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More honesty needed for Canberra’s master plans

By Paul Costigan 8 July 2015 13

dickson-shops-P1070328

A study of the ACT’s master planning processes reveals thorough research and consultations to produce a range of comprehensive documents on options for many of Canberra’s established shopping centres.

Despite all this seemingly good work, many Canberra residents feel disenfranchised by the planning system and have little respect for our planning and development bureaucrats. What’s the problem?

In an ideal world (it’s out there somewhere), master planning allows for community engagement on all options for particular precincts. It should allow aspirations and ideas to be discussed in an open and transparent forum. People understand that all of their dreams may not be realised but that a good master plan provides a broad outline of what could be achieved.

curtinshops-01Here’s a typical announcement, in this case used for the current master plan underway for the Curtin shops:

“The ACT Government is preparing a master plan for the Curtin group centre to explore options to improve existing public spaces, diversify housing options and make the centre more accessible for all.”

There are several of these shopping centres currently subject to a master plan process, such as Dickson, Weston and Mawson—as well as others sites including Yarralumla next to the Brickworks.

Mawson-P1110494

I have attended several forums on developments and master plans over recent years (a sad statement on my lifestyle maybe!) and along with many residents have spotted the common threads to the way the government goes about these undertakings.

Too often these master plan exercises are smoke and mirrors designed to gather notional community agreements for the sale of public land and the subsequent development of residential apartments and/or more supermarkets.

As in the above statement about the Curtin shops, in reality these consultations have little to do with a revamp of the current building stock as they are now all owned by finance and/or development companies. These companies are collecting rents while waiting for the rules to change to allow them to build high-rise within these centres.

Dickson-planning

There was a revealing incident when the Dickson master plan was in its early stages. A local was in a bank queue and overheard a developer on his phone encouraging developers from Canberra and elsewhere to attend the next master plan meeting to ensure that the residents did not have the majority say.

Another incident was when people showed up in large numbers in good faith to commence a consultation process about options for the community site known as Section 72 Dickson, or as we like to call it, the Dickson cultural parklands. The agenda became clear when the chief bureaucrat for the night introduced himself as being from the housing branch of government.

The first question was whether his presence was a clear signal that the government had commenced these consultations on the basis that the site was to have new residential apartments built on it. His answer was evasive and the subsequent meetings made it clear that while the community was looking for community facilities, this was not the main game of the government.

There are many more instances where the government’s agenda has been about opportunistic land sales and to encourage apartment development in precincts not previously designated for residential development.

Most residents have a clear understanding of how government budgets are structured: that we need to have an increasing amount of income to try to match the ever-increasing call for expenditures. And most would understand the need to sell selected sites until other forms of revenue raising can be identified.

The experience of residents is that agencies approach these master plan exercises and other consultations dishonestly. Again I say, some of the documentation is of a high calibre and is very convincing. The master plan processes while looking sort of friendly are more often the means of plonking into the inner suburbs far bigger and uglier developments than anyone could have imagined.

The ACT politicians need to adopt a mature rather than underhand approach to how they engage with residents on planning and development of this wonderful city. ACT politicians are yet to display any grasp of the benefits of real and open community engagement and to move away from the current perceived understanding that the Canberra community are all nut jobs.

If all cards were put on the table and open and transparent conversations were had with residents, residents would most likely work with the government to see the best outcomes on all levels: being about government finances, community amenity, redevelopments to have more people reside in the inner suburbs, climate change adaptation, as well as redevelopments that enhance the health and well being of the community.

And developers would have certainty and could have avoided such disasters, as in Dickson, whereby the developers spent heaps on their supermarket proposals and have had to dump all that and engaged new architects to come up with something acceptable (hopefully).

The real question here is whether our politicians can bring about a change in culture within our planning and development agencies, or whether they need to install a new style of planning and development agency that would have equity, transparency and engagement with the community and business sectors as its reason for existence?

These issues should be addressed before the ACT elections later in 2016.


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13 Responses to
More honesty needed for Canberra’s master plans
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Arthur Davies 4:36 pm 13 Jul 15

Innovation said :

A very good article. I’ve wondered also if other tactics used are unnecessarily tight deadlines for feedback, consultation and deadlines over holiday periods, and repeated drafts with limited variations to wear down and reduce dissenters.

