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Tale of two parklands and a missing master plan

By Paul Costigan - 31 May 2017 10

Very strange things happen in the urban design planning space in Canberra.

It is possible that two events can take place just a short distance from each other, yet play out as if they were on totally different planets – or is it a case of parallel universes?

First story: The news is looking good for the future of Haig Park. The work on the master plan has progressed at a pace and all indications are that those running the show are listening. That may sound like something normal but for many who have suffered through the master plan processes, it is indeed a very welcomed change.

The work on Haig Park is starting to come up with some interesting and original solutions. I like the sound of those ‘rooms’ or ‘zones’ where various activities can take place.

I wish them well in dealing with the heritage lobby that will probably try to not have those lines of trees altered. The question should not be about defending those particular trees, but about making sure that enough greenery is put back.

The ACT Government agency running this process is to be congratulated.

Let’s hope that the delivery stage is not too far away and that the community aspirations will be addressed.

Second story: Meanwhile in Dickson there has been endless discussions about the future of the Dickson Parklands. The latest episode can only be described as being Machiavellian politics at work.

How is it that the same government that is overseeing the successful master plan processes for Haig Park – one suburb away – can also be carrying out duplicitous actions to undermine the documented wishes of the local communities?

There has been numerous ‘consultations’ with residents, being very well attended gatherings. All ideas were put forward for those running the sessions to consider and then taken away so that they could bring back ideas based on those aspirations.

Instead, what people heard, was how the LDA had taken the words of the residents and somehow – totally mysteriously – interpreted that to mean that site needed to be sold off for loads of housing.

People had to be held back from throwing their chairs at those who had pretended to have ‘consulted’.

As you can guess those ‘consultations’ stalled and not much was heard for a couple of years. Meanwhile, yet another building caught fire on the site.

Then a week ago the new management of North Canberra Community Council (NCCC) suddenly slotted the topic of the Parklands onto an agenda – just days out from a meeting.

That short notice meant that many people with an interest in the Parklands were not able to attend. This is a hot topic given that it is the last piece of community land in this area and its importance is increasing as the surrounding suburbs are undergoing major changes resulting in a rapid increase in residents.

There was a very well researched presentation (hastily put together given the short notice) by Jane Goffman on the history of the site and how we ended up where we are now with a complex parkland site being used for a variety of uses and how things are being plonked onto the site – without – a master plan.

This despite years of request for such a master plan to be undertaken before any more changes are made to the whole site known locally as The Dickson Parklands – or by the cold and clinical bureaucratic title – Section 72 Dickson.

The term “parklands’ represents the nature of the site – being loads of trees and some grasslands – but also a mix of community and cultural facilities.

Once the presentation was over, we thought we were to discuss how to get a master plan undertaken. To everyone’s surprise we were told that master plans have been deemed to be no longer possible and that we do not need one for the Dickson Parklands. The shock was that the statement came from those who recently took over the running of the NCCC.

Their words were quickly backed up by a Labor Minister present – who had said that she was attending as a resident. However, she did not stay in resident mode for long. She boldly stated that her government was to demolish the community centre to build another Common Ground tower as had been recently built in Gungahlin.

Apparently, it was an election promise (a surprise to most) and so they have to deliver it. This despite requests from the local community for no more changes (new buildings etc) before a plan for the future of the Parklands is in place. This is not opposition against another Common Ground – but a plea for planning rather than just plonking things on the site in an ad hoc manner.

But I am so glad she and her party hadn’t quietly promised to build a nuclear power plant on the Parklands.

The new NCCC leaders were onside with the attending Minister and all spoke with the same voice. Have we redefined community representation?

Is this the last gasp of the Machiavellian development processes as we have all suffered through the LDA’s infamous crash through and destroy planning processes.

The LDA mantra was well known: “We came (when residents least expect it), we saw (wonderful community open spaces/ land banks), we sold (to friendly developers) and concreted all that was available (away with all those pesky trees)”.

On the night it sounded as though the newly locally elected Labor politician and NCCC executive shared a lack of enthusiasm for doing what the community has frequently requested.

That is: do a Master Plan (any planning would be a change) – to consider potential community and cultural facilities; to enhance the place for the surrounding growing neighbourhoods; and maybe plan for some aged care housing among other options – all that to be teased out in an open and honest master plan process.

Yes dear readers – these two stories of parklands are happening just a couple of kilometres away from each other. The Haig Park story may be a success story to be celebrated (Yah!).

Meanwhile in Dickson, the well-used anti-resident methods are being used to play tricky games to take away valuable community spaces. (Grmmp!)

Where to next?

Option one: Given the statement made by the incoming CEO of planning that his priority is to be ‘community focussed’ – maybe he is open to seeing planning undertaken for the future of the Dickson Parklands. Some of us would be happy to meet him on site – being five minutes from his office (that’s a request/invite).

