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The curious case of the Chief Minister and the CSIRO development

By Paul Costigan - 29 June 2016 14

CSIRO01

Sometimes the words of local politicians are a thing of wonder. Here’s a very curious story.

Last week there were two articles in the Canberra Times about statements by the Chief Minister on the proposals by the CSIRO to develop their Ginninderra Field Station site in northwest Belconnen.

csiro-map2

These statements were made in the context of there being a very tangled web in Canberra of relationships between the ACT Government’s political class, their bureaucrats, former bureaucrats and the developers and property sectors.

The common perception is that the ACT’s political class rarely works with residents to enhance the city’s residential environments. Their mode of operation for planning is very top down – with the perception being that the interests of the development lobby are always the priority.

So it is a rare thing for local politicians to make comments that even hint at aligning with the aspirations of residents on planning and development issues.

Therefore when a politician does talk about community concerns over a proposed development, it does cause eyebrows to be raised. Especially when it is the Chief Minister himself.

To put it politely, the present Chief Minister has a very mixed relationship with the local communities. Over the years many residential groups have had tense exchanges about planning and development with the Chief Minister – both recently and in former years when he was the planning minister.

In the first Canberra Times article the Chief Minister said the development proposal “has happened in eight months, and I don’t think people are aware of it. I predict there will be a backlash”.

And there was more: “many Canberrans are being left in the dark on the impact of a major project that is moving at lightning-speed. My concern there is, most planning changes in Canberra go through a significant process”.

The real surprise here was that the Chief Minister had suddenly taken on the role of speaking for the local residents. This is something new. This seems completely out of character. It is very strange indeed. But what is it all about?

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First some fact checking:

It did not take me long to search online to see that the CSIRO has been talking about this proposal for several years – the earliest being 2011. So not as fast as lightning!

What was soon clear was that the CSIRO, as the owners of the land, consulted with the community about its application to the National Capital Authority to have this site rezoned for urban development. This application was successful. That seems to me to be fairly open and transparent. So there is no evidence of the residents being kept in the dark. And the consultation now continue on the next stages.

And then to contradict the Chief Minister’s claim – I easily found a special web site that has been set up by the CSIRO to keep people informed. I suggest that the Chief Minister needs to become a subscriber and receive updates as do others.

The Chief Minister said that “most planning changes in Canberra go through a significant process.” For most residents who have dealt with planning issues – they would probably agree that the planning processes are indeed significant. But significant in that they are completely detached from the reality of people’s lives and aspirations.

So now to go back to the real curiousity of this tale.

The Chief Minister said “ I don’t think people are aware of it. I predict there will be a backlash”.

In other words, the Chief Minister thinks that the residents do not know about this development, over which he has no say, and that the resident will be aghast when they find out and will oppose it.

But the residents do know about it. There has been a constant stream of information from the CSIRO to keep people informed.

So why is the Chief Minister trying to stir up trouble for the CSIRO?

Could it be that that the ACT Government, namely the Chief Minister and his own development bureaucrats, are being threatened by the statements by the CSIRO?

Take for example the statement that  “its aspirations for the site were to deliver ‘the benchmark in urban sustainable design and also to tackle the problem of affordable housing’ “.

CSIRO4

I wonder that given that the Chief Minister’s stint as Urban Redevelopment Minister has not set the world on fire with requirements for developers to address climate change, sustainability and provide adequate green infrastructure, that they now fear that they are soon to be embarrassed by the CSIRO’s more intelligent approach to urban development.

The CSIRO will be working with their developer of choice to produce a model development that does all those things – and is still affordable.

And talking affordability – I noted that the CSIRO had been talking to agencies such as Shelter ACT about affordable housing. Is the CSIRO going to get that right as well?

Is the CSIRO about to deliver a new style of urban development in which affordable housing will be integrated into the mix rather than being a token?

Is this why the Chief Minister is spending political time and energy bringing the development to the attention of the local communities – even though they already know about it?