Stop wondering, they are all well established standard practice, I have seen them all repeatedly used.

Another one is to stop assembly members getting first hand information, we prepared basic data in separately addressed to each assembly member last year. NOT ONE member received their mail, all were taken by miners/office staff. When I queried this on 666 chief minister talk back, the then chief minister was ver surprised I queried it & said on air that it was standard practice to open all mail & pass the mail on to the appropriate person, i.e. NOT to the addressee!!! No wonder we are in trouble. Anyone interested in the history of this, look up my first article in RiotACT, putting my name at the top of the RiotACT page in the query section will find it

Arthur Davies

Innovation 11:23 am 12 Jul 15

A very good article. I’ve wondered also if other tactics used are unnecessarily tight deadlines for feedback, consultation and deadlines over holiday periods, and repeated drafts with limited variations to wear down and reduce dissenters.

rommeldog56 9:55 am 12 Jul 15

Bmb said :

Yes. These fake consultations for developments no one wants have to stop. It all has to stop.

We need to investigate the relationships between developers and the ACT Government.

Can we please have an alternative to vote for at the next election?

If u want to investigate the relationship between the ACT Gov’t & developers, just look at the uncapping of the limit on political donations & the increases in the $ paid by ratepayers to ACT political parties for each vote they get. It’s unbelieveable and probably will be a corruption of the political process because the major parties will attract much more/larger donations (which they need fto campaign in the new 5 electorates) – independs & minor parties probably will not. Any who will likely be big donors to the ACT Labor/Greens I wonder……..

There is an alternative – but its probably not seen as viable, at least at this stage. An alternative view is to “give them a go” – and if that doesn’t work, vote them out in 4 years too. The major political parties will get the message about good decision making and fiscal priority setting, eventually. If we don’t, it’s more of the same for ever I’m afraid !

I just hope that there will be a few independents who will get elected to the Legislative Assesmbly (an unlikely event, I admit) and who will sit on the cross benches and vote on proposals on a cses by case basis.

However, with the ACT Greens widely regarded as potentially picking up 2 searts at the 2016 election, & if they continue to be a formal part of the ACT labor Gov’t, it looks like it will be more of the same.

rommeldog56 9:41 am 12 Jul 15

HiddenDragon said :

“….. And most would understand the need to sell selected sites until other forms of revenue raising can be identified…..”

If other forms of revenue could be identified, I think that would have happened by now – so it’s basically selling off and re-zoning land and rapidly rising rates. Lack of scale, and costs of doing business, place serious limits on the sorts of non-government economic activity which can be developed and retained in this town.

rather than the much critised tram, I would rrather see the b$1+ cost to be met by ACT ratepayers, invested in encouragement to business to set up in the ACT to widen the revenue raising base.

Personally, I can not see that the artifical increases of 10% avg pa for 20-25 years (read pa for ever !) for Annual Raters and the other rapidly increasing ACT Gov’t charges is going to encourage businesses to establish here and so widen the revenue raising base (so alleviating the need to rely on Annual Rates/Stamp Duties).

Its as if the ACT Gov’t has identified that so many ACT Ratepayers and voters are too apathetic to care about that – that they are easy, perhaps highly paid (compared to the rest of Oz), targets for revenue raising.

JC 11:20 pm 11 Jul 15

Bmb said :

I don’t know where my comment went, but Arthur – you are right. Planning was more thoughtful and successful under the NCDC.

Really? Most of the planning issues we face now are as a direct result of decisions made during the NCDC days.

Public transport is poor because of the principle behind the Y plan. Eg people would mostly live, work and play in their own town centre.

Every suburb needed a supermarket.

Yep NCDC planning at its finest. Though must admit at the time, they felt they were doing the right thing, but time has proven that wrong, very wrong.

Bmb 11:12 pm 10 Jul 15

I don’t know where my comment went, but Arthur – you are right. Planning was more thoughtful and successful under the NCDC.

Bmb 11:11 pm 10 Jul 15

Arthur Davies said :

Back then the developers/builders were told what was to be built where & when. That system was far from perfect, we all complained about it, but it was better than now, professional people were employed to do their best for the ACT, not for vested interests. Seems contradictory that those people did better when given a job to do largely without political oversight, than they do now with political interference all the time.

