Downer won't be swamped with high-density housing, minister says
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Downer won't be swamped with high-density housing, minister says

Planning Minister Mick Gentleman says Downer will be largely untouched by the ACT government's urban infill agenda, seemingly contradicting information included in documents mapping out the strategy.

Mr Gentleman said there were no plans to rezone Downer to allow for greater housing density, except for on Northbourne Avenue and the Federal Highway.

ACT planning minister Mick Gentleman, who has moved to allay fears Downer could soon be swamped with high-density housing developments.

ACT planning minister Mick Gentleman, who has moved to allay fears Downer could soon be swamped with high-density housing developments.Credit:Fairfax Media

He met with the Downer Community Association on Wednesday amid concerns the government's planning strategy - which seeks to increase housing density in suburbs adjacent to the light rail route and town and group centres - could dramatically reshape their neighbourhood.

A map included in the strategy identifies more than three quarters of the suburb as an "urban intensification locality" - but doesn't specify what, if any, zoning changes might be introduced to allow more housing density.

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The apparent lack of clarity sparked alarm among residents at a packed Downer Community Association meeting on Monday, who were concerned the leafy suburb could be swamped with multi-unit developments in the coming years.

A modified extract of the ACT government's planning strategy. The purple shade indicates the areas earmarked for "urban intensification".

A modified extract of the ACT government's planning strategy. The purple shade indicates the areas earmarked for "urban intensification".

But Mr Gentleman has told The Canberra Times that the majority of Downer would remain zoned for one and two-storey housing.

The only changes in the pipeline for the inner-north suburb are to allow buildings of up to 18 metres on Northbourne Avenue and 12 metres on the Federal Highway, as part of the City and Gateway framework, he said.

Mr Gentleman said the "very loose bubble" which designated the "urban intensification" areas in the planning strategy's map did not necessarily indicate streets or suburbs where the government intended to rezone land for urban infill.

He said the map was almost identical to one produced for the 2012 planning strategy, and showed areas - including in Downer - which had already undergone changes.

"What we want to do is keep the leafy suburb that is here now," Mr Gentleman said.

"When we do these overall graphics of densification for now and into the future, it looks at the evidence of what has already occurred. We have already seen some densification in Downer and that is recognised in this study. [But] there is no plan to do any further densification in Downer."

Mr Gentleman said he understood how Downer residents might have misinterpreted the map's purpose, but said their fears could have been allayed "if they had picked up the phone and called his office".

A meeting between the two parties scheduled for last November had to be cancelled because the Downer residents couldn't attend, he said.

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Downer Community Association chair Miles Boak said local residents would be more comfortable if new developments in the suburb were limited to one and two-storeys, provided tree cover was retained.

Mr Gentleman's insistence that Downer would not be targeted for a rezoning raises questions about how the government's planning strategy will allow it to achieve its stated housing targets.

The strategy calls for construction of 12 new homes a day to accommodate a predicted growth of Canberra's population from 412,000 in 2017 to 589,000 by 2041.

More than 70 per cent of new housing would be built in urban areas, as the government seeks to curb urban sprawl and consolidate the bulk of its population close to jobs, public transport, schools and other infrastructure.

Mr Gentleman said the majority of residential areas would be sheltered from major changes, with the infill targets to be realised through greater density along transport corridors - such as Northbourne Avenue - and immediately adjacent to group and town centres.

Dan Jervis-Bardy is a Canberra Times reporter.

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