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Downer residents mount opposition to rezoning

By David Tuckwell 5 February 2019 41
community organisers laid out battle plans to oppose the “urban densification” of Downer on Monday. Photos: David Tuckwell.

community organisers laid out battle plans to oppose the “urban densification” of Downer on Monday. Photos: David Tuckwell.

Downer residents are spoiling for a fight with the territory government, after the government has signalled it will allow 12-metre high apartments to be built in their suburb.

In a town meeting on Monday (4 February), community organisers laid out battle plans to oppose the “urban densification” of Downer. Residents said that the government had refused to listen to them, and had treated public consultations as “fake listening exercises”.

Many were disappointed that Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s office had “snuck” out the new planning document – in which the rezoning proposals were mentioned – in the lead-up to Christmas.

“There is a lack of consultation and listening to people. We do not support the piecemeal way in which this is being done,” Suzanne P., a member of the Downer Community Association, told a packed-out town hall.

“There is no good planning justification for rezoning Downer. Ninety per cent of community land in Downer has already been sold to private developers. There is no school. There are narrow streets and most streets lack footpaths.”

“The government is doing this having refused to invest in infrastructure.”

The community is concerned the ACT Government is not taking on board community consultation.

The attendants, who tilted female and older, expressed fears that high rise apartments would turn popular streets into “rat runs” during peak hours. They claimed that no appropriate traffic management measures had been laid out by the government, meaning that commute times would likely swell.

The detrimental environmental impacts were also stressed. Residents said trees and vegetation would need to be stripped away to make room for multi-storey apartment complexes.

There were no vocal residents in attendance that supported the government’s proposals.

“We already have an RZ3 zone on Antill St and developments on the former school site,” said Miles Boak, the DCA convenor.

“We’re already making a contribution. It is unreasonable that they’re asking a whole suburb be subject to higher densities.”

For the meeting’s attendants, the planned rezoning tapped into broader concerns about the government’s development agenda and touched a political nerve about the government’s need for funding and its relationship with property developers.

“There is a kind of corporate property agenda taking over Canberra,” said Carleton Christensen, a former philosophy professor at the ANU.

“Ever since the ACT got self-government in 1988 there has been an issue of how to fund self-government. The fact is the ACT government is strapped for cash.

“They know they can’t just release land on greenfield development forever. So what they’re doing is redeveloping sites that have already been released for development. So turning these suburbs over for development is a way in which they see themselves solving this financial problem.”

Under the new planning strategy document, almost 80 per cent of Downer will be subject to rezoning. The government has justified the rezoning on a number of grounds, including proximity to light rail stops and local shops.

The planned rezoning requires the approval of the Federal government, which controls the National Capital Authority and some of the land on which the proposed rezoning would occur.

The DCA’s representatives said they would meet with Mick Gentlemen, the ACT planning minister, on Wednesday (6 February).


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Downer residents mount opposition to rezoning
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Andromeda Tychy 6:27 pm 07 Feb 19

Intensification/infill will only be possible if people sell or Barr forcefully acquires the blocks.

Capital Retro 3:31 pm 07 Feb 19

What? I’ve missed out on my subsidies? Tell me more.

The point I was making was that young people do not have the choice to live anywhere other than the tick-tacky shoe boxes that your government (not mine) is demanding they live in because your government doesn’t want to make sensible sized suburban single dwelling blocks available.

By the way, I think you will find most of your government ministers and their developer mates live in the large, leafy blocks that are clogging up your soviet visions.

    chewy14 10:01 pm 07 Feb 19

    The subsidies are expecting to be provided with the huge service amenity of living on a large inner city block without paying for it.

    Lucky we are changing to a land tax model that far better captures the true cost of land and ensures its efficient use.

    Young people mainly have no choice because the older generations have pulled up the plank behind them, not wanting anyone else to have what they did and even worse expecting to further benefit because of it.

    ” By the way, I think you will find most of your government ministers and their developer mates live in the large, leafy blocks that are clogging up your soviet visions.”

    Firstly, they ain’t “my” government as not one person I voted for got elected. Secondly, as above, it’s good that the shift to a land taxing model is happening so they can pay for the privilege of inner city living. Looks like there’s at least some people who can see beyond their own circumstance.

    Capital Retro 11:47 am 08 Feb 19

    Like those esoteric subsidies that are supposed to be paid to the coal industry?

    How about you equate it in dollars and cents like the annual $150 million that ACT ratepayers fork out for Action busses and the billions we will be forking out for the light rail.

    And stop blaming the “older generations” for the shortcomings of today’s younger ones. Anyone young can have what I had if they are prepared to have a second or third job and work hard. Young people simply just aren’t prepared to do this – too many other distractions.

