Thursday, June 20, 2024

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HomeIssue 29Put town planning into the hands of the people

Put town planning into the hands of the people

p1910ronsterryemilyhillsCOMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA
Tomorrow is the deadline for public submissions about the fourth (some say fifth) proposal to develop part of White Gums, land owned by the pioneering Brown family in the south-western corner of the Alice Springs municipality.
The main reason given by Labor lands ministers Chris Burns (in 2004) and Delia Lawrie (in 2007) for rejecting the development was because it “represents a significant departure from the direction provided by elements of the current Planning Scheme [current at the time of determination], most significantly the Alice Springs Land Use Structure Plan 1999 [Town Plan 1992 (as amended)]. (Ms Lawrie’s text is in square brackets.) Note the almost identical wording, three years apart.
The other issues raised – mostly roads, waste and water – were clearly minor and have been, or can be fixed.
So, the governments at the time were peeved that someone doubted their infinite town planning wisdom. Well may you ask, what wisdom?
To be sure, the current dog’s breakfast started in the CLP reign of two and a half decades before Labor got to power – and goes back been further.
Why was the town built on a flood plain in the first place? There has been loss of life and property on several occasions and if the climate change boffins are right about ever bigger floods, we may one day kiss good-bye the CBD.
The world over the grandest buildings are on hilltops. In Alice most of the hills are off-limits for private and public buildings. Why?
The town is in a million square kilometres of emptiness yet the government thinks it’s doing us a favour selling small blocks at Kilgariff for $180,000. That’s three times the cost of comparable residential land in Streaky Bay.
Ron Sterry has spent his own money on his own land (in the foreground of the photo) off Ragonesi Road, big enough for several hundred residential blocks. What have the government and the town council done to make this development happen?
Next-door the 156 block project (in the background of the photo) of John McEwen has clearly stalled, over drainage and sewerage issues. Why?
Let’s move across the highway where the rubbish dump is in the most inappropriate place – now in the centre of the town. A proposal for moving it to Brewer Estate has been made. What is the council doing? It wants to extend the dump into the adjoining Desert Park which we are talking up as a tourist attraction.
Next-door we have two square kilometres of stench producing sewage treatment ponds. Suggestions of replacing them with a plant recycling the billions of litres of water currently wasted, and using the land – owned by the government and unencumbered by native title – for a more suitable purpose, have been ignored for decades.
Is anyone under the illusion that the government’s heavy hand is there to protect the interests of the public? Talk to the opponents of the Hornsby development or the 86% (according to one resident) of the people in Albrecht Drive opposing the construction of flats there.
If you want your interests protected build the appropriate clauses into your land purchase contract – a zoning can be overturned at the whim of the Development Consent Authority or the minister.
In Kilgariff the government had to become the developer of 30 blocks (that’s 2.5% of the 1200 lots planned there) because no private developer would pout up his hand. They are clearly all flat out jamming tiny dwellings into town blocks, in preparation for turning Alice into a fly-in, fly-out mining camp.
It’s clearly time to for the government to take a few steps back in town planning, except for obvious regulation of health and safety issues.
White Gums is at the far end of Ilparpa. The new traffic would mostly flow through Honeymoon Gap and not along Ilparpa Road. A water pipeline is within easy reach. There have been major developments in sewage disposal, superior to the septic tanks mostly in use in the rural areas. (And there is nothing wrong with septic tanks.)
The Browns are prepared to spend their own money to develop their own land. They, not the government, are taking the risk.
Buyers will have the choice of spending their money there – or not. This is a way of putting town planning into the hands of the people.
It’s that simple.
[Disclosure: A member of the Brown family, Steve, writes a column in the Alice Springs News Online where he expresses his own views.]


