in town centres and of course the needs of those vary from the original purpose. So that leaves two options. 1 bulldoze the town centres and start from scratch. Clearly not possible. Or do it over gradually over time. Of course refer to first para about $

Re JCs comment ” Agree with first para, but do beg the question how else are they going to make money to run this town” : Everyone agrees that Gov’t fees and charges need to increase – at the least, at the rate of CPI. But before the ACT Gov’t goes way beyond that (as they already have !) they had better make sure that their spending priorities are in order and are affordable – Hospitals Vs trams for ecample. Now the ACT Gov’t are even proposing to flog off light poles/wires – how desperate is that looking.

I note that the masterplan for Woden includes a drawing of a tram – without the overhead wires again. Yipeee…..but no commitment to that – just a “maybe”.

miz 6:41 pm 05 Feb 15

‘There are so many bad decisions . . . ‘ sums up the ACT Govt nicely, unfortunately. This govt is so greedy they are even intending to sell our light poles and wires and even car parks to make a buck – aligning themselves with the on-the-nose pro-asset-selling feds, for goodness’ sake! Looking forward to all manner of crap developments if that happens.

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