9 October 2020

Property Council asks who will plan and pay for light rail Stage 2?

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Mick Gentleman

Planning Minister Mick Gentleman said the current planning system was “unruly” and in need of work. Photo: File.

The property industry has thrown down the gauntlet to each of the Assembly’s political parties on where and how they’ll fund light rail’s next stages and how to fix a planning system that many believe is dysfunctional and broken.

Speaking to a roomful of local industry figures at the Property Council’s election debate, Planning Minister Mick Gentleman, Liberals planning spokesman Mark Parton and Greens leader Shane Rattenbury were held to account by a sector that accounts for a substantial chunk of the Territory’s economy.

The industry says Stage 2 light rail project planning needs to start now, and that whoever is in Government must guarantee a minimum apprentice and trainee requirement for the only major infrastructure project on the ACT’s horizons in difficult times.

The Master Builders Association has previously questioned why the ACT Government won’t reveal their planning intentions for Stage 2, and whether high-density development is envisaged around Deakin, Yarralumla and Forrest.

While the ACT building industry has held up better than many others in Australia, the event heard that 1300 jobs have gone from the sector since 14 March, the forward pipeline of jobs is declining and major projects have been cancelled or delayed.

Master Builders CEO Michael Hopkins said the ACT found itself “in a globally competitive fight for scarce private sector investment”. Business-friendly policies were required to make sure capital is invested in the ACT, he said, but nobody should take economic growth for granted.

“The local property and construction sector is a vital part of our economy. We are the second-largest private-sector employer in the ACT and raise $1 billion in taxes annually. The taxes that you in the audience pay will fund the election promises that are currently being made to win your vote.”

Mr Hopkins called for locally privatised tender processes, support for apprentices, building quality reform and completing the current planning review.

But, he said, there was no detailed planning vision for the light rail corridor to Woden to date, a lack of commitment in the Building Confidence Report and no guarantees around employing apprentices on major ACT Government funded projects.

Mark Parton

Liberals planning spokesman Mark Parton has called for “planning honesty”. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

During the debate, Liberal planning spokesman Mark Parton committed to the Shergold Building Confidence Report, and all three politicians responded positively to implementing better Design Review Panel timeframes.

But there was no clarity on the timeline for unlocking the Woden light rail corridor and no nominations for any other major infrastructure projects to kickstart the city’s post-COVID-19 economy.

Calling for “planning honesty”, Mr Parton promised to both “honour the heritage and promote the sustainability” of the city.

He said the Liberals would create 1200 social and affordable housing units, guarantee green space and consultation, enhance opportunities for dual occupancy and process development applications within the statutory time frames.

More social housing was also on the agenda for the Greens, who characterised the pandemic’s aftermath as a chance for a better future and a thorough examination of “how we put ourselves back together”.

Shane Rattenbury

Shane Rattenbury has committed the Greens to more public housing. Photo: Michelle Kroll

Mr Rattenbury said 1000 new social housing units would produce 3000 jobs, and also promised a community compact where consultation on development would be prioritised, and a deal on green plot ratios.

And, he said, the Greens would argue for reform on land releases “for quality outcomes, not just the top dollar”.

Planning Minister Mick Gentleman was frank in acknowledging the lack of trust with the current planning system, describing is as “unruly” and in need of work.

“It currently relies on rules and we need to change that, but we can’t change it overnight,” he said.

“We’re preparing for transformation to an outcomes-based system.”

Mr Gentleman said the government needed to balance sustainability with growth. The current major planning review continues and Mr Gentleman has said during the election campaign that it will be delivered early in the next term if the government is re-elected.

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George Watling1:38 pm 11 Oct 20

Yes the planning system is completely broken.
The government has been approving massive unstainable, antisocial, mirco-block urban infill and new suburb developments across the ACT.
+ In existing suburbs whole streets of homes with yards and shade trees are being bulldozed to make way for a sea of tightly packed townhouses and apartments that overlook each other, have no yards for kids to play in or adult to relax in, no room for shade trees that are needed to make our suburbs livable.
+ In our new suburbs the blocks and nature strips are too small for shade trees. Houses are built cheek by jowl. There aren’t enough parks, playgrounds, or open spaces. Back yards are tiny or don’t exist so kids have to play in their driveways or the street.
+ Sadly research has demonstrated that the majority of the benefits that come from urban infill flow to developers and local governments while everyday people are stuck with the costs of urban infill and those costs include:
– Increased congestion on local roads,
– Reduced privacy as new higher density housing overlook each other and existing homes,
– Reduced access to sunlight as higher density buildings overshadow each other and existing homes,
– Increased noise, air, and light pollution,
– Decreased property values for homes impacted by reduced privacy, access to sunlight, and open spaces, increased light and noise pollution,
– A loss of vegetation that decreases property values, increases local summer temperatures and cooling costs, reduces air quality, and protection from high winds.
– Decreased quality of life for everyone in the densification zone as green gardens and opens spaces disappear and already stretched and underfunded local facilitates and infrastructure buckle under the weight of so many more additional households.

Well said, George. The ACT government – building tomorrow’s slums today.

Lots of incorrect stereotyping in your comment especially about lack of parks in new suburbs and how much space people really have.

But that aside all the issues are common to all Australian cities and are driven by population growth. Happy to hear the solution to the core issue.

HiddenDragon7:10 pm 10 Oct 20

With the RBA said to be contemplating radical options such as negative interest rates, and suggestions that States and Territories can do more to provide fiscal stimulus, the most likely outcome is that the second and any other stages of light rail will be paid for by ratepayers/taxpayers generally in the form of increased Territory debt – regardless of what happens next Saturday.

