26 February 2018

Is the government continuing to make a mess of the Dickson Parklands?

| Paul Costigan
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Dickson Parklands. Photo: Paul Costigan.

Dickson Parklands. Photo: Paul Costigan.

The Dickson Parklands is an important site for the inner north. Yet despite this, various agencies and Ministers have, over a number of years, made a complete mess of how a government deals with residents over such a site.

Residents have seen the development of a notional master plan for the commercial area that, for some reason, ignored the presence of the Parklands even though it is located alongside the shopping centre and anything that happens to either site has an affect on the other.

Residents saw many trees threatened to make way for a car park as a result of inept planning for the sale and possible construction of a new supermarket complex on the present carpark.

At the time of the 2014 consultations, Block 25 (the old Downer Club site) was frequently spoken about as being earmarked for an aged person’s facility – and this was very much accepted within the discussions. This option has disappeared to be replaced by the current agenda to deal with the government’s own lack of forward planning on other social housing requirements.

There has been doubt and mystery about the future use of sections on the site, given the nature of the land deal between the former LDA and the Tradies. There have been several announcements that indicated that the government was keen to build apartment towers on the site.

The perception of residents is that the government has not approached the future of this site openly. Instead, it has run various agendas to achieve a range of political outcomes, despite a very clear difference of opinions and aspirations, as expressed by residents on numerous occasions.

These painful and time-consuming experiences have left residents very wary of approaches by this government and its agencies to undertake any development of the Parklands site. It is very much a mess of its own making.

Dickson Parklands. Photo: Paul Costigan.

Dickson Parklands. Photo: Paul Costigan.

Then there are the issues around what the Chief Minister is now pushing – Canberra needs more tall buildings.

The ACT Government has a terrible reputation on the delivery of attractive and well-designed taller buildings. This history/ legacy is the biggest stumbling block to bringing residents onboard to agree that sites such as the Dickson Parklands could include tall buildings (more than three storeys).

In theory, if presented with sound reasons and good architecture and landscape architecture, it should be possible to obtain agreement from residents that some tall buildings (taller than presently allowed for) could add to the ambience of the site.

But this would have to be an outcome of solid planning and thorough consultations whereby the outcome was logical.

As illustrated in recent press reports, the present Chief Minister’s agenda is that tall buildings are necessary – with no logical accompanying reasoning.

There has been nothing in recent statements that signals the community would not just get more of the same boring and inappropriate bland boxes – and that they will be plonked wherever the developers deem to be best for progress (read: profits).

For the argument for well designed taller buildings to be advanced in a mature fashion, it will require some very intelligent and creative approaches by ACT politicians and the planning agencies, and for everyone to be encouraged to think outside the box.

One essential ingredient would be a completely new strategy to deliver aesthetically pleasing and well-designed architecture with enhanced landscape-designed areas.

If a new approach to dealing with these issues cannot be put into place, the prediction would be years of fighting over having taller structures on this and other sites.

Some locals received a notice late last week that there will be sessions held in Dickson, last night and next week. See the details here.

Dickson Parklands. Photo: Paul Costigan.

Dickson Parklands. Photo: Paul Costigan.

As for the consultations, it has become very evident that these are being staged to justify the government’s desire to place certain facilities on this site.

But more puzzling has been the reactions to the release of the Auditor General’s report on the LDA – Tradies deal.

Residents have been puzzled by the Planning Minister’s reactions – along the lines of the issues have now been ‘put to bed’.

We assume that means – ‘nothing to see here’, ‘turn off the lights and everyone go home’.

People disagree – as there have been several blocks within Dickson shopping centre already quietly rezoned, as well as those infamous technical amendments that rezoned community sites around Canberra, including the Dickson Parklands.

I suspect people would rather the government leave those lights on for a while yet.

People need to know what is going on with deals over community sites, land swaps and how the government is desperately having to use community sites to deal with its own problems of not having enough planning in place for a range of social housing.

I suggest these political issues have relevance across many communities in Canberra and should be discussed openly as part of the Parklands consultations.

A pdf copy of my submission on the Dickson Parklands is available here.

No surprises – it is about planning.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Share them in the comments section below.

