15 September 2020

What do Inner North residents want from this ACT election?

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Dickson is the centre of intense development activity. Photo: Daniella Jukic.

As the election nears, how do we ensure the voices of ordinary voters are heard? We’re in election forum season and the first cab off the rank is the North Canberra Community Council which will hold a virtual election debate tomorrow night (16 September).

Region Media has partnered with the Inner North, Inner South, Tuggeranong and Weston Creek Community Councils to present election debates over the coming weeks, several of which will be filmed and live-streamed across our social media channels.

Challenges in the Inner North are plain as the area develops rapidly, encompassing multiple urban infill developments along the new light rail route. There are huge changes afoot for Dickson, along Northbourne Avenue and around West Basin.

So what do local residents want and need from the ACT Government as their neighbourhood is transformed?

North Canberra Community Council chair Joachim Zeil says their concerns fall into three categories: planning, consultation and compliance. But the Council’s frustration centres on a single theme: the persistent sense that the only recourse available to ordinary citizens is fiddling around the edges of developments that are a foregone conclusion.

“A typical example is Dickson where the whole area is piecemeal developed into little bits,” Joachim says. While he’s insistent that the Council was not opposed to the Common Ground development, for example, he says there should have been consultation about the best location.

“That lack of meaningful consultations means it’s now going to the cheapest place, furthest away from public transport and facilities. Typically, we have locations and designs presented to us and we’re allowed to fiddle around the edges.

“I’d rather see a design competition, the chance for more input from the beginning. Is there an interesting alternative that provides community facilities, that does some good for everyone? Does the design for a project facilitate community spaces and interactions?”

Joachim says that while there’s a planning system review taking place, it’s hard to penetrate and that the environment and planning forum convened by Ben Ponton, the Director-General of Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development, doesn’t allow for much flexibility around the processes.

The Council has asked for a simpler and more straightforward approach, but Jochen says they often find the processes and rationales behind decision making obscure because there’s no easy way for the community to examine them

He’s also concerned by compliance, feeling that too many development applications have basic problems like solar access and parking issues. “Many of us are repeatedly involved with drilling down into compliance issues,” he says.

“That’s not our job, that’s the responsibility of the planning agencies. Yet some of us end up in ACAT, arguing about basic matters that should have been addressed in the development application in the first place.

“Why should that be necessary?”

The North Canberra Community Council’s election forum will be held on Wednesday from 7:00 pm. You can find the Zoom meeting details here.

North Canberra Community Council

The North Canberra Community Council and The RiotACT are hosting the 2020 ACT Election Candidates Forum. Image: Supplied.

The forum will include candidates for the seat of Kurrajong from Labor, the Liberals, the Greens, the Canberra Progressives and independent Bruce Paine.

The North Canberra Community Council represents the interests of the local residents, businesses and organisations including the Campbell Community Association; the Dickson Residents Group; the Downer Community Association; the Hackett Community Association; the Lyneham Community Association; the O’Connor Community Inc; the Pialligo Residents’ Association; the Reid Residents’ Association; the Turner Residents’ Association and the Watson Community Association.

What do you think are the most urgent community issues in the Inner North?

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A stop to excessive rate increases. Rate increases on Canberra properties have exceeded 10%pa, which means higher costs for home owners, mortgage payers, low income renters and local businesses. Higher rates = housing unaffordability.

Higher rates don’t affect housing affordability in the slightest.

It’s a free market, if holding costs go up, property prices will go down.

Funny that you don’t think that stamp duties affect housing affordability in the same way.

How about a change of government. It’s way over due,. ACT government is consult in name only, and planning is off the wall.

It’s time to change the government, they been in power to long time for some fresh ideas . Drain the swamp

I agree. Unfortunately the Libs aren’t an alternative, as they don’t have a vision for the future; only what they think might get them elected.

I really don’t care about what they say about the Libs. Given the antics of the Barr government, just how much more damage could the Libs do? Time to clear out the entrenched networks.

