Page 459 - Week 02 - Wednesday, 18 February 2015

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For $783 million we do not seem to be getting many jobs at all. And we all know that the traditional construction sector delivers far more jobs and far wider economic benefits per dollar spent than light rail.

Nowhere is the government’s neglect at the expense of light rail more evident than in the maintenance of local shopping centres. All across Canberra there are examples of local shopping centres that are run down and messy. They are becoming eyesores. Instead of investing in the maintenance of local centres, the government has been more concerned about its grand projects, like the light rail project. The government likes to announce money for shopping centre upgrades and produce slick artists’ impressions, but that is as far as it goes.

Mrs Jones: And then you wait four years.

MR COE: As Mrs Jones knows all too well, there have been very few actual improvements to local shopping centres but there has been a lot of talk. There is great potential at local shopping centres, but potential is not good enough. Potential does not fix the cracked footpaths or the broken lights. Potential does not make local shopping centres the vibrant centre of the community. If the government really cares about urban renewal then it should start by maintaining and upgrading local community infrastructure such as shopping centres.

The government’s talk about urban renewal is just that—talk. There is little substance beyond a glib ministerial title and throwaway lines. The fact is that urban renewal in Canberra is hampered by harsh planning rules. The government continues to impose the lease variation charge on people who want to develop projects that would help with urban renewal. The lease variation charge is a serious disincentive for urban renewal. Urban renewal requires redevelopment and change. The lease variation charge means that good projects are stopped because the cost is prohibitive. Instead of encouraging renewal, the lease variation charge discourages renewal. It encourages stagnation. Derelict buildings are left in place because it is too expensive to redevelop the area. If the government wants to encourage urban renewal it should review the lease variation charge and other charges on development to provide an environment where renewal is encouraged.

Of course, the number one restriction on urban renewal is variation 306. The fact is that our planning system stifles development and urban renewal. The solar access rules get in the way of sensible developments. The government was repeatedly warned that the onerous requirements would lead to bad planning outcomes and to stagnation in industry. Instead it has been forced to roll back some of these regulations which have been proven to be unworkable. However, there is still much more to be done. The requirements of variation 306 mean that innovative projects, the sorts of projects that are vital for urban renewal, cannot go ahead.

There is much that could be said in response to this motion. However, unfortunately, once again we have a government that has tried to use a B-grade wedge and sought to tie light rail to urban renewal—tried to tie light rail to planning objectives, and planning and housing. In stark contrast to what the government has tried to spin, the ACT government’s light rail project has not enabled better planning or better housing outcomes but the very opposite. It is for that reason that we do not support the motion.

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