    It may not be “your” government but it appears to be the one that is doing all the cool things you approve of.

    chewy14 5:49 pm 11 Feb 19

    “And stop blaming the “older generations” for the shortcomings of today’s younger ones. Anyone young can have what I had if they are prepared to have a second or third job and work hard. Young people simply just aren’t prepared to do this – too many other distractions.”

    If you could have highlighted my point better, I dont know how.

    Housing is vastly more expensive now in real dollars than it has been for previous generations, no amount of “hard work” makes up for that and it outlines the subsidies I talked about perfectly with relation to inner city land and the service and amenities that come with it.

    Younger people simply have it significantly harder than previous generations in this regard, yet the older, wealthier people want the young to pay even larger amounts to subsidise the lifestyles they’ve become accustomed to.

    The increased land tax (rates) that you whinge about will partially address that issue though, so at least this government is doing something right.

    And what are these “cool” things that the government is doing that I approve of?

    Taxation reform? Never heard of that being called cool before but I suppose economic efficiency is pretty funky.

    Capital Retro 9:47 pm 11 Feb 19

    And the subsidies for my lifestyle that the young people have to pay are precisely, what?

    The first house I purchased in 1973 cost $50,000. My salary was $5,000 pa. Average salary in Canberra now is about $80,000 pa, ten times that is $800,000 which is well above the median house price. It was actually a lot harder to finance a home in the 1970s because the regulated deposit had to be one third and proof that it had been saved over time was required also. That’s why I had the extra jobs. Today, no deposit is required however usually 10% is required.

    I wasn’t whinging about the increased rates either but if we didn’t have the not-needed light rail and a bus system that few people use the money used to subsidise those things could go to public health.

    chewy14 7:47 am 12 Feb 19

    Median house price in Canberra in 1973 was $27 000, average wage was around $5500.

    So you’re telling me you bought a first house nearly double the median price at the time when credit was extremely hard to get?

    And that younger people just need to work harder to get the same?

    The equivalent of buying a $1.5million dollar house as a first home today?

    I’d love to know the bank giving out those loans.

    Capital Retro 9:34 am 12 Feb 19

    It wasn’t in Canberra where the government was subsidising the building of new homes for public servants.

    I bought my first home in the real world (regional NSW) where home-owners had to contribute to headworks and everything else.

    Home finance was regulated up until 30 years ago. The closest thing we have to regulation now is APRA issuing guidelines to the banks about what sector they should be curtailing lending to. This advice is always given too late which makes it dealing with the problem rather than managing it.

    It would help if you did some research.

    chewy14 4:58 pm 12 Feb 19

    This is a joke right?

    I’ve done the research and you think your single anecdote disproves it, when it actually makes my point perfectly.

    It literally doesn’t matter where you bought your property. Based on your own figures it was clearly far more expensive than the average Australian property price at the time, on a wage that was slightly under the average at the time.

    I’m assuming you think Sydney is in this “real” world? The most expensive property at the time and to this day in Australia? Who weren’t subsidised in the slightest like you apparently think Canberra was?

    1973 Median Sydney Property Price $27400

    1973 Average Wage NSW $5700 per year.

    Ah, if only those young’uns would work hard like me, they could purchase a $1.5million dollar first home on a below average wage. If only they did the “research”, they would know how many opportunities are available to them.

    You couldn’t make this stuff up.

    Jim9 8:44 am 12 Feb 19

    You have rocks in your head CR if you think things are exactly the same now as they were in the 70s for the younger generations coming through…… and as Chewy said, you bought a house for twice the median house price….

    Your comment reeks of the Joe Hockey ‘get a better job’ jibe during his disastrous spell, while he was sitting there smoking Cuban cigars.

    Capital Retro 11:07 am 12 Feb 19

    No, I didn’t say things are exactly the same I said the opportunities are the same but sadly, the current generation see other things (social media for example) as more important.

Hillbilly 10:13 am 07 Feb 19

Is this really how people want to live? Like feedlot cattle in identical little boxes with no individual creativity in their own homes and gardens? Shackled to body corporates, public transport schedules and within a couple of metres of each other? Just one leaf blower away from meltdown. Sustainable – not bloody likely.

    JC 8:45 pm 08 Feb 19

    Many more than likley. I often drive around the suburbs and see unkempt yards and I wonder why those people live in houses rather than town houses or apartments with little to no yard. All I can think is for many of them the yard is simply a dog run.

lunarboogie 7:29 am 07 Feb 19

I fully support these measures. Urban sprawl is not the answer. In fill, particularly close to public transport is the sustainable way to live development. Instead of focusing on what current Downer residents stand to lose, we should pay greater attention to the many benefits that new residents will gain by being close to services and PT. These NIMBYs are motivated by self interest over the common good. They want to cling on to their quarter acre blocks, just 4kms from the city centre. Unfortunately the world has changed.

