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Dickson Shops Plan Scrapped by ACT Government, Developers Sent Back to Drawing Board

Dickson Shops Plan Scrapped by ACT Government, Developers Sent Back to Drawing Board

29 May 2015 Ewan Gilbert

The ACT Government has scrapped a plan to build two new supermarkets and 140 apartments as part of a redevelopment proposal for the Dickson shops.

In December last year a consortium including the Canberra-owned Doma Group lodged an application to build a seven-story development on the site of the existing Woolworths car park in Canberra's north.

The development included a Coles and Aldi supermarket, plus a mix of retail and commercial spaces and residential apartments. It was due to be completed by next year.

The idea was welcomed by many, including the ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, who felt that Dickson had long needed more supermarket competition. But it also drew sharp criticism from some nearby shop owners, residents and local planners who raised concerns over parking, pedestrian access and the diminishment of Dickson's character.

Yesterday the Environment and Planning Directorate refused the plan on the grounds that it was "considered to be unacceptably detrimental in terms of both functionality and aesthetics". The directorate's director-general Dorte Ekelund said their assessment agreed with many of the concerns raised by the community.

Key issues raised in public submissions:

  • The proposal is not consistent with the Dickson Master Plan.
  • The proposal is not pedestrian or cycle friendly.
  • Nearly half the dwellings are facing south.
  • Lengthy narrow dim corridors in residential floors.
  • Proposed loading docks to the Antill Street side will affect the pedestrian and cyclist movement along Antill Street.
  • The proposal will negatively impact upon Dickson traders.
  • Proposal is an overdevelopment of the site.
  • The proposal is out of character of the desired character on site.
  • Inadequate car parking provided in the proposal.
  • Traffic and parking study undertaken by the applicant is inadequate.

"Whilst we're very supportive of having a mixed-used development here, Dickson desperately needs more supermarket space," she said. "We believe this important entry to the Dickson group centre deserves a better urban design outcome. "We didn't have a problem with the height. We don't have a problem with the scale, how large in terms of units and floor space, but really the execution of the design.

"We really think the loading area should be treated better, there should be greater activation of street frontages with more smaller shops and really some of the impediments to pedestrian movement between the new development and the existing centre should be improved."

Ms Ekelund said the Government was keen to work with the proponents to head back to the drawing board, although she noted they also have the option of appealing the decision. "I think it's very clear what elements of the development can be improved," she said. "I guess it depends on how quickly their designers and architects can work ... but we would hope that they would work quickly on it so that we can get a development up and running on this site as soon as possible."

During the consultation phase the planning directorate received 59 written public submissions on the proposal, while they also sought the advice of a number of relevant organisations. The Conservator of Flora and Fauna was the only one to object, arguing a number of healthy trees would be damaged or lost.

Submissions from the ACT Heritage Council, ActewAGL, Icon Water, Territory and Municipal Services, Environment Protection Authority and ACT Fire and Rescue all supported the proposal, though most recommended further conditions be applied.

Plans failed common sense test: residents group

Dickson Residents Group spokeswoman Jane Goffman said the plans "failed the common sense test". "Business as usual doesn't cut the mustard, we need high quality proposals with real vision based on the best of modern urbanism and sustainable design," she said. "We congratulate the Government's planning officers for having the courage and conviction to stand up to powerful interests and insist on a better outcome for this city as a whole."

Ms Goffman said the community approved of the redevelopment of the Dickson site, just not the design of the proposal. "The agenda in the Dickson Master Plan was about 'modern urbanism', which is the concept of the walkable village," she said. "This particular proposal was in very direct conflict with all the principals within the Dickson Master Plan."