1 September 2023

Community council challenges ACT Greens to deliver on infill green space concerns

| Ian Bushnell
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Chair Marea Fatseas standing in front of Inner South Canberra Community Council sign

Inner South Canberra Community Council chair Marea Fatseas says the Greens need use their power if they are serious about sustainability. Photo: ISCCC.

The ACT Greens have been told to provide more than platitudes to ensure infill doesn’t rob Canberra of valuable green space.

The Inner South Canberra Community Council has thrown down the challenge to the Greens, which recently followed their Labor coalition partner in adopting an upzoning policy for the RZ1 single dwelling zone to allow two houses on a block, and higher density near shops in the RZ2 zone.

At the same time the Greens say it is imperative that infill development still allows sufficient sunlight and space on blocks for greenery.

“Central to this is also ensuring we keep good solar access for everyone and leave ample room for trees and green spaces to offset the heat island effect and give people direct access to nature,” MLAs Jo Clay and Rebecca Vassarotti said in a recent Region opinion piece.

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ISCCC chair Marea Fatseas said there was a big gap between what the Greens promised and what they actually delivered.

But Ms Fatseas said the Greens held the balance of power in the Legislative Assembly and there was still time for them to show how they were going to ensure that the outcomes they said they wanted could be achieved.

“We’re not going to get the new draft Territory Plan out until the end of September,” she said.

“We want to see what they are going to do to make sure that their platitudes about this are going to be supported by actual practical rules or measures that will see us getting a good outcome.”

Ms Fatseas said that at the very least there needed to be mandatory rules for planting areas on residential blocks to allow trees and gardens, sufficient sunlight and protection of private open space from overshadowing.

She said the government seemed to be relying on design guides and technical specifications that did not have any statutory effect to enforce these measures.

The council’s own study of the development of former My Fluffy blocks in the Inner South had clearly shown a loss of green and open space, with a 15 per cent loss of planting area in Griffith and 19 per cent in Narrabundah.

Ms Fatseas said that if a volunteer group could conduct its own study, why couldn’t the government do research on what was virtually a pilot infill project to guide its planning changes.

She said the government was also yet to update its heat island mapping, last done in 2017, and was not expected to do it until the summer of 2024-25.

“They’re going ahead with the new planning system and district strategies ahead of having some important scientific information that should be guiding them in their planning,” she said.

aerial of suburban block

A former Mr Fluffy in Narrabundah, before 2016 and in 2022 after dual occupancy development. Photo: ISCCC.

Kingston Barton Residents Group president and retired urban planner and architect Richard Johnston said achieving sustainable “missing middle” medium density meant building on sites big enough to allow the space needed for planting and trees.

Mr Johnston said this had been done before self-government in the Inner South and there were good examples of the results in Kingston.

He said innovative projects on larger consolidated blocks or at precinct scale would deliver significant increased housing supply but in a more environmentally responsible way than single-block development.

The government should start with areas still available for development, which in the Inner South included the Kingston Foreshore and East Lake, then look at softer options in the established areas.

Mr Johnston said controls could also be loosened on the RZ2 areas, where big knockdown rebuilds as single homes were maxing out blocks.

“It’s a bit of a joke at the moment, we’re getting huge single houses on blocks that are supposed to be available for higher density,” he said.

Developers were paying lip service to the current tree canopy and permeable space settings but the key was having a site of sufficient size to work with and clear rules.

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Mr Johnston said greed appeared to be driving the whole system at present – from the government wanting to maximise its take from land sales and what was allowable on sites to developers needing to recoup their investment and building as much as they could on a block.

“It’s the rules they’re chucking away that is the problem, and the lack of trust in the development area because ultimately we’re all going to be at the mercy of arbitrary decisions made by the planning authority,” he said.

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One way to get two houses on allowed blocks and green space, is to limit the size of the houses to match the block size, and to still leave some garden space. Australia has some of the biggest sized houses in the world. They don’t need to be McMansions. Average sized houses could be smaller than they are now. They used to be smaller, and families were bigger then too.
Don’t allow overshadowing of neighbours to the south either, and if that mean a single storey, then so be it.

We chanced it and voted Green
But now, after what we’ve seen,
We are all going back
To our previous track
Cos it’s clear they won’t intervene.

There seems to be a focus on residential blocks in all this. But what about all the weed-filled unused agistment paddocks everywhere? It’s unreasonable to let CSIRO (I think it is) lord it over city development by hoarding these areas. Most of these areas can be forested (or parklanded) if not built on.

