Letters to the Editor


Published in the Canberra Times 3 September 2014

Precinct Plan needed

Ross Peake (”Dickson residents unite”, Forum, August 30, p3) reported on the proposed developments for Section 72 in Dickson. The most important issue has not changed from the time when the Dickson Residents Group stopped a silly infill proposal and tried in vain to achieve a more meaningful plan for the Dickson shops.

Then, as now, such proposals should be developed in the context of an accepted precinct or neighbourhood plan. The then ACTPLA chief said this was not necessary. We disagreed and these latest proposals have identified the same problem. If the options for future community facilities and more green spaces are to be reduced with this infill, the questions being asked by many are: Where in the overall planning does it allow for equivalent allocations for green spaces and potential community facilities? Why is there not a precinct plan for the whole neighbourhood?

Such comprehensive precinct planning would avoid all the uncertainties, the waste of time and resources by developers, as well as residents in having to do battle over each ad hoc proposal. This lack of transparent planning processes points again to the need for a new style and far more community-engaged planning and design authority for the whole of Canberra.

Paul Costigan, Dickson




Published in the Canberra Times 26 August 2014

Big flaw in policy

Planning Minister Mick Gentleman says the ACT is open to cutting red tape and encouraging big-box retailers (”ACT thinks big when appealing for new retail stores”, August 22, p1). Big-box shops encourage more car use, so we will need even more road infrastructure and, therefore, we will need to rely on Big Coal and Big Petrol even more – all in the name of creating more jobs, which is really code for more big-box profits at the expense of local retailers and their employees.

It is a shame Mr Gentleman’s first public statements were not visionary about how he was to be a planning minister working for the long-term benefits of the residents, who elect him, and the environment, for which he has many responsibilities through urban planning.

Just to be sure, does Mr Gentleman smoke cigars?

Paul Costigan, Dickson




Published in the Canberra Times 19 August 2014

How To Save Our City

There’s much debate about the new worthwhile urban projects such as the ones for Yarralumla, City to Lake and those just announced for Dickson. Luckily, we can easily identify that the Liberal Party continues to use these forums to gain a strike on the popularly elected ACT government. We should allow most of that shrill to pass by and await the outcomes of the formal consultations.

While I am definitely not a fan of a new stadium in Civic, the main issue for these major projects is the quality of the build and urban spaces. The challenge for the ACT government is to introduce an improved regulatory process to decrease the number of bland-box, cheaply rendered buildings and to enhance the green infrastructure with each DA proposed. Green-wash star ratings should be outlawed.

The idea that the National Capital Authority (NCA) should have any influence on any design innovations across Canberra is a joke, given that its new design panel is dominated by old-style consultants. Luckily, the NCA’s panel offers advice to the NCA but it can then be ignored by everyone else.

As stated many times now, the NCA’s role is no longer relevant and needs to be integrated into a new planning authority for Canberra. This new body’s key corporate strategy should be to use community engagement to deliver architecturally integrated designed spaces and buildings that provide for enjoyment, sustainability and enhance the green infrastructure of this wonderful capital city.

Paul Costigan, Dickson




Published in the Canberra Times 24 July 2014

Integrating national and ACT planning could be a win-win

As the debate continues for the Commonwealth to hand back to the ACT government the national functions now undertaken by the NCA, Brett Odgers (Letters, July 21) raises the possibility of risks to the integrity and prospects of our national capital.

These concerns are indeed real. I suggest that as national functions are integrated into those of the ACT, it is timely to revisit all territory planning functions to establish a more relevant and innovative regime.

The ACTPLA has a historic culture perceived by many residents as being hostile to delivering aesthetically appealing architectural and landscape design. The authority is seen to deliver greenwash instead of addressing the realities of climate change and sustainability.

Just how many more cheaply rendered apartments can this city cram into old and new suburbs?

The former chief minister restructured the government departments to change the ACTPLA and its culture. Serious bureaucratic moves were made, but unfortunately the authority still remains and performs as before.