Option Two: Given the perception that the NCCC is more influenced by the government than by residents on this issue, is it time for residents to form an action committee to halt the further erosion of the Dickson Parklands and to gather support for a MASTER PLAN?

I do prefer the first option – so let’s see if he walks his talk.

What’s Your opinion?


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10 Responses to
Tale of two parklands and a missing master plan
Helen Connor 1:58 pm 02 Jun 17

I am worried about consultation on Haig Park’s future. I believe that many people support quality improvements to the park but want the essential character of this 96-year-old heritage woodland preserved. I have attended every public consultation and have seen that, rather than getting a fair hearing, people whose opinions do not fit into a preconceived “activation” framework are being ignored. I have seen lots of attention being given to suggestions for more parking, open spaces, food vans, barbecues, hard paving and sound stages (this is called “activation”), but not to suggestions about replanting trees, better care and maintenance, and support for the integrity of the park (this is “non-activation” apparently). And, I believe that as consultation progresses, this problem is getting worse. This is not the fault of individuals – rather it is because ACT Government is under instructions to “activate”. Today, we have a unique continuous park – acknowledged as “one of the most prominent and significant landscape spaces in Canberra” – only because of respect for heritage and nature. In the past, Canberra residents said “no” repeatedly to bad ideas and kept Haig Park alive. I believe we should do the same now so that people tomorrow and into the future will – in Haig Park – be able to feel the grass under their feet and hear the wind in the trees. Mr Barr – you asked for consultation – and I ask you to please review this process to make sure all opinions are listened to and considered fairly. Alternatively, Mr Barr, please tell us up-front that ideas other than pre-determined “activation ones” will not be entertained.

Rebecca Vassarotti 7:52 pm 01 Jun 17

Paul Costigan said :

Thanks Rebecca

The big disappointment is that the government initiated two workshops and these were attended by 150 plus – local traders, leaseholders and residents.

The first meeting went reasonably well. People expected that the host of views would be compiled. The general mood of the meeting was that many options were being considered – even some notion of residential -with caveats.

A month or so later people returned for the next workshop expecting to be given an overview of the range of opinions.

Instead we were presented with something totally different – most of the site was to be sold off for apartments. That was mid 2015 – since then there has been nothing but vague proposals that have not involved any open consultation process.

The objection to Common Ground was simply about planning – do the masterplanning first and assess ‘all’ options – including Common Ground (a master plan may even identify a better site nearby)

Happy to admit a preference – given my arts and community background, I can see huge opportunities for a local cultural/arts centre on this site.

Something that should have been in the original NCDC planning for Dickson – but that agency did little for local arts/cultural facilities – most of what we have now across Canberra has been the result of subsequent advocacy (eg ANCA – the result of a decision by previous ACT Arts Minister – Bill Wood).

More arts facilities on the Dickson Parklands would go well alongside other preferred options expressed by locals – and does not exclude other options.

Re Common Ground – I have been researching this – it is the basis for my post next Wednesday. I asked the question – should there be a Common Ground on the Dickson Parklands?

I think we are i agreement that the current consultation processes are unhelpful – the stop start nature makes it particularly challenging and doesn’t respect the time and energy that individuals and communities invest in these processes. If we really valued innovation there could be amazing things happen on the site that included vibrant arts and culture facilities and you are so right that it often depends on a single decision maker with vision and persistence.

Looking forward to reading your post next week. I certainly think Commonground is a much better use then what was previously on the site. We desperately need more homelessness services so really interested to see where your research takes you.

oh_ 7:18 pm 01 Jun 17

On Haig Park I agree we need to keep the best of what it has but improve on it – so keep most heritage trees, but have more active use around Lonsdale St area and the thoroughfare to the apartments – space to hold markets, have a BBQ or kick a football, and better lighting and walking/bike paths. Maybe trees on the perimeter of this zone and more open in the middle.

On Dickson Parklands – is there such thing as a “Master Plan Light” ie something that doesnt involve a bigger than Ben Hurr resource and document intensive process but does involve genuine consultation and consideration of the nature of the strategic asset, what would be a good fit etc? A “Site Plan”? Some community oriented accommodation seems reasonable (after all it has to go somewhere and that’s a self contained site, close to shops and community services etc), but please LDA dont stack it with high density apartments like elsewhere. Make the best of the sporting and cultural facilities.

Paul Costigan 5:23 pm 01 Jun 17

Thanks Rebecca

The big disappointment is that the government initiated two workshops and these were attended by 150 plus – local traders, leaseholders and residents.

The first meeting went reasonably well. People expected that the host of views would be compiled. The general mood of the meeting was that many options were being considered – even some notion of residential -with caveats.

A month or so later people returned for the next workshop expecting to be given an overview of the range of opinions.