A “value capture” tax might be a bit difficult to justify with reports of increasing numbers of Canberra units selling at a loss.

Hidden Dragon,
A value capture tax is exactly what should be implemented. Unfortunately, as I’ve said below, that would cost votes, so will never happen.

Capital Retro8:13 am 11 Oct 20

What you are both alluding to is that the Stage 1 light rail’s claim that value capture along Northbourne Avenue has been a failure.

Capital Retro,
No the light rail has done as expected and massively increased the value of land adjacent to the route.

The problem is that the government did not enact a value capture tax along the route and private land holders have reaped massive windfall gains supported by public funds.

Conveniently, their votes also got the ALP across the line at the last election but I’m sure that the pork had nothing to do with it…….

Capital Retro1:56 pm 11 Oct 20

The real losers are the mugs who bought home units along there.

michael quirk6:23 am 10 Oct 20

The answer is no one. There are higher priorities especially social housing, health infrastructure and improving the bus system.
Benefit- cost analysis demonstrated light rail stage one was a poor use of public funds yet the government intends to proceed with the extension to Woden despite its high cost, the lack of value capture opportunities along the route, the possible reduction in peak travel demand from increased working from home, the rapid improvement in electric bus technology, the pandemic’s impact on the economy, without assessment of bus-based alternatives or whether greater environmental benefit could be obtained if light rail funds were used to improve the bus network

Barr, Rattenbury or perhaps Coe, be responsible, defer the project and do the analysis. Projects funded need to be worthy of support and provide the greatest benefit to the community and not unnecessary vanity projects.

How about the beneficiaries of the project actually pay for it?

Oh wait, that would cost votes, wouldn’t it…..

Next you will be asking that the beneficiaries of the roads pay for it. The amount that comes out of general revenue. Or do you only pick and choose when you suggest who should pay? No such comment for anything that you use.

Capital Retro3:23 pm 10 Oct 20

Trying to compare public light rail transport costs with those of private motor vehicle transport costs is like comparing chalk with cheese. The vast majority of Canberrans have never used (and never will use) public transport so they can hardly be called “beneficiaries” of Barr’s and Rattenbury’s vanity project.

The difference being most roads are built to the same level everywhere so we all benefit.

But yes, where a specific road was built that significantly benefitted a group of people beyond the typical amount, they should pay for it.

This is what is usually called a toll road. Perhaps you’ve heard of them?

And no, as I’m not a hypocrite, I’d be perfectly fine with more user pays infrastructure. How about you?

Public transport should be there for all to use, and it should be subsidised as it is now. So it does not depend if one is rich or poor; there is public transport available. It’s a public service. Some of the money used for roads would be better spent on public transport. Not everyone benefits from large roads, as not everyone has a car. Wow, thank you for explaining toll roads. I wondered what my little white thing on my windscreen was for. I agree with your suggestion, that on some roads (in cities, especially in peak hour), tolls are a good thing. It will make more people consider if they really need to drive, and more might make use of public transport (at least after Covid), share ride, cycle or even walk. Yes, I would pay tolls in cities (this would only be practicable on large roads), where alternative ways to travel exist. Country areas, with virtually no public transport and great distances, are different. Not everyone has a car and benefits from a road, or at least ever increasing and larger roads built to accommodate many cars. Those people who walk, cycle and use public transport don’t see the benefit in larger and larger roads (build it and the number of cars using it increases). Some of the money could be used instead to improve and increase public transport and attract more people to that, with more routes and more frequency.

Except this isn’t a public transport project, it’s a land development project.

The government’s own justification for the stage 1 route showed that the majority of the benefit related to land redevelopment rather than transport.

I’m perfectly happy to subsidise a reasonable amount of public transport as a general public service but the options analysis for this project showed the same public transport benefit could be delivered for a fraction of the cost with a dedicated busway.

So why do we need light rail?

Public funding, private benefits. Apparently you are fine with massive subsidies for rich land holders, very strange.

On the one hand you claim that stage 1 light rail was about development, which I agree with then also state that the beneficiaries should pay for it but they don’t as would cost votes.

To me that is a bit of a contraction. If as you rightly point out development has benefited then the territory has benefited from higher land sales and ongoing rates which in turn essentially have and paid for light rail.

And should also point out that the bulk of the road infrastructure is also paid for the same way, the cost of the land pays for the cost of the infrastructure that is needed and rates pay for the ongoing maintenance.

Also the claim that there is no benefit to those that don’t use (or any form of public transport) is also incorrect. Whilst they may not use it the indirect benefits benefit all.

Except the owners can sell their inflated properties and pay nothing for the windfall gain they have received from public funds. The fact that ongoing rates need to be paid on the properties is scant consolation when it’s nowhere near close to the benefit they have gained.

All taxpayers have massively subsidised those owners, who were mostly well off beforehand as well. Only a direct value capture tax before the light rail was built would have been appropriate to make the direct beneficiaries pay at least partially.

“And should also point out that the bulk of the road infrastructure is also paid for the same way,”

Which is why I would support tolls on major roadways for the exact same reason. But roads are usually not built for the potential land development opportunities so it isn’t really comparable.

And the other benefits that we all receive are nowhere near the costs we have paid for it, so it’s clearly an inequitable solution.

It truly astounds me that typically left wing people in Canberra support such a blatant wealth transfer from public funds to wealthy land holders.

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