Meanwhile the NCA is soon to have its own Commonwealth-employed parking inspectors to function alongside those employed by the ACT. This will be yet another duplication of government functions in Canberra.

The integration of the national roles with those of the ACT government is overdue and could be a win-win for all by delivering a new sophisticated agency to oversee local and national planning and design responsibilities across Canberra.

Paul Costigan, Dickson




Published in the Canberra Times 15 July 2014

NCA outdated

An opportunity has presented it­self with the Commonwealth now allowing the National Capit­al Authority to open up the Par­liamentary Triangle to more commercial opportunities (“Tri­angle facilities a private matter”, July 12, pi). The ACT has a pecu­liar division in its planning whereby the airport is not subject to the same policies and le­gislative framework as the rest of Canberra businesses.

We do not need another area, being the Parliamentary Tri­angle, to have the advantage of NCA-styled regulations that would then disadvantage other nearby commercial activities.

The NCA was established at the time of self-government,

I suggest that it is now timely for the Commonwealth to hand back to the ACT government those national areas of Canberra under the control of the NCA. Special structures would be re­quired to ensure that the on­going national status of the Parliamentary Triangle is maintained.

However, in such cases, as with the City to the Lake devel­opments and the Northbourne Corridor, we are witnessing a serious duplication of resources and a waste of taxpayers’ money. The ACT government should have sole responsibility for these areas and their development. The NCA’s model is now no longer relevant or required. It was a good idea once but we are now well into the 21st century and we require a contemporary and cost effective management structure.

The ACT government has proven itself to be a mature oper­ation that could easily take on these extra national responsibili­ties, along with the appropriate allocation of Commonwealth resources.

Let it be!

Paul Costigan, Dickson

This is an edited version of a full proposal (published 23 July 2014 – click here)

Abolish ACTPLA
Published in the Canberra Times 10 April 2014


Introducing democracy into ACT planning and development Special development precincts (”ACT fast-track development laws bypass key planning processes”, April 5) should be supported with a caveat or two.

All fast-track development proposals need to be based on comprehensive and transparent community engagement. If such engagement is included, then the new processes should deliver a much-improved system compared to the presently convoluted and irrelevant ACT Planning and Land Authority (ACTPLA) processes.

This new fast-track process means that the elected Assembly members become directly responsible. That’s the wonderful nature of democracy.

The major concern is that while this fast-track process is to be introduced for special areas, unfortunately the precincts most precious to residents, their suburbs, remain subject to the whims of a non-elected, faceless ACTPLA.

What the introduction of the fast-track process demonstrates is that the ACTPLA experiment has passed its use-by date. The ACTPLA should be abolished and a new Development and Planning Commission established to work with and for the people who live in Canberra.

The key strategy for this new commission would be to come to planning and development proposals through realistic and honest community partnerships. Subsequent recommendations would need to be signed off jointly by the community and the commission before being presented to the elected Assembly for final considerations. A little more democracy in planning could go a long way!

And concerning the proposal to revitalise Northbourne Avenue, we need to ensure more than the present number of trees are planted as part of an innovative and well-designed boulevard into the city.

Paul Costigan, Dickson

see also full version of this proposal – click here



Good Designs on Northbourne

sent to the Canberra Times 10 December 2013
I welcome the report in the Canberra Times 10 December 2013: Strong demand expected for proposed sale of ACT government properties.

Here’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to think beyond the sales, beyond the laissez-faire planning and development models, and to deliver something beautifully designed that addresses climate change adaptation within urban redevelopments.

Besides the need to revamp Northbourne Avenue to carry better public transport (maybe light rail, maybe not), as well as cyclists, pedestrians and cars, this avenue should become a major part of Canberra green infrastructure. New buildings need to be considered to be both aesthetically interesting (no glassed wall boxes) as well as being contributors to the green infrastructure and the climate change adaptation solutions for Canberra’s future.