Instead we were presented with something totally different – most of the site was to be sold off for apartments. That was mid 2015 – since then there has been nothing but vague proposals that have not involved any open consultation process.

The objection to Common Ground was simply about planning – do the masterplanning first and assess ‘all’ options – including Common Ground (a master plan may even identify a better site nearby)

Happy to admit a preference – given my arts and community background, I can see huge opportunities for a local cultural/arts centre on this site.

Something that should have been in the original NCDC planning for Dickson – but that agency did little for local arts/cultural facilities – most of what we have now across Canberra has been the result of subsequent advocacy (eg ANCA – the result of a decision by previous ACT Arts Minister – Bill Wood).

More arts facilities on the Dickson Parklands would go well alongside other preferred options expressed by locals – and does not exclude other options.

Re Common Ground – I have been researching this – it is the basis for my post next Wednesday. I asked the question – should there be a Common Ground on the Dickson Parklands?

markb 4:52 pm 01 Jun 17

This area would appear to be ideal for development of aged and public housing as it is so well placed for shops and transport. Not presently my part of town but I’ve always wondered why it was so underdeveloped given its central location.

Rebecca Vassarotti 3:51 pm 01 Jun 17

Hi Paul, as a fellow Dickson resident, I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to get to the meeting as I am really interested in how this space may be used.

Seeing the positive benefits of CommonGround and knowing the urgent issues around homelessness, I do think we need to be open to hosting these types of initiatives in our surburb and the old Downer Club site does seem to have reasons why it might be a good fit.

You have been highlighting in recent articles how unaffordable housing in our modest suburb is becoming, and it continues to destress me that we are increasingly unable to welcome a diversity of people into Dickson and share the beautiful spaces that we are benefited from because we were lucky enough to buy a home in this area when it still was possible as a first homebuyer.

I think it would be really useful to have meaningful, respectful conversations about the space that makes up Section 72/the Parklands. I don’t think it is particularly well utilized and it might make sense to look at different types of zoning and uses. I feel like we are let down however, by not having the processes that enable this to happen in a way that hears diverse views and seeks solutions that make sense, even if we don’t completely agree with them. Lets hope we see some of these in the near future

Holden Caulfield 11:42 am 01 Jun 17

chewy14 said :

Yes,
A tale of two parks, one an actual park and one not a park.

I can’t possibly see why they would be treated differently….

Ah yes, but if one wasn’t blinded by an individual Utopian vision of the suburb they live in then perhaps they could remain objective, and then this would be obvious.

I was going to say Haig Park would never be sold off for development, but I guess I should rephrase that as it is highly unlikely that this would be the case. Section 72 of Dickson, on the other hand, makes perfect sense to be redeveloped and for some of that development to include residential development.

chewy14 9:34 pm 31 May 17

Yes,
A tale of two parks, one an actual park and one not a park.

I can’t possibly see why they would be treated differently….

Rachel Stephen-Smith 3:51 pm 31 May 17

I am the unnamed MLA Mr Costigan refers to, so here’s what I actually said at the NCCC meeting (or at least what I intended to convey, understanding that what one means and what is heard are not always the same thing):

• In response to a comment from a member of the NCCC executive about master plans, I said my understanding is that there is some concern about entering into master planning processes that consume a lot of community time and raise community expectations, where resources are not subsequently available to deliver on the community’s vision.

• I specifically stated that my comments were not intended to discourage the NCCC from proposing a master plan for Section 72 (as I noted, I have studied planning and am all for master planning such sites). Rather, I was encouraging NCCC members to consider the context as a way of strengthening the argument for a master plan.

• Part of that context, as Jane Goffman outlined in her presentation, is the Government’s election commitment to build a second Common Ground on the former Downer Club site in Dickson (http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/act-election-2016/labor-promises-homeless-affordable-accommodation-on-former-downer-club-site-20161006-grwc0f.html).

• At no time did I or anyone else suggest that any existing building would be demolished to build the new Common Ground – certainly not the community centre!

• (Ms Goffman’s presentation noted that an earlier process had proposed replacing the existing Northside Community Services building with a new centre, so perhaps this is where the confusion arose.)

I said many times during the campaign that I would continue to attend community meetings, to get out into the community and to listen to the people of Kurrajong. I intend to continue doing that and to provide constructive input where I can.

Nicole Moore 10:56 am 31 May 17

It is not a given that “the news is looking good for Haig Park”. As a resident of a nearby street I’m dismayed at plans to remove the old and established trees and trees lines, and have tried to get this point heard wherever there’s been an opportunity. To be dismissed as part of some ‘heritage lobby’ is insulting. I am part of ‘the community’ you seem to be invoking, as are all of the other people out there opposed to the removal of this historic band of trees, part of Canberra’s design and the lungs of the city. This is the city we want and want to retain.

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