Development lobby won't win public sympathy for deregulation call

The push by Canberra's property lobby to wind back the rights of residents to object to big ticket developments in their neighbourhoods is ambitious to say the least.

Coming as it does in the wake of years of community concern over rampant development during which, on occasion, the ACT government seems to have formulated rules, planning policy and regulatory arrangements on the run, it is also tone deaf.

A more conciliatory approach, taking into account the fact thousands of Canberrans feel disenfranchised about what is happening in their city and believe much of what they love about the ACT is under threat, would have been more appropriate.

These sentiments were present in abundance at a packed meeting in the Albert Hall on Monday night. It had been convened by the University of Canberra's Institute of Governance and Policy [see letter, page 19] to "share and consolidate community concerns about planning and development in the ACT".

It may come as a surprise to the ACT government, Master Builders ACT and the Property Council that not everybody shares their belief towering cranes on the skyline are symbols of prosperity and transformation.

Many older residents have devoted decades to the development of a bush capital of low set houses and communal shopping precincts clustered into an archipelago of village-like town centres.  They love the Griffin plan legacy. When they see the cranes they say: "there goes the neighbourhood".

The eruption of high-rise apartments in Woden and the appropriation of existing parkland in West Basin for even more units were just some of the issues cited on Monday night.

Attendees are unlikely to sympathise with Master Builders ACT chief executive, Michael Hopkins's, claim the low cost of lodging an appeal against a project [$200] meant anyone could hold up a project if they wanted to.

While $200 might not sound much to the boss of the MBA, it is a lot for a fixed-income retiree who just wants to protect the amenity of the neighbourhood they have lived in for decades. It is up to ACAT to deal with any alleged abuses of the process on a case-by-case basis.

Past experience, in which the planning directorate has allegedly approved projects for which the submitted plans were illegible, makes a mockery of the MBA's assertion: "If consultation is carried out early in the process and DAs are approved in accordance with the resulting planning rules, we don't believe third-party appeal rights should apply".

The MBA's pushback against appeals was part of its submission to the ACT parliamentary inquiry into engagement with development application processes into the ACT.

Given Caroline Le Couteur, the chair of the ACT parliament's planning committee who drove the establishment of the inquiry, has said "it would be easy to think planning decisions are being made for the developers, not the community..." it will be interesting to see how this is received.

The Greens-driven inquiry offers the Barr government an opportunity to hit the reset button and restore public faith in its planning and development regimes.

It remains to be seen, given the level of concern around community consultation in this space, if this administration is either willing or able to listen to the people and to learn from them.