5 December 2018

Planning strategy paves way for more infill, dual occupancy

| Ian Bushnell
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Chief Planner Ben Ponton and Planning and Land Management Minister Mick Gentleman at the launch of the new Planning Strategy on Mt Ainslie. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

The densification of Canberra is set to gather pace with the great majority of new housing in the ACT to occur within existing suburbs as urban infill or through the carving up of large residential blocks for dual occupancy development. The ACT Government Planning Strategy Refresh released today says about 100,000 new homes will be needed between 2018 and 2041 to cater for a projected population of 589,000, equating to almost 12 new homes a day.

It outlines a ‘compact and efficient’ city, where urban spread will be limited and growth catered for through increased density around town and group centres and along major transport routes, with up to 70 per cent of new housing built within the existing urban footprint.

The only new greenfield areas in the strategy are in Canberra’s west.

As Chief Minister Andrew Barr has often argued, the strategy says the continuous greenfield expansion of Canberra is unsustainable.

“This growth pattern would not support a compact and efficient city. It would increase our travel times and decrease transport options, increase our ecological footprint and infrastructure servicing costs and would not support equitable access to services,’’ it says.

Planning and Land Management Minister Mick Gentleman believes the strategy, including the 70/30 housing split, strikes the right balance and is what the community has been asking for.

He rejected suggestions that essential bush character of Canberra will be compromised.

“The bush capital is here to stay, that’s what Canberrans want to see and that’s what we want to deliver as well,” he said.

Mr Gentleman said infill development was cheaper and would deliver more affordable and diverse housing choices for the community.

To suggestions that people seeking a detached house instead of an apartment or townhouse might cross the border, Mr Gentleman insisted there would be plenty of opportunity for people to reside the way they want to in the ACT.

The strategy is at pains to stress that while there will be increased density, care will be taken to retain the bush capital setting and access to green space.

It says that with climate change already impacting the city, Canberra will need to future-proof itself to mitigate the urban heat island effect with living infrastructure, such as increased tree coverage, parks and waterways, as well as green roofs and walls.

The risks of climate change will be incorporated into urban planning and design processes for major infrastructure projects and new estates, as well as ‘climate-wise’ guidelines being provided to developers, builders and tradespeople.

Chief Planner Ben Ponton that next year’s review of the Territory Plan would deal with the ‘nuts and bolts’ of where these key areas would be developed and would be seeking real outcomes.

“I have made it very clear both to the community and industry that what we’ll be looking for there is an outcomes-based plan,” he said. “What we’re hearing is that those high-quality public spaces are incredibly important to people. And what we’ve seen all over the world is investment in those high quality public spaces is critically important if we expect people to live in height in the city.”

Mr Ponton said the planning authority would be working with industry and the community on these measures, which would be a necessary requirement of infill development to ensure high-quality public spaces.

The strategy says there is potential for about 29,000 new homes in existing greenfield areas, sufficient until the second half of the 2030s.

It identifies new areas for urban development in the west of Canberra, beyond the Weston Creek and Molonglo districts, despite it being in the path of the devastating 2003 bushfires.

“This area appears to have few significant environmental and infrastructure constraints and is close to existing urban areas, providing good access to facilities, services and employment,’’ it says.

It rules out West Murrumbidgee, Western Greenway, Central Molonglo and other areas due to the ‘complexity of environmental, landscape and community values’.

The Kowen Plateau was also not considered due to significant infrastructure and sustainability issues related to its distance from urban Canberra.

But these areas may be re-examined in future reviews of the Planning Strategy.

The strategy foreshadows a major change to Canberra residential suburbs with the opening up of RZ1 and RZ2 zones to dual occupancy development, taking into account factors such as block sizes, appropriate residential densities, character and streetscape, access to public transport, house sizes, solar access and site access.

Expect more townhouses and unit development near local shops, while the Town Centres and transport corridors, particularly for light rail, will see more high-rise apartment blocks.

The strategy recommends an investigation of the City-Woden light rail route for potential urban intensification, as has occurred along the Northbourne Avenue corridor.

While this all points to a more crowded city, the strategy says infill could provide opportunities for walking and cycling, promoting a healthy lifestyle and contributing to liveability.

It also recommends an overhaul of the ACT’s centres hierarchy policy, which Canberra appears to have outgrown.

Calling Civic the heart of Canberra, the strategy sees it developing as a true city centre, supporting the growth of commercial and residential developments and the City Renewal Authority’s initiatives to revitalise the city, while retaining green space and sunshine.

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Well there you go. Apparently Canberra does have a planning strategy – not that you’d know.

The ACT Government has made money by selling off Public Housing properties, saved money by not building new Public Housing to meet population growth and increased Land Tax that has driven up Rent prices for vulnerable renters.

Just more signs of that this Governments drive for revenue, is being put ahead of its concerns for the well-being of the Territories citizens.

What is the infatuation with Civic being the focal point? Who cares about the city centre? None of my interests, of any kind are located there. The real estate “industry” bangs on and on about convenience of restaurants, shopping and a beautiful, trendoid lifestyle. So what?! They have no meaningful attraction to sell.

They can bang on about sustainability and global warning as much as they like but have no answer to the fact that planet Earth is still re-warming from the last ice age and has another 5,000 years or so to reach peak warming. Welcome to slums and ghetto’s.

How can Minister Gentleman bang on about Urban Infill at the same time as he goes into a $260 million dollar partnership with Corkhill Brothers to build a new Suburb of houses that straddles across the ACT and NSW borders.

Proper evidence based urban planning and design has completely eroded under the various ACT Governments since 2000.

It’s about the mix.

As he is quoted as saying in the article.

“Planning and Land Management Minister Mick Gentleman believes the strategy, including the 70/30 housing split, strikes the right balance and is what the community has been asking for.“

And frankly hard to argue with it. Land in the ACT is finite.

Not saying it’s wrong but it’s actually quite easy to argue with it.

There are vast swathes of untouched developable Greenfield land in the ACT, the government is simply making an active choice not to develop them (at this time).

It’s a bit rich to purposely push people into infill apartments by offering little alternative and then turn around and claim you’re just giving the community what they’re asking for.

The vast majority of people when surveyed still want to live in single detached dwellings, the current offerings are simply limited and extremely high cost.

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