24 March 2023

Community councils put torch to government's planning reform proposals

| Ian Bushnell
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Communities feel disempowered and fear for their suburbs, the Combined Community Councils says. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The ACT Government’s current approach to its planning reform puts the character of Canberra’s suburbs at risk and is undermining public confidence in the process, according to the Combined Community Councils of the ACT.

The volunteer-based Combined Community Councils provides a damning assessment of the government’s planning reform process in its formal submission on the project, including the Draft Territory Plan and the Draft District Strategies.

It says communities feel disempowered and not listened to.

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The member councils are unconvinced the so-called “outcomes-based approach” will actually preserve the valued character of Canberra and its suburbs, pointing to a significant watering down of the Living Infrastructure requirements to maintain tree canopy and green space.

The submission says the proposals so far are not backed by evidence, lack clarity about how they will actually work, and are far too general and subjective when certainty is required.

A lack of genuine engagement has further undermined the community’s confidence in the system and its ability to fully participate in planning and development, the submission says.

It says significant changes have arrived late in the piece, such as the design principles and desired outcomes which came with the Draft Territory Plan without consultation.

The development of the District Strategies, designed to maintain the individual character of Canberra’s different suburban areas, has been marked by poor engagement and lack of resources for the community to adequately assess the proposals, the submission says.

“The ACT Government must use a genuine and well-structured, rather than “rubber stamp”, community engagement and co-design approach on the district strategies, including by promoting the community engagement processes widely, at accessible times and places, with reasonable timeframes for comment, and by providing good quality, high-resolution maps and data overlays and other information to support the community in providing better informed feedback,” the councils say.

The submission also calls for the Blue-Green Network driver to be given priority in the District Strategies to ensure the retention of Canberra’s unique character, as well as accurate population projections to determine the number of new homes required in suburbs.

The councils say planning in the ACT appears headed for more complex systems, the opposite of what is promised.

“The multiplicity of documents and their complexity makes them difficult to understand, to administer and to evaluate. Radical surgery is needed to fix the problems,” councils say.

They are concerned rezoning or upzoning to enable densification will be random and without protections against poor design, overdevelopment and loss of green space.

They call for an orderly co-design process with communities and better processes between agencies, the private sector and the community to deliver the redevelopment of precincts in a timely way.

Before the Territory embarks on widespread densification, the councils have called for evaluations of the Mr Fluffy dual occupancy program and the success of RZ2 zoning in providing medium-density homes.

They have also called for mandatory requirements and tighter definitions, particularly relating to home design and environmental and heritage matters, to provide greater certainty. Although that may conflict with the government’s stated aim of a more flexible system.

The submission suggests a new ACT Mixed Used Design Guide could turn around the failure of developments to provide a genuine mix of uses, resulting in token commercial space and a dominance of residential development.

The councils’ shredding of proposals is a blow to the government’s chances of winning some consensus on the changes, although recent comments from Chief Minister Andrew Barr suggests that won’t be a requisite for proceeding.

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Mr Barr said in last week’s State of the Territory Address that the planning reforms were a key part of increasing the supply and mix of housing in places where people wanted to live in Canberra.

Asked later whether he was happy with the progress of the planning reform process given the amount of opposition, Mr Barr told Region that just about everyone in Canberra would have a different view on the issue.

“If you set the task of planning system reform that everyone has to be happy with, that is an impossible benchmark to achieve, so we have to look at what are we trying to achieve?” he said.

“The principal outcome here is to be able to house more Canberrans in an affordable way and to do so balancing that need against heritage protections, environmental values, building quality, all those other questions.”

Mr Barr insisted this transformation could be done gently.

Consultation has closed and an initial ‘listening report’ will be provided on the YourSay page before a consultation report is delivered.

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Remove the ACT government and save millions of trees and billions of dollars.

I think the best thing for Canberra is to split it into north and south councils and sack the territory government. They obviously can’t facilitate everyone’s views. Competition would be healthy in this case.

Stephen Saunders7:54 am 25 Mar 23

In one universe is the main agenda – grow Canberra as fast as possible, as densely as possible. On current Albanese settings, we’ll reach 700,000 way before 2050.

