Media release: It’s time to reboot our Canberra planning debate

19 February 2021

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has today released a wide-ranging submission to the ACT Government’s ongoing Territory Planning Review. The submission calls for the new system to be evidence based, to prioritise people most affected by poor planning and to focus on social and inclusive planning.

ACTCOSS Acting CEO Craig Wallace says: “We need to ‘reboot’ planning conversations in our city so we break the David-and-Goliath loop of important neighbourhood voices pitched against developers while missing other voices.

“It is ironic that the planning debates we have in Canberra often completely miss those who are most affected by planning decisions, and wind up leaving them least engaged in creating a city which actually makes all our lives better. In real life, Canberrans with disadvantage are ‘canaries in the coalmine’ when we get planning, design, transport and city integration wrong, and we should call on their knowledge to forge a better city.

“For instance, people without cars know when transport doesn’t link up. Young people can tell us when we don’t plan for parks or spaces where they can play and gather without needing to hang out in shopping centres (and spend money) or risk being moved on. Small community groups know when they can’t find halls, squares and plazas to meet, hold marketplaces or swap meets. Renters know when affordable housing is built in places with no local commerce or infrastructure. Elders and people with disability know where missing or broken footpaths are.

“And people who survive in substandard housing or live on our streets can certainly tell us when our public places are hostile to them or offer no free sheltered spaces or airconditioned foyers which provide refuge for people during heatwaves, storms and other weather events.

“A year of smoke and lockdowns means all of us have things to say about the quality of the homes we live in and the surrounding streets and walking tracks.

“Getting it right requires a dedicated resourced social planning unit within the ACT Government that leads on inclusive planning and gathers intelligence on the needs of disadvantaged people.

“Canberra is growing denser and opening to new suburbs – a priority must be ensuring developers take a curatorial approach to building vibrant spaces that serve us well in the long term.

“A new planning system must be geared to increase affordable housing supply across Canberra to meet the shortfall of 3000 dwellings and ensure liveable design features in housing and other infrastructure including universal design standards and accessibility for people with disability and reduced mobility in public spaces. We need an access committee with people who are experiencing these barriers so we get this right.

“The new planning system must also drive improved building standards for housing and other infrastructure – including higher building quality, increased energy efficiency and adequate greenspace. Here in Canberra, we know what happens when we don’t pay attention to quality.

“We need mechanisms to ensure planning decisions respond to the needs of the people who live here. We call for a community needs analysis of transport; a community needs analysis of community facilities; and a community needs analysis of person-led community development services,” Mr Wallace concluded.

Find the ACTCOSS submission to the ACT Planning Review here.

ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations.

For more information or comment, please contact

Craig Wallace, A/g CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0477 200 755 or 02 6202 7200.

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