19 April 2016

Dickson Parklands – leave the trees alone

| Paul Costigan
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Parklands-P1070332The Dickson Parklands (bureaucratically classified as Section 72 Dickson) have been the subject of questionable proposals for a couple of years by the ACT Government through the LDA and the linked development directorate.

The most notorious foray was the insensitive proposal that the trees on the corner of Cowper and Antill should be cleared for a beautiful piece of bitumen that was to be a car park.

What this desperate proposal highlighted was that bureaucrats had sold off the car park next to Woolworths without first planning for an appropriate alternative parking site. It seems a low priority was put on avoiding the chaos to be caused as people attempted to get to the Dickson shops. The land sale was the thing and everything else was to be sorted later.


Alas a large number of residents from the surrounding suburbs gathered at a public meeting and told the bureaucrats where to file their stupid idea. The message was clear — leave those trees alone — and find another solution!

Not long after that shambles, the same agency put about a lot of spin to convince residents that the whole of the Dickson Parklands site was in need of development and that the most needed developments were heaps of apartments.

That marketing exercise failed badly. Residents were absolutely clear again – such a massive development was not an option for this precious yet underutilized site. The preferred concept was one with some mixed use (cultural and commercial) but with at least the remaining green spaces being enhanced and some new aged person units on the former site of the Downer Club (it burnt down).


After these bureaucratic efforts, all went quiet. This silence left residents wondering when the next silly idea would surface. It did not take long!

You would think that given the furious responses to chopping down trees on the Dickson Parklands corner that any sane bureaucrat would stomp on anyone who came up with the idea of trying it again. Nope — they are trying again.

Another approach is being made to gain support for some of the trees to be removed. Even worse, there is absolutely no guarantee that the green space would be restored.

Yet again it seems that the government’s development agency is very short on original and environmental friendly ideas. It is obviously much easier to threaten those things that the residents see as precious, namely green spaces, parks and trees, than to do some real work and explore more sensible and practicable options.

The whole process seems to be about taking short cuts and overlooking some of the usual steps.

For instance it should have occurred to the department that they could have built a multi-level carpark in front of the Tradies Club. This could have included some underground levels and could have been topped with a green roof – parkland on the roof. Now there’s a good idea!

But wait – the government traded that car park away to the Tradies Club through a deal that the residents know little about. What a missed opportunity!



Having failed to come up with any way of dealing with the lack of planning for an alternative car park before the sale of the Woollies car park, the bureaucracy is now putting pressure on the local community council to have them agree to the removal of trees; this despite the very vocal and clear rejection at the residents’ meetings of such devastation.

It seems that the development bureaucrats want the community council to take the blame for having some of the trees chopped down. If they were to follow the residents’ wishes and were to oppose the removal of the trees, then the community council will be portrayed as the ones hindering the development of the new supermarkets site. This has become a game of political wedging – with the community council being placed in an awkward situation.

Currently there seems to be an absence of an intelligence and empathy in how the government agencies are dealing with the people who live in the inner north. Several green spaces are under threat and local open space and cultural amenities are not being enhanced to deal with the ever-increasing population in the inner north due to the intensity of the residential developments.

This most recent attack on the trees within the Dickson Parklands does not signal a commitment to deal with climate change within the urban areas of the inner north of Canberra. The current government should be directing their development bureaucrats to put up creative and intelligent concepts to improve the suburban amenities and the green infrastructure, not to be gradually diminishing it.

Canberra is yet to join other cities that enhance their green spaces and take the whole of government approach to put priority on so many other things ahead of cars – such as this report on Vitoria-Gasteiz.

The message for the politicians and their advisors is — leave the trees in the Dickson Parklands alone — and go away and come up with intelligent options!


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Paul Costigan8:47 am 22 Oct 15

What is the truth? This is not an easy question to answer.

The LDA/directorate keeps changing their information and the marketing spin – and they release stuff when it suits them. I have just been notified by another resident that she has just noticed that LDA/directorate has put out yet another new online version on their justifications for their actions.

Trying to get a straight answer consumes loads of people’s time and energy. One wonders why the LDA/directorate and the chief minister cannot be more transparent, friendly and honest with residents on such matters.

Sometimes it is tempting to respond to the LDA/directorate and chief minister with a simple statement – why are you being silly?

I hope to set aside time and read this latest version soon – and then go back through the various versions, put it in context and to write a response.

At the moment residents are requesting a public meeting and asking for the bureaucrats to provide all the facts and options – but leave out the spin.

I am sure the truth must be out there! Somewhere?

Expect more on this.

scentednightgardens8:09 pm 21 Oct 15

How big is this Section 72 in total – and how much of it (in square metres) is genuinely threatened by the graders? The ACT Economic Development graphic seems to suggest that we aren’t talking a large proportion at all. What is the truth?

Consultation in this city has always been here is a great idea, what can we do to convince you? Never, we have a aim to develop some land, what are the potential problems and how can they be overcome and the needs of all parties met?

The first way alienates the very people that should be in the consultation process and only leaves the people with a lot of time on their hands to appear in a sad-faced photo in the Canberra Times. The latter way, aka co-design requires the experts and leadership to leave their egos at the door. The bureaucrats will tell you that they need to work out the problems and make suer their solutions work before coming to the people. Of course, then they need to defend their decisions and that’s what development consultation most often is.

Unfortunately, the attitude that we know best comes from the very top in all jurisdictions and the egos of politicians of all flavours (and often their senior bureaucrats) over-rules the wish to get a good outcome.

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