I suggest that given the reputation of the Chief Minister and his bureaucracy on housing affordability, on urban development and climate change and putting the developers first, that locals will be keen to see what the CSIRO can deliver on this site – especially as it is just across the road from that other urban development that the government lauded as being so innovative – that being the suburb of Crace.

What’s Your opinion?


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14 Responses to
The curious case of the Chief Minister and the CSIRO development
rosscoact 12:44 pm 01 Jul 16

Kim Huynh said :

JC said :

Of course nothing was built, that’s self evident. The point is that the people of the ACT get money for services from the sale of land. The airport and CSIRO both pocket the money and then complain that the infrastructure is inadequate. Then you and I pick up the tab for building the infrastructure.

The improvements you mentioned will likely go ahead but you can bet your bottom dollar that you will pay but the Commonwealth will not.

This is nonsense. You are simply confused at how the ACT government funds its building of roads (etc) on its own land.
Here’s the difference: CSIRO have this land, not the ACT government. No developer gets to put a subdivision on the market without first paying all the bills for the installation of required services and infrastructure to local and state governments.
The comparison with the Canberra Airport is not valid: Snow’s responsibility to revamp the government-owned airport access roads was an arguable one.

This CSIRO development is an excellent thing which will put our town council’s “development” process to shame and hopefully spur us on to better planning and quality in the future.

On the contrary, you either didn’t read or have chosen to misinterpret my words. Fairly typical forum behaviour but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

Again it is axiomatic that developers pay for the roads and infrastructure in the development. That is the definition of development. However, they don’t pay for the indirect costs that the development causes. The duplication of roads, the upgrading of intersections etc.

When the government sells land (capital) all the revenue they receive goes towards capital improvements. No sale, no revenue, just the costs.

Have a nice day

HenryBG 11:54 am 01 Jul 16

JC said :

Of course nothing was built, that’s self evident. The point is that the people of the ACT get money for services from the sale of land. The airport and CSIRO both pocket the money and then complain that the infrastructure is inadequate. Then you and I pick up the tab for building the infrastructure.

The improvements you mentioned will likely go ahead but you can bet your bottom dollar that you will pay but the Commonwealth will not.

This is nonsense. You are simply confused at how the ACT government funds its building of roads (etc) on its own land.
Here’s the difference: CSIRO have this land, not the ACT government. No developer gets to put a subdivision on the market without first paying all the bills for the installation of required services and infrastructure to local and state governments.
The comparison with the Canberra Airport is not valid: Snow’s responsibility to revamp the government-owned airport access roads was an arguable one.

This CSIRO development is an excellent thing which will put our town council’s “development” process to shame and hopefully spur us on to better planning and quality in the future.

Curiousjoe 11:15 am 01 Jul 16

Why does Kim Fisher’s comments sound so much like another version of Shorten’s Medicare lie? Have the ACT Government done such a good job of development that they can possibly hold themselves up as the shining light – let us consider the dodgy deals done for Glebe Park and the Griffith oval as recent examples of the ACT process. Why hasn’t Kim Fisher been vocal about theses issues?

I for one love the idea of some real competition for affordable housing in the ACT. We are currently seeing a growing marketplace for developments on our borders in every direction because the ACT Government insists on maintaining unaffordable prices by controlling the rate of land release. I would like to live in a world where my children and their children have a real potential to buy and pay off the family home.

If we look at the concerns raised about the contribution to surrounding infrastructure lets look at the Canberra Airport development where the airport got sick and tired of waiting for the government to act and in the end did it themselves.

Well done Paul I thought your article was well balanced and based on facts rather than the scare tactics that seem to have completely absorbed modern politics.

gazket 11:08 am 01 Jul 16

Paul Costigan said :

The “surprise” is not that CSIRO plans to develop the site, the “surprise” is that citizens of the ACT will realise they have no say on what any developer chooses to do.

I fixed that for you, just like how you treat the ACT residents with light rail.

The “surprise” is that citizens of the ACT will have no say on what whacky ideas the ACT Labor/greens government chooses to do.

