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.
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.
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.