Chief Minister Andrew Barr has slammed the "small-town, backwards, 1940s mindset" of some Canberrans when it comes to height restrictions in the capital's key town centres.
Mr Barr made the comments during a Legislative Assembly debate on a Greens motion to extend the City Renewal Authority's remit to town centres in Woden, Belconnen and Tuggeranong on Wednesday.
Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur's motion called on the government to declare the three town centres and the Kingston Arts Precinct as "urban renewal precincts", in a bid to liven up the areas.
While the government and opposition rejected the Greens motion, the minor party's two MLAs backed a government amendment to report annually on the progress of masterplans for each town centre and the arts precinct.
In calling for a greater focus on renewing the town centres, not just Civic and the light rail stage one corridor, Ms Le Couteur cited a range of issues including the effects of the withdrawal of federal public servants from Woden and closing of key community facilities.
She also said the town centres had had recent higher density and multi-storey residential developments, but that simply developing taller buildings did not equate to actual urban renewal.
Ms Le Couteur said a key issue was the lack of completed master plans to help guide development, which was instead being largely led by developers, rather than guided by the community.
But Mr Barr said the government's strategy was not simply about allowing taller buildings, and that the reticence among some residents to such developments was "nostalgia" among a "certain generation of Canberrans", an attitude he said would "remain for the rest of their lives".
"You [can] go anywhere else in the world and they would laugh at you if you said a 12 storey building was high rise.
"Even a 20 storey building is not high rise and yet we are stuck here in this sort of small-town, backwards, 1940s mindset and we need to move beyond that."
Mr Barr said that "short, squat buildings that fill up all the available space" were not necessarily better outcomes than "tall elegant buildings".
He also said that one of the key points of difference in the town centres, compared with Civic, was the lack of the height restrictions linked to the National Capital Authority's rules and that each town centre should have its own "distinct identity".
"We simply have to get over this phobia of buildings that are, even by Australian standards, not very tall," he said.
The final motion endorsed by the government and the Greens called on the government to "implement changes to planning controls for town centres consistent with the finalised master plans that will facilitate renewal".
It said that renewal would include providing more opportunities for commercial and residential development "close to public transport, shops and services", providing new open spaces and "activating" existing streets and public spaces.
The motion also urged the government to provide enough resources to "coordinate the delivery" of master plans and ensure ongoing community consultation on the plans including annual reporting on progress.
Daniel Burdon is a reporter for The Canberra Times
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