This means buildings that use far less energy than the so-called ‘green star’ pseudo-sustainable things that receive all the industry and professional awards.

All the sales should go ahead. The next step is the crucial one. To bring about a comprehensive integrated design solution for the whole avenue.

I have a dream that tourists arrive to be greeted by engaging landscapes containing great architecture along this avenue. The challenge for our bureaucrats is to keep out all the usual suspects with their imported superficial projects ideas.

A special set of development regulations is required. Think local. Think 21st Century. Let’s make it happen and celebrate good design.

Paul Costigan


Avenue of dreams

published in the Canberra Times 21 November 2013

The ACT government is to be congratulated for the plans for the next stage of Canberra’s Constitution Avenue (”Plans unveiled for city’s grand Champs-Elysees”, November 9, p1).

Unfortunately someone has bravely announced that it will be Canberra’s Champs-Elysees. Does that mean there will be an Arc de Triomphe, expensive shops, huge crowds day and night, massive amounts of traffic (four lanes each side) and ever-present scammers and pick-pockets?

The Avenue des Champs-Elysees has a complex history and is a place you must visit. Once. You must experience the madness of the traffic around the arc. As for Constitution Avenue, being realistic, we are about to enjoy a major upgrade of a very boring end of town.

So I implore our planners to put their cultural cringe aside and to call this redevelopment for what it is. We will see something very competent but far more modest than the Avenue des Champs-Elysees. It will be akin to the eastern section of Constitution Avenue, although that section’s future redevelopment is now limited, given the massive presence of the ASIO building and security fencing.

Let’s celebrate what should be an additional asset that delivers important green infrastructure, is hopefully being designed to deliver climate change measures, but does not deliver a major haven for pickpockets!

If more of a reality check is required, I am happy to be paid to travel to Paris to collect the necessary comparative evidence.

Paul Costigan, Dickson



Turning over a new leaf

published in the Canberra Times 31 October 2013

John Gray (Letters, October 29) is correct to highlight the need for a special landscape-led design along Northbourne Avenue when the long overdue light rail is introduced. Our capital has benefited from this magnificent entrance and those responsible should be honoured.

The challenge is for a different design solution that delivers an equivalent tree-lined entrance as well as allowing for the light rail, cars, bicycles and pedestrians. My concern is not necessarily for the present 420 trees but that the replacements are as beautiful, as dominating and maybe even more in number. Why stop at 420?

This will require expertise outside the usual architectural suspects who have delivered some of our landscape works of late.

I shudder every day as I drive up Anzac Parade and view how those noble sentinels, the trees that line the avenue, have had their dominance diminished by those flying saucers lights. There must have been a better lighting and landscape solution. What were they thinking?

The design of a new Northbourne Avenue entrance to this city will require very creative landscape-oriented thinking. This is an important part of our green infrastructure. Keep it simple, subtle and the emphasis on landscape and people.

Paul Costigan, Dickson

(full article here)



Inner North Canberra Greenway Arts

sent to the Canberra Times 23 October 2013 – unpublished so far.

A huge congratulations to the unstoppable local Landscape Architect, Neil Hobbs, and the team that put together the Sculpture In The Park at Lambrigg on 19th & 20th Oct. With thousands driving out into the country to celebrate the work of local sculptors it is obvious that Canberra should host such an event often.

May I suggest that making use of the Inner North Canberra Greenway, that stretches from the Dickson Wetlands, through Dickson to the Lyneham Wetlands, then towards the ANU and then left into Haig Park and finally to Limestone Ave. This outdoor sculpture walk event could be accessed from any point within several inner suburbs. Such a long stretch of open arts would be the catalyst for healthy exercise as visitors roam along this greenway.

Over time this could be the foundation of the whole greenway being upgraded to make it more pedestrian friendly with permanent artworks, better seating (some of us need to take breaks), and some improvements to the trees and shrubbery. Importantly there would be the requirement for new pathways to separate wandering pedestrians from faster moving cyclists.