In a comfy parallel universe is the dialogue between the ACT Government and the Community Councils.

The Community Councils? Who are they, I didn’t vote for them. While they have a view about the new district strategy they don’t have any democratic legitimacy and at best represent a minority of people.

Jenny Graves2:33 pm 24 Mar 23

Have you ever had any engagement at all with the Community Councils? Perhaps if you had you would understand that they genuinely try to represent the best outcomes of the areas that they represent. Fiona Carrick on the Woden Community Council is a total legend. She should really have been voted into the Assembly and it’s a real shame that she wasn’t.

Ok – because you are too lazy to do a bit of research (https://cccact.org/), you declare the various community councils illegitimate. Why don’t you GOYA, get involved and stop whining.

So rather than critiquing the message, you attack the legitimacy of the messenger. Wondering aloud what your motivations are?

I am slowly working my way through all the submissions and there seems to e a degree of commonality. I congratulate all those people who authored the over 400 submissions lodged. Suggests to me the proposal being advanced is on the nose.

On legitimacy, I must ask “where are the liberals hiding?” After all, they are the official opposition.

Sigh. I know what a community council is. Did some research before I commented. The Belconnen Community Council AGM even before covid had about 20 attendees. The fact I didn’t attend either doesn’t make me lazy it just means the organisation doesn’t have any legitimacy to claim to represent anyone. I also didn’t attend the AGM at the Belconnen hockey club, the Perth bridge club, the Bundanoon Rotary Women in Leadership , they don’t represent my views either.

Oh OK – the Belconnen Community Council is illegitimate because they don’t represent YOUR views. I’m not on the Residents Committee – and while I they may not represent my views, I accept what they are doing … if I didn’t I’d get involved. Please see previous comment about GOYA – otherwise stop whining.

Community Councils are elected by those who bother to vote and get involved. That makes them democratic. If people aren’t interested enough to present their views, that’s up to them and that is part of democracy. The Community Councils represent those who seek to become involved in the future development of our city. Whether or not you voted for them is irrelevant, as clearly you don’t care enough to do anything other than to complain.

Did you make a submission to the review? I did. The Community Councils are a lobby group of that area without any official standing, elected by an extremely small number of people who may claim to represent the views of the people who live there but have very little legitimacy. Democracy implies the councils are of the people, The word you are looking for is Oligarchy – Government by the few

Marea Fatseas1:41 am 26 Mar 23

@Morgan like BigRed, I’m also wondering what your views are on the specific issues raised by the Community Councils. Eg the Councils’ view that the new planning system will be more complex than the existing system, whereas the Government promised a simpler, easier to use system.

Marea Fatseas1:47 am 26 Mar 23

@Morgan, like @bigred, I don’t get a sense of what your views are on the specific issues raised by community councils eg their concern that the new planning system will be more complex than the existing one, rather than simpler as promised by the Government?

Mr Barr told Region that just about everyone in Canberra would have a different view on the issue. That is a strange thing to say when you consider the Community Coucils clearly expressed opinions. There seems to be a very fundamental and common view held that Barr and Purdon have a differing – pro development view than the one desired by the broader community, that the face of Canberra is being trashed by poor planning. Obviously still not interested in listening and still wants to push his agenda. New DNA in the top job is required.

Jenny Graves2:36 pm 24 Mar 23

I couldn’t agree with you more. They talk about community consultation but they don’t let people know when there’s something they want feedback on, and if you do happen to stumble across something and put in a submission they just say that ‘everyone would have a different view’. That plainly isn’t true. I haven’t spoken to anyone at all who approves of what the Barr government is doing on the Planning front. It breaks my heart that the Canberra I know and love is being destroyed by them!

To be fair, trying to present the community council’s views as anything but those of a relative minority of the community is pretty disingenuous – a fancy title doesn’t mean they represent a significant number of views.

I’m not saying their view is right or wrong – but need to put it into context here.

What’s disingenuous is your position that they represent a minority view.
Perhaps if people like you bothered to get involved instead of carping from the sidelines community councils might just be representative of wider community views.

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