Planning Minister Mick Gentleman has used his ‘call-in powers’ to wave through planning approval for the proposed Common Ground social and affordable housing development in Dickson.
Mr Gentleman said the project warranted the rare move, saying he did not want housing for the homeless delayed by objections and possible court action.
But he did impose conditions on the project arising out of public consultation including protections for trees and heritage aspects of the site on Hawden Place Block 25 Section 72.
Other conditions include additional bicycle parking spaces, an archeological survey of the original Canberra Aerodrome site before any work starts, building height and setbacks complying with the Dickson Precinct Map and Code, and meeting utility service requirements.
The building will remain at four and six storeys, containing a mix of 40 self-contained one to three-bedroom units.
”I am confident that all of the issues that were raised during consultation have been addressed,” Mr Gentleman said.
The Common Ground concept has broad community backing but the North Canberra Community Council had been concerned about the lack of an integrated plan for Section 72 and the suitability of the site.
But Common Ground chair Stephen Bartos said the site was close to nearby services such as light rail, the Dickson Library and healthcare.
”The need is huge and given that it is available and has been offered it would be mad not to take the opportunity to use it,” Mr Bartos said.
”Remember that a lot of the people … come from a background of great disadvantage and really need those health services and other services. Some can be provided on site but not all can be, so having access to nearby services is really important.”
He said the decision meant chronically homeless people would get housing sooner.
Another local concern was that the project would pave the way for other multi-storey housing in Section 72, but Mr Gentleman said the government had no plans for that.
He also denied his decision to deliver what was a Labor election promise was coloured by the coming October poll.
Housing Minister Yvette Berry said the 20 social and 20 affordable units would be primarily focused on women and children, single-parent families and older women, who were facing significant housing issues, particularly now during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She mounted a passionate defence of the project, saying Mr Gentleman’s decision to call it in should not be a blemish on the proposal.
Ms Berry said the Gungahlin Common Ground was a success and had been embraced by the community there.
”The whole community wrapped their arms around Common Ground in Gungahlin and supported it in so many ways through philanthropic support and love and care for other people in their community who needed support,” she said.
The Dickson project would have a different cohort but it would also make a massive difference to their lives, she said.
”This is a really important step forward to supporting those people who really need a hand up,” Ms Berry said.
But the ACT Greens have condemned Mr Gentleman’s decision for overriding proper assessment, scrutiny and community feedback, calling on him to reverse his decision.
Greens housing spokesperson Caroline Le Couteur has proposed legislation that would allow the Assembly to overturn call-in decisions.
“Canberrans will be outraged to learn that an ACT Labor Minister has decided, of his own accord, to ram through development decisions in our city – with only the pretence of consulting with the local community. Controversial development should see more community engagement, not less,” she said.
The community council’s Jane Goffman said the planners had done their best to address the deficiencies in the plans, but the outcome was extremely disappointing.
”Ministerial call-in powers exist as a last resort, and are not a panacea. There were plenty of valid concerns raised that have to be addressed, and I find that troubling for all sorts of reasons,” she said.
”We can’t keep going through these charades, pretending the community is being listened to but ignoring reasonable and sensible concerns and ramming projects through for short-term political gain.”
Mr Gentleman last used his call-in powers to approve the proposed Coles supermarket and mixed-use development at Dickson shops, which is still to proceed.