After numerous inquiries into ACT land and planning and numerous recommendations, governments do not seem to learn. The pattern seems to be that a single developer puts up an idea which usually involves public assets in one form or another being transferred to the developer and the developer building something and selling it for a profit. The public asset can be raw land, existing public space, or the extra value created when permission is granted to change land use. Typically, the developer puts up a plan which involves extracting the maximum dollar in the short which usually means development densities so much higher than the surrounding built form as to be out of balance. Invariably, proposals come from single developers and go directly to the government with little initial public input. Invariably, they seek to capture value added by existing development.
It is a sad and misguided pattern which usually causes more political heartburn for whatever government is in power than the jobs created are worth. It is also bad for the city because a lot of the development is unsustainable or the price in residential amenity is too great.
The latest planning fiascoes have been Hall and Aranda. The hall fiasco began when developer Derek Whitcombe proposed a rural-residential development. The ACT Government signed a joint venture arrangement. Community anger flared and it transpired that Mr Whitcombe did not have the authority to deal with all the land in the proposed development. That gave the Government an out, so it terminated the agreement, nonetheless picking up all the costs. A fairly week motion in the Legislative Assembly expressing grave concern was lost. Independent Michael Moore, hitherto a champion of due process in planning, voted with the Government. It seems he has taken on board the Government’s past actions as well as future ones.
There was never any open discussion about whether rural-residential development was desirable near Hall. No open tendering process. No community involvement until after the deal was signed.
Aside from the lost money, the upshot is Government is to push ahead with a rural-residential policy as a face-saver, in the face of opposition from the residents of Hall and without any inquiry as to whether it is a worthwhile in the long term.
The other fiasco is the development at Aranda shops. Urban renewal is
Desirable, but in context and to scale. Cramming 28 residential units and 600 square metres of commercial space in the Aranda shopping centre is absurdly out of proportion. Residents are justly irate. Inevitably they will exert political and legal pressure for change and usually get some — witness the Turner development.
Governments and developers would save themselves a lot of agony and cost if they engaged in more sympathetic projects with more open processes, instead of trying to secretly push through development which are obviously going to cause widespread dissent.
Residents should be able to expect governments to look after their interests in a balanced way and should not have to be eternally on the watch.
It can be done properly. There have been exceptions to the envelope-pushing trend. Most of the buildings housing hi-tech industries have been welcome changes of land use with government underwriting. So far the Kingston foreshore development looks promising, probably because the project is not developer driven and there is no immediate pressure to redevelop.
There is no need for any more Arandas or Halls.