25 July 2023

Greater Canberra should be more upfront about its party affiliation, community council says

| Ian Bushnell
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Greater Canberra convenor Howard Maclean denied that the group was politically affiliated and said members come from a range of political backgrounds. Photo: LinkedIn.

Pro-infill housing lobby Greater Canberra has been accused of being a Labor front after its convenor Howard Maclean was revealed to be a party member following a motion moved at last weekend’s ACT Labor Conference calling for medium-density housing in the RZ1 zone, which only allows standalone homes.

Inner South Canberra Community Council (ISCCC) chair Marea Fatseas said Mr Maclean, who has been Greater Canberra’s main spokesperson, should have been more upfront about his party affiliation when his group entered the debate about the planning reforms.

She said there had been a lack of transparency and the issue was that Mr Maclean was the delegate who pushed the upzoning motion at the conference.

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That motion called for RZ1 to be changed to allow similar development to what is allowed in RZ2, while RZ2 rules would become more like RZ3, but it was amended to say the government would begin the process to change the zoning laws before the next election.

Ms Fatseas said the ISCCC had suspected that Mr Maclean was Labor-aligned but his conference role confirmed it.

She said another key player in Greater Canberra, Eben Leifer, had also been an advisor to Planning Minister Mick Gentleman.

But this had not been apparent when Greater Canberra appeared on the scene and became an official stakeholder in the planning reform process.

Mr Maclean denied the group was politically affiliated, saying members came from all political backgrounds.

“We have about 100 members on the books and only a tiny minority of those are members of the Labor Party,” he said.

“But we also have members of the Greens. We have Liberal Party members, and we have Progressive Party members and potentially other minor parties that I’m not aware of.”

Mr Maclean said he was just a rank-and-file party member, had never been a staffer and was not affiliated with a Labor faction.

woman and sign

ISCCC chair Marea Fatseas: “If we’re going to go to this new world of so-called gentle urbanism, then we’ve got to have some basic, really hard and fast rules about the amount of green space and solar access on the block.” Photo: Supplied.

Ms Fatseas feared upzoning without any enforceable rules for green space would change the face of Canberra, and accused Greater Canberra of taking a simplistic approach.

“There’s not enough discussion about the how, and if that isn’t done properly, then what we’re going to get is similar to what we’re getting in a lot of the new suburbs, where it’s mostly going to be building form on the block and not enough green space,” she said.

Ms Fatseas said Greater Canberra appeared to be modelled on the Greater Auckland organisation whose lobbying contributed to planning reforms that allowed up to three three-storey homes on ordinary suburban blocks with setbacks of only about 1.5 metres.

“How can you possibly get a tree to grow when you’ve only got a setback of 1.5 metres?” she said.

Ms Fatseas said the government was proposing to relegate the Living Infrastructure Plan measures, including the 30 per cent tree canopy and permeable surface targets, to the technical specifications and design guides, instead of inserting them in the Territory Plan.

“If we’re going to go to this new world of so-called gentle urbanism, then we’ve got to have some basic, really hard and fast rules about the amount of green space and solar access on the block … because if we go down the road of Auckland and have a 1.5-metre setback it’s not going to be the Canberra that we have now.”

Ms Fatseas said affordability was another issue that Greater Canberra paid lip service to, because allowing more homes to be built on a block did not guarantee they would be any cheaper.

“If they’re talking about affordable for the people who are the most vulnerable in our society, that’s not going to provide affordable housing because all the evidence is that it’s public housing, public and community housing that’s going to meet that need for affordable housing,” she said.

But Mr Maclean said Greater Canberra valued tree cover and green space just as much as everyone else.

He said that at present under the rules homes were being built on single blocks right to the boundaries but with upzoning the result would be a slightly smaller built area in many cases.

Greater Canberra supported the Living Infrastructure changes but was unsure at this point whether it made much difference whether they were in the Territory Plan or in the design guides.

“If it turns out that the government implements the Living Infrastructure changes into the new planning system and is not actually making sure that those requirements are adhered to, then we will definitely support changes to the system to make sure that they are,” he said.

