Time to rethink tower cramming

While the majority of people in this city indicate their preferences for stand-alone houses and possibly town houses, there are those who wish to retire into apartments and others who because of their economic circumstances have no option than to purchase (for now) whatever unit they can afford.

As this Greenslabor government is keen for people to buy into flats and apartment towers, it would have been sensible for planning regulations to have been adjusted years ago to make such housing options more attractive.

If they had been doing their well-paid jobs, the ACT Greenslabor planning, regulations, environment and housing ministers would made it a top priority that residential towers were built to the requirements of the 21st century (climate and energy).

Residents of these complexes should have reasonable easy access to facilities, parks, public transport, playgrounds, sports facilities, community centres and multiple places to sit under trees (to do not much).

Once upon a time this is what may have been expected of a Greens-Labor coalition that talks about themselves as being progressive. This is not what has been happening. Despite their constant rhetoric of how wonderful they are (based on their self-assessments), this ACT Government is not creating a better city for the present or future generations. It will be more heat island and less green.

Then there are the regular painful stories from people in some of these apartments. There are too many for this opinion piece – so here’s an outline of related issues.

The Woden Town Centre is one of the most significant examples of this government’s tower cramming that has come about because of laissez-faire planning and the provision of minimal facilities. It did not have to be like this.

The delivery of liveable and attractive town centres requires people-focussed and climate conscious politicians. We have had few of those. The present cohort incessantly talk the talk but they definitely do not walk it. Wander around Woden and see it for yourselves.

If the planning and development decision making was transparent and based on being intelligent and people focussed, Woden could have had apartments of various heights with appropriate spaces between that allowed for parks, shrubbery and facilities.

Instead they are crammed together with solar and views often being cut by the latest arrivals. Some time back there was a master plan but this is now a joke.

To the north of the centre, beside the Woden Pool, itself more likely to be a tower sometime soon, are complexes that were sold as alternative and attractive lifestyles. Some residents are now finding new buildings being built too close to theirs and they have taken to moving out. More tower cramming is the way to go for this government!

In Civic on Allara Street residents discovered that while they were moving in, a hotel tower was approved to be centimetres away from theirs. One balcony apparently now looks at a wall. The residents tried talking to the chief minister as well as to the nominated planning minister, Mick Gentleman.

All blame was sheeted home to the planning directorate. That’s what ACT government politicians do – take no responsibility. They were told that the government’s planning reforms will look at such issues. Thanks to the not-so-caring politicians, those residents will have volumes of planning documents to make them feel better while they look at that wall.

As the Woden Valley Community Council has asked many times about the towers crammed into the centre, where are the schools, the community and cultural facilities, the parks, trees, shade and greenspaces outside the doors, and then there is the issue of the cars and parking. Good planning would have insisted on improvements to the common good. It is not happening.

The same questions are relevant to other town centres and to towers along Northbourne.

There are also the missed opportunities within these massive developments for affordable and social housing. That’s what a laissez-faire approach delivers – even less social and affordable housing.

Everyone knows that the planning reforms are about having even less planning. The consultations are a joke on the community being played out by the planning bureaucracy and their boss, the chief minister. The stuff produced so far is about massively increasing the laissez-faire approach to development. Who needs pesky planning rules?

More tower cramming with even less common good will be confirmed once these pseudo-reforms are approved. The suburban de-greening and heat island programs overseen by the planning directorate will be enhanced.

That is, unless someone in this government can show some common sense and demonstrate that they care about the future of the city – and its greenery and biodiversity.

It that person Joy Clay (ACT Greens MLA)?

She headed up the 2022 planning committee that made 49 recommendations on planning. Maybe the ACT Greens could combine with the Canberra Liberals to stop this planning reform charade and call for a new planning directorate that delivers real 21st century urban planning and innovative design.

An urgent and major shake-up is desperately required.


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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