Much of the community confusion around the use of Community Facility Zoned (CFZ) land for general public housing can be traced back to the week before Christmas in 2015. On the 15th of December 2015 the ACT Government quietly pushed through a technical amendment to the Territory Plan which, according to the Chief Minister and his Deputy, now gives them the right to build general public housing on land set aside for community facilities. That includes the planned developments at Wright, Chapman, Holder and Mawson. And, it could well at some stage include 40 or 50 public housing units on the green space over the road from your place or the park where you currently walk the dog.
The Government’s interpretation of the amended Act is not correct. Let me explain why.
Up until 2005, the Territory Plan didn’t allow the construction of anything that could be described as ‘residential’ on any community land. This was land set aside for parks, sporting facilities, places of worship, health facilities and open space. That changed in 2005 when a substantial amendment to the Territory Plan allowed for aged care facilities and ‘supportive housing’ to be built on these zones.
So what is supportive housing?
The Government’s own definition and the one widely accepted in the housing space is “the use of land for residential accommodation for persons in need of support which is managed by a Territory approved organisation that provides a range of support services such as counselling, domestic assistance and personal care for residents as required.”
When there was a big kerfuffle over a proposed public housing development in Nicholls a couple of years ago, MLA Megan Fitzharris said these words in the Legislative Assembly.
“Let me assure the Nicholls community that this proposed development is for supportive housing for elderly people and for people with a disability”
Ms Fitzharris was well aware that planning laws dictated that general public housing could not be built on a Community Facility Zone.
As we were all winding down for the year in 2015, when some were already off at the coast and others were doing their Christmas shopping, the government did something that could only be described as conniving and underhanded. While we were all looking the other way, they quietly pushed through a technical amendment to the Territory Plan. The only inkling that anyone got of this occurring was a small newspaper notice hidden away in the Canberra Times. The technical amendment documents suggest that this was a ‘variation to clarify the language in the territory plan that does not change the substance of the plan’
This technical amendment was the inclusion of ‘social housing’ under some common terminology for supportive housing. That amendment makes no sense. Supportive housing is one category of the larger subset known as social housing and to include the term ‘social housing’ alongside ‘supportive housing’ is absurd.
A technical amendment by its very nature is not supposed to change the substance of the plan, but this amendment has at least in the eyes of the Chief Minister and Housing Minister.
The documents supporting the amendment state “Any form of social housing, in order to be considered ‘supportive housing’ under the Territory Plan definition must be able to comply with requirements of the (original) definition of ‘supportive housing.’ On that basis, the government has no right to interpret the amended territory plan as they have.
In question time last month, I asked the Minister to give us a detailed definition of supportive housing and whether or not the definition had changed. She assured me that the definition had not changed and that ‘supportive housing’ is ‘supported housing’ whereby a person lives in a house and his supported by someone, in this case the government.
We are dealing with a government which is happy to change the rules to suit itself and which has no real intention of consulting with the community.
Canberrans should now have their eyes wide open to the possibility that the Government could rezone land in any location at any time to build whatever it likes, be it public housing, selling the land off for high rise developments inconsistent with surroundings or anything it wants, without community consultation.
The Government might just be sneakily changing the rules right now for its next set of unfair developments.
Caption: top, screen shot from the ACT Territory Plan.