The question on the minds of residents within the inner north at the moment is how to deal with the latest shenanigans by the ACT Government around decisions for the Dickson Group Centre.
Local residents have been organizing a debate and information session about the latest approval for the new supermarket complex in Dickson. When the group approached the planning bureaucracy weeks ago about their participation, the approach was taken seriously and Gary Rake, their second in charge, agreed to be a panel member.
Requests were sent through to the Minister for Planning. His office said he was not able to attend but that his planning bureaucracy would be there. Good to know – but more efforts were being made to get a politician. I wrote in a former article that it would be timely for Andrew Barr, being a local resident, to attend this meeting.
A local radio host agreed to chair a Q&A style panel to talk about the approval, its context, about other matters such as parking arrangements during the three years of construction and other plans for the shopping centre.
There were over three weeks of volunteer work to get the event organised. Leaflets were printed, emails sent out and several steps were about to be finalized … when … OMG!!!
On Wednesday of this week, being about about a month since the first contacts with the bureaucracy for this meeting, the convenor of the Dickson Residents Group received an email from the planning bureaucracy chief clearly stating that no planning bureaucrats were to attend the session.
The letter has been posted online – click here.
The only hint of any explanation was that the approval may be now subject to an appeal and that the bureaucracy had to wait to see if an appeal was lodged. Sort of sounds logical except that …
This whole process has been flawed and the manner of the final decision has meant that reasons remain unclear and so much of the process has been way outside the normal planning processes and timelines.
A reminder. More than a year ago the developers submitted their first development application but were sent packing to try again. Mysteriously since then they have been given several extensions and all that they have done is remove some dangerous stuff (one wonders why that was not fixed early on) and have tinkered with a few superficial bits.
The latest version is essentially the same mighty lump that was knocked back the first time. Yet after more than a year – it somehow gets approval.
Given the limited amount of useful information available, people wanted to hear what was going on. People wanted to hear the evidence behind the government’s final decision. People wanted to hear more about what arrangements were to be put in place to see the present shopping centre survive the coming years of construction. The local traders wanted to hear about parking so that shoppers could still get to them.
All manner of rumours have now started.
For instance: Given the criteria used to knock the development application back in May 2015, there is no way that any planning authority could have approved its present form. Sadly local planning decisions are no longer being made independent of government (a separate post next week). Therefore it is now easy for the bureaucracy to come under pressure from the Chief Minister and others to get this one out of the way before the coming ACT elections.
We appreciate that over the last 14 months the bureaucracy had been trying to get the developers to come up with real changes and we fully understand that it would have been no easy task given the money and reputations at stake. A tough job.
In the end, given the political pressure, we wonder whether the planners simply caved in to the pressure and put the decision out there to see what would happen next. This line of thinking (speculation) would explain the poor quality of the final notice in that it was laughable in some places and had not been edited properly.
So on Wednesday we were told, despite the friendliness of the former contacts about setting up this debate and information session and the agreement by the deputy to attend, there is now to be no participation by the government.
Among the organisers of the session, some believe that if this major development decision could be explained properly then many residents would probably accept this and get on with their lives with fingers crossed that all would eventually work itself out. Others will always think the whole thing is one big mistake.
One thing we all agree on is that it would have been a useful for there to have been a public debate and for all the evidence to have been presented. It is called being transparent.
Instead the ACT Government has cancelled the opportunity for Time for Talk. They have chosen to bunker down and to wait to see if anyone dares to appeal their decision.
No more information is to be made public. So one can only wonder whether all these actions are designed to limit the opportunities for an appeal.
We wish we could push that button today to cast a vote for the ACT elections and to be able to place a certain local politician’s name last on our ballot papers.
Please note – the Q&A session originally planned for Thursday 21st July has been cancelled. Watch this space as there is talk of a public meeting in August (maybe).