Anyone who has been through the Dickson shops lately will have noticed an unsettling trend. The number of vacancies is increasing.
Meanwhile there are currently many proposals floating about that will have an effect on the future of this inner north Canberra Group Centre – the official title for the Dickson commercial/shopping precinct.
The most notorious is the proposed new supermarket complex that will take over a major car park and replace it with an architectural wonder consisting of two new supermarkets, a few smaller outlets, a block of apartments as well several floors of car parking. The application for this was knocked back last year and since then there have been a string of extensions for the developers to amend their original application – with the latest rumour being that we might see something in a month or so.
Alongside this is the ACTAB vacant site that has just been announced for development as a tower of apartments. This was the site that the LDA/Directorate said could be the part replacement for the lost car parking when the construction commenced for the new supermarket. Alas, this has not happened and so the access to the Dickson shops may soon become very difficult.
For a year or two in Cape Street there has been large signs promoting yet another tower of apartments to replace the Cape Street shops. According to a good source this development has stalled due to the lack of pre-sales.
As for the Dickson Parklands – well who knows? This is a complex story of the government popping up every now and then with some outrageous notification for its latest intentions – usually to the aghast of residents who value the site as being potentially a set of fantastic community and art facilities – they also happen to like trees – which this government is keen to chop down for parking.
The other night at the Albert Hall the LDA/Directorate chief was asked about any faults they have with their community engagement. He referred to how long they take to respond to things and how long they take to seek resolutions – and that too many times the government has surprised residents with development notices. Guess what? Their approach to the Dickson Parklands has been exactly that.
The residents are presently awaiting the next big surprise and probably another illogical argument as to why the precinct needs to have towers of apartments and not parklands with more community and arts facilities.
Meanwhile of course, the government has proudly announced the urban infrastructure that will follow the introduction of the trams. For instance there are to be the new ‘urban villages’ – that will most likely include new shops. This will affect not only Dickson but also other centres such as Ainslie, O’Connor etc.
Last week there was the announcement of another major supermarket to open at the Majura Park (Airport) centre. When the supermarket proposal for Dickson was first mooted (many years ago), many Gungahlin residents used to call by Dickson to shop. With the expansion of the supermarkets at the Gungahlin shopping centre, plus the option of shopping at the constantly expanding Majura Park shops, the pressure has largely come off the single supermarket in Dickson.
There are several other factors. These include the threats to public sector employment that have made people more careful with their spending. The car parking is often full and has become expensive – so other nearby centres are picking up the trade – and the free parking at Majura Park is now very attractive.
A couple of years ago the Dickson shops were thriving. But now? The cafes seem to be doing well but most of the other smaller businesses are struggling with six shop fronts now vacant and two others on the way out any day now.
One would wish that somewhere in the corridors of the government’s urban development or planning departments that some expert unit was on top of all this. One would hope that all the new developments were linked and integrated. One would hope that all this damaging ad hocery was not a product of short-term economic development decisions made at the cost of real urban and social planning.
The reality seems to be that the developments in and around Dickson are being pushed through without putting into play a comprehensive master plan approach as to what should be happening to this major inner north group centre and the surrounding urban areas. I suggest that maybe such in-depth planning has happened but that those that influence the final development decisions do not take much notice of such things.
At the Albert Hall meeting another pointed query was about the residents’ access to our local government. It was pointed out that if this was any other local government then residents would have easy access to the local council, the council meetings and their committees on planning. In Canberra because of the form of government in place, the Ministers and bureaucratic chiefs are remote to the residents, are difficult to access (unless you are a developer), and the planning and development decisions and processes continue to be obscure – and all done behind closed doors. (Many heads nodded in agreement at the comment).
It is definitely time that this government put some effort into a transparent and honest engagement with local residents to bring all this together as one overarching planning strategy for Dickson. It is timely to reassess which proposals need to be reshaped or to be rethought in response to all the conditions that apply today in 2016 – not based around outdated thought bubbles that the bureaucracy previously considered were bright ideas for the Dickson area residents.
It is time for this government (in its election year) to work with the residents to map out how all of these many proposals could come together to deliver a real (vibrant!) future for this important group centre and the surrounding community and cultural amenities, including the Dickson Parklands.