19 November 2023

College car park decision a rebuke for government and a win for the integrity of the planning system

| Ian Bushnell
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Brindabella Christian College car park

The infamous Brindabella Christian College car park: a “trifecta of non-compliance”. Photo: Region.

How did it come to this?

The decision against Brindabella Christian College in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal is welcome because it sends a message to private entities that they must follow the planning and development rules and not just acquire land for their own purposes by stealth.

But it really should not have been up to the Lyneham Community Association to fight this battle, given the number of times it pointed out to the government and its agencies that the college’s land creep and the construction of a sealed car park were illegal.

Throughout this saga, the government and the school maintained the fiction that this was a public facility when it was clearly for the school’s use.

The Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate and Transport Canberra and City Services treated the project as a fait accompli and correspondence between agencies showed an unwillingness to grapple with the issue or the planning principles and rules raised repeatedly by the LCA.

Once the bitumen was laid and the school community started using it, closing it down would have created just another headache.

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Now that ACAT has ruled that’s exactly what must happen, the headache of distributing those pick-up and drop-off parks in surrounding streets or putting these kids on public transport is real.

But ignoring what the LCA called a “trifecta of non-compliance” would have been worse and opened the floodgates for the surreptitious acquisition of public land and non-approved development across the Territory.

Build it first and pray that it’s just too much fuss to do anything about it would have been the attitude.

ACAT agreed with the contention that the car park was in breach of the purpose clause of the sublease between the school and the Territory, its development was prohibited as the land is zoned as PRZ1 (urban open space), and a development application was required but never supplied.

This represents a monumental failure of regulatory duty that shows that the agencies involved need to get their houses in order, especially as the ACT adopts a new planning system.

The car park fiasco is not the kind of outcome that should be repeated.

At least the other school car park decision – Canberra Grammar’s failed bid to formalise the temporary car park opposite its grounds on Monaro Crescent – was made by the Planning and Land Authority, and at least there was a development application.

But the principle at stake was the same – the creep of private interests on public land.

Yet the college may still be given an avenue out of having to rip up the bitumen and restore the land.

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Under the controlled activity order, the car park must be demolished and the land reinstated 12 months after the order must be made unless the college obtains development approval to use the land.

Will the college seek that approval, and will the planning authority grant it?

But it will still have to remove the car park driveway and reinstate the kerb and footpath before school starts in 2024.

The government and bureaucracy should reflect deeply on this self-created mess and heed its lessons.

Private schools and other organisations should now be on notice: hands off public land and stick to the rules. They are there for a reason.

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Barmaleo Barmaley10:49 am 29 Nov 23

The Brindabella Christian College is located at very busy and dense place. Therefore, having a reasonable parking space for parents to drop off or pick up students is totally justifiable. Also I would point out the car park in question never was limited to BCC customers only, on that account it could be considered as a public one.

I am more concerned about decision to liquidate the BCC car park. It will undoubtedly will create a havoc on all streets around and a great potential for all kind of nasty road accidents. This includes adjacent Brigalow and Mouat Streets, parking spaces near Lyneham Primary School and the near shopping area. Where are the BCC parents are going to drop off / pick up children? Did the bureaucrats responsible for the decision think about it? What do the offer instead? Use their favourite light rail and electric scooters, may be?

This decision is yet another sample which show the meaning of the proverb “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Without this car parking, the streets around BCC risk to to turn to the roads to hell literally.

ACT Government seems to cherry pick when to intervene or not. They cracked down on a dirt carpark at the Mpowerdome indoor sports centre at Fadden for some reason and on the other hand, let other businesses or well connected individuals to park where and how they want for years.

They cracked down on nature strip parking in Wanniassa, yet let heaps of cars park almost permanently on a huge nature strip of a Union connected individual on Duffy St Ainslie. I guess it depends who you know.

J a c k d a w2:12 pm 20 Nov 23

Just to be quite clear – MY considered BCC-LCA Trifecta is –

1. Originally, BCC should have commercially paid the ACT Govt. & Ratepayers for its co-opting the ‘stolen’ section of the public playing fields next to its own land.

