Category: Planning (Page 1 of 3)

Suggested redistribution of Federal electoral divisions in the ACT

This submission provides suggestions on the most suitable boundaries of Federal Electoral Divisions for the Australian Capital Territory. Since the adoption of the Y-plan in 1967, the ACT has adopted a distributed development approach which has strongly encouraged the formation of communities of interest in distinct regions. The most notable of these are Gungahlin, Belconnen, Inner North, Inner South, Molonglo Valley, Woden Valley, Weston Creek, and Tuggeranong.

In addition to these regions, there are three other significant Territory communities of interest that should be considered when performing the electorate redistribution:

  • Stage 1 light rail catchment zone of suburbs running from Gungahlin to Civic
  • “Heritage” Canberra comprising the inner south suburbs of Yarralumla, Deakin, Forrest, Red
    Hill, and Narrabundah
  • “Urbanised” Canberra suburbs that have extensively transitioned to medium-density apartments and townhouses comprising Braddon, Reid, Campbell/Russell, Barton, Kingston,
    and Griffith.

As per the criteria specified in section 66(3)(b) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, our proposed three seat redistribution respects the identity of all these communities as well as
predominantly aligning to the significant geographic features of Barton Highway, Bruce Ridge, Parkes Way, and the Tuggeranong Parkway. Any exceptions to these principles are discussed in the
individual electorate descriptions.

View full submission

The universal right to shelter

Speech given to ACT Labor Annual Conference (29 July 2017)


Today, we are each taking time out of our weekend to try and make the world a better place. The values and principles we are debating today define Labor as the party which is prepared to commit to big ideas to solve big problems.

We fight for universal health care and we should equally fight for a universal right to shelter.

There is no more fundamental human right than access to safe and secure shelter, yet in the ACT we have the second-highest rates of homelessness in the country.

How is it that we have 2000 homeless people living in Canberra, while the Federal Government has nearly 200,000 square metres of unoccupied government offices in Canberra alone?

The only thing standing between homeless people and opening up government offices is bureaucracy and a lack of political will.

In Canberra’s cold July, the lack of action in opening up those government offices, just a third of which could shelter all of Canberra’s homeless, is unacceptable and cruel.

According to the most recent Productivity Commission statistics, in the ACT we fail to provide accommodation solutions to more than 34% of people seeking accommodation support. 16% of people requiring homelessness assistance are migrants from countries where English is not the main spoken language – almost double the national average.

I acknowledge the ACT government is looking into housing affordability and homelessness, and I hope that opening up of government offices is part of that solution.

Delegates, I urge you to support this amendment.

Photo credit: Canberra Times

Why the CSIRO won’t be subject to Territory planning laws

There appears to be some confusion about the difference between National Land and Territory Land for the purposes of planning laws in the ACT. This is particularly relevant to the potential development of the 701 hectare Ginninderra Field Station site near Crace.

The relevant sections of the Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Act 1988 are:

6  Functions of the Authority

(1)  The functions of the [National Capital Authority] are:

                     (g)  … to manage National Land designated in writing by the Minister as land required for the special purposes of Canberra as the National Capital.

27  National Land

(1)  The Minister may, by notice published in the Commonwealth Gazette declare specified areas of land in the Territory to be National Land.

(2)  The Minister shall not declare an area to be National Land unless the land is, or is intended to be, used by or on behalf of the Commonwealth.

28  Territory Land

At any time when any land in the Territory is not National Land, that land is Territory Land for the purposes of this Act.

29  Administration of Territory Land and the taking of water on National Land

(1)  The [ACT Legislative Assembly] Executive, on behalf of the Commonwealth:

                     (a)  has responsibility for the management of Territory Land; and

                     (b)  subject to section 9 of the Seat of Government (Administration) Act 1910, may grant, dispose of, acquire, hold and administer estates in Territory Land

In short, these sections mean that the ACT government has no planning powers over National Land. The National Capital Authority has full management and planning control. If the CSIRO site is developed while it is National Land, the democratically-elected Assembly has no say in what gets done on this site and when.

I have written further about the consequences of this situation on the Canberra Times and the RiotACT.

Mix it up: Why mixed-use developments are key to Canberra’s future

The draft Kippax Town Centre master plan continues the ACT government’s work in modernising our group and town centres in line with contemporary planning principles.

Canberra’s period of highest growth and construction was during the 1960s, a time when town planning prized neatness and separation of use. By building highly segregated residential suburbs, commercial districts, and industrial zones, planners encouraged a high reliance on cars to access jobs and shops.

Aside from issues of sustainability and transport, the biggest problem with this old-fashioned planning approach is that commercial centres become dead zones after hours. This leads vandalism and crime, and areas being perceived as unsafe. Planners now recognise that mixing residential developments with commercial developments is an important “eyes on the street” solution. By creating public spaces where residents and shop patrons are potentially watching at any time, people feel safer and crime levels drop.

