Canberra’s community groups need to stand proud

There’s a relatively new driveway off Angas Street Ainslie on the side of the Ainslie Football Club. It goes nowhere – it serves no known purpose.

Given the involvement of the Ainslie Football Club and the ACT Planning Authority, this driveway to nowhere aligns with the questionable stuff involved with the footy club’s money-making development proposals.

The club is wanting to boost their finances by converting much of the northern parking areas to residential apartments. There’s also to be a commercial childcare centre on the southern end. Residents have spent hours trying to engage positively with the proponents of the footy club developments – with little success. Given the political connections and the monies involved, there was little chance of volunteer community groups having the club’s outcomes changed. When the ACT’s sporting club set out to bring in the cash through profit-making developments, they happen. That’s how things are with the ACT Greenslabor Government.

Canberra’s community groups consist of a diversity of people. They volunteer time to work together on matters of interest because they value this city and wish to hand on to future generations suburbs that deal with the increasing climate emergencies and provide a fantastic lifestyle. They volunteer their time with the misplaced aspiration that the ACT Labor and Greens coalition government share these values. They do not.

It usually falls to volunteers to take on the combined battalions of developers, sporting clubs and their troops of experts and well-paid legals. The real crunch comes when they have to confront the tax payer funded ACT planning authority who also shows up with their expensive lawyers and hand-picked experts. It is this combined wall of money and allied power that residents take on when they challenge the questionable norms of the ACT Government to allow clubs to convert or sell their community assets, usually open spaces, to bring in cash for the clubs. The community’s efforts are largely in vain.

Building the Better Normal in this city has translated to clubs and other organisations having the government’s blessing to change of their leases to build apartments and/or to sell off land. There may be a climate emergency, but for this government and its money hungry allies, open green spaces are land banks. The reality behind the worthy-sounding rhetoric of the ACT Greens is that Canberra has enough birds, trees and other critters – so a few less and more heat islands is just fine. That’s Greenslabor’s gentle urbanism!

The motivation of the clubs is that without an injection of massive funds, the clubs will most likely become financially unviable. With managements starved of innovative ideas, the clubs relegate community assets, open spaces, bird-life, the environment and opportunities to deal with climate as being of secondary interest. The high priority interest is money and business as usual.

As for the residents who have learnt that they have almost no control over developer driven outcomes that will change their suburban environments – they must not give up. They should be proud that they have stood up to be counted and have let the monied cohorts know that there is a community who hold to their values – despite everything that is thrown at them.

That Ainslie Footy Club driveway is no Stairway to Heaven. It sits there as a weird message to the pesky residents. The government and its friendly developers know what they do and how they are playing the community with alternative facts and a twisted use of what remains of the planning rules. Change will happen one day as autocrats eventually stumble. It will take patience, creativity, courage and clever ways to use the scarce resources available to community groups.

Residents may have lost skirmishes with monied clubs and developers, but they should continue to send the message that their values remain intact and that what the coalition of developers and government is doing does not align with the community’s values and aspirations.

There are many fun things to enjoy most of which can be done despite the blandness of this Greenslabor government. Do not allow unfriendly developers and this government define you. Be prepared to put them on notice again and again – but also do fun stuff with and on behalf of your diverse communities. And thank you for doing what you do.

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