The proposal for the new Dickson supermarket site is the latest disappointment for residents in the way the ACT Government delivers on urban development within Canberra’s established suburbs.
In earlier discussions about Dickson, the consensus was that despite the centre having a special ambience, some visionary developments and upgrades were necessary to respond to the growing number of residents moving into the precinct.
Dickson residents and store holders actively participated in the development of a master plan for this shopping precinct. As things progressed, residents argued that the document seemed to be more a wish list and provided very little useful guidance details. It was also noted that the plan was not connected to any legislative processes and therefore may be ignored in future developments applications.
The first major initiative following the dubious master plan episode was the concept of the car park site being developed as a complex containing apartments, a supermarket and other smaller commercial outlets. Local residents initially responded positively to the idea of an alternative supermarket being built next to the present Woolworths. Residents appreciated that this was being guided by the ACT Government’s visionary policy to attract different supermarkets into Canberra, as competition to the dominance of the supermarket corporate duopoly.
However the proposal that was uploaded for comment over Christmas stunned many into silence. This proposal was just so wrong for Dickson. The shock was that if the development application was accepted, the present dominant supermarket corporations will have had their position enhanced rather than challenged. The proposal fails the government’s own supermarket competition policy.
Most astonishing was the lack of real attention to the many climate adaptation and sustainability issues. Disappointingly the Dickson proposal does not deliver 21st Century green infrastructure, landscape, solar, alternative energy, water re-use or climate change mitigation features. This should be no real surprise, as unfortunately the ACTPLA, despite all the available science, still requires a minimum form of greenwash within new developments.
Residents were invited to respond to the development application but were aware that at best they can only tinker around the edges. Given past experiences, the major aspects of this proposal will not be up for negotiations. For the planning authority to allow for major changes would signal that the whole process to date has been flawed. The agencies involved are not about to admit anything such as that. That is not within their nature.
Many people will blame the developers involved in these development applications. This is not quite right as developers do what they are allowed to do. The truth is the Dickson supermarket proposal is a consequence of the developers responding to the inadequacies within ACT Government’s development processes. To make matters more frustrating, residents are witnessing yet another proposal being progressed that seems to not deliver against the authority’s own requirements and various ACT Government policies.
Local residents have the perception of a culture within the ACT Government’s planning agencies that treats residents and their aspirations as hindrances to the needs of developments. This whole series of events has been a huge disappointment to residents and has increased the distrust of the ACT Government when it comes to planning and development.
Despite all of the above, residents wish to be engaged in decisions about their local urban areas. The dilemma for residents is to undertake arduous actions to bring about change or to stay silent and allow all these golden opportunities for improvements to pass by. Given that the ACT Government’s planning and development system is viewed as being hostile to the aspirations of the local residents, the option to remain silent would be the most peaceful choice and be less harmful to resident’s heath and welfare.
The culture within the ACT planning and development agencies desperately needs to change if Canberra is to be pleasing place to live and a 21st Century sustainable settlement.
The fault is very much with the elected ACT politicians and their lack of attention and transparency in dealing with urban issues. I wonder whether the captain in charge has the right amount of visionary leadership on urban and climate issues.