Planning in Canberra was undoubtedly more thoughtful and successful under the NCDC.

Bmb 11:09 pm 10 Jul 15

Yes. These fake consultations for developments no one wants have to stop. It all has to stop.

We need to investigate the relationships between developers and the ACT Government.

Can we please have an alternative to vote for at the next election?

Zultan 8:35 am 10 Jul 15

In the same vein, around the redevelopment of Higgins oval a spokesman for Economic Development Minister Andrew Barr said future uses of the site would be determined once the demolition was approved..

Yet, if you download the demolition application pack, in one of the emails attached (from Indesco to the Gas company) it says:

“The development proposal is for an aged care facility made up of the following:
· 242 independent units
· 110 aged care facility beds
· 500m2 clubhouse
· 900m2 childcare facility (Places for 120 children)”

It seems like a decision has already been made.

HiddenDragon 6:03 pm 08 Jul 15

“….. And most would understand the need to sell selected sites until other forms of revenue raising can be identified…..”

If other forms of revenue could be identified, I think that would have happened by now – so it’s basically selling off and re-zoning land and rapidly rising rates. Lack of scale, and costs of doing business, place serious limits on the sorts of non-government economic activity which can be developed and retained in this town.

Arthur Davies 5:22 pm 08 Jul 15

I was here before “self govt” was foisted onto a very unwilling electorate, when the NCDC planned Canberra. I remember an NCDC person knocking on the door & asking us what we felt Canberra need in the way of future facilities. Had a pleasant discussion over a cup of tea for quite some time (early 70s I think). They were asking for input long before plans were being drawn up. My experience, being involved services design in the past, is that once a project gets to the detailed plans stage it is almost impossible to change much, too many people have developed a vested intellectual interest in their design (if not a financial one). Back then the developers/builders were told what was to be built where & when. That system was far from perfect, we all complained about it, but it was better than now, professional people were employed to do their best for the ACT, not for vested interests. Seems contradictory that those people did better when given a job to do largely without political oversight, than they do now with political interference all the time.

Back then of course the Govt saw its job as providing affordable housing by various means & providing a good environment to live & work in. It did not see the citizens as an endless source of money, as seems to be the case now. Back then the ACT was the most heavily taxed electorate, there were no streets paved with gold then either. Of course this brings us to the need for the ACT to be properly resourced, which is not currently the case. The Feds do not pay any taxes to the ACT, no rates, payroll tax, stamp duty, GST etc. The Feds claim that the Commonwealth Grants Commission adjusts our annual grant to cover this, it is not so, but maybe this should be the subject of another article in the future. (States lose around 5% of their revenue from the Feds paying no tax, we lose around 50%! This is an arrangement dating back to Federation I think).

Sometimes I think, instead of having our own Assembly, we should have been given seats on the board of the Developer’s Association, & the Real Estate Agents Association. The need for money to run the territory makes the Assembly very vulnerable to their influences. The perception is certainly there if not the reality.

Arthur

bryansworld 1:00 pm 08 Jul 15

I feel like the ACT Government rolls over to developers too easily. Sure, we all want renewal and improvement, but all too often it seems to result in semi-temporary junk built down to a price, maximising someone’s profits. Isn’t the role of government to moderate and guide development so it produces good, long-term, sustainable outcomes that benefit the population as a whole?

ungruntled 11:48 am 08 Jul 15

Mr Costigan,

thank you so much for putting this issue so well. I think you have given voice to issues which are troubling so many of Canberra’s residents.

The other issue that I see tied in with this, is that these developments seem to be planned & go ahead without much thought as to how the small businesses in the area to be “developed” will be effected, only the big shops like Woolies & Coles. However, I have observed that (at least in Dickson & Civic) the small business are, are being, or are about to be, decimated.

These comprise our employers, our taxpayers, our community.

I have been unable to find any real indications that this government (or opposition) has any substantial plan to develop employment in the ACT.

The Federal government treats the ACT like a punching bag in terms of jobs here. Our ACT government does not defend us vigorously from these attacks.

Unless we develop & protect our own sources of employment, the constant grab to take land & make it into ever smaller & more expensive parcels.

I cannot express these things as articulately as you have done Mr Costigan, but if there are gaps in my facts, or better ways to explain, I am sure there will be someone out there who can say it better.

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