Does the ACT Housing minister know how to read?

Recent opinion pieces highlighted the ACT government’s badly managed planning authority and how they continually ignore their own rules and then object when they are overruled by the appeals tribunal.

After a decade of this maladministration of the planning directorate, no-one has been held responsible for this flagrant waste of resources.

When it comes to the outrageous decisions about the development applications and the poor performances in building of social housing, there is one Greenslabor minister in the frame.

Yvette Berry, as housing minister, has the unenviable reputation of being a failure in the adequate provision of social housing. Her reputation was not helped by her government’s sale of major social housing complexes along Northbourne Avenue and within the inner south of Canberra.

While scattering communities to all corners of the city was horrible, the real injustice was that the funds raised from the sales were allocated to pay for the tram – not replacement housing. They knew what they were doing. They used housing funds to buy an expensive red tram set while people had to suffer even longer without a roof over their heads.

Add to that were her politically motivated evictions of housing tenants in order to bolster the kitty given the repeated underfunding for social housing. And still they claim to be progressive!

This Greenslabor cohort constantly talk about addressing climate change and looking after the environment. Their environmental claims fall flat given that trees and greenery are constantly being removed, heat island suburbs continue to be built, biodiversity is going backwards and little within their proposed planning reforms seriously addressed climate issues. (Spoiler – it was not about planning – it was about deregulating development)

The ACT Government had many opportunities to be a leader on urban environmental issues. The most obvious is that it is a developer through its agency, Housing ACT. This agency could have had taken the lead to build high-quality residences that demonstrate how to address climate change. Unfortunately for the city, under the poor leadership of Yvette Berry, Housing ACT has failed as a built environment leader.

It starts when the agency moves to rebuild a home already allocated for social housing. More often than not, the bulldozers are sent in and everything goes. All the building materials end up being dumped. All the shrubbery and many trees are removed and trashed. That amount of removal is not exactly being environmentally sound – nor very intelligent.

This is the way it has always been done and no amount of information about what should be happening in the middle of climate crisis has changed the thinking. Vandalism continues.

One statement not long ago from Yvette Berry, was that an inner north house was over 40 years old and was past its used by date. That raised a few eyebrows from particular residents in the inner north living in homes that were as old or older.

Many have managed to retrofit an older house and have homes well adjusted for using less energy and being far more environmentally friendly – as well as being comfortable no matter what the outside temperature.

Many of the Housing ACT’s houses being demolished could be retrofitted and in some cases another residence or two (depending on the zoning) could be built alongside the original. There are very good examples of inner Canberra private homes being renovated and extended where they also maintain most of their gardens, their shrubbery and biodiversity.

This could also be happening with most of the homes, trees and biodiversity destined to be felled by Yvette Berry’s bulldozers. These new homes should have solar, be fully insulated and have double glazing. Such leadership would be a small step to matching the rhetoric of how Greenslabor is working to deal with climate issues in urban developments.

Does the ACT Housing minister know how to read?

Judging by their actions as the government developer, Yvette Berry and her staff seem to be ignorant of research and policies on solar, energy efficiency, landscape design, biodiversity, green-infrastructure and urban climate change.

Then there are the serious governance issues within the ACT’s chief planner’s directorate.

The planning directorate remains the agency signing off on fault ridden development applications submitted by Housing ACT, on behalf of their minister Yvette Berry. This agency places minimal priority on climate and continues to approve social housing homes that will not be pleasant places to live in future decades.

This agency needs to be swept clean of those responsible for the continued maladministration of these priority city building matters.


This article is a version of the piece originally published online with City News

Paul Costigan is a commentator on cultural and urban matters

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