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Interesting – stage 2 of consultation has been released today – (https://www.yoursay.act.gov.au/dickson-section-72).

Two ‘scenarios’ are shown on , with the main gist being multiple 3/4 or 4-6 story residential buildings, with some minor tweaking of paths, roads etc…

I would have liked to see some additional community use facilities, like a playground and cafe/restaurant areas.

But, my big concern lies in the proposed layout for the buildings – they nearly all run north/south, which means units will have large areas of glazing east/west. Building layouts should be used as an example of good orientation, for solar passive design.

The Parklands are a great location to have community facilities, including things like the Men’s Shed, childcare centres things like an old age home. However, it is also a brilliant location to have higher density housing (including public housing) and hotels. It is well served by the shops, public transport and services, is unlikely to overshadow existing low density residential and is in a current state of disprepair.

Ideally, it would retain some of the community use facilties in the existing location, add a medium tower or three in the old church/downer club and union sites and add a few restaurant/cafe/commercial sites. A six to eight storey limit (as long as they are set back from the strip of greenery at the drain would be perfect.

(And Paul, some of us would prefer a glass box type of architecture, than the brick and stonework of Europe you seem to want to impose here)

Cool ‘parklands’ bro.

A more mean-spirited person might hope that the Government leaves it as it is and let the derelict buildings become squats and all the joy that will bring the local residents.

Well I did say last week it was about time for this timeless gem to get another run on Riotact…. this must be about article #30 about these “parklands”.

I wish it would stop being pretended that something amazing would be being lost through (considered) development of the parts of this site that are currently not utilised. Just to provide some balance, here is another view of the most significant unused part of the “Parklands” site in question – the old Downer club site:


Here is a view of the open space near the Salvation Army building:

This angle gives a nice oversight of the two together:

Assuming that the same approach is adopted to where it all ended up in 2015 – i.e. those two sites were the focus of the development, then what precisely is being lost?

I’ve seen nothing to suggest any serious consideration is being made of moving the pool – but if it stays in place, and other facilities remain, as per the 2015 proposal, then those sites above are the two major areas where more development may occur. If the pool site was to also be developed, then its an entirely different story of course.

The linked submission just reads like ‘throw every single thought bubble out there, hoping something will stick to stop this’… For instance, lack of playgrounds in Dickson. Perhaps there is need for further play equipment that isn’t being met currently – but there is a massive open space just next door called the Dickson playing fields that could easily host such facilities.

I am all for considered development of this site, taking the reasonable concerns of the community into account. It is in a good location – lets find the best use for it.

I couldn’t believe when I saw this article after your comment last week.

Seems the author is continuing his NIMBY ways, only wanting development types, densities and designs that he personally agrees with and continuing the falsehood that this land is some sort of well utilised “parklands” when nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s under utilised inner city land, near the new light rail route that is perfect for urban infill. If there were significant services and amenity being lost, he might have an argument but there isn’t and he doesn’t.

Haha Chewy it was just a matter of time until the next article on these delightful parklands. We quite often agree on many things, but in particular this one.

I’m all for good development in this city – but it would be good if the focus was more on the developments of real concern where its blatantly obvious that better outcomes could be achieved. This site, as you say is a perfect candidate for urban infill.

I admire the advocacy and perseverance of the author on all matters development and planning wise. But I just don’t understand the obsession with this one, I really don’t. Nor do I understand the repeated attempts to present this site in question as something entirely different to what it actually is.

The problem is the author could make a positive stand and advocate for specific changes to the planning act or specific general zoning rules to improve urban planning and development design as a whole and he might have a point.

He could advocate politically for candidates who support his vision to be elected to the Legislative assembly.

But these articles simply come off as a NIMBY whinge from someone who doesn’t like the changing landscape of the city, particularly around his own area, despite the government being elected by the people again and again. Whether you support their vision or not, they are the elected government and have spelt out their plans repeatedly over many years in many strategy and policy documents. It’s undemocratic to expect something different than what has been outlined.

For example, I personally fundamentally disagree with the implementation of light rail because there were better options that could have been chosen and better ways to pay for it, but the government outlined their stance and won the election. You can’t then turn around and consistently complain about them implementing that plan, you can only highlight real, factual problems with the plan.

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