Public housing ‘rushed through’

The Canberra Times (7 Nov 09) reports that residents fear the rush to spend millions of dollars in economic stimulus money to build public housing in the ACT could be at the expense of good planning and proper community consultation. The Weston Creek Community Council’s experience with the Government’ announced developments in Chapman and Rivett are reported as examples of the Government’s approach.

Public housing ‘rushed through’

by Megan Doherty
Canberra Times 7 Nov 09

Residents fear the rush to spend millions of dollars in economic stimulus money to build public housing in the ACT could be at the expense of good planning and proper community consultation.

However, ACT Planning and Land Authority chief planning executive Neil Savery maintains the development applications for the projects are being vigorously assessed.

The Federal Government has given the ACT $87 million under the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan for 350 ”social housing” units, stipulating the first stage must be built by June 2010 and the second stage by December 2010.

The tight timetable has seen the ACT Government not allow third-party appeals to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal should ACTPLA approve the development applications for the housing.

It has also reduced the public notification of development applications for the housing from the usual 15 to 10 days.

Residents say information sessions about “social housing” held in September were not about consultation, but about telling them what was going to happen.

They believe the manner in which the projects were being rushed through sets a dangerous precedent.

Weston Creek community Council chairman Tim Dalton said the process meant the government would no longer look at alternate sites or consider it might be better for the territory to sell selected sites for private development.

We have no appeal rights here at all,” he said.

Mr Dalton said there were indications since March the Government was considering a Chapman site for supportive housing for older public housing tenants but it only informed the community council in September, seven days before the public information session was held.  “Seven days is not long enough and the ‘consultation’ was along the lines “You’re going to get it whether you like it or not,” he said.

A Department of Disability, Housing and Community Services senior officer told The Canberra Times if the ACT did not meet the Commonwealth’s deadlines it risked having the stimulus funding revoked.  He agreed he went to public information sessions to tell residents “the Government had made a decision and we were looking for advice about how the units should be constructed, not if the units should be constructed”.  “I did, in an effort to be clear and honest with people, say that the Commonwealth had offered these funds, tp put it colloquially, on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis,” he said.

Housing Minister Joy Burch said information from the community sessions “was taken into consideration prior to the design being finalised and a development application being lodged”.

Mr Savery denied the developments were being rushed, saying the same assessment period of 30 to 45 working days remained.  He said the Assembly voted to allow the changes, including the revocation of appeal rights but also asked that independent social planner Susan Conroy be appointed to oversee the assessments.  Mr Savery said, “if anything, the changes that have been made impose a greater obligation on the planning authority to make sure we adequately scrutinise these developments. The ACT Government has made no apologies for its swift action, saying the Commonwealth money presents “an unprecedented opportunity”, particularly to allow older public housing tenants to downsize into smaller, more suitable quality accommodation.

Mrs Burch said “the Government had to make decisions under Federal timeframe”.  The proposed 350 new social housing properties in the ACT include 115 to be built by, or for, community housing providers such as the Salvation Army and 155 to be built for current or eligible public housing tenants aged over 65.  The supportive accommodation for older people is planned for community facilities land at Florey and Macquarie in the north and Rivett, Kambah, Chapman and Curtin in the south.  Development applications bow  before ACTPLA include one for 73 supportive housing units on the site of the former Rivett Primary School, which would be demolished.  There is also an application for 32 supportive housing units on vacant land at Chapman near the primary school on the corner of Streeton Drive and Darwinia Terrace.

Mr Savery said about 12 development applications for the housing had already been approved by ACTPLA, with none rejected.

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