As to low-density residential allotments around shopping centres: this was a legacy of decades of Canberra town planning that indulged in weird socialist utopianism, that denied, like denying gravity exists, that values naturally rise around greater utility areas. Meaning there’s more demand for space around services like shops, and so left to its own devices, density increases in those areas. Time to get real, and let densities increase in these areas. It might also help revitalise all those dead shopping centres found in the middle of a hedge-maze of little streets, another weird socialist utopian Canberra artefact.

Rustygear wrote, “weird socialist utopianism”. Why do so some people have to add unnecessary and out of context words like this. Just say it was the fashion at the time. When people do what you did, it makes you come across as less serious and ignorant. You want to be respected don’t you. Well try harder.

Nope. Wasn’t the fashion in Sydney. Or Melbourne. Just Canberra. Obviously irritates you. But it was, indeed, socialist utopianism.

Yes it irritates me, as do any spurious additions. I’d also be irritated by a spurious nazi comment. Unnecessary and engenders lack of respect for what else is said and the person saying them. IE, stick to the topic.

GrumpyGrandpa7:23 pm 02 Sep 23

The Greens are good at putting out Policy statements, then folding and voting with the ALP.

If they had any backbone, they would vote with the Libs where it met their objectives to hold the ALP accountable.

Rant over.

The problem I see with the demands of the ISCCC is that anyone who can afford to buy land in the inner south aren’t going to want to build a small 3 bedder. They are going to want to extract every last square inch of land, to build an upmarket home on their upmarket block of land.

Ok GrumpyGrandpa show me a sensible proposal that the Canberra Liberals have taken to our parliament and not a stunt? A sensible proposal which the Greens could join with them and support?
It is the Canberra Liberals who lack backbone. The Assembly has become a disruptive spectacle because the Canberra Liberals under Elizabeth Lee and Jeremy Hanson have nothing to offer voters. Mr Hanson dominates and hinders Assembly sittings with Elizabeth Lee giggling beside him. I have been following the GP Payroll Tax amendment bill. It seems a pretty decent proposal to me. A proposal to increase bulk billing for patients in the Territory and in line with the policy of other states. Instead of attempting to achieve a better outcome for Canberrans Mr Hanson and Elizabeth Lee can do nothing more but shout insults across the chamber trying to score a few cheap points.

There can be trade-offs between building height and green space to encourage developers not to construct to the full building envelope.

HiddenDragon7:09 pm 02 Sep 23

“At the same time the Greens say it is imperative that infill development still allows sufficient sunlight and space on blocks for greenery.”

Sufficiently imperative to put the governing agreement with Labor – most particularly the guarantee of confidence and supply – on the line if rigorous solar access and greenery policies are not adopted and enforced, or will this just be more of the usual say one thing and condone another blather from the Greens?

If, as history would suggest is very likely, the “unlocking” of the RZ1 zone will involve the trashing of solar access and greenery objectives, the ACT Liberals should (unless they have a genuine intention to stop that trashing) grow a pair and go to the next ACT election with a policy to abolish the current Labor/Green tree protection regime and go back to the original plan (under Stanhope) to protect only those trees important enough to have been recorded on a register and allow all other trees on leased land to be lopped or removed as the lessees wish.

It is absolutely unreasonable and hypocritical to have development policies and practices which allow scope, at best, for token greenery and then loudly lament the loss of tree cover and use that as an excuse to impose costly, suffocating restrictions on people who happen to have on their block one or more trees which meet arbitrary size criteria in a counter-productive attempt to maintain the fiction of Canberra as a “Bush Capital”.

Dear Greens. Please walk the talk and make sure we get the promised 30% canopy cover. With increasing density of building on residential blocks this will mean heaps more trees on public land to reach that goal and to counter the heat banks allowed on residential blocks. Can you make sure planning rules do not allow any development that increases the heat of an area – there’s enough coming our way without building heat banks.

“…there was a big gap between what the Greens promised and what they actually delivered.”
Ain’t that the truth. Once they were a pro-environment, pro-tree, pro-wildlife, pro-resident, anti-development group. Now the ACT Greens epitomise the meaning of hypocrisy and sell-out, financial irresponsibility, bad governance and just plain wackiness. But the biggest fools are those who continue to blindly vote for them.

The Greens are pure political wonks. They’ll say anything for a vote

Greens are far too busy doing important stuff like banning nazi insignias to worry about urban planning.

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