Canberrans will welcome the ability to grow plants on the nature strips outside their homes, a policy a long time in the making.
The ACT government introduced its guidelines without announcement two weeks ago, four years after planned. Canberrans are now allowed to grow plants of up to 50 centimetres on their nature strips. Bollards are allowed, as is garden edging. Temporary fencing is allowed for 13 weeks at a time, using stakes and rope or string. Irrigation systems are allowed, providing they don't create a trip hazard and sprinklers aren't aimed at footpaths or roads.
A clearance zone is required of 1.5 metres beside the road so people can still get in and out of cars and rubbish bins can be collected. And people are advised not to use snail bait or chemical sprays on their nature strips.
The new rules are modest, although too restrictive to be of much use to food gardeners. When Shane Rattenbury took the lead four years ago, he talked up the ability to use your verge to grow food, but in reality the vegetable options are quite limited.
Nothing higher than 50 centimetres means no tomatoes, corn or beans. You'll even have to watch your pumpkins, and while lettuces and leafy greens will meet the guidelines, health-conscious Canberrans will be wary of planting too much of that on busy streets. Perhaps the best option is potato rows, although that kind of growing requires a heavy investment in a rich and deep soil structure.
Despite the limitations, it is the right policy for the times and for Canberra's garden city roots. As backyards shrink inexorably and green space becomes a premium and as we are encouraged to grow, to compost and to reduce waste, it makes not even the slightest sense to mark out nature strips as no-go zones. And to insist on water and maintenance hungry grass is antithetical to Australia's environment.
But the manner in which the change was made remains a mysteries in want of an explanation. As the responsible minister, Mr Rattenbury, worked quickly to bring in the guidelines, but not fast enough.
When Meegan Fitzharris took over the portfolio early in 2016, momentum was lost. She didn't release public submissions that year and essentially shelved the plan. The fact that the new rules were finally implemented the month she left the Barr Cabinet is no doubt coincidental - Chris Steel has been responsible for city services since August last year. But why no announcement and why no official regulation?
Quite possibly, the government is simply trying to get the issue off the agenda with as little fuss and publicity as possible. The Greens will stop banging on about it, any howls of protest will be limited, and the chances of over-enthusiastic dig-up-the-street parties will be minimised.
But whichever way you cut it, nature strips are likely to remain a point of contention in neighbourhoods.
The reality of the previous policy was that Canberrans extended their gardens towards the street if they wanted to anyway. Often they created havens of coolness, shade and plantings, and generally far, far higher than the now-stipulated 50 centimetre limit. Some neighbours liked them, some were incensed.
Such neighbourhood disputes will continue and perhaps even intensify now there are numbers to codify resentments. The sprinkler hose can now be declared a trip hazard, the plant can now be measured, the temporary string fence will irritate the grumpy guy across the road, the over-size and untidy tomato plants will spark official complaints.
The green-fingered householder will not welcome people trampling on the hard work on the verge, or allowing dogs anywhere near the vegetables.
The only sensible answer is mutual tolerance and a light enforcement touch, which appears to have been the approach taken by the government to date. Because the new guidelines appear to be no more than a decision not to prosecute, they don't come with a hierarchy of penalties and fines, nor with an enforcement regime. That, too, is to be welcomed. One thing Canberrans do not need is officialdom monitoring and monetarising the verge.