Mixed-use developments more closely mimic the natural way that human settlements evolve. They provide important benefits such as access to nearby work, greater housing diversity, a stronger neighbourhood character, and pedestrian/bicycle-friendly environments.

One great initiative from Canberra’s early days was the Y-plan. This embedded the concept of mixed-use at the district level, and ensured a range of employment locations outside of the CBD that have saved us from the worst of the commuter problems faced in cities like Melbourne.

Mixed-use is also key to most recent developments such as the proposed cross-border development in West Belconnen / Parkwood. Over the next 20-30 years, up to 11,000 dwellings will be constructed. Residents will be able to choose between different precincts and a range of building heights including an urban village (1 to 6 storeys), village edge (1 to 4 storeys), and garden suburbs (1-2 storeys). The higher density regions are designed from the ground up to integrate a variety of uses that will ensure greater vibrancy and a more consistent level of public activity.

Urban infill and densification in our town centres such as Manuka/Kingston and Belconnen has also relied upon mixed-use principles. A greater residential population has led to more cafes and restaurants operating outside of business hours, creating a feel of activity and life.

By comparison, group centres such as Kippax and Jamison haven’t evolved significantly and while they may be a hive of activity during the day, they feel quite lonely and exposed after hours.

The influential urban activist Jane Jacobs championed the benefits for “density in generating vitality and the economic and social importance of diversity”, but cautioned that planning needs “careful observation and analysis of the way urban places actually work, rather than focusing on their outward appearance”.

In Canberra, a key challenge is to improve the liveability of town and group centres while respecting that suburban areas with few local facilities like Spence and Flynn will rely upon car travel for the foreseeable future. Even here, mixed-use has big benefits. We are seeing more activity flowing back to local shops as our larger centres get busier, encouraging people in our suburbs to walk and take shorter trips.

We are all a product of our times. Some of these changes challenge how we think cities should work. As the planning and urban design firm David Lock Associates wrote: “It is essential that collective consent for the lifestyle and behavioural changes needed to ensure sustainable growth is attained. Collective consent creates a sense of ownership across a community. This requires open and transparent conversations, using a range of techniques and media, in developing a vision for the future.”

One conversation we need to have more is about the function of the Capital Metro tram as more than just a commuter solution. Tram routes are ideal for mixed-use redevelopment, transforming the places they pass into vibrant, local communities where people live, play and work. The social opportunities unlocked by the tram are substantial and it would be a shame if they were ignored because of short-sighted thinking from certain political groups.

Time to strengthen ACT Assembly governance over Canberra

The CSIRO recently announced its intention to redevelop its 701 hectare Ginninderra Field Station site into a residential estate containing up to 10,000 houses.

The Field Station site is located between Fraser and Crace and is currently zoned as “hills, ridges and buffer space”. However, the National Capital Authority (NCA) have changed this in the current draft of the National Capital Plan to “urban area” at the express request of CSIRO. This may not seem like a big deal until you realise that the approving authority for any development on this site will also be the National Capital Authority, and not the ACT Government.

As I explained in a recent article for The Canberra Times, once this amendment to the National Capital Plan is approved, the CSIRO can essentially do what it likes. Since the Ginninderra Field Station is a National Land site, it simply has to get the NCA to rubber-stamp its plans:

The NCA does not have to seek approval from the ACT Government or reference the Territory Plan. It does not have to align with the ACT’s planned land release program or environmental standards. It can literally write its own planning rulebook.

To be fair, the CSIRO has good intentions, and is working within the current legislative framework. And at information sessions in September, a CSIRO general manager made a big deal of its voluntary consultation activities with residents and the ACT Government. However, it is very clear where the power lies.

The need for “National Land” status makes sense in some special cases, such as exempting Defence sites from normal ACT planning processes. But in a supposedly self-governing jurisdiction, it is inconceivable to me that the Federal Government should be allowed to take land it no longer needs in the heart of suburban Canberra and do whatever it wants with it. (The NCA is accepting feedback on the draft Plan until Friday 13 November. If you think this is as wrong as I do, please let them know your feelings.)

This is only part of the bigger picture though.

Our framework around self-government was set up a quarter of a century ago. It hasn’t kept pace with what we need locally or federally.

There is no justification for the NCA to ever approve developments that aren’t expressly needed for Federal Government purposes. The Act relating to National and Territory Land status in the ACT should be amended to ensure that land must revert to Territory Land status in the event that it is no longer required for Commonwealth purposes. This wouldn’t affect ownership but merely ensure that the planning controls instituted by our democratically elected Territory government can be honoured.

