ISSUES AND POLICY RESPONSE PAPER – DEAKIN/ FORREST RESIDENTIAL PRECINCT
The Deakin Residents’ Association (DRA) welcomes the opportunity to respond to the National Capital Authority (NCA) Issues and Policy Response Paper, May 2017 relating to the Deakin/Forrest Residential Precinct
The objects and purposes of the DRA are ‘to enhance the residential, suburban, social and environmental qualities of Deakin, consistent with garden city planning principles’. A key focus for the DRA is retaining Deakin’s garden-suburb environment.
We note that the focus of the NCA paper relates to a relatively small number of residential properties ‘on the area generally bound by Canterbury Crescent, National Circuit, Hobart Avenue and blocks fronting State Circle’, although the area outlined in Figure 2 of the document shows blocks on State Circle itself are not included.
DRA agrees that this Paper represents an opportunity to determine whether current planning and design controls remain adequate to guide the future of this precinct and for consideration of policy responses to significant emerging and strategic issues in the zone. We understand that, had the proposals now foreshadowed in the NCA’s Paper been in force, some of the recent developments/redevelopments which have taken place, and which have been controversial, would not have been approved.
These comments are based largely on discussions at the NCA briefing provided on 27 April 2017, inspections by Committee members Helen Alnutt and Mary Baumgarten of relevant developments in the zone as identified in Fig 3, and developments in adjacent areas (Arthur Circ, Bougainville St/Empire Circ, Hotham Cres), and consultation with and feedback from local residents, particularly property owners in Canterbury Crescent.
DRA broadly supports the thrust of the strategic directions and proposals outlined in the Paper, as these are consistent with the objects and purposes of the DRA, subject to the comments provided below.
At the 27 April meeting, it was stated that the main changes relate to:
- Plot building to planting ratio ;
- Site coverage including driveways;
- Amount and use of land available for soft landscaping.
Plot Building to Planting Ratio
DRA supports the NCA’s proposal to maintain the existing plot ratio that limits building on residential sites in the zone to a maximum of 0.4 (alongside a new 40% area of soft landscaping).
At the same time we note that one resident of the area, questioned whether the 0.4 plot ratio/40% soft planting limit was too restrictive, given the significant amount of public parkland already in the area, particularly around The Lodge and Parliament House and that current parking restrictions in, streets such as Canterbury Crescent, (no parking on one side and 2 hour parking on the other during weekdays) put pressure on residents to provide extra parking on their property. While generally supportive of the NCA’s position, the DRA suggests that any individual request for a minor variation to the 0.4 building/40% soft planting ratio could be considered on its merits.
Other residents felt that it was not the 0.4 plot ratio that was a problem but rather the number of dwellings on a block. These residents proposed that the current ratio should be maintained but be accompanied by a limit on the number of dwellings allowed to be established on a block. This would curtail motivation to remove trees to maximise development. An option for containing an unacceptable density in multi-unit developments is to require a ratio of (say) a maximum of one residential dwelling per 600sqm of land. This would serve to enhance the ‘Garden City’ concept of the precinct
Local residents also considered that amalgamations outside of what is allowed under Amendment 39 relating to State Circle should specifically be disallowed. This would deter the construction of ‘concrete jungle’ edifices, reducing the prestige of this historically significant area as well as adversely affecting amenity for neighbours and increasing traffic congestion, noise and parking.
The NCA’s Paper makes a new proposal that not less than 40% of the block must be set aside for soft planting. We understand that is to deal with previously inexact language about soft planting requirements in the zone. This is a welcome new development.
The Paper also recommends and DRA supports a range of measures proposed by the NCA to strengthen the current landscape requirements of the Plan. Along with proposals for setting quantitative controls to provide certainty in respect of the extent of soft landscaping to be provided across a site, these include encouraging hedges in lieu of fences, and limiting the amount of hard surfaces to reduce stormwater run-off. Limitations would also be placed on the number of driveways.
DRA notes that increased flexibility for dual occupancy siting would also potentially increase significant planting opportunities. The narrow corridors between dual occupancy dwellings to provide separation can be wasted areas with overshadowing, insufficient space for significant plantings and privacy concerns. It is suggested a range of imaginative and creative proposals for dual occupancies be considered to maximise the area for and benefits of soft landscaping and options for canopy tress surrounds, to enhance the “Garden City” concept. The Paper proposes limitations to the number of driveways. It is suggested that two driveways be allowed only if needed for direct access to existing above ground garages.
