The President of the Curtin Residents Association, Chris Johnson, said “I am surprised – and staggered – by the unexpected submission of a modified proposal to redevelop the building at 44 Curtin Place. Thisnew proposal was submitted to ACTPLA as a request to reconsider the development application that was rejected by ACT Planning and Land Authority nearly 18 months ago. Normally, any request for reconsideration must be submitted within three weeks of the decision and only involve small changes.”
The decision to accept this application for reconsideration is totally inconsistent with a trustworthy public planning and development process,”said Mr Johnson.
The new proposal is for a block of one storey on the western edge of the Curtin square, extending to 5 storeys at the corner. It is very different from the original development application. Therefore, in keeping with its own planning processes, ACTPLA must provide a reasonable opportunity for the community to respond to this new development proposal.
The developer has submitted their new proposal just before the new Curtin Master Plan is to be finalised along with the likely introduction of new planning rules. The developers cannot know what the final Master Plan and these planning rules will be and ACTPLA should not have accepted any request for reconsideration like this. ACTPLA should certainly not try to assess any development proposals until the latest version of the Master Plan is made public and after subsequent comments have been received and properly considered.
The first community consultations about the Curtin Group Centre were held in 2015 and in the first draft master plan was developed soon after. In early 2017, more than 700 people rallied in Curtin Square and nearly 2,000 people from Curtin and surrounding suburbs signed a petition to the ACT Minister for Planning to ask that no development applications should be considered until the Master Plan was made final. After the first development application was rejected the government asked all parties to participate in meetings of a community panel, which resulted in a revised master plan for Curtin. This revision was published for public comment in May and June 2018, and the final result has not yet been made public for approval by the Legislative Assembly or the Minister. It is expected by the end of 2018.
Only last week, the ACT Government stated in its Our Canberra brochure that the “Master Plan for the Curtin Group Centre is almost finished”. Mr Johnson stated that “Any move to reconsider a development proposal before the Plan is finalised will kill any trust in the Government’s planning process that has been built up by the long community consultation process.”
The developer’s reconsideration application allows only 3 weeks for comments [since extended, to 11 September]. “If the process of writing the new master plan had made no progress for the past two years this might be a good way to speed up development of replacement shops in Curtin. But the Master Plan is still being developed and, although the process is slow, it is close to being finished. There is no good public reason to reconsider this application in this way. The developer should not be allowed to rush the process.”
The time for responding to the new proposal is dangerously short. The developer’s application consists of 49 separate documents and these require careful and detailed analysis by the community.
It is not clear what rules and criteria ACTPLA will use to assess the developer’s application for reconsideration. “Nobody can make meaningful comments when the background rules are unknown. Is this new proposal going to be evaluated against the old precinct code (allowing 2 storeys maximum?) or the draft master plan (2 storeys in one part, and 4 storeys in another?) or the revised master plan (which allows 1 storey in part, and possibly 5 storeys, only under some conditions)?
This new proposal anticipates that the revised Master Plan will be accepted – but the directorate has not yet finished collating all of the comments and other submissions. The application tries to cherry-pick parts of the existing Territory Plan, Precinct Code, Draft Master Plan and Revised Master Plan while ignoring the planning controls that the community expects to see and ignoring the character of Curtin as an urban village. The final height constraints in the Curtin Master Plan are still unknown and the proposed heights in both the first and revised drafts were strongly contested by the community.