8 June 2022

Housing ACT accused of using ‘loopholes’ that threaten Bush Capital character

| Ian Bushnell
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Chifley supportive housing proposal

An artist’s impression of the Chifley supportive housing proposal. Image: Munns Sly Moore.

Housing ACT is again coming under fire for trying to cram too many supportive housing dwellings onto its renewal blocks in Canberra’s residential suburbs and threatening the character of the Bush Capital.

The latest proposal in Carslaw Street, Chifley, aims to put six units on two blocks totalling nearly 2000 square metres, leaving little room for green space or trees. At present, each block contains a three-bedroom house.

Two bigger homes will front Carslaw Street with four smaller units at the rear.

Plot ratios are more lenient for supportive adaptive housing, allowing a minimum of 40 per cent open space. On the proposed development in Chifley, half of the space is taken up with driveways, nine parking spaces and paved courtyards.

The planning rules also allow more than two dwellings to be built on a block if they are supportive housing.

Aerial of Chifley site for supportive housing

An aerial view of the Chifley supportive housing site, Blocks 14 and 16. Photo: ACTmapi.

The Griffith Narrabundah Community Association has been battling similar proposals on Captain Cook Crescent and Lockyer Street where Housing ACT wants to build three homes on single blocks. The association fears ACT Housing is using planning “loopholes” to maximise the number of dwellings on blocks.

The association says this flies in the face of the government’s own 30 per cent tree canopy and permeable surface targets and draft tree protection legislation.

“They are persisting with spreading concrete everywhere in RZ1 with adaptive and supportive housing,” Association president David Denham said.

READ ALSO Community association blasts Griffith public housing proposal

Mr Denham accused Housing ACT of treating its residents as second-class citizens by housing them in small properties with little green space that will become heat islands in summer.

“We would have no problems with the ones [in Griffith] if they put two dwellings in there because the blocks are big enough for that. But as soon as you put the third one in, it’s just too crowded,” he said.

Mr Denham said too much space goes to hard surfaces such as driveways.

Aerial of Chifley site for supportive housing

The landscape plan shows little green space. Image: Place Logic

In the Lockyer Street proposal, it was required that cars be able to turn around on the site so they didn’t have to reverse onto the street.

“As soon as you do that, you eat up more of the land for tarmac and lose more and more green space.”

Australian Institute of Architects ACT chapter president Jane Cassidy said that the current planning rules virtually mandate a huge amount of hardstand because of the requirement for turning circles on the block to ensure people are always driving in a forward direction.

Ms Cassidy said there should be more flexible approaches like those in Melbourne to minimise hardstand areas and allow more green space.

“We want to balance the green plot ratio with the building plot ratio and we also want to make sure that we have a maximum level of hardstand on the block, which will help with the heat island effect,” she said.

At present, Ms Cassidy said car parking spaces had to be behind the building line, but the amount of driveway could be reduced if there was more flexibility.

She said designers’ hands were tied, and it was hoped the coming planning reforms would introduce more balance in the system.

It was important to encourage these developments to provide more choice and flexibility for those with disabilities or who want to age in place but in a balanced way, Ms Cassidy said.

Woden Valley Community Council president Fiona Carrick said the draft Urban Forest Bill 2022 and the 30 per cent tree canopy target were meant to enhance community wellbeing and support resilience in a changing climate.

“Unfortunately, the supportive housing proposal in Chifley covers the majority of the block leaving little room for trees and creating a potential heat island,” she said.

“We do not understand why supportive housing tenants are not included in the significant benefits that permeable space and tree canopies provide.”

Mr Denham agreed Housing ACT was in a bind because there was an urgent need for more of this kind of housing and it was struggling to meet its public housing renewal target of 1400 dwellings by 2024-25 with the land at its disposal.

A government spokesperson said all public housing was built and designed to meet building and planning standards under the Territory Plan and relevant legislation.

It said supportive housing was needed to cater for people of different ages and abilities, including those with mobility issues, and landscaping had to be low maintenance.

