The ACT Government has been accused of failing to enforce its own planning and development regulations – leading to tensions in mixed-use developments, continuing building defects and design breaches.
At recent public meeting organised by the Inner South Canberra Community Council, Government officials – including Director-General of the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development directorate Ben Ponton and Deputy Director-General, Access Canberra, Dave Peffer – were assailed by a barrage of complaints about ground-floor Kingston Foreshore restaurants, ongoing unit defects and fait accompli planning outcomes.
The Government is considering building regulatory and strata management reforms but is coming under pressure from the property industry to announce draft legislation.
Owners Corporation Network Gary Petherbridge said mixed-use development was the new disaster in town with Kingston tenants and unit owners in foreshore apartments having to share lifts with restaurants that were using basement car parks as food and equipment storage areas.
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He said prawn heads and other foodstuffs in the lifts were a common sight.
“You’ve got places that were nominated as car parking places for a tenant or owner and they’ve turned those into freezer rooms, with gas bottles, refrigeration, and no proper exhausts. Everything that you could think of that could cause a fire,” he said.
Deakin Residents Association president Dr George Wilson, who also attended the meeting, said the restaurants didn’t have a licence to use these spaces but they had all this equipment in car parks that are supposed to be there for residents.
Mr Petherbridge said Access Canberra “should be saying this is not allowed, get rid of it”.
Mr Ponton said the issues of mixed use development and strata titles were complex and not an easy fix, while Mr Peffer said the problem was when building uses changed and not all technical breaches could be dealt with.
Mr Petherbridge also said building defects were out of control in Canberra, with developers ignoring recently issued Government guidelines.
He feared many apartments and townhouses would not last as long as their mortgages and called for stronger legislation so there could be genuinely independent building certification.
He also said the Government should be prepared to name and shame builders who flouted the rules.
“The Government isn’t prepared to list them as people you ought to consider twice about buying from. They should start listing the people who are in court,” he said.
Mr Petherbridge predicted that in two or three years there could be a tsunami of complaints from the building boom as more apartments and units in Canberra begin to have issues such as leaks, cracked concrete and glass falling out of windows.
Dr Wilson said he knew of instances where minor breaches had been overlooked which in turn had led to a development outcome with many more.
“You can’t have regulation and turn a blind eye to it because it’s politically difficult to enforce it or you interpret as a minor breach – that’s a job for a magistrate not a so-called inspection agency,” he said.
Mr Peffer, told the meeting that the Government was identifying underperforming builders and would inspect them more often.
He said the budget had allocated funds for six additional building auditors to allow more on-site inspections and an audit of private certification was planned.
He said building code examinations for builders would improve quality in the system.
Mr Petherbridge said the complaints in the inner south would be replicated at any community council meeting in Canberra.