ACT Minister continues vandalism behaviour

Berry Bulldozers Dickson Residents again

The year begins with yet another event around Dickson section 72 (Dickson parklands) involving ACT Housing Minister Yvette Berry doing her best to upset and alienate the voters within the inner north, just in time for the 2020 elections.

This has become her speciality.

Her crazy rush to plonk a new version of Common Ground on the far corner of the parklands site in Dickson will in future years be researched by urban design and governance students as a case study of how to go about delivering bad outcomes that have long-term effects on future communities. 

The latest may involve asbestos.

But first a reminder of the context. 

There is so much wrong with this proposal – here’s a few:

  • The whole matter is a result of the Minister doing a clearing out job of the high number of social housing properties along Northbourne Avenue to make way for the sales of these government sites to pay for the tram. Hence her nickname as the Minister for Clearances.
  • The plonking of Common Ground somewhere in Dickson was a commitment she snuck on to the list of the Labor Party election commitments days before the 2016 election.
  • This trick was later endorsed by the ACT Greens in their haste to do a deal to be in cabinet. Hence the ACT Greens have been largely silent about the goings-on around the proposals for developments on the Dickson Parklands site.
  • The political imperative coming into 2020 is for the Minister for Clearances to start work on Common Ground so that it can be used as major credit for her own 2020 election campaign.
  • The urgency to get something done has meant that there has been no proper consideration of environmental and social impacts.
  • A 2014 flood map indicated that this corner could be subject to flooding – the later version of the official flood map mysteriously showed less flooding.
  • The reality of the floods across Dickson in early 2018 indicated how vulnerable this site is to the sudden downpours we now expect.
  • The other reality being ignored is that this isolated corner of the site is over a kilometre from the tram. Another site closer to or on Northbourne would be far more appropriate.
  • Residents have constantly been misrepresented as opposing more social housing in the area. Not so, they do not agree to the use of this community site for any form of housing.
  • No research was undertaken to identify more appropriate sites elsewhere within the inner north for a social housing structure such as Common Ground.
  • For over a decade now, residents have been ignored in the request for a comprehensive master plan for the whole of the parklands site.
  • For over a decade now, residents have urged through multiple surveys and submissions that the parklands site be kept as a community cultural arts site within a parkland setting (keeping the old growth trees and biodiversity).
  • This need for such diverse community facilities is growing daily as the surrounding suburbs are infilled, including with many low rise and high-rise apartments. This obvious community need does not fit this Labor/Greens government priorities.
  • The planning approvals before Christmas indicate that there could most likely be a building of at least eight stories on this site – despite former statements that no such high rise would be built in this community precinct.
  • The same planning proposal has buried within it, proposals for a new road that would involve the removal of up to 90 old-growth trees. There have been attempts at denial by Ministers, yet the approved documentation did include such devastating outcomes for the local trees.
  • The Common Ground model is social housing run by a private provider. While there is a lot of positive government promotion about the success of the Gungahlin units, no comprehensive analysis is available to indicate whether this is the most cost-effective use of the funds available for social housing.
  • This rushed development for housing on this community site joins the list of unresolved issues around the government’s handling of this whole site. This includes the very dubious land swap deal that saw the Labor linked Tradies Club benefit from being handed the government owned car park in front of their building, the government getting back the lease on building on a central Parklands site that had to be quickly demolished. Somewhere along the way the Tradies pocketed a million or two of taxpayer’s money. Nothing to see here?

The latest questionable goings on are just as opaque.

This is happening today (January 14). Some residents were informed on Monday that preliminary engineering digging work was to happen on the site on Tuesday.

Well-informed residents have pointed to the government’s own reports of asbestos material being buried on this site. The neighbouring owners of the Parklands Apartments have asked the same question given their job is to provide a safe place for people to stay.

Nope! The government knows what is it is doing and residents and nearby businesses are being told not to worry. 

If something questionable is dug up – they will take some actions (yet to be determined).

No questions being raised about this site are being satisfactorily answered. Issues raised are not being addressed – or in some cases even not even acknowledged.

Residents have come to expect this bulldozer mentality from this government. This craziness and bad urban planning are happening to address the political imperative set by Minister Berry to deliver the start of a Common Ground project in Dickson before this October’s election. Silliness such as the presence of asbestos can be ignored!

Meanwhile the ACT Liberals are absent from the debate. They join the silence of the Greens. Is everyone in Hawaii?

There is a clear message coming from people’s experiences in dealing with politicians and bureaucrats on this important Dickson community asset. 

This ACT Labor/Greens government cares little for the residents of the inner north of Canberra. How good is that?


This piece was originally published in 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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