Fix the Territory Plan with mere strokes of the pen

About 7 years ago in the Sydney Morning Herald in an article in Canberra by Judith Ireland the following paragraph appeared;

More recently, Canberra has been named by the Institute of Public Affairs is one of the Australia’s 13 biggest mistakes, with cane toads and the White Australia policy.  Last year, the Lonely Planet website nominated Canberra as reader’s second least favourite city in the world (with Guatemala City at No.1.”

Most people who live here would strongly disagree with these sentiments. I am a ‘blow in’ Pom who has actually chosen to live here of all other possible places on the world. Canberra is not a mistake but it could be argued that some of the reactionary planning policies in recent years have significantly contributed to its perceived sterility.

If I were the king for a day (or Donald Trump) there are some quick fixes that I believe could make a dramatic difference to the suburban fabric of Canberra. These are some my ‘strokes of a pen’ amendments to the planning rules.

  1. A 35% plot ratio is the maximum for housing in core areas for dual occupancy where at least one dwelling does not directly front a public road.  This rule stifles development and goes a long way towards defeating many options for higher urban density or ageing in place, The bizarre corollary of this is that you are allowed to build a mansion to 50% of the block if you only build one dwelling. Go figure.
  2. Why is Canberra restricted to only two story houses for most suburban areas? It is the bulk and scale of dwellings but not the number of levels in in them that matters.
  3. Currently you’re not allowed a basement and two other storeys unless it is used for car parking. Really?…what difference would have a basement make to the amenity of neighbours.
  4. Attics are virtually ruled out by the daft and rather arbitrary rule that if the roof pitch is over 36° it is no longer counts as an attic. Roof pitches under that angle are perversely unworkable on modest houses.
  5. Although the rules around Mr fluffy blocks were supposed to encourage high-density development they have become watered down like an old teabag to the point where siting two dwellings on a larger block becomes highly problematic and the allowable plot ratios end up lower than that permitted for a single residence.
  6. About 14 years ago the whole notion of being able to create higher densities in the general suburban areas (RZ1) was been knocked on the head. If you have a big block in the burbs and want to build another dwelling behind existing house you might as well forget about it as the allowable area for it will be tiny and you won’t be able to sell it off.
  7. The Local centres planning framework needs to be reviewed to encourage redevelopment with higher density accompanied with appropriate planning rules to encourage developers and local communities to consolidate and invest. These are often sad places that could easily play a walk on part in a post-apocalyptic movie.

The plethora of rules that have been added to our gargantuan Territory Plan in recent years are much like a Segway; seemed like a good idea but don’t really work. To paraphrase Thomas Edison the planning code has not really failed just found 10,000 ways that don’t work in contributing to a vibrant city that can become immune to the barbs of the outsiders. Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.

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