Canberra’s systemic planning problems


There are serious systemic problems within the ACT’s planning and development agencies.

Issues being dealt by the various communities have commonalities with issues being faced by residential groups across Canberra. With an election later in 2016, it is timely for advocacy about improving the manner in which ACT government agencies conducts engagement with residents on planning and development issues.

Here are some dot points —behind each point there are long stories and cases of much anxiety being experienced by residents.

  • Serious planning decisions should being made to enhance the open spaces and tree canopy across Canberra, instead the Land Development Agency/Economic Development Directorate (LDA/EDD) regards open spaces as being part of the greater development bank available for future sales.
  • There are now numerous cases whereby residents have the perception that the LDA/EDD has usurped the neighborhood-planning role of the Planning Directorate.
  • The LDA/EDD conducts its own style of superficial planning activities in order to justify land sales and the subsequent development initiatives.
  • The LDA/EDD so called master plan documents are public relations/marketing documents designed to justify pre-determined decisions to sell government lands for developments that could not be justified if proper master planning processes were utilised.
  • The LDA/EDD has a demonstrated disregard of residents and their associations.
  • The LDA/EDD employs communications officers (spin doctors) who produce media documents composed of marketing propaganda, often with misconstrued facts, designed specifically to portray residents as being uncooperative and resisting developments in their area (NIMBY).
  • The combined decisions of the LDA/EDD and the Planning Directorate/ACTPLA are reducing Canberra’s public amenity.
  • Despite the propaganda by any of the agencies concerned, climate change is not been seriously addressed through planning and development decisions.
  • The LDA/EDD’s laissez-faire approach to development results at best in mediocre design outcomes.
  • While Canberra was known for its approach to landscape design and its urban forests, more recent planning and development outcomes are resulting in the lessening of urban green infrastructure across the territory.
  • There is no legislative commitment within ACT’s planning agencies to ensuring that a growing population can enjoy the benefits of suburban intensification through having increased access to local arts, recreation, cultural and many other community facilities and services.
  • Residents understand the need to raise revenue. If the LDA/EDD were to adopt an honest and transparent approach to their development initiatives and engage with residents, solutions would be found. After all – who are these agencies supposed to be working for?
  • The perception and probably the reality is that ACT’s planning and development agencies make unilateral decisions about the place residents live and have invested in without reference to the residents’ aspirations.
  • The culture of the LDA/EDD towards residents is affecting resident’s health and well-being – and the future of Canberra as a city with people friendly amenities and infrastructure.

Over the 12 months leading up to the next ACT election, local politicians need to demonstrate to residents that they (the pollies) are committed to establishing processes for honest, realistic and transparent community engagement on planning and development, in particular on the intensification of suburban areas and the enhancement of open space assets across Canberra.


Paul Costigan

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