There have been recent reports that the controversial Dickson supermarket proposal continues to be debated behind closed doors within the government planning bureaucracy.
Residents have devoted hours (days!) attempting to convince this government that residents are not opposed to changes within the shopping centre. It is just that this particular proposal is so wrong for Dickson. People are annoyed by the way this government is not transparently dealing with the concerns being raised. The most obvious issues are:
- As a signature building for the precinct, residents were looking for something aesthetically pleasing; however the current proposal delivers a monster bland box.
- This building will not address fundamental environmental issues (yes that includes climate change).
- The building will dominate the precinct and result in the closure of many small businesses – as the Canberra Centre did to the former Civic businesses.
Over and above these concerns, there are other matters that continue to upset residents.
I was reminded today of the early conversations residents had on the subject of whether Dickson should have a second supermarket. There was support for such a concept and discussions on what sorts of delicatessens and/or supermarkets would be appropriate and provide competition to the present Big Box retailer.
What has upset people is that if the present inappropriate proposal goes ahead there will be even more Big Box retailers and many small shops will close. The government has been playing with the truth and is using spin to usher in this unsuitable multiple Big Box supermarket proposal. As the government delivered in Civic with the expanded Canberra Centre, there will be many ‘for lease’ signs around the Dickson shops.
Another annoyance is the manner in which development decisions continue to be made. Residents were involved in numerous consultations about the whole Dickson commercial precinct in the hope of seeing positive changes. Rather than something visionary, we now have a ‘master plan’ that is more of a wish list and is not tied to any planning legislation. Developers can ignore the master plan.
As a result of dubious consultation processes, the supermarket proposal that came forward bears no relation to the aspirations of the residents. It would be easy to blame the developer (and why not) but the reality is that they do what they do because this government’s planning regime allows them to do so.
This government’s consultations on urban matters are regarded as games of smoke and mirrors that result in questionable justifications for the sale of the land. The deal for the Dickson supermarket has been done, the money is in the bank and the residents can only tinker with some of the finer details. Residents fully suspect that the final proposal will be way outside the residents’ requests and aspirations. Sadly it has always been thus in recent decades in Canberra.
Finally residents believe they elect local politicians to deliver good government (such optimism). But it seems that when it comes to planning and development decisions the politicians hide behind the scurrilous excuse that they have to leave such decisions to their professional planning bureaucrats.
So the issues are:
- Despite having a policy of increasing supermarket competition, this government failed to deliver alternatives to the Big Box retailers.
- The government planning processes are not resident friendly and are not transparent.
- The politicians continue to hide behind the discredited notion of the independence of their planning authority instead of listening to residents.
The forthcoming decisions on the Dickson shops will be an indicator of the commitment of local politicians to the voters, the residents. It has been suggested that if the current Dickson supermarket proposal goes ahead, that residents should use the next ACT election to send a message to the Chief Minister who is also the Minister for Urban Development.
Of course, we will have to wait and see what happens in Dickson (and elsewhere in Canberra such as Yarralumla). So watch this space!