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Assembly debates Red Hill development processes

From Canberra Times 26 October 2017

The territory government has lost a vote over calls for an overarching “environmental plan” for the Red Hill nature reserve and surrounds, after an at times fiery debate on development in the area on Wednesday.

The debate in the Legislative Assembly centred on what Opposition planning spokeswoman Nicole Lawder dubbed a “sham consultation” on the Federal Golf Club’s plan to build a 125 units and redevelop the club.

While the club has announced such plans numerous times over the years, it has not yet lodged an actual development application for the proposal.

Ms Lawder had proposed a motion calling for a complete moratorium on development in the general area until an Assembly committee would investigate development proposals in the area and look at a possible “masterplan”.

While the Opposition’s motion did not get the key Greens support needed, the Opposition backed a Greens motion for an “environmental plan” to be completed, in a rare defeat of the government’s numbers.

She hit out at the government’s referral of the club’s development plans to a community panel, which she said residents had described as degenerating into a “farce”, with questions from panel members still unanswered when the panel’s work was closed.

“They thought that they would be able to ask questions and get answers, to be able to ask for data and have the data provided…this is not what took place,” she said.

Ms Lawder also questioned why the government had allowed the community panel – seemingly the first time such a process has been used – for the club development.

She also linked that to the club’s decision to move from Clubs ACT to the union-linked Canberra Community Clubs group after Clubs ACT’s election campaign against the government.

Planning Minister Mick Gentleman rejected the Opposition motion, instead tabling government amendments that would instead see a report on the panel’s work released late next month, which were in turn rejected.

He also said that across the government “new methods of engaging with the community are needed” and rejected any prospect that the government was not meeting with “Clubs ACT and its members”.

Opposition leader Alistair Coe again raised questions of “government integrity” in wider comments in the debate about government decisions favouring “fellow travellers” of the Labor movement.

Ultimately, Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur succeeded in passing an amendment to the motion representing the middle ground between the two major parties, with government support.

The motion called on the government to not go ahead with any Territory Plan variations for residential proposals for Section 66, Kent Street Deakin, the golf course and ‘other sites immediately adjacent’ to the reserve.

It also urged any such variations should only go ahead after an ‘integrated plan’ for the reserve and surrounds including a ‘detailed environmental plan’ to protect the reserve, which is home to nationally-significant woodlands.

But it remains to be seen specifically what that plan would look like, or if it will be implemented, with Planning Minister Mick Gentleman’s spokesman saying it was subject to an environmental impact statement from the developers.

While the government claimed it “supported” the Greens motion, it lost the vote on the the motion, indicating it failing to foresee its own defeat in the chamber, and has given no indication it will actually act on it.

The golf club’s vice-president Bob Correll said he couldn’t make any informed comment about the motion as it remained unclear was the practical implications were for the club’s development.

But he said the club had been happy to participate in the community panel, and it was now working on incorporating those recommendations into the proposal, expecting to hold community forums about it in November.

Mr Correll also said the club’s decision to join Canberra Community Clubs was related to its own decision to remove its pokies and “Clubs ACT’s agenda”, rather than the government’s relationship with the new clubs group.