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Mr Maclean said more housing supply would drive down rents, as it had in Auckland, and much of the new stock would be townhouses, which were cheaper than standalone houses.

He also said zoning changes would also allow Housing ACT, one of the biggest landowners in the Territory, to provide more public housing without having to acquire more land.

The government is looking to release the updated Territory Plan, district strategies and technical specifications before the end of September.

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I sympathise with comments smirking that the ISCCC is upset. Yes, the ISCCC claims to represent 25,000 inner south residents, but is really the same, tired, old (yes, almost all are retired) group of 25 people, year after year, mega-NIMBY views. So I understand those criticisms.

But the Greater Canberra scandal is totally different and much, much worse. This group sought media profile, claimed to represent younger people who wanted density, disagreed w the ISCCC, but turns out it was actually run by an ALP member and an ALP staffer. That looks like a front, and like a plan.

It suggests that the ACT Gubmint set up a front organisation to chip away at a critic organisation of govt, muddying the waters and hoodwinking the public to push thru its high-density agenda. I’m suspicious.

Does it look like that though?

Simple political party membership is not even close to evidence of some sort of conspiracy.

In fact membership of political parties is correlated with involvement with lobbying often because they have the same drivers and interest the same sorts of people.

I think what it shows is far too high prominence is given to “community” groups of all types who’s profiles are well above their actual level of support and community involvement.

thoughtsonthesubject3:43 pm 26 Jul 23

If Mr. Maclean would do a bit more research, he would realize that subdividing blocks to build new housing with brand-new fixtures from floor coverings to dishwashers, increases rather than reduces the cost of real estate. If he read the papers, he would note that even a Greens MLA points out that the government (and not the NIMBYs) are responsible for the increasing number of homeless by reducing public housing with a growing population.
May I suggest that before any action is taken, we all live through a typical El Nino summer with continuing days of around 40 degrees. That is likely to produce temperatures pushing 50 degrees in heavily built-up parts of Canberra. Such temperatures threaten the lifes of the very young and old and those who have to work outside to earn a living. After that the question of whether we should replace verdant gardens mitigating heat with concrete producing heat islands might lead to different answers.

This looks like astroturfing which is part of the Trump playbook.

Perhaps Ms Fatseas and the riotact should be more forthcoming about her own (failed) campaign in the 2016 Assembly election. And of course who could forget the various residents associations coming together in 1989 to run in that year’s election? Anti-housing activists are allowed to be political but pro-housing activists aren’t?

Unbelievable. He is a member of the ALP? I have been deceived again. I really thought Howard was a young liberal. He sure talks like one. I really have to just stop jumping to conclusions.

HiddenDragon7:20 pm 25 Jul 23

The revelations here are about as stunning as those in the recent RiotAct article which drew a link between electric vehicle ownership and a proclivity to vote for political parties of the posturing Left.

Anyone who has taken even a passing interest in what Greater Canberra has to say, and the language and arguments they deploy in support of their ambitions (redolent of the glib blather of the “Our CBR”leaflets and other ACT government propaganda), would be in little doubt that they are not too far from government and the political process and, one might even think, the spin machine of the ACT development lobby (the latter point might be more of a distinction without a difference, given the way that this town runs).

As to membership of or involvement with Labor, some of that might be another illustration of the age old conundrum of the chicken and the egg and which came first.

I agree. They are the most quoted “community” group. If they are just an ACT Government mouthpiece set up just after the election, is their purpose to give an air of community legitimacy to the government’s development agenda? Let’s hear what genuine residents’ groups have to say.
I agree affordable housing is an issue but the ACT Government is partly responsible for this as it has reduced social housing and increased rates and land tax. And the Canberra Times is currently owned by a real estate magnate, so they are hardly impartial.
We value our gardens and the wildlife they bring to our lives. Affordable housing is not the giant houses infilled into Mr Fluffy blocks, and the new deregulation will make infill housing even bigger. How will that help affordability? If we have infill, regulate to make sure it’s ‘small’ and affordable. Else it achieves nothing but lining developers pockets.

Yes, this is outrageous.

We don’t want lobby groups claiming to represent the wider community used as a front for the narrow views of a minority of biased voices……..

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