Dickson Shops

An update on development in Canberra

Looking to the next elections for resident friendly solutions

dickson-shops3 The Dickson residents continue to be disappointed with the ACT Government for allowing so many inappropriate development proposals to be taken seriously. The latest let-down is that local politicians look as if they are allowing a supermarket and residential proposal to progress even though the evidence indicates how wrong it is for this inner suburb.

The ACT Government formerly had a supermarket competition policy to encourage new players into Canberra to provide alternatives to the usual two or three. That policy must have been shelved as this proposal for Dickson ushers in Coles as the new supermarket. The government has fooled the residents again into thinking it identified with the residents’ concerns about supermarket domination.  The disappointment is exaggerated because residents were led to believe that local politicians were interested in providing alternatives to the usual three. It has not happened. Any trust has been shattered.

Along the way the upgrading of Dickson was heralded by a new Master Plan for the whole Dickson commercial centre. The plan was not well accepted by local groups as it turned out to be nothing more  than an open wish list for developers. Trust was the casualty.

There was a survey by the ACT Government that asked whether residents preferred that the development to go ahead with one new supermarket complex or whether two was preferred. Residents wondered what happened to the real question: Do you want another of the major supermarkets in Dickson? The warning is out there about this government and its surveys. Do not trust them.



Just before Christmas 2014 a developer lodged a development application for the supermarket site. The proposal was judged by residents as being an inappropriate  monster. It is as big as they could possible make it with as many small apartments crammed into several floors above. There were so many things wrong with the proposal that it took a while for people to react and to make their way through the hundred or so documents. Everyone agreed that the proposal was a shocker and wondered just how it made its way across any planning bureaucrat’s desk.

People realise that it is very clear that ACT Government’s planning requirements are so bad because the developer is simply responding to the limited requirements as agreed to by our elected politicians. Our politicians may say that this is the business of the planning authority. In the eyes of the residents, these outcomes are owned by the elected government. Elected politicians need to take responsibility for such disastrous outcomes that are slowly delivering the urban destruction of formerly very attractive inner Canberra suburbs.

If the lesson had not already been learnt, there is definitely no trust in the ACT Government’s planning processes.

There was much press about how bad the proposal was and there was a petition put together amongst the shop owners and shoppers about how the proposal was so inappropriate for Dickson. People were calling for the whole process to stop before huge urban planning mistakes are made.

It must be noted that residents were not opposing the redevelopment of Dickson shops. What was being objected to was the way this whole planning affair was being handled. The former master plan was so vague that it has allowed the developers to ignore it. The plan was not linked to any legislation requirements. So residents had devoted time and energy to try to make something at least notionally worthwhile to see the master planning processes become totally useless.

So much for the ACT Government’s Time to Talk – as that’s all it was – Talk!

There can be no trust in a government that just talks but ignores what is being said.

To keep this story short, the development application received an overwhelming thumbs down. The local political response was that politicians leave these matters to the planning authority. Therein again lies the problem! The planning authority is seen by residents as an arm of the ACT Government that deals favourably with the needs of the development lobby at the cost of the aspirations and health and well-being of residents. As for addressing climate change, this government is yet to make the logical and overdue connections between climate adaptation and urban development and health.

Residents are aware that the decision by the planning authority on the supermarket proposal has been delayed. We know this because we read the newspapers not because anyone has used the email addresses supplied to keep residents up to date.

Based on past experiences, residents are aware that the developer is in close contact with the planning authority and is probably making as minimum changes as possible to gain approval from the planning authority. Based on past outcomes of the ACT Government on planning and development, residents are standing by to hear more spin about how they were listened to and how the new version of the former is now so much better.

Resident fully expect that the new version, just like the former, will not address climate change adaptation issues or other prime environmental concerns, traffic and access issues and that it will not  realistically address the relationship of this monster to the rest of the shopping centre. It is a huge bland box building no matter how much spin will be put on it. The opportunity for something really innovative has been squandered by the government and its own planning and development agencies.

Canberra is not too different to many other jurisdictions in Australia whereby the government has more and more become out of touch with residents and their visions for their city. There is no doubt that the connections between the Canberra developer lobby and the planning bureaucrats is very close especially when compared to how they jointly regard and talk about those pesky residents.

And now there is this latest incident that well and truly reinforced the lack of trust in this government!

The Dickson residents are keen to hear what has been happening over the last couple of months with this supermarket development proposal. No news. No transparency of processes. Nothing!

But alas some news has just arrived via the property section in the newspaper. The developer concerned is so confident of the outcome that they are advertising for sales using the by-line: Doma Group’s new development Lotus will be built in Dickson.  click here.

At least residents now have it confirmed that the proposal seems to be progressing— despite the mountain of objections. It is not good to have it confirmed that the ACT Government planning approvals work in such an opaque and resident unfriendly manner. If there was little trust before, it is now even lower.

In the long-term the residents will be living here trying to deal with this monster development while the developer will be long gone and most likely working hand in hand with this planning authority bringing changes to another local suburb.

Transparency should be everything. Government works when there is transparency. This whole planning and development process around Dickson has been woeful and an insult to anyone interested in good government. The ACT Government’s culture around urban developments and its attitude to residents has reached a low point.

It is difficult to use the word’ trust’ and the ‘ACT politicians’ in the same sentence when discussing planning and development.

And then there is the silence on the development proposals being cooked up for the nearby site known officially as Section 72— or locally as the Dickson Community Cultural Parklands. There was a quick flurry last year whereby the government did its best through carefully staged meetings to try to achieve at least a skerrick of an agreement on the need for multi-unit residential developments on this community site. That did not work despite many hours of marketing spin by the appointed consultants.


It seems that residents can still identify spin no matter how well it is dressed up.

Since then there has been silence. And residents know what that means! Another effort will be just around the corner. The debate, or more likely the next battle for the retention of this potentially valuable community site is still ahead.

The next ACT Government elections cannot come fast enough. This time around a new batch of hopeful candidates will be presenting themselves. They need to earn the trust of the residents.

Here’s a few questions that residents could ask about the candidates.

  • Which of the candidates will be identified as being resident friendly when it comes to development and planning?
  • Which candidates will demonstrate a real commitment to climate change adaptation being addressed through urban development proposals?
  • Which candidates will agree that it is time that for the ACT Government to put in place a new planning and development regime and thereby deal with what residents experience as the anti-resident culture within the ACT Government’s planning and development agencies?
  • Who amongst the candidates can you trust on planning and development issues?


The Dickson shops have been the subject of previous posts – click here

Paul Costigan

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