Paul Costigan 8:14 am 01 Jul 16

It is totally expected that the usual lot of ACT Politicians – or their candidates – will defend what they consider to be a just planning system. It is obvious that the present political classes in the ACT have not had the experience of challenging ACTPLA’s complicated and obtuse processes.

Even if residents gather in hundreds or thousands to protest and lodge heaps of objections, the ACTPLA will always treat the needs of the developers as a top priority while the residents’ aspirations, health and well being will receive at a maximum, the most token and bureaucratic response.

In the end ACTPLA will challenge residents to take their objections to the appeals processes of ACAT.

Here any residents will face the full force of a legal adversarial attack – involving expensive lawyers employed by both the developers and the ACTPLA. In the ACAT arena residents will find everything about them being challenged – the gloves come off completely! It is a very tough and demanding experience and not recommended to anyone – unless you have the time and money to take a long holiday afterwards to recover.

To our politicians, the ACTPLA processes may sound as though they are just and workable. They are not from a resident’s point of view. There is a big distance between local political class and residents on how development and planning is being carried out here in Canberra.

The present planning and development process produce very little affordable housing, very little green infrastructure, and some very questionable building standards.

If the CSIRO can deliver something truly sustainable and something better than what is current on offer – we look forward to seeing what they can do.

Their processes may be different from realities of the very questionable ACTPLA processes – but that would not be hard as anything could be better than those.

I suggest after years of scientific research on urban developments, urban ecosystems and green infrastructure and climate change in the urban environments – and after frustrating years of not seeing their results picked up by developers and agencies within the ACT Government, that they could be looking forward to doing it themselves.

This exercise will most likely bring out the best or worst in candidates for the coming ACT election.

Let’s see what the candidates have to say about planning and development. Will it be just the usual spin or something original?

Kim Fischer 11:18 pm 30 Jun 16

I have been writing about the situation with the CSIRO Ginninderra site for a while now:
http://the-riotact.com/time-to-strengthen-act-assembly-governance-over-canberra/157707
http://www.canberratimes.com.au/comment/twenty-five-years-after-selfgovernment-the-feds-are-still-in-control–is-it-time–for-review-20151002-gk0b1l.html

This is _not_ a land sales (LDA) issue or a revenue issue, it is a _planning_ (ACTPLA) issue.
That is why the site needs to change from “National Land” to “Territory Land”.

The “surprise” is not that CSIRO plans to develop the site, the “surprise” is that citizens of the ACT will realise they have no say on what any developer chooses to do.

Has the CSIRO made public its history of experiments on the site? A number of residents have told me that the CSIRO deployed a range of harmful chemicals at various times over the site’s history. This is something that needs to be researched and openly discussed.

As other commenters have pointed out, any developers wouldn’t be required to contribute to upgrades of surrounding roads and infrastructure. This may force the ACT government to set aside funds that ordinarily would have been prioritised for use elsewhere in the ACT.

Any development falling under the jurisdiction of the ACT government has a large number of consultation and accountability provisions, including:

– Pre-development application community consultations
– Lodgement and publication of development applications
– Public notification of development applications
– Asking for comments or objections
– Requests for decision review by ACTPLA
– ACAT appeals process

**None of these processes exist for the CSIRO Ginninderra site**.

Anything a developer chooses to do for “consultation” will be completely voluntary. On National Land, the NCA is judge, jury and executioner when it comes to planning.

rosscoact 9:32 am 30 Jun 16

devils_advocate said :

Charlotte Harper said :

Perhaps he’s concerned about the fact (as I assume you are given your interest in these things) that the CSIRO will pocket all the cash but make no contribution towards upgrading the road network and major infrastructure.

I can see you’re point but I don’t think that hypocrisy by a politician (heaven forfend, say it isn’t so) is the major issue.

It’s not as if Gungahlin was full of infrastructure even after being built. All that land was sold years ago money has been spent, we are in debt and we are still waiting and paying for major road upgrades in Gungahlin that should of been built in the beginning.

The CSIRO are building a Suburb with no sewerage or power ?

