Candidates for the ACT Legislative Assembly were challenged to present their plan for the hotly debated election issue of population growth and urban development at last night’s Conservation Council ACT Region candidates’ forum.
Conservation Council ACT Region executive director Helen Oakey said projections of a 1.3% population growth would see the ACT’s population rise to 600,000 by 2045.
“That obviously creates a challenge for achieving our greenhouse gas emission reduction targets because we’ve got to find more renewable energy and we’re going to be generating waste with all that construction activity,” Ms Oakey said.
“We’ve got to find places for these people to live, but we also know if we continue with urban sprawl, we’ll have impacts on the surrounding woodlands and grasslands that have ecological value.
“The further out we go, the more transport demands and more potential for traffic congestion.”
The candidates were asked is they supported restricting the urban footprint after the current residential developments were completed and, if not, where the next developments would be located.
ACT Greens leader, Shane Rattenbury, said his party had a 70% infill target (the development of new dwellings on vacant or underused land in existing areas) and a 30% greenfield target (underdeveloped land in agricultural or rural areas).
“We know, over the next few decades we’ll see around 100,000 new homes; our target means that 70,000 will come from infill and 30,000 will come from greenfield,” Mr Rattenbury said.
“Without this target, the size of Canberra will need to double.
“This is unsustainable, costly and reckless.
“We’ve also explicitly pledged no development in Kowen Forest.
“The Liberals believe they can get into government by winning the third seat in Murrumbidgee at the cost of the Greens, which means this election the future footprint of Canberra is in play and we need to know where they stand.”
Canberra Liberals environment spokesperson, Elizabeth Lee, presented no policy for urban development and said she had “no interest in responding to the Greens at all”.
“There’s no doubt that Canberra is growing,” Ms Lee said.
“Canberrans do care about their environment and the importance of biodiversity to our region is on the forefront of a lot of people’s minds, but we also know that Canberrans wants choice when it comes to housing.
“We want to make sure that we find that balance.”
ACT Labor environment spokesperson, Mick Gentlemen, said Canberra “could not keep spreading outwards” and creating a sprawl that led to traffic congestion, air pollution, loss of grasslands and woodlands, and created transport poverty.
“I think we’ve demonstrated our commitment to trying to transform the city away from being a freeway-based car-dominated city, by doing things like building light rail, which will become the backbone of making a more compact and more walkable city.
“We need to make sure we change the planning rules so that we don’t simply see everywhere being concreted over.”
Canberra Progressives candidate, Robert Knight, said his party was “very much against continued urban sprawl”.
“From North to South, Canberra has the same geographic footprint as Hornsby to Liverpool with one-tenth of the population,” Mr Knight said.
“We are one of the lowest density cities in Australia and we’ve grown this way through the concept of this garden city that was popular through the 20th century.
“The modern phenomenon of a sprawling suburbia has been allowed by hyper-mobility and car-based transport.
“We know that is not just environmentally unsustainable, it’s also economically and socially unsustainable.
“It’s an isolating form of urban development and as much as we can in the future, we should be looking towards that missing middle urban development – medium density, high amenity, transit oriented and walkable.
“We need to stop building further out, into the outskirts of a city, and destroying the biodiversity on the periphery.”
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