The differences in values widens between the ACT government and residents

There is huge gap in values between those of the residents of this city and those of the ACT’s planning authority. Canberra’s community groups have been writing submissions about their aspirations and urban priorities for more than a decade.

However, what the chief planner proposed for planning reforms bears no resemblance to what has been a decade or more of clear communications from residents.

The last 12 months have been a very tiring experience for those who responded to the multiple calls feedback by the ACT Planning Directorate. It has been a very frustrating and annoying experience. How submissions are treated once received is horrible if the planning reform drafts are anything to go by. It has been hard to spot how feedback changed the directions of the reforms.

The planning directorate’s dealings with residents is seen as being based on a lack of respect for residents, their homes, their families, their suburbs and their city. This was very clear with the recent chief planner’s proposed reforms. These were rolled out in an ad hoc, piecemeal and patronising manner – in fact some aspects are yet to be revealed. The drafts as presented are more complex than and just as opaque as those they are supposed to replace, which had themselves been completely messed up by this same planning directorate.

People had responded in good faith to what seemed very haphazardly thrown together drafts on district planning and the planning bill. That good faith was not reciprocated by the bureaucracy. With each stage of the roll out, the message was that the draft documentations were almost the final versions. Yet residents were encouraged to provide feedback and many did.

Spoiler Alert: If anyone out there had not worked it out yet – the chief planner’s reforms are not about planning, not about a city for people and not about biodiversity, climate, design and everything else to enhance this cherished city in the landscape. The chief planner, with Andrew Barr’s encouragement, is proposing to deregulate developments to allow profit-making easier for developers.

For those who engaged honestly with the planning directorate hoping to have their voices heard, the end result was a nasty taste – a feeling that the community was being taken for a ride – as fools to be not taken seriously.

Many people became more disillusioned with and distrustful of the Greenslabor government – thanks to the culture of this disingenuous planning directorate. They felt that this reform process was an insult to the dignity of residents.

It would have been far more civil if the ACT elected politicians (of all colours) and the planning bureaucrats had taken the time to read and seriously consider the last decades of work by the community sector. They would then have come to understand the intelligence and expertise behind the list of the community’s aspirations and the priorities.

If dignity and respect for the community had been the basis for how the government conducted engagement, by now many changes could have been negotiated and implemented. It did not need these badly thrown together draft reforms to bring about change. What is required is a reform of the culture and a serious change of personnel within this directorate.

This city in a landscape should be enhanced to be a city for future generations to enjoy. It should not to become less green and more like one massive heat island.

The people who live here have a clear vision for the city. It has been clearly articulated through their own suburban master plans, their surveys, their submissions, their own district strategies, their stories, histories, heritage and much more.

What the government’s planning reforms illustrated clearly is that values that underpin the values and vision of the community as set out in their documentation are very different to those that inform the questionable actions of the chief minister and his planning directorate’s bureaucracy.

Mutual respect, humane values, creativity, innovation, urban design and a mature approach to community engagement have been totally missing from how this Greenslabor government relates to the Canberra communities.

I suspect the people of the city are here to stay. That leaves the other option as the more viable. The culture and leadership of the government and the planning directorate need to drastically and urgently change.


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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