19 Jun / 2015

What the Canberra Times did not print

The following letter was sent to the Canberra Times on 13 June, following their shallow and misleading reportage of the Gawler Crescent ACAT decision. All Canberra residents deserve to understand the extent to which the current planning system limits their rights.

Deakin Residents’ Association Inc.
PO Box 3310 Manuka ACT 2603

Canberra Times

Your story “New Deakin development prompts privacy and parking concerns for residents” (CT online 8th June 2015), “Deakin residents fear flood of development” (CT print version 8th June 2015) misrepresents the Deakin Residents’ Association (DRA).

We did not oppose the Gawler Crescent redevelopment, but sought good planning outcomes that are consistent with published ACT Government planning policies.

The proposal now approved by ACAT will replace two existing residences with seven three-bedroom townhouses. This is significantly different from a 2010 proposal for fifteen one- and two-bedroom apartments, opposed by residents at the time as being completely inconsistent with relevant development codes.  Due to DRA pursuit of good planning outcomes, the subsequent proposal for seven three-bedroom residences has also been modified in several important respects – the number of buildings are now appropriate to the site, with a separation of 2.8metres between the two groups of units, whereas the developer originally proposed an unbroken terrace of six townhouses facing Gawler Crescent.

Through public consultations on DV306, the Government developed specific policy requirements with respect to the maximum number of buildings on a re-developed site with communities promised that groups of multi-unit dwellings in RZ2 zones would be separated by “at least 4 metres” to preserve neighbourhood character. The development, as now approved, still contradicts this promise. At the last minute, and without public consultation, the ACT Government introduced criteria to the relevant Rule inviting decision-makers to apply subjective judgment and allow developers to avoid compliance with the Rule.

Subjective interpretation of planning objectives, under the deceptively-named “merit track” of development approvals, is a deeply flawed system which contradicts commitments to community engagement in the planning and development process. If Rules can be so easily avoided we can anticipate developers seeking to push the boundaries within RZ2 zones across Canberra, with only private residents and their associations to uphold planning principles where they can.

John Bell
Vice President
Deakin Residents Association, Inc