    Capital Retro 8:51 am 07 Feb 19

    It’s sad to see the current generation being unable to consider a stand-alone home of the quarter acre block (urban sprawl as you call it) and all the joys that lifestyle that brings.

    Instead, one man’s obsession with creating a bigger city for no sensible reason will see more and more ticky-tacky boxes shooting up (vertical-sprawl?) in all the wrong places bringing with them all the social problems of bigger cities.

    chewy14 1:33 pm 07 Feb 19

    It’s sad to see the older generations unable to see the harm they are doing to society by expecting to be subsidized to stay in unsuitable housing, clogging up large tracts of inner city land whilst expecting younger, poorer people to live out in far flung reaches of the city and commute hours to work daily.

    Although I’m sure if the older generation would swap places with the younger generations, those younger people would love to experience the joy of living on a quarter acre inner city block.

    Perhaps you’re up for it?

    JC 8:46 pm 08 Feb 19

    And oddly residents who want to stay put also benefit from the new people, because it is those people who then help make local shops, restaurants, schools etc more viable.

Hirko K 10:46 pm 06 Feb 19

Downer resident and home owner here. I’m delighted to hear of the government’s proposal, as I believe Canberra should grow up, not out. The same people complaining about redevelopment of Downer likely also oppose the development of new suburbs on our rural and bush margins. They can’t have both.

Gabriel Spacca 10:32 pm 06 Feb 19

Guess it was good while it lasted. At least historians will still have the Griffin plan to consult, to see what a great city Canberra was once planned to be.

JC 9:23 pm 06 Feb 19

Ironic isn’t it considering how good the and pristine the streets and dwellings of Downer are. Already a decent amount of higher density housing compared to the rest of Canberra. Lots of aging govie and ex govie houses in need of major work or knocking down. Close to the city and Dickson and yes light rail. Really an ideal place for some urban renewal I would have thought, especially along Antil a street and Northborne Ave.

    Hirko K 10:49 pm 06 Feb 19

    And along the Federal Highway end of Phillip Avenue, which has a light rail stop soon to open. At the moment it’s detached homes for as far as the eye can see, and this makes no sense at all.

astro2 8:48 pm 06 Feb 19

It certainly improves public transport with a dedicated line that doesn’t have to compete on the roads with motor vehicles as buses do. most other capital cities and larger Australian cities have a rail option of some sort for moving people efficiently. No reason why Canberra should be any different.

    Capital Retro 3:39 pm 07 Feb 19

    Err, the tram has to compete with road traffic at every intersection along the way. In fact, there is nowhere on the route that the tram deviates from the general vehicle carriageway.

    It may be given priority but that’s the only way it has any hope of keeping up with the cars and busses and at the same time it will create traffic gridlock on the feeder and cross roads along its route.

    Trams in Melbourne travel at an average speed of 11 kph despite all the priorities they have over cars and busses.

    Canberra is different now but that is about to end in a big failure.

    astro2 6:11 pm 07 Feb 19

    Err, please don’t try to drive down the light rail tracks in a motor vehicle; you’ll come off second best. As I said, the light rail has a dedicated line, not competing on the roads as buses and cars do. Trams in Melbourne are not the same as light rail in Canberra, which is more like the inner west light rail in Sydney from Dulwich Hill to the city.

    JC 8:48 pm 08 Feb 19

    I agree with the sentiment, but the Dulwich Hill line is tad different again, being fully separated (not even cross traffic) from the Powerhouse Museum to Dulwich hill.

    JC 6:14 pm 07 Feb 19

    Speed of trams in Melbourne is irrelevant as most of their network is an on road tramway network which does genuinely compete with cars. They only have two (ends) of lines that are light tail and a couple of short sections elsewhere.

    The trams we have are capable of the same speed and acceleration as the buses they will replace but won’t have to fight and jostle at form one lanes and queue at traffic lights to the same extent as cars on the road.

    Capital Retro 9:51 pm 11 Feb 19

    Trams maximum speed is 70kmh, busses do whatever the designated speed limit is.

Maya123 3:56 pm 06 Feb 19

Tall buildings can be fine, as long as things such as solar access are protected. And I don’t mean the ‘joke’ of the inadequate 3 hours a day as allowed now, but full solar protection. Energy efficient housing is also pushed too, but without solar protection, it’s very hard to have this.

