Dealing with the complexities of Greenslabor planning reforms has been an unpleasant experience for those reading the badly written documents that were drip-fed to the public last year. There is nothing positive about what is being proposed.
Residents have tried desperately to be civil and polite in their dealings with the planning bureaucracy and its Greenslabor ministers. Residents have an expectation that the government would do the same in their engagements with the residents. Not so. For the Greenslabor politicians and their planning bureaucracy, truth, transparency and honesty have become options.
This was made clear by the presenters at the Tuesday 7th February meeting of the Inner South Canberra Community Council. The news was not good. The presentations were by learned volunteers who had done the deep dive into the documents dropped to the community during 2022. There are parts of this reform that are yet to be revealed.
For those who have inflicted pain on themselves by ploughing through the spin, clichés and worthy sounding phrases, they concluded that the chief minister’s reforms for this city’s future are not about planning. They are also not about heritage, biodiversity, protecting solar, greenery, trees, green infrastructure, neighbour character, architecture, landscape design, liveability, and more that is to be regarded as discretionary. Developers will be able to regard important planning basics as being optional even more than they do now.
It is clear that these ‘reforms’ are about delivering changes that are the opposite to what residents have been led to believe were the reforms’ stated aims. Many had hoped that by responding to the various stages of these reforms that there would be a change of direction. They now realise that the planning directorate, on behalf of the chief minister, is fully intending to go ahead with their behind-closed door agreed versions of development reforms no matter how many submissions are received.
It is clear that what is being proposed is utterly stupid if you wish for this city to be well planned, based on good design, to be about dealing with 21st century climate and environmental issues and about affordable homes and liveable suburbs. The changes are not about making resident’s lives better.
In 2021 the Inner South Canberra District Planning Strategy set out what the residents valued. This included streetscapes, open spaces, neighbourhood character, their suburban environment, being located in their suburb, local shops – as well respect for heritage, trees, domestic scale housing, and good footpaths and connections to park and facilities. You have to look hard to find a skerrick of evidence that these values were considered seriously by those who drafted the reform documentation.
In mid 2022, three hundred and twenty-nine submissions were sent in by residents trying to have the city’s planning regime address significant issues. Residents had hoped that those receiving the submissions were about implementing a new 21st century planning structure. Those submissions were largely ignored. The faith of the residents in the bureaucracy was totally misplaced. The painful revelation was confirmed that the planning reforms are no longer about planning. Residents are purposely being misled.
The norm for this directorate is to go through the charade of calling for feedback through submissions. Subsequently there has been a high level of submissions regularly made on planning and development issues. Annoyingly it is rare for explanations to be provided about how or if these submissions were considered when final decisions were made. There has been a decade or more of this lack of transparency and honesty.
There must be many who wonder how the hell did we get to this. How has it come about that the Greenslabor’s values have been corrupted to the extent that lying pathologically has been normalised as everyday behaviour?
Lying in this context includes answering questions by deliberately obfuscating responses, by gaslighting residents who ask questions, by publishing media statements and having articles placed that are based on misleading motivations and the consistent use of misinformation. These planning reforms promote truth and transparency as options. What the planning reforms reinforce is that something is dreadfully wrong within this ACT Greenslabor government.
This article is a version of the piece originally published online with City News
Paul Costigan is a commentator on cultural and urban matters