14 June 2022

YWCA Canberra slams community groups for 'gaming' planning appeals

| Ian Bushnell
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The site in Rutherford Crescent, Ainslie, where supportive housing for women is proposed. Photo: File.

YWCA Canberra has accused community groups of weaponising the appeals planning process and gaming the system to thwart desperately needed social housing proposals.

In a submission to the planning system review, YWCA Canberra calls for third parties to be barred from appealing against approved social and community housing development applications that have undergone consultation and met the approval process requirements.

It also wants social and community housing to be deemed “territory priority projects”.

The feminist not-for-profit organisation has run into staunch community opposition in Ainslie, where it plans to build supportive housing in Rutherford Crescent for women in need.

YWCA Canberra first lodged a development application in 2020, which the planning authority approved in 2021, only for the decision to be overturned in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

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It lodged new plans for a slightly reduced development in March after the planning authority made technical changes to rules that substantially removed the opportunity to argue the proposal had inadequate solar access and not enough parking.

Without referring directly to its Ainslie proposal in the submission, YWCA Canberra takes aim at time-rich and well-resourced residents with disproportionate influence who delay or scuttle proposals that will help ease the ACT’s housing crisis.

“We have seen firsthand how planning and development regulations and the appeals process can be weaponised by those with time and resources who concentrate their efforts against new housing developments, particularly social and supported housing,” it says.

AMC YWCA Ainslie proposal

Artist’s impression of YWCA’s original proposal for Rutherford Crescent in Ainslie. Image: AMC.

YWCA adds that the ACT’s unique position as a no-cost jurisdiction and its low application fees feed the potential for vexatious actions with limited, if any, financial consequences for applicants, while organisations with limited budgets and without in-house legal expertise face rising costs and delays to proposals.

YWCA Canberra warns that continuing a carte blanche approach to appeals could deter much-needed housing proposals.

“If limitations for third party appeals are not given proportional consideration, so as to remove the prospect of purely vexatious litigation, sensible residential housing proposals catering particularly to the community or social housing sectors will be subject to routine and costly objections heightening the risk attached to pursuing such housing developments and jeopardising the sector’s willingness to contribute to new supply,” it says.

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YWCA Canberra also warns against the unintended consequences of including social outcomes, such as wellbeing and recreation, and terms such as “special heritage and historical significance” in the Planning Bill, saying they could encourage vexatious objections.

“Our experience with pursuing a supported housing development on land we own … has seen us forced to counter repeated claims of ‘heritage’ and ‘cultural significance’ in relation to a temporary building structure and non-native suburban trees,” it says.

“Such disingenuous claims should not be considered in the spirit of the reforms and should be mitigated against in the drafting where possible.”

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YWCA Canberra also backs the move to declaring ‘territory priority projects’, with the Chief Planner assuming the call-in powers of the Minister.

“We also support the plan to include projects that are of significant benefit to the people of the ACT’ (s212) as ‘territory priority projects’ and urge that social and community housing be considered a priority under this category,” the submission says.

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Would it be better for YWCA to encourage these needy women to find a job and be able to support themselves? ACT government in its turn should remove its land tax on rental properties and reduce rates to Queanbeyan’s level. This will reduce pressure on rents in the private sector so that these working women can afford renting.

Why have the dole at all! let’s just tell people to stop being poor. They just don’t try hard enough! Mental health, disabilities, social discrimination, abusive relationships, lack of skills for the modern age have nothing to do with this. We should just encourage them to work.

As an Ainslie resident, I welcome public/community housing but would like to see it happen on existing house sites, many of which are huge! If the government stopped selling its properties to the highest bidder and instead designed and built housing for those in need on those sites (maybe more densely) we’d have a good outcome for all. A diverse, inclusive suburb. I think it sets a terrible precedent to sell off our parks and community facilities to an organisation.

Many “community councils” around Canberra do not really represent the suburb residents, as the association or council or group is actually comprised of 5 or 8 or 10 NIMBYs who pretend to represent the 1,500 or 3,000 residents but only put forward their (anti-development) views. Suburbs need to change with the times, not get frozen in 1971. Perhaps YWCAs move will see the evolution of community councils away from domineering NIMBYism towards resources for helping residents to contest DAs on sites beside their homes. Neighbours should be able to engage and contest DAs, it is fair and right and just. So perhaps the NCCC (and others) can see the time has come to evolve.

Mike of Canberra10:49 pm 14 Jun 22

I have just about had enough of these charity organisations such as the YWCA. How dare you attack the private residents of this city, who, I might remind you, pay all the bills, including yours, and try to deny them any rights at all, especially the right of appeal. You know as well as I do that you only have to put your hand out and this government will give you as much as you want of our money. And why do these women need to be all housed together in a prime position such as Bill Pye Park? Why can’t they be dispersed throughout the city in available public housing? And while you are at it, why don’t you use your energy to get ACT Housing to clean up its estate, houses being trashed, burnt to the ground, or never maintained, maybe there would be enough housing for your women then, and it might save the residents you pillory some money and allow them to live in peace and enjoy what they worked hard for. You really are a piece of work, and let me tell you, we are heartily sick of your sense of entitlement and arrogant attitude.

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