Red tape and traffic lights

Posted 24 June 2015

Red tape and traffic lights

How often have you sat at a red light in Canberra waiting patiently with not another car in sight? How often have you been stopped by the ubiquitous right turn arrow when you could have easily and safely gone on your way?

The infuriating and entirely unnecessary red lights on our roads, many of which impose a 24/7 cost to meet a 2 hour 5-day a week need, are hauntingly similar to equally unnecessary and infuriating red tape in our industry.

In our red light example, our bureaucrats have a single objective or KPI stop traffic accidents. The cost of doing so is huge: from the opportunity cost of wasted time, to the cost in fuel and pollution, from the stress on frazzled motorists to wear and tear on cars. In a perverse outcome, avoiding higher speed collisions by stopping cars at intersections comes at the cost of many more tail enders as drivers struggle with stop start traffic.

Its the same with red tape. Our bureaucrats take a single KPI and apply it without any concern whatsoever for either cost or perverse outcomes. Take Territory Plan Variation 306 as a case in point. A key part of this now famous Variation seeks to ensure that new development does not unreasonably impact on a neighbours access to sunlight. A reasonable and desirable objective that has been lost in the application.

The solution was to require a 2.4m high solar fence between the minimum front setback and a point 10m rearward. This works fine on nice big, flat blocks; the likes of which are only generally available in established suburbs. But it comes at huge cost when casually applied to greenfields developments with small blocks on sloping ground. Perverse outcomes abound.

The first is that the provisions make it nigh impossible to build a standard-sized modern home on a standard ACT Government designated block without applying the Coober Pedy option - dig a hole and put your house in it. As well as adding tens of thousands of dollars in site costs, the end result is often towering, potentially dangerous, retaining walls and homes that are permanently damp.

Another perverse outcome is Government has changed the way they design subdivisions. As a result we see many more blocks with north to the front or rear of the property, this goes completely against passive solar design principles. The Lawson subdivision is a good example of this.

Other outcomes have seen homes crammed tight against one boundary ensuring backyards are in permanent shade equally tough on growing kids and tomatoes.

Another planning outcome is to build a much smaller home with a nice skinny frontage. The cost of your square of sunshine is the neighbours bedroom and study. Of course your other neighbour demands the same sacrifice from you for her patch of sunshine. And so it goes all the way down the street.

Howls of protest from architects, builders and designers have been simply ignored. Worse still, even the bureaucrats know its a crock - imposing huge costs all around for very small reward.

Now the entire industry, builders and bureaucrats alike, look to the work around. Of 12 houses that make up the Moncrieff Display Village, six will require specific development applications to account for V306. Extrapolated out across the 2200 Moncrieff blocks, this could see government inundated with 1100 DAs all trying to work around ridiculous planning requirements that everyone knows are unworkable. Another huge cost to the community and our industry.

Too bad for our kids as they look for affordable housing in our city. Its already tens of thousands of dollars cheaper to build across the border. This latest planning fiasco will add another $20k to the base price.

To be fair, the jaw-dropping stupidity of the entire process does open a second KPI for government. Theyll need a whole lot more public servants to manage the DAs. Remember to wave to them when youre stuck at your next red light.

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