I don’t see a problem for instance, building high buildings to the south of present day housing, as this would not block solar access. Looking at a map, along the northern side of Antill Street for instance (south of all other Downer housing), as there does not appear to be any housing on the other side of the street. Along Northbourne Avenue though, especially the northern part of the road that runs by Downer, I can see there could be shading issues if too tall a building is allowed. Shadow diagrams done on the shortest day of the year would need to be done to see any effect of tall buildings.

Of course all this building would not be needed if the Australian population was stabilised.

    Jim9 8:48 am 07 Feb 19

    Solar protection should be central to all decision making in the planning space. Even with large towers it can be done well with clever design and good thinking. As I often say – its all about needing to move the debate away from ‘NIMBY’ to ensuring what is done is of a good level of quality in all aspects.

g210 3:29 pm 06 Feb 19

Light rail was always about redevelopment & increasing density – it had little to do with improving public transport. Unfortunately many whom effectively voted for the tram are only now beginning to realise how Barr & Co planned to pay for it. And as the cycle of residential densities, land values and rates climb exponentially, the only hope for the rate payer is that people consider what will happen if Stage 2 gets going. Something to consider before the next election.

    JC 9:16 pm 06 Feb 19

    There are two ways this can be looked at. One way is the tram is a folley that needs to be payed for by high density development along the corridor.

    The second is the tram is there to provide appropriate public transport to a corridor that has been designed to have a high density. And shock horror has been put in at an appropriate time.

    Bit of a chicken and an egg circular or argument really.

    Me personally considering Flemington Road was planned as a higher density housing corridor, and Northborne Ave has always been I believe in option 2. And all my posts on light rail confirm this view. Specifically the one corridor it will work is this one for all these reasons and secondly light rail is not about servicing the transport needs of the wider Gungahlin community rather just the corridor.

    And we also need to consider that these developments are attracting people. So the question needs to be asked if they didn’t exist then where would those people go? More urban sprawl, high density intobthe suburbs or not here at all. None are really all that palatable really.

gooterz 12:30 pm 06 Feb 19

They voted for light rail. They got light rail.

Light rail is a metaphore for increased density.

Now we have it they want to bitch and moan.

    JC 9:16 pm 06 Feb 19

    And what was/is the alternative from a housing perspective?

Cass Proudfoot 11:32 am 06 Feb 19

If they are increasing the population so massively, bulldozing the school last year looks like a big mistake.

May Day 10:11 am 06 Feb 19

The Labour greens government is waging a war on its own residents. They no longer see residents as humans interacting in a natural environment, just commodities and annoying resources to be managed. They’re ruining the quality of life for educated people in Canberra with thuggish ignorant behaviour. They will tell you time and time again ‘there’s no-one else who can do this job’... but there is. Total narcissism by the ACT GOV. Vote them out, yo!

Doris Andrews 9:43 am 06 Feb 19

Good luck

Ed N Joanne Towner 9:18 am 06 Feb 19

Why doesn't that surprise me..Ed

colin2983 8:45 am 06 Feb 19

And that’s it there in a nutshell:

– The fact is the ACT government is strapped for cash.

“They know they can’t just release land on greenfield development forever. So what they’re doing is redeveloping sites that have already been released for development. So turning these suburbs over for development is a way in which they see themselves solving this financial problem.”

    Jim9 11:54 am 06 Feb 19

    It is not that simple, and I think it is a disservice to suggest it is. While there is clearly huge financial incentives to encourage development, the fact is the ACT will run out of greenfield land that can be cost effectively developed. And urban sprawl has its own significant costs when a broader assessment beyond solely financial is taken into account.

    So if urban infill is a no go, and greenfields are not going to be a solution either, then what do you propose to solve the need for an increased supply of dwellings in the Territory? Its all well and good for people to say not in my backyard, but as a city we need solutions, and all options should form part of it. Reasoned densification of all existing suburbs should be part of that.

    As always, a balance is required, and that includes in individual suburbs. To be honest, I don’t see any issue with higher limits on buildings on the Northbourne corridor of Downer. If Downer is to have higher density sites, that is where they should be built (Bar arguably the development already happening in the old school site/central area).

    And the characteristics of some blocks in parts of the suburb are well suited to a higher level of density then single dwellings. That isn’t an endorsement of ‘high density’, but if done well, there should not be significant impediment towards reasoned medium density dwellings.

    It shouldn’t be a blanket rezoning as proposed, but it also should be a blanket ‘no’ either…..

    JC 9:20 pm 06 Feb 19

    Your second point is correct. They know they cannot just release greenfield development for ever.

    That’s all that needs to be said really. And I think that is what many especially in the older inner suburbs just don’t get. Same with those who yearn for the NCDC glory days or a new suburb or two further out each year. Each with a school and shop and only a finite amount of time with peak house occupancy. (When kids are young).

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