Ginninderry cards should be laid on the table

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The Canberra Times Editorial NOVEMBER 5 2019

The massive housing development at Gininnderry in west Belconnen remains a joint venture in need of an explanation.

To begin, we have not been given the deed of agreement between the ACT government and Riverview (the Corkhill family), under which the government has signed over 40 per cent of profits, which will amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. As a result, the public knows very little of the financial arrangements behind this joint venture.

 Karleen Minney.
There is confusion around Ginninderry's development. Picture: Karleen Minney.

What we have been told is that the government and Riverview pay costs in a 60:40 split and share profits in a 60:40 split. The Corkhill family brings 332 hectares of land on the NSW side of the border to the deal, and the ACT provides 1000 hectares on the ACT side. The land isn't obviously 60:40, but Riverview says that the 60:40 split is based on the developable area, minus land set aside for conservation, schools, electricity lines and the landfill.

They say there will be 3260 homes on the NSW side and 5140 on the ACT side. But they claim the NSW contribution is worth more than that because it allows development right up to the ACT border rather than leaving a buffer. Without the border development, the ACT would only have space for 3080 homes, according to the proponents.

"Based on the land contribution and the projected financial outcome, a ratio of 60:40 was agreed as representative of each party's share of the project," the joint venture's website says. "This split was as a result of a rigorous assessment of the proposal by central government agencies all of which led to the ACT government endorsement of the project in May 2016."

It is time that contribution, that outcome and that rigorous assessment by all arms of government is laid on the table.

Without that, the farmers who have sold up their land along the city's western fringe will be justified in wondering whether they would have been better off hanging on to their land and demanding a joint venture for its development - and perhaps, like Riverview, they could also have arranged payment to manage those joint ventures. For that matter, any farmer still in possession of likely land would do well to put a "not for sale" sign at the gate pronto. With Riverview leading the way as development partners, selling is looking like a mug's game.

The questions here are around whether the ACT has done the best deal by the taxpayer and these are questions that can only be answered if we have access to the numbers.

There is also a lack of clarity about what happens if the planning falls through on the NSW side of the border. That outcome is looking less likely after the Yass council's endorsement a fortnight ago - albeit with just four of the councillors voting yes, one no, and four absentees. The project now needs the NSW government's approval, and it is to be hoped that NSW applies more scrutiny and demands more transparency than either the ACT government and Yass have given to date.

Riverview says if NSW doesn't change its zoning to allow housing, its 332 hectares is forfeit to the ACT government. But it is incumbent on the government to disclose the numbers. How much is that land worth if it can't be developed? And what, in that arrangement, justifies the Corkhill family continuing to get 40 per cent of profits on the ACT side of the border?

The joint venture's less-than-satisfying answer is that if the NSW government does not approve development on its side of the border, the ACT housing estate would revert to just 508 hectares. The ACT government would get 60 per cent of that, which equates to 305 hectares and is still more than the "original base case scenario" of 300 hectares.

But that "extreme scenario", to use the joint venture's own words, would surely still leave Canberrans scratching their heads and wondering on what possible basis 40 per cent of the profits of a 508 hectare housing development had gone to a private family.

The questions here are around whether the ACT has done the best deal by the taxpayer and these are questions that can only be answered if we have access to the numbers. But based on the government's performance of late in managing land deals - to wit the strong of disorganised and ill-justified buy-ups of farm land along the western fringe - there is no obvious reason for comfort.

Letters to the Editor 7 Nov 2019

Congratulations on the editorial "Ginninderry cards should be laid out" (5 November 2019, p12) which shows the egregious situation in which ACT residents and taxpayers are left regarding this development.

It shows Canberra taxpayers "have not been given the deed of agreement between the ACT government and Riverview under which the government has signed over 40 per cent of profits, which will amount to hundreds of millions of dollars".

What exactly is going on here? Why do we allow this sort of thing to happen?

ACT residents and taxpayers will pay for the development in several ways: loss of green space, congestion, possible further rate increases, and water restrictions. Our total dam volume is now 53%.

What the editorial overlooks is that development, including a visitors' centre and tourist facilities, will go within 200 meters of the scenic Ginninderra Falls which lie just across the ACT border in NSW.

The area and width of the proposed conservation reserve with its very irregular shape and boundary are inadequate for proper protection of the habitat of the Rosenberg goanna and other wild life.

Runoff and effluent will ultimately find their way into the beleaguered Murrumbidgee river. The proposed storm water treatment system, which is complicated, will need constant maintenance and monitoring to prevent blockages.

Who will provide the service post development and at what cost? Valuable green space in west Belconnen is going under concrete. It is too much. Reassurances of best practice are unconvincing.

Judy Kelly, Aranda

Letters to the Editor 7 Nov 2019

In addition to the monetary risks regarding the Ginninderry development I would urge that the fire risk factors facing new residents be urgently examined.

In Flynn during the 2003 Canberra fire storms we found wind-blown burnt leaves seven kilometres from fires that destroyed the vegetation around Shepherds Lookout overlooking the Murrumbidgee River's gorge.

Prior to the 2018-19 bushfire season in the ACT region residents received communications from the ACT government about preparing properties for the expected high fire dangers of the summer ahead. I wrote to Minister Barr about the Ginninderry development since 8,000 homes are planned for west Belconnen less than five kilometres from the steep gorges of the Murrumbidgee River and Ginninderra Creek.

Future dwellings should not be allowed at Ginninderry as they will be built into a known fire risk zone less than five kilometres from these gorges.

Bush fire resistant homes are expensive to build and may not be of a standard sufficient to resist blown embers from fire-storms. Emergency Services teams will be at risk themselves when obliged to protect these homes and their traumatised occupants.

In late January 2019 I received a letter from Minister Barr that stated in part: "The ACT government takes responsibility to appropriately manage the risks of building homes in bushfire risk areas through planning, regulation and fire risk management." Have there have been adequate preparations for these responsibilities?

Rosemary Blemings, Flynn

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