If there is any single issue in the ACT that fires up the community it is planning, which is unsurprising given Canberra is the national capital and the most planned city in the nation.
It is also a city that is still growing and changing. And change can be difficult.
Land is also Canberra’s currency, and how it is released and developed and re-developed, has ramifications for government, the quality of its services and the wellbeing of its citizens.
Planning is a key area for any government. It requires a minister who is across a complex brief, pro-active and involved, with the drive to engage productively with both the bureaucracy and the community.
Sadly it appears that is not what the ACT has.
Mick Gentleman has been Planning Minister since 2014, adding Land Management in 2016, and while it can be a thankless task when there are such diverse views, his performance has been less than inspirational, and it appears communities from Gungahlin to Molonglo have lost faith in him.
Those developing areas have been plagued by poor planning that has left community services as afterthoughts, and in Gungahlin’s case, seem to have it condemned to dormitory town status.
A common theme also appears to be cherry-picked consultation so that the community ends up getting the exact outcomes that it did not want.
The Gungahlin Town Centre refresh was largely instigated by the community, resulting in Draft Variation 364, which the Gungahlin Community Council believes should be abandoned because it fails to represent the community’s views, particularly on the amount of land that should be reserved for job-generating commercial space.
The recent Legislative Assembly committee report on DV364 calls for, among other things, the scrapping of a provision that would reduce commercial space retained from 100,000 square metres to 65,000 square metres.
The GCC has been in a running battle with the government and the planning authority over the creep of high-density residential development in the Town Centre, worried that there will be no space left for commercial and office space.
Its frustration with the Minister culminated in a claim that Mr Gentleman had given up creating the economically vibrant Town Centre that was promised.
There has also been frustration about the slow pace of land release for community and recreational needs in Gungahlin, particularly near the Casey Group Centre.
The GCC says the government seems to be unwilling to use whatever levers it can to foster employment in the Town Centre or give the community any certainty about the facilities that are needed, such as setting specific requirements in leases so services and recreational needs are met.
The community will have to wait for yet another study before there can be any action.
In Molonglo, Coombs is a case study in how not to plan a new suburb, with an empty shopping centre and community space that was too expensive to be used.
The government has had to intervene so the space is affordable, and has committed to build a community centre as part of the new Coombs and Wright Village. Interestingly, Mr Gentleman was not involved in either initiative.
After promising at the 2020 election to fast-track the Molonglo Group Centre, the government has delayed a land release for a further two years.
The rub here is that it is blaming the community, saying it wanted more consultation and just one complete release instead of a piecemeal approach.
That has infuriated the Molonglo Valley Community Forum, which has been frustrated by the lack of communication from government.
And according to the latest Indicative Land Release, blocks are still going to be released in stages.
For the established areas, the issues are more about infill development, density and the fudging of planning rules, but unfortunately, the pattern of poor communication, ignoring community feeling and inertia is the same.
Where Mr Gentleman has imposed his will this year – calling in the Canberra Hospital expansion and the new Kenny High School – it appeared more like window dressing as their approval was hardly in doubt.
As stated at the beginning, planning is Canberra’s hot potato and it is impossible to please everyone, especially as the gap between older and younger Canberrans’ expectations appears to be more pronounced.
But that just means whoever is in charge needs to have the drive, commitment and communication skills to be upfront with the community and have a much more interactive, dynamic relationship with the planning directorate.
In the Assembly on Friday, Mr Gentleman left it to new MLA Marisa Paterson to head off a motion on the Molonglo Group Centre from Liberal Giulia Jones, making a paltry contribution himself that Mrs Jones roundly condemned.
Mr Gentleman seems neither comfortable, knowledgeable nor genuinely interested enough to be effective. And to some, it comes across as arrogance.
Or perhaps he has been there too long and grown accustomed to deferring to the directorate.
He seems on safer ground as Police and Emergency Service Minister, although Corrections is a tough job for anyone.
But there are too many fronts opening up around the Minister, and he has too few allies in the community.
While the alternatives are few, it is time he moved on from the role.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr already carries a heavy burden, but he would bring gravitas and intellectual capacity to the role that is missing, and he does not really have to be Climate Change Minister.
The other possibilities are the rising Chris Steel, whose Transport and City Services role would sit comfortably with Planning and Land Management, or Suburban Development Minister Yvette Berry.
Whoever is in the role will have to drive the Planning Review to its conclusion, heal rifts with the community and do something about the delays to community infrastructure that residents in Canberra’s newer areas are enduring.