Neil Hobbs and his creative colleagues through the Open Gardens Lambrigg event have demonstrated that locals appreciate opportunities to get outdoors and to enjoy the fabulous artworks by our numerous creative local artists.

The Inner North Canberra Greenway needs major upgrading to become another tourist and engaging attraction on the growing list of Canberra’s outdoor events. So let’s make it happen, preferably soon, and then often.

Paul Costigan, Dickson

(full article here soon)



Civic Development Debate Required

Published in the Canberra Times Wednesday 23 October 2013

Canberra citizens should welcome the Property Council’s initiatives to think big about the future of Civic, CT 18th Oct.

However anyone who has dealt with ACTPLA has learnt the hard way how totally frustrating and unbelievable it is to negotiate with a separate authority that is not linked to the will of the people and the needs of future generations. Civic desperately requires radically different development proposals than can be offered by the usual suspects who have dominated Canberra’s development.

The former Civic is no more thanks to decisions that delivered the mall and destroyed the former ambience of Civic’s open spaces. Let’s go with Walter Burley Griffin and get back to intense development. Let’s declare all of Civic and surrounds as a special intense development zone with a mix of residential and commercial styles driven by a broad set of aesthetic and environmental guidelines.

Think the best of Paris streets, small and large shops, apartments above, a range of building heights, a variety of open spaces including village greens, think solar, think healthy housing for all ages, and radical climate change adaptation measures. Then we could have a new 21st Century model for intense city living.

Civic development must to be directly overseen by a new formal arrangement answerable to the ACT Government and one that local politicians must engage in and not play the silly game of leaving development to ‘separate market driven authorities’ such as ACTPLA.

Bring on this debate as a matter of urgency.

Paul Costigan, Dickson Resident

(full article here)



Unpublished letter to the Canberra Times, 14 October 2013

Lake Battle: time to move on.

It is a worry that all this effort is being put into opposing the building of a slipway and boat maintenance facility that is to be hidden away on the far side of Black Mountain Peninsular. Did someone really make a 70-page submission on this?

I have serious concerns about planning and development in Canberra. It will take some time to re-build trust given the treatment of residents over local developments in the suburbs especially here in Dickson. In relation to developments around the lake, we are overdue to be provided with an accessible and community friendly master plan for all the foreshore areas of Lake Burley Griffin. The current development process is too ad hoc. It is time to get more sophisticated about our lakeside facilities and amenities.

However on this proposal, I raise no objection to the location. I went online to look at the plans and saw the words that ‘it will be discreet, with minimal disruption to the landscape’. I looked again at the drawings and laughed out loud. Architects use these words often but the reality is usually the opposite. I say to David Dawes, get on with it but please allow for a more creative design solution. We can do better than having just another iron shed on the lake.

And to those wondering about the voice of the ACT Architect, look to the name on the planning documents.

Paul Costigan, Dickson

(full article here)



Think Outside That Box

An unpublished letter to the editor, 15 September 2013

Dear Canberra Times

Civic is overdue for new thinking. Emma Macdonald (What chance a revitalized Garema Place? Sept 14) provided a touch of nostalgia that Civic may return to its former people friendly environment. Megan Doherty (Fears for Civic as big tenant mulls move, Sept 14) pointed to the useless efforts by Canberra CBD Ltd to do something realistic. That bureaucracy seems bereft of original thinking.

Time to move on folks!  We could bulldoze the big box, but that won’t happen (correct me if I am wrong). It’s time to drop all hope of rectifying the planners’ mistake whereby they allowed that mall to dominate inappropriately. What David Dawes and his crew are delivering in Braddon, north of that mall, is looking promising.

Life outside the box is possible. Slow down dispersing development and concentrate on intensification in Civic. All of Civic should be declared a special intense development zone with a mix of residential and commercial styles driven by a broad set of aesthetic and environmental guidelines. We need a mix of four to seven stories with a variety of styles of apartments and business opportunities.