While mandatory increased requirements on soft landscaping may aid preservation, it can add interest to consider different approaches, for example, the Japanese style pebble garden at 14 Melbourne Avenue.
Trees are a major focus of the Plan. The Paper proposes that large, established trees should be retained, that new trees, capable of reaching heights twice that of the proposed building should be provided as part of all proposed redevelopment proposals and each plot should have at least one canopy tree. It also proposes new and existing tree should cover 15% canopy coverage of a site within 10 years of development. This is consistent with the need to preserve essential green infrastructure in this zone close to the Lodge and Parliament.
We understand that where adverse impacts or safety concerns may arise in relation to existing or proposed trees, advice will be sought from suitably qualified arborists or horticulturalists. In DRA’s view it will be important for the NCA to ensure that such people provide genuine independent advice and are not merely sympathetic nominees of builders or developers. The NCA should also obtain photographic evidence of tree cover on the block before and after development with developer penalties for trees that should not have been removed.
DRA notes that street trees are an important are an important feature of the NCA precinct landscape. However, responsibility for them rests with the ACT Government rather than the NCA or individual landowners. This can result in inaction or neglect. For example, residents commented on some street trees in Canterbury Crescent which are severely deformed and where branches fall unexpectedly (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Deformed trees that need attention
DRA recommends that the NCA works closely with the ACT Government to repair or replace unsightly or dangerous trees. Canterbury Crescent is an important connecting street from Parliament House to the Lodge and often serves as a loop street for tourist buses.
One individual resident of the area considers that the provision of canopy trees should be at the discretion of individual landowners. This same resident recommended that the preferred location for canopy trees was on wide nature strips where roots and leaves do not interfere with buildings, pavements and utility services. However, the DRA believes the NCA’s proposal is laudable and consistent with the Garden City principles supported by DRA and that the outcome of the NCA proposals will be desirable on both aesthetic and environmental grounds.
DRA has some questions about compliance matters. While issues such as building height, setbacks and siting of buildings are easily quantified, others such as architectural appropriateness or status of soft landscaping and garden design are more subjective and less so. Who will decide on and monitor such things?
The Paper states that quantitative standards are accompanied by performance standards and that compliance with quantitative standards will not necessarily result in Works Approval unless the performance standards have been met. This wording is very unclear and does not reference relevant standards. DRA notes that performance standards are spelt out in the NCA’s Design and Siting Code Design and Siting General Code but they need to be spelt out explicitly in the Paper to avoid ambiguity.
DRA understands that proposals outlined in the Paper do not apply to some Diplomatic Missions, particularly in the Somers Crescent area. It is unclear whether other Diplomatic Missions, for example the residence and chancery of Cambodia and the residence of the Myanmar Embassy on the opposite side of Melbourne Avenue, are similarly included.
DRA considers it important to spell out what restrictions, if any, do apply to the development of diplomatic premises in the NCA zone. DRA considers there should be in principle adherence to the same requirements as other similar structures in the zone. Exemptions should only be granted where the Diplomatic Missions can show that they are essential, such as for security reasons, or the need/wish for structures to reflect their national and international significance.
Advice on Proposed Developments/Redevelopments
Many residents expressed concern that they were largely unaware of proposed developments/redevelopments in the precinct area. This means that they are missing out on the opportunity to comment prior to any approval being granted. We understand the NCA is looking at this issue. One possibility would be for DRA and Forrest Residents Group to be advised of any proposals to allow them to then pass this information on to members/residents.
The NCA’s Paper states that many of the proposals outlined in it would be applicable to other parts of Canberra. DRA strongly agrees. There is no reason to suggest that, while technically the precinct ends at, for example National Circuit, such proposals should not be replicated in other parts of Deakin. Recent developments and proposed redevelopments in nearby parts of “Old Deakin”, for example 34 Melbourne Avenue, are a case in point.
Equally, many of the newer developing suburbs in Canberra, for example, West Belconnen, Tuggeranong and Molonglo, where there almost no trees and concrete pavements and lack of nature strips abound, could benefit from the application of these principles.
DRA believes it is regrettable that the Office of responsible ACT Minister, Mick Gentleman, has indicated the ACT Government will not be considering or taking up any proposals put forward in this Paper by the NCA, on the grounds that the ACT Government has “its own Plan”.