Property developers consulting with residents before lodging applications would take much of the heat out of Canberra’s development debate, ACT Government Architect Alastair Swayn says.

He said a less adversarial approach than today’s development application process, of developers meeting informally with community associations to hear concerns, could lead to better planning outcomes.

Mr Swayn is also preparing a statement of community aspirations for the city centre, as part of a broad development framework. Inner north and inner south community leaders say Mr Swayn’s suggestion on consultation would help rebuild trust between residents and developers. Mr Swayn said community anger over new developments often sprang from surprise.

”The [ACT Land and Planning Authority] already has a pre-application process.

”While I, as a practising architect, use that as a way of engaging the planning authority and other agencies, my understanding is a number of developers rock in with their development applications and then they get a little surprised when they get knocked back.”

Mr Swayn, who was appointed last year by Chief Minister Jon Stanhope as the ACT’s first Government Architect, said the present system of inviting comment when development applications were lodged, often led to objections.

A less adversarial, more intelligent, harmonious approach might bring better outcomes all round. Inner south Canberra Community Council president Kevin Gill said a mindset change was needed to overcome secrecy about new projects and build trust between residents and developers, which was non-existent.

Developers only provided the bare bones of proposed development and even when letterboxed with proposals, many residents were still unaware of proposals.

Mr Gill said Red Hill and Deakin residents had joined the inner south organisation, which already represented Yarralumla, Griffith and Narrabundah and was seeking representatives from Kingston, Barton and Symonston.

Dickson Residents Group spokeswoman Marie Coleman said most householders had little idea of what zone they lived in, nor of what the implications might be of their zone on redevelopment.

”ACTPLA’s pre-application process simply does not work.”

Planners accepted assertions by developers of consistency with mandatory requirements, and awaited challenges by local residents, rather than making careful, detailed and critical analysis of those assertions.

”This underlines much of the residents’ distress and deep cynicism about the integrity of current processes.”

Ms Coleman said residents wanted a new process of pre-consultation before a development application was lodged, followed by a guaranteed, transparent analysis by ACTPLA of the application.

Mr Swayn said his role allowed him to stand back and ask questions of what Canberra, as a community, wanted for the city and to provide a development framework around that, rather than just doing developments

”For example, I haven’t found any words which describe what we as a community think about the city centre. There’s lots of master plans and bits of it, but there is no over-arching statement which describes the city centre.”

Such a statement would be made public soon. He was also working on a broader view of design for the city as a whole.

Canberra Times, 30 March 2011, by John Thistleton

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