Division over Canberra subdivision designs

I WAS pleased to see the page one story in the Sunday Canberra Times (January 12) about new house blocks and homes in Canberra not achieving good winter solar access. I raised these same concerns with the ACT Planning Authority in submissions on draft variations to the Territory Plan numbers 301, 303 and 306 but was ignored.

Yes, the majority of new house blocks should have one long side facing north and those blocks need to be wide enough to incorporate private open space on their north side and minimise overshadowing of the neighbour to the south to a reasonable extent. Smaller blocks should be on flat land or land sloping gently down to the north. Competent subdivision designers ought to be able to work with these criteria and facilitate efficient, environmentally sustainable housing.

Tony Trobe and Glen Dowse are respected Canberra architects. They are very experienced, award-winning house designers. I hope these concerns raised by them will not be ignored, if the Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate wants to live up to its name.

Richard Johnston, Planning Institute of Australia fellow, Bungendore

Planners lose the plot

THERE are clearly widespread problems with privacy and solar access in our new suburbs. Government planners seem to have overlooked topography and fudged orientation definitions, probably under pressure from the Land Development Agency demanding more and more micro plots of land to sell.

We need reforms in the way suburbs are designed, so as to achieve larger plots without further sprawl. That means more single- and double-storeyed cluster housing, with markedly fewer traditional roads, streets, and associated infrastructure, and silly, wasteful linear parks. That format can readily achieve attractive design, visible addresses, good solar orientation, excellent privacy, and usable yards for all dwellings, even on steeper land. In the meantime, owners who have had to pay genuine and ascertainable extra costs over and above the market to achieve development compliance could be granted a compensatory government allotment in the area, for gardening and recreational use.


Jack Kershaw, Kambah

Architect body challenge

THE Institute of Architects, in typical fashion, was far too late when it chose to jump on the bandwagon of passive solar design.

There are many reasons why those designing new subdivisions opt for the same dull, unimaginative layouts of the past. With the present design regime, the costs of roads and the establishment of utility services predicates that these be as short as possible, hence the prevalence of lots with narrow street frontages, regardless of the specific topography or orientation.

The approach of government to the energy crisis is to attempt to modify traditional practice - all that is possible for existing suburbs but new suburbs call for the design of both completely different subdivisions and houses.

Few have considered there are other possibilities: that the rectilinear lot and ground plan of most houses work against the achievement of greater solar access, and there are other ways to consolidate utility services.

To my knowledge, at least three attempts have been made to officialdom to consider such an approach, the earliest as distant as 1969. The bureaucratic response to the first approach was to describe the proposal as ''very clever, we may use it later''. The other approaches were met with a wall of silence.

Tony Trobe's platitudes do little, or nothing, to advance the problem. If professional associations such as his have any role then surely it is to influence, as a consequence of the combined experience of its members, the drafting of legislation for the benefit of the whole of society. Either it is not so doing or its submissions are so weak as not to be heard.

Laurie Virr, Kambah

Refugee secrecy is a joke

MY brain is going into meltdown at the Australian government's boys' own adventure masquerading as policy. Consider: we have secrecy based on the assumption that if the only information the Australian government is releasing doesn't say anything, the people supplying unsafe transport for asylum seekers won't know what is happening. Apparently the minister lives in a world that doesn't have mobile phones, the internet and The Jakarta Post. He has succeeded, though, in ensuring that the Australian people, who are paying big time for this frolic, are the last to find out what is happening.

The policy is designed to stop providers of irregular maritime transport for refugees. Seems clear enough but isn't. The minister has decided to supply these ''evil'' people with good quality lifeboats, which he seems unlikely to get back. Maybe the minister expects to see these boats back again filled with refugees, in which case he will have improved the safety of asylum seekers, a devilishly cunning plan, as Blackadder might have said.

It gets better: a policy of deep concern about the safety of asylum seekers now apparently involves multiple transfers of said asylum seekers at sea by navy personnel, who are now not covered by certain work safety conditions, placing them effectively on a war footing. They can't get workers' compensation if there is a problem.

Assurances that Royal Australian Navy vessels were not going to enter Indonesian waters are apparently inoperative. Exactly why the Australian navy strayed into Indonesian waters several times on the same day can't be explained for ''operational reasons''. The Indonesian government is questioning our navy's navigational skills and offering to send its navy to help us identify the Indonesian maritime boundary. Fortunately we're friends, though for how much longer is not clear.

Doug Hynd, Stirling

Path to Mabo

THE article ''Tim Flannery in call to honour Aborigines killed in land wars'' (January 18, p1) perpetuates the myth that until 1967 indigenous people were not citizens.

By virtue of birth indigenous people were British subjects until the passing of the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 when, like everyone else, they became citizens. They had had the right to vote in federal elections since Federation.

Many did so, although discrimination meant many did not. Only Western Australia and Queensland had laws stopping indigenous people from voting in state elections. WA had curfew laws for indigenous people for the Perth central business district until the 1960s. Queensland had pass laws, like South Africa, until the 1980s. That is what brought on the Mabo case.

Mr Mabo was denied a pass to go to his island. He said denial that was not valid because he owned land on the island. The rest we know: he did own land.

Brian Hatch, Red Hill