16 July 2021

Gungahlin high-rise approval shows system is broken, says community council

| Ian Bushnell
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Artist's impression of Geocon's The Establishment in Gungahlin

A render of Geocon’s The Establishment in Gungahlin showing the proximity of the YMCA Early Learning Centre. Image: Supplied.

A Geocon high-rise apartment development in Gungahlin has finally been approved, but the local community council and neighbouring child care centre say it’s a case study of why the planning system is broken.

Gungahlin Community Council and the YMCA Early Learning Centre opposite it have been battling the project – known originally as Air Towers and renamed The Establishment – since the first development application was lodged in 2017. Despite an original approval in 2018, Geocon has been forced to make a range of changes.

The community council has always been concerned about the bulk and scale of the proposal and its appropriateness in that part of Gungahlin Town Centre, while YMCA objected to being overshadowed and had major privacy concerns, as well as fears about traffic in Swain Street.

In January, 2021, Geocon lodged a reconsideration after the planning authority knocked back an amended development application (DA), and it has now approved the development with a host of conditions.

Changes include screening to prevent overlooking into the child care centre, new driveway access to basement parking off Swain Street, and a one-way arrangement for service trucks so they do not have to reverse out.

There are changes to parking, landscaping, building design and the unit mix, but the number of units barely changes, at 272, and the building heights remain.

Gungahlin Community Council president Peter Elford said the development should never have been approved in the first place, but that had set a precedent which meant it would eventually be accepted as long as Geocon ticked all the boxes.

“It’s a fantastic example of why the planning system is broken,” he said.

What has emerged in the northwest corner of Gungahlin Town Centre does not reflect the planning intent for the area, and the rules have not been enforced, said Mr Elford.

“It’s become a pile of units,” he said.

Excavated development site for The Establishment in Gungahlin

The excavated development site for The Establishment. Photo: Gungahlin Community Council.

Mr Elford added it is a disappointing outcome and a bad process poorly executed.

“We’re just frustrated that the plan isn’t being enforced and the government refuses to acknowledge there is a problem,” he said

“We need a different approach and it needs to happen soon before the remaining land [in Gungahlin Town Centre] is sold.”

It can’t wait until the planning system review is complete, said Mr Elford.

YMCA CEO Torrien Lau welcomes the changes Geocon has made, but agreed with Mr Elford that the root of the problem is with the planning system.

He said the original planning vision for the area has not materialised.

“We purchased that block believing there would be offices and that would feed into our occupancy and we’d be able to provide a meaningful product to the surrounding area according to the Gungahlin Masterplan, but the whole strip there is residential, residential, residential,” said Mr Lau.

“It’s not what we bought into.”

Mr Lau said the YMCA has won significant concessions, and Geocon has been very good at responding to feedback according to planning requirements.

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Finagen_erection6:46 pm 16 Jul 21

Nothing to see here. Geocon doing what it does best, gaming the system and donating to the current government. People get the government they vote for.

Sounds like the process is working fine. The complaints were heard the development knocked back, plans were redrawn to address those concerns and subsequently approved.

The process worked (as far as it goes), but the complaints are around the broader planning system that allowed it to occur.

And they have a pretty good point when you look at what the area was supposed to be for in the wider original land planning, compared to what has actually now been built and proposed for the future.

Which is a large part of the reason why they are conducting the wider planning system review due to the disconnect between strategy and what gets delivered.

The system is not broken, its just that geocon has more money than the YMCA.

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