town cramming in the inner north

proposals to cram more into the suburbs

Inner north Canberra community members have been swamped with major development proposals that, according to the planning directorate, need to be commented on in a very short timeframe. The Bureau of Meteorology could not have forecast this inundation of paperwork.

The most recent is a proposal to convert the lease of the North Watson Carotel motel site on to which the developer wants to cram 59 residential units – that will fit in with the surrounding developments. To those that know about North Watson developments, know this means little amenity, no playgrounds, limited open spaces, heat islands and even more impacts on the streets, transport and available parking. Forget bike paths.

This lack of context in development was questioned in September. The Suburban Land Agency had proudly talked up the proposed sale in North Watson (Block 76 Watson) that borders the Federal Highway. The agency used clichés and worthy words (supplied by current Greenslabor policies) to make it sound wonderful.

Locals pointed out that this development sounded okay (sort of), but it was going to make things worse for the area by increasing pressure on the surrounding streets and scant facilities. The agency response was not surprising. Apparently, what happens outside this site was of not the business of this development agency – that was for others to sort out.

Another big development proposal resurfaced in October. The Kamberra proposal is for 2500 dwellings (maybe 5000 people) along the western side of the highway between the Barton Highway and Flemington Road. There may be some retail, commercial and offices. There’s a repeat of those worthy sounding aims and everyone will catch the tram or walk or cycle. No need for cars!

Further south on the southern side of the Barton Highway intersection, sits Yowani Golf Course. They have a proposal for a 55-hectare mixed-use residential development (up to 1000 homes) to help pay the golf club’s bills. Their published plans seem reasonable if you ignore the obvious. Have any of the previous developer’s drawings led to great architecture and landscape design along Northbourne Avenue? Then there’s that tram that solves everything else.

The Canberra Racing Club has announced plans to vary the lease on a heap of land adjacent to the Kamberra Site and around the racecourse with a mix of commercial and residential. This development would help to pay their bills. Worthy words are used by the planning consultant to match the current Greenslabor policies. And yes – there’s the tram again.

Those with experiences with major developments in this town know there is a difference between what gets presented and what gets built. They know the slim chances of good architecture and climate-ready, urban-designed landscapes. People know about the present vague planning rules and the wishy-washy stuff being proposed by the chief planner under the guise of planning reform to appear before the 2024 ACT elections.

Despite consistent requests from locals, there is a lack of comprehensive planning for the whole area. If the city had a well-led, design-oriented planning directorate, there would be a plan in place setting out the levels of public good for this inner-north area. It would outline the required levels of open spaces, the community and cultural facilities, the playgrounds, the mandated canopy cover, the greenery and biodiversity and other amenities. There’s also the desperate need for affordable and social housing.

The tram? Inner-north residents who catch the tram during peak hours are already packed in like canned sardines for their journey along Northbourne. With so much major development being proposed for this corridor, there is no evidence that any transport studies are being undertaken to deal with this overcrowding issue. It is no longer acceptable for major developments to simply say residents won’t need cars and will catch the tram. The trams are crammed at peak hours and people will have cars.

This is not about saying no to these developments. The exception is the Racing Club proposal with that land needing to be handed back to the community.

This is about seeking a design and planning approach to the whole area of the inner north into which these developments could be placed. Developments near or on the Federal Highway and Northbourne Avenue need to be designed to showcase the capital. This is the city’s key gateway. This significant gateway should not be developed piecemeal with no guiding principles requiring good design, abundant landscapes and a people focused approach.

Great architecture, abundant greenery and world-class landscape designs should be what people see when they drive in. The city does not need any more dumbed down town cramming and boring, bland box towers.

Have the good architects and urban designers left town?


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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