The mess that is planning in Canberra
Residents had good reasons to be puzzled by the 16th August decision by the ACT Greenslabor Planning Minister to use his precious ‘call-in’ powers to refuse a development at the McKellar shops. The reasons given caused readers to wonder – did he really say that?
People wondered whether his action was appropriate given that these special planning minister’s powers were supposed to be limited to very dire circumstances.
The media statement gave reasons that seemed very basic. It seemed that there must have been something else – unstated.
Given how many shopping centres have had approvals for residential developments nearby, why was McKellar to be spared what is now a normal developer-driven development.
The residents who were seriously taken aback were those who had made submissions that included the argument that what was being proposed in their suburb or street would cause major traffic issues and problems with parking.
There’s one restaurant, one business and a child-care centre at the McKellar shops – with heaps of parking bays.
The usual response from the government’s preferred traffic experts is that any street can have more parking – and besides, people will be using active travel, Rattenbury scooters and public transport – and do not forget the tram. And the Tardis will fly by the moon tonight.
But despite all those previous knock-backs on parking as an issue, here’s our minister for planning, Mick Gentleman, making a special call-in ruling that excess parking is a reason for knocking back a development application. Good to know!
Please note his August 16 media statement – and be prepared to quote it in future submissions on developments along Northbourne Avenue, Woden and anywhere else.
Mick Gentleman’s reasons for his use of “call-in” powers have become a little loose in recent years. They are now used when Planning gets stuck and cannot find a way out of a mess of its own making. The solution is a quick page of instructions to Mick – and he reads it out as if he knows what he is doing. And we all believe that.
When it came to the new Dickson supermarket, the Common Ground DA in Dickson and the YWCA proposal for units on the side of Bill Pye Park, the minister obliged. This saved the day as the DAs in question did not meet the requirements.
The Planning directorate’s now go-to solution to work around awkward problems of their own making is to instruct Gentleman to read yet another call-in statement along with some very silly reasons.
This use of call-in powers has worked – with little scrutiny by the media, especially the local ABC. This way of solving seriously embarrassing issues for the government will probably not change as long as the Greenslabor politicians ignore the problems with planning in this city – including who is the one making the mess of things.
Given how the planning chief’s planning reforms are predicted to play out, things will be even worse as it is being proposed that these call-in powers should be transferred to the planning chief – with no politicians involved. At least the planning chief will no longer have to ask the planning minister to make a fool of himself.
As for McKellar and the development on the site in question, there’s a developer out there wondering what was that all about.
We now wait to see what next for this Greenslabor minister’s use of call-in powers.
Maybe someone needs to check the planning chief’s too hard DA filing cabinet – there’s probably a couple more sitting there.
This article is a version of the piece originally published online with City News
Paul Costigan is a commentator on cultural and urban matters