Mediocre design comes to Dickson


I don’t think the residents will be holding celebrations about what is being proposed for the new supermarket complex here in downtown Dickson.

Dickson is the main commercial/shopping hub for the inner north of Canberra and most residents would agree that it is overdue for a revamp. We know too well what the problems are. There is much to love about our shopping centre and much that could be done to see it enhanced to be even better.

New exciting architectural and landscape solutions would definitely be welcomed. It is just that the revamped development application (DA) that is now in the pipeline does little of this. The revamped proposal for the Dickson shops is mediocre at best. As one commentator put it – they have moved from getting an F (Failure) to maybe now receiving a D (Disappointing).

The original policy of the Jon Stanhope government, now ignored, was to bring in new players and new competitors to the supermarket arena here in Canberra. The concept was innovative but relied on the bureaucracy getting off their butts and encouraging new players into the supermarket field. The revamped proposal does not do any of this.

We will be first to grant that more shops are always to be welcomed – but what about something new and something different?


(proposed view looking west from in front of the library – Wollies to the left)


(View looking south-west from west bound lane of Antill St – boring?)

This whole sorry affair started when the infamous LDA/directorate looked out their windows here in Dickson and realised that there were several ways of making money out of sales of government land in around the centre, including the nearby Dickson Parklands.

The reality is that Dickson, as with all of Canberra, is subject to ad hoc planning. One part of this is the economic development agency that has a history of not being able to empathise with the aspirations of the Canberra electorate. The other is the mysterious and opaque planning authority/directorate (see my regular post next Wednesday).

If the residents knew back then what we have since learnt about the LDA/directorate’s smoke and mirror games, there may have been a chance that what we are now dealing with here in Dickson might have been something we could have celebrated.

Following the rejection mid last year of the first development application (DA) for new building, the joint developers have now delivered not a new DA but one that is a revamp of the former. As part of the process to tick all the boxes, the Dickson Residents Group attended a presentation the other night by six uniformly dressed men from the joint partners. The presentation was carried out professionally and in a friendly manner. We gave the blokes an A for their smooth presentation efforts.

The developers are doing their best to match the requirements of the planning regimes overseen by both the LDA/directorate and the ACTPLA/planning directorate.

Therein lie the problems. The planning requirements are not about innovations. They are definitely not about putting into place a new architectural and landscape vision for precincts such as Dickson.

The developers’ glossy presentations present a wonderful example of a new building in the universal CAD-Modern style. The building could be anywhere.

It has little relevance to the Canberra environment, is of limited aesthetic value and will do near to nothing to address the complex climate change issues that will impact on the residents. There’s a few token trees squeezed in on the perimeter – the whole thing will increase the heat island effects – and there is no use of double glazing, solar and breezeways.

The problem now is that developers will use this as the benchmark for future structures in and around the Dickson centre. And given the experience here, one wonders what will be presented for the future of Northbourne Ave (also to be subject of a future post from me).

For the residents who have not expired through this long and costly process, there remain questions about the revamped plans to plonk a carpark onto the Dickson Parklands corner.

This yet to be approved plan involves the removal a few trees. This is far better than previously whereby many trees were to go. But who is going to park there and walk across the busy street to get back to the shops when they can go elsewhere well away from the construction site and all its noise, trucks and parked builders’ utes?

Based on previous experiences, the agencies will use this intrusion onto green spaces to manufacture some twisted logic for other areas of the parklands and community facilities to be used for private developments.

The next few years are going to be very tough for the traders in the Dickson precinct. Shops have already started to close as people have started to shop elsewhere.


(image above is of the car park to be removed for the new building)

The LDA/directorate failed completely to have any forward plan in place to cope with the loss of the main parking areas during the next two to three years of construction.

The operation of how the agencies have handled the ‘urban renewal’ of Dickson is worthy of serious study. Future leaders and researchers will identify this as a case study in questionable governance and a twisted use of the democratic processes. Future generations will look back and wonder just how this was allowed to happen.

Given the agreement by residents that the Dickson shops could be changed for the better, it is a real shame that the revamped proposal, which is most likely to meet the ACTPLA’s limited requirements, is simply mediocre at best.

It is a shame that the agencies involved were not capable of mature behaviour and to have worked honestly with locals to deliver something we could have celebrated.

Mediocre is the most polite word we are using to sum up the outcome of this painful exercise to change the Dickson shops. What a shame!


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