Canberra Liberals need to try harder on planning

On the afternoon of Tuesday 28th March, Canberra Liberal Peter Cain rose to his feet in the legislative assembly to deliver a brief speech about an aspect of the chief minister’s planning reforms.

The speech concentrated on a key point that consultations and debates on the planning reforms should have included questions about the governance and operations of the planning directorate.

People are being constantly called on to provide feedback to development applications and to changes to how planning operates. Residents have spent countless hours and weeks on submissions over the last decade. In the end, there is no information on how the mountain of community submissions are considered and whether or not they have informed the decisions by the planning directorate.

Requests to discuss the operations of the directorate were denied by the planning directorate and therefore on their behalf by this Greenslabor government. So much for being progressive, transparent and honest!

Peter Cain made the point that it was not acceptable that the planning directorate was evaluating its own performance. Very convenient! Never mind that there is no trust in how this directorate is being managed and how decisions are made. Peter Cain made the point that this self-evaluation must be a conflict of interest.

The sad news is that such conflicts are regarded as normal behaviour for the ACT’s Greenslabor government.

Peter Cain said that community members have said that the present planning systems were not that bad. Most of the problems occur because of the planning directorate’s lack of effective governance and faulty administration.

His final point was that there needs to be real reform of planning undertaken by an independent body – not the planning directorate. Hard not to agree with that!

The present planning directorate operates remotely from reality of the lives and aspirations of the residents of this city. The governance of ACT’s planning directorate is the key to the problem for the future health and wellbeing of this city and its residents. This is the issue that people want to talk about.

When Peter Cain finished his short speech that involved very pointed criticisms of the government’s planning directorate, the next thing should have been a robust debate and most likely the usual spin from the planning minister.

Instead, when he finished, he sat down and the speaker said that’s it for the day and they all went home – no debate.  It was as if the speaker was saying to Peter Cain, thanks for getting that off your chest, now back to the important things –going home.

The planning reform documents included a spread of the yellow urban investigation areas into many suburban areas previously untouched by inappropriate developments. This sneaky indicator of future redevelopments remains unknown to the majority of Canberra residents.

Many recent developments and towers involve fairly ordinary design and are usually built within underwhelming landscapes. Given in the chief minister’s desire for gentle urbanism that will be based on less planning rules and less requirements for good architecture and design, things are about to look even worse and will be less liveable as things warm up.

The chief minister’s deregulation of the planning system will build more heat island suburban areas, reduce green spaces, reduce biodiversity (fewer birds and other critters), reduce the tree cover, deliver even less community benefits, increase inequality (less affordable housing) and work against the aspirations of residents for a city in the landscape.

But at least the developers will make more profits and that will keep them onside with this ideologically driven chief minister.

The Canberra Liberals have had countless opportunities to be more vocal about the harm being caused by the questionable governance of this important portfolio. Unfortunately, that small speech followed by the rush out the door was as good as it gets for the Liberals to speak up for local residents.

The Canberra Liberals need to understand that what happens in our streets and in our neighbourhood areas matters to the people of Canberra.

The Canberra Liberals as opposition politicians need to pay attention to their local constituents, read all the community submissions and to identify with what residents have been saying for decades. All Canberra Liberal politicians need to say something meaningful more often on these complex and life changing planning matters.

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