In 2011 the Dickson Residents Group asked the then planning minister, Andrew Barr, to consider a comprehensive eight-point plan for this inner north precinct.
The key points included the building of affordable sustainable housing, a diverse range of housing options and an integrated planning and development precinct plan.
The planning minister did not demonstrate a willingness to work with locals – even though he is an inner north elected representative. The public meeting called to talk with Andrew Barr on these issues was interrupted by an ANU Young Labor group who shouted at speakers who disagreed with the planning minister. It was an introduction to how Andrew Barr operates against residents and those who disagree with his lasseiz-faire ideology.
There was so much that could have been achieved over the last ten years if the planning minister, now chief minister, and his chief planner had engaged transparently with the community. Opportunities were lost because the Greenslabor culture does not respect residents or care for their aspirations.
In the last few years the planning bureaucracy and its hangers-on have imported a policy scam that states that housing affordability would be improved if planning rules were de-regulated to allow for the ‘Missing Middle’ to be built in established suburbs. The number of distorted facts and myths involved with this misleading propaganda is amazing. The ACT planning directorate is a muddled bureaucratic silo where facts are of little relevance.
Recently things got even more weird. An odd alliance of organisations formed under the banner of Missing Middle Canberra. This cohort, with connections to the planning bureaucracy and Greenslabor, argues for the deregulation of housing approvals so that what they perceive, the missing middle, can be built throughout established Canberra suburbs.
Dickson and the surrounding suburbs have a diversity in age groups, cultural backgrounds and in the types of houses, town houses and apartments. There is no missing middle. This mythical concept was developed many years ago in the United States by money hungry developer groups. It is based on the neoliberal trickle-down ideology that fails to deliver affordability and to decrease homelessness.
Developers have profited by building what they like and have continued to boost profits. As for dealing with the housing crisis, affordability and homelessness, that’s not what the profit developer sector does. The new ‘missing middle’ houses and apartments have joined other expensive residences. The result has been an increase in inequality with those in need missing out again while the cashed-up have more houses to choose from and to sell on to others. The trickle down rarely formes a drip.
This flawed planning response to affordability has been identified as a cruel myth (some get richer while others remained poor) and is referred to as the Mything Middle. The same flawed messed-up concept has recently reached the opportunistic ACT planning bureaucracy and its loyal followers. Some have joined this alliance given the simplistic belief that implementing the missing middle addresses housing affordability and homelessness. The horror of such naivety!
The local commercial for-profit companies joined for massive profit opportunities if the chief planner deregulates development. Forget climate and welcome to de-greening, less biodiversity, town cramming, more heat islands and increased inequity.
The presence of social and community groups on Missing Middle Canberra raises questions about their skills sets and motivations. They have been totally fooled by the scam and the myths. A minimal amount of good judgement would have revealed that the Mything Middle movement does little for social and housing equity issues. This developer driven movement increases inequality. It looks as if these community groups place a higher priority on keeping in good with Greenslabor at the cost of equity values and the provision of social and affordable housing.
No matter what happens to the chief planner’s development reforms to de-green suburbs and de-regulate development, the on-going concern is how social welfare groups were scammed. Meanwhile residents who requested engagement on social and housing issues are sidelined and disrespected.
The current planning bureaucracy has failed this city in the landscape. The city needs a design and urban planning leadership that transparently works with residents to implement innovative programs on housing and development.
In October 2024 ACT voters need to vote for politicians who will put in place a new design and urban planning leadership. Maybe by then Andrew Barr will have sacrificed the chief planning bureaucrat as he has done before to shield himself from criticism about doing questionable stuff.
This article is a version of the piece originally published online with City News
Paul Costigan is a commentator on cultural and urban matters