With improved conversations and conventions, the relationship between the ACT Government and the NCA could be cooperative and highly productive. The NCA should have been our best advocates, standing with the ACT Government in arguing for better compensation from the Federal Government on the Mr Fluffy issue.  And given the significance of Northbourne Avenue as the entry way to Canberra, the NCA can still help the ACT Government lobby for Federal Government funds in support of the transformative light rail project.

Similarly, I was really pleased that the Department of Finance is now forcing the Department of Immigration to evaluate local impacts of a potential move out of Belconnen before any new tender can be released. But we should never have had an 18 month process of extreme uncertainty for residents and businesses that also left tenderers who engaged in good faith with the tender process hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket.

The bigger problem is that we are still essentially operating under the arrangements drafted by the Federal Government prior to establishment of self-government. Now that we are moving to a 25 member assembly, it is an appropriate time for a broad review that strengthens self-government arrangements in the ACT.

Twenty five years after ACT self-government, Commonwealth government is still in control

The current draft of the National Capital Plan is a disgrace. It exposes the lie that the Commonwealth has granted the ACT meaningful self-determination over the land within its borders.

With just a few strokes of a pen by the National Capital Authority and with no input from the ACT Government, the 701 hectare CSIRO Ginninderra site located between Fraser and Crace will have its zoning changed from “hills, ridges and buffer space” to “urban area”.

The CSIRO wants to develop an estimated 5000 to 10,000 residences on this site. Since the site is National Land, the NCA will have sole authority over whether the development proceeds.

The NCA does not have to seek approval from the ACT Government or reference the Territory Plan. It does not have to align with the ACT’s planned land release program or environmental standards. It can literally write its own planning rulebook.

At a recent information session, a CSIRO general manager made a big deal of its voluntary consultation with residents and the ACT Government. It’s clear where the power lies. Issues such as the cost of upgrading roads and infrastructure can be ignored at the whim of the CSIRO and the NCA.

To be fair, the CSIRO has good intentions, wanting to build a little city based on their scientists’ ideas of best practice while profiting from it. It’s just unfortunate that current legislation allows them to do this while completely ignoring democratic rights in the ACT.

We’ve been through this story before. In 2005, the Commonwealth unilaterally approved development of office accommodation and goods retailing facilities at the airport – now known as Brindabella Park and Majura Park. For many years afterward, people were forced to commute to these sites on roads lacking capacity and without suitable public transport options.

The situation also parallels the Immigration and Border Protection mega-precinct wanted by Secretary Mike Pezzullo, who ignored local impacts because he could. The good news is that a sustained campaign by local politicians and Belconnen residents has led to the Department of Finance requiring an assessment of local impact before any major accommodation changes for public servants take place.

The NCA serves an ongoing and important role in our national capital, ensuring that “the Commonwealth’s national capital interests in the Territory are fully protected, without otherwise involving the Commonwealth in matters that should be the prerogative of the Canberra community”.

But 25 years after self-government, there is no possible justification for the NCA to be responsible for approving plans for residential property development at a site 14km away from Parliament House in the heart of suburban Canberra.

In fact the NCA’s entire justification for changing the zoning to Urban Area in the National Capital Plan is, and I quote, that the “CSIRO requested this change”.

It would be laughable if the consequences were not so significant.

Most people understand that areas of the ACT with “special characteristics of the National Capital” are set aside as so-called Designated Areas under the control of the NCA. Commonly viewed by overseas visiting politicians and dignitaries, these areas include the Parliamentary Triangle, Lake Burley Griffin, connections from Parliament to the airport and the main approach routes to Canberra.

However, fewer people know that the Commonwealth may also declare any area of the ACT to be needed for Commonwealth use. Once this happens, the area becomes National Land and is no longer under the jurisdiction of the ACT government.

The problem is there is no obligation to ever return planning control over National Land to the Territory. National Land status should only exist on land actively used for Commonwealth purposes. Once land is surplus to requirements, Territory planning laws should automatically take effect again (although naturally the Commonwealth would retain ownership). Anything else denies ACT residents the right to have the Territory Government they elect managing their affairs.

During the consultation phase on the draft National Capital Plan, the NCA can still enable informed debate by publishing a full list and diagram of National Land areas. ACT residents deserve to know this much.

It is wrong to assume the interests of the Commonwealth will never align with the interests of the ACT Government and Canberra community. Departments and agencies are just following the rules as they currently exist. However, after 25 years of self-government a thorough review of National Land arrangements needs to take place to ensure the best interests of everyone concerned.

A new look for Belco?

Do you think the CIT Bruce campus should move to be next to Westfield Belconnen? Do you want 18-storey high-rises on the sites of the old Belconnen Remand Centre?

Consultation officially starts today on the draft Belconnen Town Centre Master Plan. It’s an important document that will shape both Belconnen and the broader ACT for the next 10 years and beyond.

The suburb of Belconnen will be transformed by high-rise developments over the next decade. The 27-storey Wayfarer hotel and apartments are already under construction, joining the nearby 18-storey Altitude and Sentinel complexes. There are also 16- and 24-storey residential developments already approved for development on the Belconnen Markets and Westfield sites respectively.

