Senator Zed Seselja’s proposal to change the planning responsibilities of the National Capital Authority and to promote building houses in West Tuggeranong has good bits and bad bits.
It sounds rather similar to what was espoused by the Carnell/Humphries Liberal government in 1997/98. Here we go again.
The good bit is that Seselja proposes that we have greater sovereignty over our land than has previously been the case. This can only be a good thing – the NCA should stick to those areas of significance and leave the rest of the land to the people who live here.
I remember after the bushfires of 2003, the settlements of Pierce’s Creek and Uriarra were decimated and all but obliterated. But up until then, those settlements were hardly sustainable communities. The NCA controlled Pierce’s Creek and the area around Uriarra.
Pop out there now and you will see a thriving community at Uriarra with more houses than before the fire. The ACT government changed the rules to allow the resurrection of Uriarra into a sustainable community, but the NCA refused to allow a greater number of buildings in Pierce’s Creek than was there before the fires.
The conventional wisdom at the time was that a community of at least 30 houses was required before a community could be sustainable in the long term. This consigned Pierce’s Creek to ghost town status and it is still the case. Those wanting a rural setting for their lifestyles and kids have to go elsewhere. Short sighted! This is one example of why the NCA should butt out.
So all power to Seselja in shrinking the influence of the NCA in areas unrelated to national significance – like the 200-metre buffer zones along all major thoroughfares. Nonsensical.
But now for the bad bit.
In 1997/98, it was proposed that the area west of the Murrumbidgee be opened up for housing development. There are vast tracts of land ideal for the construction of a number of new suburbs. It’s a good idea at face value, however, several environmental and economic concerns must be addressed first.
Firstly the environmental reasons. The western side of the Tuggeranong town centre borders the Murrumbidgee River corridor. This is a preserved space for a reason. The ecology is sensitive and requires appropriate management. The river is pristine in most parts, the bushland bordering the river is home to many an endangered species of flora and fauna and the river is part of our water catchment system. Keen eyes will catch platypus playing in the river at times, birds abound and reptiles scurry.
So let’s build a bridge across it to take vehicular traffic. Let’s build thousands of homes and drain the muck from building sites and completed homes into the river system. Try as I do, I can’t see this being avoided.
Animal and bird species will leave this corridor if they are surrounded by housing developments and the corridor will die. This is my fear for the Molonglo River when those suburbs of the Molonglo area are completed. The endangered species have been catered for in a certain sense by the limiting of the spread of suburbs but I’ll bet the little eagle moves on.
I don’t know of anywhere in the world where a nature reserve preserved in its pristine condition splits two parts of a town successfully.
The economic argument was and is that Tuggeranong is already a set of dormitory suburbs. The Valley does not have a sustainable economic base to cater for an influx of 25,000 people. In 1996, the federal government took 7,000 jobs out of the Tuggeranong valley alley and gutted it. We have only just begun to recover and it’s happening again. The issue is the dependence on the federal public sector for jobs.
We don’t have the combination of private sector and public sector economic opportunity that Woden, Civic and Belco have. Any change in fortune there is drastic, as Kim Fischer pointed out in relation to the withdrawal of the 4,000 Immigration jobs from the Belco town centre. Here in Tuggeranong, it would not only be drastic – it would be life threatening.
Until there is a sustainable economic environment, an alternative economic food chain to the public sector dependence, and employment opportunities for Tuggeranong to address the dormitory suburb nature of the Valley, any increase in housing is ill-advised.
I don’t want a return to 1997/98. It was proposed then and shelved. It should be shelved again. Groundhog Day!