The ACT Government appears ready to steamroll opposition to high-density development in the area known as Section 72 in Dickson, rejecting claims that it should be the preserve of community facilities and confirming that the Common Ground social housing project will be sited there.
The North Canberra Community Council had written to Minister for Urban Renewal Rachel Stephen-Smith in December concerned that the latest plans for Section 72, bounded by Cowper and Antill Streets and Hawdon Place, were dominated by high-density residential development.
It said that there was strong community support for developing Section 72 as a high-quality community, cultural and recreational precinct with significant parkland, but the consultation process had paid lip service to this.
“The suggestion of some ground-floor community-use rooms, and placement of street trees and green edges between the footprints of bulky four to six storey multi-unit buildings, as concessions, fails to address broader community aspirations for the enhancement of this precinct,” the letter said.
“… NCCC members are concerned that the Government is not hearing the community’s very clearly stated vision and constructive suggestions for this site.”
The council suggested the establishment of a Community Reference panel reporting to the Minister to prepare a brief to guide urban renewal in Section 72, and also sent the Minister a position paper.
While Ms Stephen-Smith said in a letter to the council before Christmas that the Government would consider the suggestion of a community panel, the Government was not about to restart the community consultation process which she said had been extensive, open and transparent.
She rejected claims that the Government was focused on high-density residential development on the site, saying the Government envisaged a mix of uses in Section 72, including open space, and that planning so far sees opportunities for additional community uses as part of mixed-use developments.
“It is important to understand that the inclusion of residential uses in Section 72 will not necessarily reduce the site’s overall capacity for community uses and may indeed increase the ability of the ACT Government and community organisations to provide high-quality community spaces and facilities,” she said.
The Minister said the Common Ground proposal was an election commitment and confirmed that it would be built on the former Downer Club site or Block 25.
She also implied that the council did not speak for all members of the community, saying that “we understand that not all community members will agree with one another on the future and priorities for Dickson Section 72”.
Dickson Residents Group convenor Jane Goffman, who is also a member of the council, said the response was par for the course and she felt the community had been hitting its head against a brick wall.
Ms Goffman said the meeting at which it was decided to write to the minister was well attended and the motion was passed overwhelmingly.
She said Section 72 was historically a land bank for community facilities and a green belt.
She said the issue was about proper planning and what people will need in 25 years, and with many more apartments along the Northbourne Corridor it was important those people had access to quality facilities and open space, “because, if anything, their need is even greater”.
“It’s about what needs our growing community is going to have in the future. You’ve got to plan ahead and talk to people about what those needs are for the whole of the Inner North because Dickson is increasingly acting as a district centre for the whole of the Inner North,” she said.
Ms Goffman said the council supported the Common Ground concept but said there were more suitable sites in the Inner North near shops and transport that were ripe for redevelopment than the selected site which was at the extreme end of Section 72 on what is a ‘forgotten’ piece of land.
She said it was important that a development such as this was well integrated into the area. “We can’t just plonk it on a bit of vacant land because nobody else wants it,” she said.
Ms Stephen-Smith said in her letter that an Inner North community needs analysis would be released early in 2019.