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Canberra’s planning madness

By 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.

What’s Your opinion?


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26 Responses to
Canberra’s planning madness
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.

chewy14 11:58 am 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 $

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.

JC 11:11 am 05 Feb 15

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 $

Affirmative Action M 9:14 am 05 Feb 15

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.

Postalgeek 9:38 pm 04 Feb 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?

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

Masquara 9:25 pm 04 Feb 15

They’re not towers. They are relatively small. They have sound and defensible heritage value. They are worth keeping as part of Canberra’s social and architectural history. And, one of them can have a “Paul McDermott of DAAS lived here” plaque!

arescarti42 11:17 am 04 Feb 15

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.

Environmental credentials and architectural values are expensive, and it’s not the ACT Government or developers who have to pay for them – it’s new home buyers, who are also usually grappling with the already astronomical cost of housing in Canberra.

Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on solar panels and architectural credentials like you posited in your previous piece on Dickson pushes the cost of housing outside the range of what is affordable for many people, denying them a home. Why should people be denied a home, just because you perceive a building to be ugly?

Additionally, in many ways the ACT planning and development agencies force developers to build crappy, cheap, buildings by persisting with the policy failures that have made housing so horrendously expensive and difficult to build.

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?

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