The new draft master plan continues this trend towards high rise development, with more than 10 additional sites identified for buildings developments of 12 storeys in height or greater. If all of these are approved, an additional 3300 residents (more than the entire population of nearby Aranda) will be moving into the high density residential district between Chandler St and Eastern Valley Way alone.

The draft master plan identifies ways to revitalise and make better use of Emu Bank and Lake Ginninderra, and better integrate the University of Canberra with the town centre through better signage and road, pedestrian and cycle connections.

However, the biggest change to the character of Belconnen would be the redevelopment of Lathlain St into the “Main Street” of the town centre.

Currently a fairly boring road linking Westfield Belconnen to the Belconnen Markets and Bunnings, the draft master plan calls for a complete revamp of Lathlain St, with 6m-wide footpaths and 18-storey high rise developments on ACT Government sites including the former Belconnen Remand Centre and the soon-to-be vacated Fire and Ambulance stations.

The draft master plan flags the relocation of Belconnen Community Services, the Belconnen Library and even the CIT campus of Bruce to Laithlain St. The services area behind Lathlain St would also be revamped, encouraging opening of live music venues and other noisy activities further away from residential housing. The construction of a well-marked cycle path linking Florey to the Jamison shops through Lathlain St would further strengthen travel options between nearby suburbs.

By transforming Lathlain St into a community hub and a “destination” with brand recognition similar to Kingston, New Acton and Braddon, the draft master plan aims to encourage greater commercial activity, particularly after hours, in the town centre.

These plans present opportunities as well as challenges for Belconnen. A new generation of families and older residents are interested in the option of high-quality apartment living. As people move into the town centre, there will be increased demand for high quality cafes, restaurants and other commercial services. But there will be challenges to meet as well from increased traffic congestion and in terms of ensuring sufficient parking capacity for employees and shoppers.

A number of strategies have been identified to address parking issues, including building additional multi-storey carparks, and the roll out of smart parking in Belconnen if the trial in Manuka is successful.

The most important thing if you live, work, shop, or eat in the Belconnen town centre is to get involved and have your say. There are also many consultations happening until November 20, so log on to to see where you can meet the people making these decisions, and to contribute your views to the future of the town centre.

Dancing in the streets? Nope, too much red tape

Spring is finally here, which means the silly season is fast approaching. As we emerge from hibernation to enjoy the warmer weather and sunshine, I’m looking forward to enjoying some community and outdoor events without three layers of woollies.

If you want to hold any kind of event that is open to the public in Canberra, the ACT government provides a 41 page planning booklet covering everything from lodging details of your event with eight different agencies to planning for accessibility and environmental controls.

Insurance is a must as well, no matter how small or apparently risk-free your event may be. If you are hiring a hall or room, you will either need to ensure you are covered by the public liability insurance held by the venue provider, or obtain your own.

With that level of rigmarole, is it any wonder that people are reluctant to initiate community events?

Back in 2011, Andrew Leigh encouraged people to hold Christmas street parties in their own neighbourhoods to build “social capital”.

As part of Canberra centenary celebrations the ACT government funded Parties at the Shops, which aims to instil “a sense of community pride, appreciation of Canberra’s local art and cultural talents, and closer ties between Canberra’s business and arts communities”. This program is still going strong in 2015 with recent events held in ScullinDowner, and Ainslieamong others. The ACT Government also maintains an events fund to encourage more people to make the effort to run events.

The challenges for ensuring public health and safety are complex.

In 2013, changes to the Food Act 2001 required that all food operations, including community fundraising BBQs, would be required to appoint a “food safety supervisor”. After an outcry, a limited exemption for stalls operating less than five times a year was put in place.

These changes were recently extended, with non-profit organisations using volunteer staff now designated as exempt from the Act unless they are operating at a declared event such as the Multicultural Festival.

That year the ACT government also suggested they might have to charge traffic control fees for a Forrest home using its Christmas light display to raise money for SIDS charities. In the end no fees were charged, but the policy is still in force.

These acts were motivated by safety and not because the events themselves were unwanted.

But in the end, it’s as much a question of the perceived attitude of the government as the red tape involved. For example, the Mooney Valley City Council provides friendly and accessible event planning guides and fact sheets that send a welcoming message to those wanting to run events. They even have a dedicated form to streamline temporary road closures for street parties, including the provision of road closure kits.

The ACT government’s recently-launched Access Canberra site promises coordinated approvals assistance for events, which is a very promising step forward.

They should consider maintaining a central list of community rooms and facilities available for hire on Access Canberra, and providing a simple, online process that allows groups to book and use any of these facilities. It should also be easier to hold street parties and get the necessary equipment and traffic control support from TAMS.

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