14 October 2021

YWCA Canberra vows to press on but Tribunal vindicates community opposition to Ainslie project

| Ian Bushnell
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Proposed YWCA project

An artist’s impression of the rejected supportive housing project. Image: AMC Architecture.

YWCA Canberra is determined to press ahead with its supportive housing proposal in Ainslie despite the development application being comprehensively canned in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT).

The Rutherford Crescent project would have delivered 10 single-storey units to provide homes for older women and women escaping domestic and family violence.

But the proposal attracted opposition from nearby residents who were concerned that traffic changes would make the street less safe, Bill Pye Park next door would be impacted, and that the development was not in keeping with the low-density character of the neighbourhood.

The YWCA Canberra board is considering its next steps but CEO Frances Crimmins said in a statement that despite the setback it was determined to persevere and continue to work with the ACT Government to progress the YHomes project.

“We are very disappointed in the decision from the Tribunal, and the delay it will cause in making these much-needed homes available to vulnerable women,” Ms Crimmins said.

She said that during the current lockdown period, YWCA Canberra’s housing services had been flooded with requests, making the shortfall in supported housing supply in Canberra even more evident and the need for projects like YHomes even greater.

“YWCA Canberra participated in good faith and with full cooperation in the Tribunal process, relating to our YHomes development in Ainslie,” Ms Crimmins said.

“Our mission with this project is to use the land we own to make the most impact for vulnerable women and their children in Canberra by building 10 units to support older women and women escaping domestic violence with safe and secure housing.”

She said that since the Tribunal decision, the organisation had been inundated with messages from the Ainslie community expressing their disappointment in the decision, and their wholehearted support for this development.

“We know that the need for housing options such as YHomes is only growing, and … we look forward to providing the community with more information in the coming weeks as we progress this further,” she said.

Aerial view of the site

The location of the site in Ainslie.

But YWCA Canberra and its architects will have to make significant changes to the project after ACAT found that the proposal did not comply with a swag of planning rules, and that the site was too small for a 10-unit supportive housing development.

It found that the proposal would impact significant trees bordering the site, the proposed fencing was not compliant and would not give residents sufficient privacy, setbacks were too small, there was insufficient outside space, and the units would not receive adequate sunshine.

There was also not enough room for parking, which needed to include space for visitors because the curve of the street meant off-site parking was unsafe.

ACAT found that the project would also impact the desired character of the area.

“The Tribunal considers that the development proposal provides for change of a different order in terms of its immediate and potential long-term negative effects on the landscape character of the park, flora and fauna habitats, streetscape and amenity for residents and other park users,” ACAT said.

“The contrast with what is there now could not be more striking.”

Community representative Ian Hubbard said the decision vindicated the opposition to what was found to be a poorly designed project and shone a light on the inadequacies of the planning authority which approved it.

He said the approval’s reasons for the decision were insufficient in providing any analysis of what the issues were.

“In fact, ACTPLA in that process either denied the issues that were raised or said there wasn’t a rule or criteria that covered them or in fact that the proposal satisfied the rules and criteria,” Mr Hubbard said.

“It’s a worry when you’ve got an authority whose responsibility is to enact the planning rules and planning legislation and they can’t do that.

“From the point of view of residents trying to protect community facilities from demolition, that was really a disappointment.”

Mr Hubbard said that if YWCA Canberra intended to press on with the project the Tribunal showed quite conclusively that it needed a lot more than just an architect’s tweaks to be suitable for that site.

“Clearly they can’t squeeze 10 units on to that site … so they will have to come back with a lower number or go two-storey to fit it in,” he said.

The community had written to YWCA Canberra proposing a land swap be investigated to find a site that was more suitable and more appropriate for the facility, and one that would provide greater safety and fit better into the suburb to make it less conspicuous.

Mr Hubbard said the residents supported social housing and had endured a tough fight with YWCA Canberra, but they had been proven right in the end.

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I hope this Tribunal decision will embolden other concerned communities to take reasonable measures to protect their local Community Zoned Facility (CFZ) land.

In this case, the YWCA has been primarily responsible for under-utilising these facilities. Over the years, the YWCA has drifted away from the terms of its original lease to provide a ‘childcare centre and community activity centre’.

The YWCA has also been significantly supported by the ACT government and, under the Affordable Housing Innovation Fund, YHomes received a generous grant to develop plans for this site.

The main findings of the Tribunal were that the development did not comply with the Multi Unit Housing Development Code and advice given by the Conservator of Flora and Fauna.

It is disappointing that a government grant was awarded to fund a proposed development that has now been found to be inconsistent with ACT Planning rules and practices. This represents a waste of tax payers’ money.

The YWCA has indicated that it intends to resubmit plans for a new (presumably less overcrowded, and more environmentally responsible) development. If they do this, the government should not be providing any further public “grants” to pursue those plans.

Perhaps, instead, the Ainslie Residents Association should have equitable access to funding so they can explore more realistic and suitable uses of their Community Zoned Facilities?

Strangely the ACT Green representatives showed no interest in protecting this valuable place of local history and nature, yet it was shown through the tribunal to have so many holes in it’s ecological as well as ergonomic impact. Lovely to see Zoya Patel’s piece supporting this theme https://the-riotact.com/horse-paddocks-golf-courses-reserves-green-spaces-are-about-more-than-the-land-they-use/502436

What a hilariously pro-NIMBY headline!

Mike of Canberra11:08 am 14 Oct 21

Talk’s cheap H. We look forward to a successful bid by you to have such a facility placed in your street with the consequent adverse implications for your streetscape and living amenity.

My house is in Ainslie and I agree completely with HSewell. Disappointed that the so-called “Ainslie Residents’ Association” – seemingly composed of only a tiny number of Ainslie residents – has attacked affordable social housing in my neighbourhood. I’d be keen for more similar developments on my own street.

The Ainslie Residents Association welcomed the ACAT’s finding that the proposed development was unsuitable for the site because of its impacts on residents, the streetscape character, and potential damaging impact on the mature trees on the site and in Bill Pye Park, Ainslie. Importantly, also the impact of a substandard design on the amenity of future vulnerable tenants.

We are hoping that the YWCA is more generous to the local community this time round and is prepared to work together in finding a more suitable site for the 10 unit residential development that doesn’t require a community facility in a beautiful location to be demolished.

I would have voted Obama for a third term if I could.

tuggeranongist6:52 pm 15 Oct 21

Yes, no doubt these residents were motivated by their heartfelt concern for the interests of the prospective tenants of the social housing.

How do I join the Ainslie Residents’ Assocation? I’m an Ainslie homeowner and I’m devastated at this outcome. It doesn’t represent my views. Not sure who is actually in the Ainslie Residents Association to be honest.

Mike of Canberra9:26 am 18 Oct 21

John, I live in a street that is predominantly public/social housing and, frankly, it has been a blight on my life for many, many years. In fact, in the whole time I’ve been here, I can think of only one public housing tenant that’s shown some real life skills and desire to improve himself. The rest have been a dead loss, corrupted by the welfare dollar. I’ve always said that public/social housing should be placed near those who really want it near them. Therefore, I think it would be a good idea if you and others who share your views approached Housing ACT and let them know you would welcome public housing near you. That way, they could start looking at properties to purchase in streets that welcome public housing and sell off stock in streets that do not want it. This would result in a win-win situation for all and save rate and taxpayers an awful lot of money. Maybe a first step would be to approach the Ainslie Residents Association (you can Google it) and ask them to get the ball rolling.

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