Q: Would the politicians support a “Moratorium on residential development on Community Facilities Land while a review is undertaken on their need and value to the local community”

Would like politicians to agree to a ‘Review of the management of Community Facilities Land and importance to communities‘. The government is currently converting community facilities land to residential developments. Relative to land zoned residential, community facilities land is a scarce resource. Community facilities are important in encouraging connection in the community and the benefits that come from this.

Unfortunately, Community Facilities Land is considered to have a low value by government. The rationale for this is that it can’t be used for any other purpose than community services or activities. One block zoned community facilities has been rented to a non-government organisation for 5 cents a year for 99 years. The lease outlined that the organisation must deliver “childcare and community activities”. The organisation has not delivered these services from the site for the last ten years and has subleased the site to another non-government organisation not delivering these services.

The organisation has developed a proposal to inject an RZ4 medium density development on community facilities land when all residential land in Ainslie is zoned RZ1 low density. This can happen because community facilities land has not been included in the multi-unit policy that includes all residential zones.

Allowing community facilities land to be given away cheaply is a fraud because:
. The community gets no betterment payment after losing the facility
. land valuers would be embarrassed as the lands market value is “best & highest” use – multi unit residential
. If valued fairly the total cost of the project can be accurately compared with alternatives.
If this deal was given to a developer there would be a public inquiry. Special deals for mates.

Great points Seafix! It would be nice to see said organisation to be taken into account for not delivering the services they agreed upon. It would be nice then for that to be a reason for them to give up their next ghastly project.

I agree with these concerns about the lack of consultation and oversight around CFZ land. Here are a few suggestions.

Link small communities together into an ACT network.
– I would like to see small residential communities properly resourced and supported in solidarity with the many others (Holder, Mawson, Chapman, Rivett) that have petitioned and been ignored.

Close the Loophole (CFZs and residential housing).
– I would like the government to close the legal loophole that makes it permissible for these developments to proceed without consultation or any genuine conversation about community purpose.

Make Community Organisations Accountable to local communities.
– Not for profit organisations that neglect to fulfil their original terms of a community facility agreement should be required to show cause as to why they should continue to be entitled to have access to this (rate free) land.

They are converting a community facility to social housing for extremely underprivileged Canberrans, with the full consent of that community group.

It’s about ensuring poor people have somewhere to live, not about lining developers pockets.

John, you make excellent points about affordable housing (above) and the critical need for supportive housing (especially for elderly and/or abused women). I believe, however, that there are more appropriate solutions to those issues that align with the Territory Plan (eg. Salt and Pepper etc).

We should also be careful not to conflate these important issues with the concerns being raised here and across Canberra. Namely, why is there so little community consultation about converting CFZs into housing?

Thanks for organising an opportunity for discussion about the planning and infill development process. We’re in total agreement with Joachim Zeil believing the planning process is opaque and heavily weighted to the proponent. Residents are given 15 days to lodge objections to a development and can only comment on a narrow range of technical criteria. It is usually a small number of residents who are impacted and care against a team of property development specialists. There is no requirement to assess the social or environmental impact on the residents impacted or an understanding of their demography. For residents to have a real voice and operate on a level playing field they need to be provided with resources and access to expertise. Joachim asks an important question that goes to the health of community and building quality of life, “Does the design for a project facilitate community spaces and interaction?”

Unfortunately the Government through the planning process doesn’t care about this issue and is in fact giving away community facilities and replacing these spaces with residential developments. How is this being allowed to happen?

The problem you’ve got is the development approvals process is not typically where the overall form and type of development of a site or area should (or is) decided.

Those areas sit within the planning rules and strategies, so if residents are truly interested in shaping the growth of the city, that’s where they should be focusing their efforts.

Unfortunately most people don’t actually care until a specific development is proposed near them that they don’t like. Their complaints are then very often tainted with a strong smell of Nimbyism which doesn’t help.

If residents are truly interested in the future of the city, they need to get themselves involved far earlier in the process and there are numerous opportunities to do so.

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