“Housing ACT develops a landscape plan as part of any new public housing design with a preference for a combination of hard and soft landscaping elements. This allows for both planting areas, as well as useable open space for children to play in,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that DV369 and the Urban Forest Bill had not yet come into effect with respect to development proposals and building approvals.

“One of the outcomes of the variation will be that people need ‘deep soil zones’ to meet minimum planting area requirements and driveways, car parks, swimming pools, tennis courts and basements are not counted in the ‘deep soil zones’,” the spokesperson said.

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Mike of Canberra12:35 pm 13 Jun 22

All of the flim-flam and diversionary arguments in the world around placement, density and distribution of public housing ignores one basic point. What was once housing for low-income workers is now dedicated welfare housing. This means that those who rely on welfare for their living (often excessively so) are placed in prime locations and positions, while the good old low-income workers are dispatched to the farthest-flung reaches of the ACT to either buy or rent their homes. Given the dysfunction around the welfare system, therefore, it is hardly surprising that public/supportive housing attracts so much dysfunction. Therefore, instead of squabbling over this and that to do with public housing in the ACT, or anywhere for that matter, what we really should be seeking is meaningful and comprehensive welfare reform that restores welfare to what it once was, ie a mechanism primarily designed to give low income workers support and a fair go. Problem solved.

Linda Seaniger3:10 pm 09 Jun 22

We’re building public housing in in Chifley and Griffith? I’m all for more public housing but it should be built where the land is cheaper so that we can provide more resources for the needy, not privileged needy.
If ACT housing tenants are re-located outside their previous area I don’t see that as a problem we have buses which are very effective and we have slow trams. The emphasis should be more accommodation with less outlay.

These are for disabled and elderly tenants.
Your ignorance and complete lack of understanding about public housing is showing.
A block of land the same size as these isn’t necessarily going to cost any less in newer suburbs as the price comparisons aren’t there due to the blocks of land in newer suburbs being smaller than the older suburbs.
Being in need of social housing doesn’t automatically make someone a bludger and we don’t deserve the outdated stereotypes people seem to have.
As someone who lives in public housing due to having disabilities, I contribute to my community just as much, if not more than most people my age who own homes.
And in regards to your comment regarding public transport and forcing people to live in areas away from their support systems, I myself can’t use public transport and isolating me from my support networks would increase my health issues and then put more pressure on an already struggling health system.

Linda Seaniger3:01 pm 09 Jun 22

A classic example of government speak namely do as I say not to do as I do. Bring on the next ACT election.

Communal living where neighbors are friends? Haha

Clever Interrobang9:35 am 09 Jun 22

These types of developments are good, and are sensitive to the existing character of the area.

We need to increase the amount of available housing in areas where people actually want to live.

What we don’t need is ten or fifteen storey mega towers right next to Chifley shops for instance (and of course no one is suggesting that).

The slums of the future. All about money and rate revenue!
Mr Gentleman has to stop appeasing developers. This will lose Labor votes!
Greens should step up on this issue. Are nearby neighbours consulted?

Clever Interrobang9:31 pm 09 Jun 22

The greens are supportive of higher density housing.

If you’re so concerned what the neighbours think, why don’t you go ask them yourself?

Or even better, go run for office and do something about it.

Is the unimproved value of the land that potential which the average person can build, or that the government can make with its own loopholes.

What about incorporating green roofs into each unit? These would provide cooling areas.

Why not build with 2-3 stories so they can still fit in that number (lr more) units with the same floorspace, but also have room for green space? Maybe there could be exceptions to RZ1, conditional on adequate tree coverage potential etc. so we can improve our housing density without giving up our green-space.

ACT Housing and its salivating cheer squad of greedy developers has determined that residents of supportive housing are undeserving of gardens and trees. The object is to cram as many in to as small a space as possible. The fact that big developments on small blocks means less trees for residents and a smaller tree canopy for Canberra is ignored by the short sighted minions of Housing ACT.

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