The advent of light rail has helped sway a tribunal to overturn ACT Government planners objection to a proposed child care centre at Mitchell.
ACT Planning and Land Authority, the Environmental Protection Authority and a health expert thought Mitchell, a suburb of noisy trucks, bulk garden supplies and a toxic chemical fire in 2011 was no place for child care.
But the ACT’s planning laws have specific provision for child care use in an industrial zone. This, and demand for child care in Mitchell, Franklin and Harrison, and evidence from a demographic researcher, acoustic, air quality and town planning consultants swayed the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal in property developer Harry Konstantinou’s favour.
The developer’s family company had previously sought a bulky goods tenant for the site on the corner of Darling and Heffernan Streets, without success. Aware of demand for child care, they sought to vary the lease to allow child care, only to have ACTPLA reject their application.
Supporting the Konstantinou case, town planning consultant Petrus van der Walt said he could find no evidence across Canberra of a child care centre precluding industrial zone uses, citing examples in Fyshwick, Symonston and Belconnen trades area.
Business Geographics managing director Phil Henry said Mitchell did not have a child care centre. The business demographics specialist said light rail’s arrival in the general area would increase residential and employment growth there. Mr Henry looked at the catchment areas of Harrison and Franklin and found only three long day care centres.
ACTPLA planning delivery branch senior manager Lisa Johnson examined the adequacy of child care in the immediate area surrounding Mitchell and noted a new facility would likely be built in Franklin. The Throsby Development Plan included a childcare centre.
ACPLA also relied on evidence from Environmental Risk Sciences director Dr Jackie Wright who said a child care centre could ‘sterilise’ the area, i.e., jeopardise the use of surrounding land for industrial purposes.
The Environment Protection Authority was of a similar view. The EPA also cited a report that found the site unfit for child care.
Ms Johnson recounted a serious chemical fire in Mitchell in 2011, which if repeated would cause evacuation of a child care centre. But the tribunal said random events like fire, shootings and major traffic accidents happened in Canberra but were not sufficiently significant to rule out a child care centre.
The tribunal noted Mitchell is flanked by residential properties in nearby suburbs and further residential development nearby is planned. The light rail project runs along the eastern margin of the suburb and will bring further residential development and reduce opportunity for industrial expansion.
ACT planning guidelines suggest child care locations with access for dropping off and retrieving children, and being on major work routes or easy vehicle access near major work places.
The tribunal concluded child care was in demand, not only from persons working within the suburb, but also from nearby residential areas. The advent of light rail would accelerate that need.
Caption: The light rail route from Gungahlin to the city has helped a developer win support for a proposed child care centre in Mitchell. Photo: John Thistleton.