The Land is on a 4 lane major hwy not at the end of Southern Cross Dr where nothing was done ?
To widen Owen Dixon dr wouldn’t take much.
The developers will pay for the infrastructure.
ACT gov gets stamp duty and heap of other taxes.

Of course nothing was built, that’s self evident. The point is that the people of the ACT get money for services from the sale of land. The airport and CSIRO both pocket the money and then complain that the infrastructure is inadequate. Then you and I pick up the tab for building the infrastructure.

The improvements you mentioned will likely go ahead but you can bet your bottom dollar that you will pay but the Commonwealth will not.

Heavs 9:00 am 30 Jun 16

It’s handy having the names of all the people who can never again complain about development out at Snowtown in the one place.

rommeldog56 10:56 pm 29 Jun 16

So, the Barr ACT Labor/Greens Govt doesn’t want the CSIRO land opened up for development. The Barr ACT Labor/Greens Gov’t wont develop the land in West Tuggeranong across the river.

But at the same time, the Barr ACT Labor/Greens Gov’t can not release enough land to satisfy demand – but still insists that Canberra needs to grow.

Of course, they are so committed to affordable housing !! If that was so, they would embrace the CSIRO plan and work with them to deliver that much needed affordable housing.

But it isn’t about that, is it. Its about strangling off demand so that land and house prices are higher, so Annual Rates will be higher.

I wonder how long it will take for the rusted on supporters of this ACT Labor/Greens Gov’t to open their eyes and see what is being done here……….

gazket 7:47 pm 29 Jun 16

Charlotte Harper said :

Perhaps he’s concerned about the fact (as I assume you are given your interest in these things) that the CSIRO will pocket all the cash but make no contribution towards upgrading the road network and major infrastructure.

I can see you’re point but I don’t think that hypocrisy by a politician (heaven forfend, say it isn’t so) is the major issue.

It’s not as if Gungahlin was full of infrastructure even after being built. All that land was sold years ago money has been spent, we are in debt and we are still waiting and paying for major road upgrades in Gungahlin that should of been built in the beginning.

The CSIRO are building a Suburb with no sewerage or power ?

The Land is on a 4 lane major hwy not at the end of Southern Cross Dr where nothing was done ?
To widen Owen Dixon dr wouldn’t take much.
The developers will pay for the infrastructure.
ACT gov gets stamp duty and heap of other taxes.

Lurker2913 7:40 pm 29 Jun 16

I agree with the article and I will watch this with interest.

Andrew Barr is just pi@#ed that this will stuff up the territory government budget for the next decade and will show how bad the territory government’s urban planning is. The territory government doesn’t get the proceeds from land sales to prop up the budget bottom line and has to spend money on servicing the new suburbs. Look at the Gungahlin town centre, the road network and the lack of on street parking. It is appalling given that it started with no restrictions because it was a vacant cow paddock.

rosscoact 3:37 pm 29 Jun 16

Perhaps he’s concerned about the fact (as I assume you are given your interest in these things) that the CSIRO will pocket all the cash but make no contribution towards upgrading the road network and major infrastructure.

I can see you’re point but I don’t think that hypocrisy by a politician (heaven forfend, say it isn’t so) is the major issue.

chewy14 12:39 pm 29 Jun 16

Hilariously the opposite of this article could be written about the author and most of his previous articles about developments he opposes on the grounds of poor community consultation or poor community awareness and fit. Developments which have often been worked on for many years with websites and readily available online information constantly streaming through to locals.

Seems Paul is disappointed that the chief minister has stolen his MO.

reddy84 12:05 pm 29 Jun 16

For once we are in agreement.

Barr is threatened by this proposal for three reasons:
1. It will disrupt the LDA land release trickle which keeps prices at a premium
2. The ACT Government will make no money from land sales
3. The ACT Government will need to pay for services infrastructure on the site.

They can speak of how it doesnt align with the strategic vision etc. but fact of the matter is the CSIRO site represents something exciting for the ACT. A chance to see someone other than the government have a go at developing a suburb. The warning for CSIRO is that community expectations will be high.

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