  1. Good thinking. Kilgariff must be the greatest example of political pork barreling ever from both sides of politics, and falling over to sectional self interests.
    Remember the 1500 houses promised by prominent Federal pollies on airport land which was not directly under their control just prior to an election? Then the CLP was no better. When Crown land south of the airport near Brewer was suggested as an alternative for obvious reasons (employment, infrastructure etc) I was told that although it was Crown land it was not available for the Crown to use!
    The shortsightedness of this government is astounding, not just here but in the Darwin plan as well.
    Not only are they now covering a prime food producing area here with houses to satisfy whims but now the Berrimah Research farm is also to go the same way. That’s plain stupid in the light the growing gap between productive population growth and arable land and the obvious need to get more out of less.
    Some of the concepts of the Brown development sound great. Harvesting rain water etc. I have not used town water for two years in my house, but I would like to see also provision in there for composting toilets should buyers require them, and a complete re think of the waste disposal situation.
    It s all about recycling expensive plant nutrients which would otherwise go to waste. There is no better example of this than the industry built up by Gippsland Water on human and food waste, (ABC Landline) to see what could be achieved here with a bit of innovative and forward thinking.
    And waste water? There should be no such thing in an arid zone. Ask the Israelis to come over here and show us how. But innovative thinking is not the forte of this government. If it was, where Kilgariff is now would have been a vibrant display of everything this wonderful place has to offer to attract investment in productive assets and not housing just he same as everywhere else.
    In the meantime spare a thought for those who have put up their own money and effort to provide housing but have been gazumped by Government for political reasons.
    Incidentally, can anyone in government tell me why in their infinite wisdom they have upgraded an isolated 10 km section of the Old Andado road East of Allambi? In a recent trip there I counted three vehicles in two days’ travel. There must be few millions went there while both the Plenty and Tanami go wanting. Allison, take note!
    This government is not listening.

  2. I can’t quite understand your point Erwin? On the one hand you appear to be sympathetic to those folk who have been shafted by departure from the planning principles that apply, and on the other a substantial number of almost 50 Rural zoned properties are supposed to sacrifice their dreams and investment by the same misuse of process in another area?
    Not wishing to support one party or the other, but don’t forget who was influential in preventing the last Chateau Rd proposal to be rejected.
    Planning is far too important to leave it simply to “individuals” who are prepared to put their money up – the “might” of money never guarantees “right”.
    Planning schemes / legislation are there to, amongst other things, provide certainty to land owners and developers.
    Of greater importance are the lies we were told at the 2008 Planning Forum, which led to the AZRI debacle.

    Many thanks for your comments, Rod, but I’m not sure where you detect a contradiction. In 40 years of reporting land use and planning issues in Central Australia, and from painful personal experience as a resident, I have learned that no-one an be assured that arbitrary rulings are not made by authorities and ministers. They have a legal right to make them, but certainly not a moral one.
    Buyers and developers alike should use available legal and commercial devices, and further ones that may need to be created in the political process, to be protected from being “shafted” and exposed to “misuse of process”.
    “We’re here to help you” assurances from governments and the real estate industry are not worth the air expelled to utter them.
    So far as Chateau Road decisions are concerned, my “personal” interest, there have been at least three decisions that went against what my family and I had expected when we invested money and effort in our home here, in the 1970s.
    Erwin Chlanda, Editor.

  3. While I agree that the Kilgariff suburb has turned into a pork-barrelling debacle, I think it is also important to remember that the main reason that block of land was selected before any other for development was because it alone was not encumbered with any form of land claim or prior or existing ownership. Or at least so I was informed at the time.
    It alone was available for immediate development without having to go through a lengthy and expensive court case, so the government of the day opted to build Alice’s south-of-the-Gap extension there.
    Whether or not we needed to develop south of the Gap is another argument. I still say yes, but Kilgariff has admittedly turned into a lingering disappointment.
    As for food production, I find it hard to believe that the Kilgariff block is the only piece of arable land in the area. Or could it be that all the others are under some form of land claim / ownership, and to farm them would require a lengthy and expensive court case?

  4. @ Rod Cramer: Quote “planning schemes … provide certainty.” No, they don’t! That’s the whole point!
    NT Planning Scheme rules are varied as a matter of course. Gap Road, old bowling club property: 11,000 approximately square meters, under MD zone, is suitable for 36 units, under MR zoning, is suitable for 55.
    Yet 68 have been approved (at least that’s down from the original submission for 75).
    Bloomfield Street: 11 units approved for a property area suitable for nine.
    The original Mt John Valley estate brochure clearly showed dedicated SD and MD blocks. If purchasers chose an SD block, with an SD block each side, they should have been able to expect not to have units next door: Yet several blocks have been rezoned to MD – with variations approved of course!

  5. I agree with you Kendari, at times they don’t, but merely leaving it to private developers with lots of money will provide even less. It’s a bit like Churchill’s definition of Democracy, a bastard of a system, but the best we’ve got.

  6. @ Rod Cramer: I’m not suggesting private developers be given decision making either – I’d just like to see DCA et al apply their own rules! The way things are, private developers DO make all the decisions, because Planning approve anything they want!


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