2. Repetitious NIMBY whinging about the BCC is all too often simply misdirected, taking insufficient account of the plain fact that the BCC is a commercial business already significantly subsidised by the public purse.
Providing education to children and employment to teachers and staff ought to be given some credit, even if their parsimonious god-bothering is painful to some. Mismanagement and sloppy business practices should not be overlooked, but now the Lyneham BCC site is filled to the brim with (now ugly tin street-front) buildings, the co-opted car park becomes unavoidable practically, provided that BCC pays us a real price for its civic value.

3. I have tried to limit my criticisms of the folly of the Lyneham Community Associations’ fostering so much ill-informed Quixotic tilting at irrelevancies, as well as of NIMBY ‘solutioneering’. That is, their not addressing patent realities, but inventing other non-solutions to ill-defined issues. Read the LCA’s delicate sensitivity about permitted comments specified on its website.

LCA needs to work WITH the BCC to achieve some mutual compromises to the issues of BBC (over-) development, regularising the ‘stolen’ car park, and traffic control.
BCC is part of Lyneham now, long since.
Brigalow Street is what it is.

Cars rat-running through lower Lyneham, and now excess on-street car-parking, as well as children’s safety are consequences LCA needs to address, if their self-appointed status as locals’ advocates is to have any truth.

One pedestrian’s death on the Primary School’s crossing is Not to be forgotten.
Any other would be now Lyneham’s grossest negligence.

Cooperation and compromises are essential to reverse the ACAT’s silly ruling.

J a c k d a w ii

They’re not doing anything that ACT government isn’t doing in the Phillip Trades Area except that, in Phillip, you can’t even go near the Tribunal and the “planners” have approved it!

Having a local government that works against the law and against its citizens to support private businesses is a stunning abuse of power. So glad ACAT stopped it.

Absolutely correct. It’s the Barr lead government that created this mess by hiding under the table until they were dragged out feet first by the LCA and ACAT. The government as a regulator is just as timid in relation to other regulations such as the Unit Titles (Management) Act 2011 (UTMA) which governs apartment strata management schemes. The regulator (Access Canberra) is the only entity that can issue fines for non-compliance, but insists that any regulatory breaches have to taken to ACAT by a complainant? Sound familiar? A regulator that is too frightened to do their job that we pay them to do, appalling, absolutely appalling.

Great result. Now let’s do the same with all the car parks next to churches. These are unused nearly all the time and yet they are fenced off by private organisations that don’t even pay for their land.

GrumpyGrandpa3:22 pm 21 Nov 23

I belong to a church and it owns it’s premises and like everyone else, pays Rates to the ACT Goveenment.
They were continually dealing with shoppers, bus commuters etc, taking advantage of some free parking that doesn’t have a 2-hour restriction.

I was there one day when a large truck was parked lengthways across multiple parking spots. It wasn’t a Sunday, so the driver thought he had the right to park there.

The driver was advised that it was a private carpark and he needed to move his truck. The driver argued saying “He could park there because there were no signs saying it was a private carpark”. The quick-witted church official asked whether the driver displayed a “Private Parking” sign at home, on his own driveway?

The truck driver moved.

Do you allow strangers to park on your driveway?

J a c k d a w4:16 pm 21 Nov 23

Excellent G G
And right next door to BCC, the St Ninian’s church has negotiated with the College to have notices which clearly state that their church car park is Not a school car park.
Since then, BCC Parents seem responsibly to drop/pick-up their children off Brigalow St.
Regrettably the stupid ACAT decision seems to have wrecked that polite agreement.
I’d predict lower Lyneham streets’ chaos and even more rat-running.
Being a private school, BCC’s pupils come from far afield, not locally.
Pity that so far the LCA have myopia to the consequences of their NIMBY mania.

I don’t know where the money is going that you claim is for ACT Government rates GG but I don’t think it is to the ACT government. If you look at the ACT Rates ACT 2004, Part 2, section 8, (b), (iv) you will see that church sites are specifically excluded from being rateable land. No, I don’t let strangers park on my driveway, but then again I actually have to pay rates.

GrumpyGrandpa6:55 pm 21 Nov 23

Hi harken,

My understanding is that the payment of Rates, is a voluntary payment.

(It appears as an expense on their Income and Expenses statements).

Thanks GG, this is very interesting. So, a voluntary payment to the ACT Government allows a body to claim “ownership” over a piece of land. I think this needs further investigation….

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