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    Institute and Property Council clash on Greenfield issue

    Gemma Battenbough

    The Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Property Council of Australia are at loggerheads on the issue of Greenfield development in Canberra.

    The AIA labeled the proposal to reopen Greenfield land in the Molonglo Valley and at Kowen for new suburban development as “unsustainable”.

    Developing these pristine grassland areas is a continuation of business-as-usual in terms of urban sprawl, said the institute, even if these areas are within certain medium distances of travel defined in the Canberra Spatial Plan.

    “It might be time to review the Canberra Spatial Plan, given that it has been some eight years since work on it began, and many of the factors influencing it have changed, including the now critical need for an urgent and committed response to the issues of climate change and peak oil,” the AIA’s ACT, David Flannery, said.

    However, the Property Council has criticized this view as “wrong”, arguing that prohibiting Greenfield developments would aggravate serious social issues.

    “The assumption that Greenfields development is environmentally unsound because it may not be in the urban heart is simply wrong,” Property Council ACT executive director, Catherine Carter, said.

    “Housing affordability continues to be a painful issue for many Canberrans looking to buy their own home. Raising the price of Greenfields housing so as to price it out of existence — as has been suggested by some — would simply exacerbate an already serious social problem,” Carter said.

    Carter argued that other issues need to be debated, such as increasing height limits in key locations, before “rushing to reduce Canberrans’ choices” by cutting off Greenfield developments.

    However, the burgeoning urban sprawl in Canberra is becoming a significant financial burden the whole community, Flannery said.

    “Establishing infrastructure for services in new suburbs is an enormous cost, subsidised by the tax payer,” Flannery said.

    This includes the cost of water, gas, and electricity reticulation, stormwater and sewer services, communications networks and the expense of extending the already struggling bus network to the ever-extending outer edge of the city.

    “There is also an equity issue here,” Flannery said. The greatest number of affordable housing options in ACT is on the outskirts of the city. This means that less wealthy people often end up paying the most towards extra infrastructure provision.

    “Disadvantaged and less financially well-off members of our community are also directly subsidising the hidden infrastructure costs of suburban fringe development … and, over time, they then have to pay the additional cost of living in an outer area of the city,” Flannery said.

    It is far preferable to develop inner city sites within Canberra’s existing footprint than to extend the city limits, the AIA ACT chapter argues.

    Development should be encouraged in and around the town centres and along transport corridors, the institute says, while still protecting the heartland of existing suburbs. This includes the need to find and release affordable housing blocks close to transport and existing services in the inner parts of the city.

    “We need to stop suburban sprawl and start bringing more homes to the heart of where things already happen - shops, schools, workplaces, services, entertainment. Let's achieve a walkable liveable city, more reliant on better functioning public transport, and still allowing a full range of choices of living accommodation. And we need all dwellings, whatever type and location, to be highly energy and water efficient,” Flannery said.

    The ACT chapter of the AIA is holding a series of forums and workshops on sustainable city planning as a contribution to Canberra’s centenary and to develop scenarios that could be used within the Canberra context for discussion with the community. Bookings can be made by calling 02 6208 2100.

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