Forget Civic as we remember it and go for intense development with streets of apartments, large and small shops mixed together with green open spaces in between and the growth in outdoor cafes and restaurants. Think Paris streets, village greens and build in solar and radical climate change adaptation measures and we could have a 21st Century model for intense city living.

Paul Costigan,   Dickson Resident

(full article here)



Planners and Priorities

Published letter to the Editor – in response to Canberra Times 10 September 2013

This letter was an extract of a larger online piece – published here

Dear Canberra Times

Friends and I were having a quiet moment at the Dickson shops on Friday, when we were circled by three senior ACT Planning officials. All three were taking notes and photographs. My mother used to say that in the ’30s in Sydney, the police would be called if three Irish were seen to gather.

It is possible to do a lot of shopping locally here in Dickson and to attend to such necessities as medical, legal and financial business. All these amenities and more are within a short walk from any point in the surrounding precinct. The coffee is good as well. On the downside, the centre has become a little run-down and beggars now confront shoppers on most evenings outside the supermarket.

When there are proclamations about the centre’s redevelopment, the minister usually announces that there is strong community support for the government’s master plan. Just to correct this again, we locals remain dubious that our authoritative planners have the community needs and the enhancement of the amenity as the priority.

Innovative changes are welcomed and we are sure the authorities have a creative engagement process planned to ensure growth in small shops and other amenities. We will watch this space for continued real engagement on our precinct’s future. But the next time we see the three planning types circling with their iPad and iPhone cameras, should we be alarmed?

Paul Costigan,  Dickson Resident

(full article here)



Adaptable housing for changing times

published letter to the editor, Canberra Times, 4th September 2013

In ”Builders accuse ACT govt of fee gouging” (September 2, p3), the Master Builders Association of the ACT and the Property Council of Australia’s ACT branch indicate that they are reluctant to embrace the needs of the ACT’s ageing population and integrate universal housing guidelines into future housing.

Canberrans have often spoken out about the need for good design to be integrated into new developments and the redevelopment of the city’s inner suburbs.

Instead we are generally served up poor-quality housing stock that will not be around in 10 years or so. There are exceptions, but they are few and far between.

The challenge for the property and building sectors is not to oppose change but to bring something positive to the table.

They should be taking the initiative, on behalf of their members, to bring about innovative and well-designed housing that delivers universal housing, addresses the increasingly serious climate change issues, as well as the population’s health.

This more positive approach would be most welcomed and would be much better for these organisations than being continually represented in the media as a bunch of whingeing NIMBYs.

Paul Costigan, Dickson Resident



About The Canberra Tree Canopy

An unpublished letter to the editor, 21 August 2013

In the article on Significant Trees, 21 August, the most significant point is missed completely by the various spokespersons. Yes let’s rethink the processes for reviewing which trees stay or go. But these decisions are sub-sets of the real issue that is the protection and enhancement of the city’s total tree canopy.

Our fabulous urban forests are part of the greater green infrastructure that Canberrans embrace as key to our collective health and well-being. Improving our total tree canopy is a major part of the Canberra’s need to address climate change within our urban settlements.

I agree with Mr Trobe’s comments that the current process can tangle people in endless, excessive and wasteful bureaucracy. However our landscapes, and within that our trees, are always evolving and change is to happen. This is not just about buildings and development. It is about how we manage and care for the total Canberra landscape.

The more intelligent challenge for our departmental and political chiefs is how to ensure that any tree removal is linked to the requirement for replacement trees or equivalent and how such solutions add to the total tree canopy and enhance the green infrastructure around the sites concerned.

This more forward looking thinking needs to be applied to all developments and redevelopments. The future of our bush capital requires mandatory criteria for redevelopments to address the landscape values and the enhancement of our precious green infrastructure. Are our political leaders interested in the realities of providing healthy environments as part of Canberra’s future?

Paul Costigan, Dickson Resident


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