ACT government planning gets personal and stupid

On Wednesday, September 15, the ACT’s planning bureaucrats issued their decisions on an application for re-consideration for the second stage of the development of the Manuka hotel-residential cinema complex by Liangis Investments Pty Ltd.

While there were several rules-based differences expressed in the decision such as basement parking, ramps etcetera, the stand out was the rejection of a key aspect of the architecture. This narrow-minded ruling will block the development and deprive the Manuka shopping centre of significant additional business opportunities.

To paraphrase, the bureaucrats have it in their heads that the centre of the building should contain a porte-cochere – which as you know, is a passageway to allow vehicles to enter an interior courtyard or a structure on the front that provides shelter to those getting into or out of their carriages.

The planners have ruled that the building, designed to be part of the shopping/commercial centre on Franklin Street, should activate pedestrian activity on the Canberra Avenue side. People need to be able to watch the traffic zoom past!

These twisted bits of logic have been inserted by the infamous National Capital Design Review Panel and that other fantastically out-of-touch agency, the National Capital Authority (NCA). These stupidities have been taken up by the planning bureaucrats.

The NCA has stated that Canberra Avenue needs to have significant architecture with main entrances and pedestrian activity as part of the gateway into the city. Nice!

No decisions in recent times indicate that anything along those lines has been achieved.

Think about the back fence of the Manuka Oval – looks great doesn’t it; the two churches look interesting but their entrances are not facing Canberra Avenue; Endeavour House is an architectural curiosity at best and there’s not much more that indicates any past emphasis on these requirements.

Maybe the petrol station entrance is the sort of thing that these agencies are looking for – is this their benchmark?

Think about Northbourne Avenue, being the main entrance to the city and how these agencies have allowed this to evolve from something to be admired to a canyon of architectural horror.

The planning bureaucrats themselves have demonstrated how much they have embraced the gateway concept by moving into one of the most ordinary towers on Northbourne – one with a wall of glass facing west.

The Design Review Panel advised that the architecture should align with whatever they thought was the Federal Capital style. That is, more boring stuff rather than something that might be of interest. Do they reject anything that does not fit within their limited ideas of design?

Given the masses of questionable developments that drift through the ad-hockery that pretends to be a planning system, and that this Canberra Avenue pedestrian activation stuff is unrealistic, what is it about this family of developers that brings on these stupidities by the various planning agencies?

The head of the development company, Sotiria Liangis has generously contributed to local welfare and to the arts. Check out the family status on the Portrait Gallery honour board.

This woman has taken on the male-dominated developer and planning cabals, and together with her son, John, has earned the gratitude of many who have benefitted from the family’s philanthropy.

Do the current male-dominated planning agencies resent such a strong woman?

Once the basic planning requirements are addressed, I suspect the Manuka businesses would prefer the authorities to let this development happen.

I am also confident that users of the shopping precinct are waiting for this development to be completed and not left as a building site any longer than necessary.

Do we have any politicians who are prepared to get this problem resolved?

A word or two for the local community groups. It is no coincidence that this debate is being dragged out to consume your precious time and energy. What someone does not want you to do is to focus on what the Planning Directorate, as enabled by the ACT Labor/Greens cohort government, is quietly working away on in plain sight.

All those coloured areas along the tram going south as well as into the inner-south are real.

The planners are putting into place devastating changes to suburban areas from the inner-south to parts of Woden. These barbaric alterations will threaten the nature of the city.

Those polite words in your very well put together submissions are being ignored.

If you continue to be distracted by a single development such as the Manuka complex, then you are allowing by default these major city-wide plans to gain traction and to become too far advanced to be halted at a later stage.

Please become more aggressively engaged with the major changes that are happening in your name.


This article is a version of the piece originally published online with City News

Paul Costigan is an independent commentator and consultant on the visual arts, photography, urban design, environmental issues and everyday matters.

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