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Geocon putting profit before lives in Gungahlin tower project, says YMCA

Ian Bushnell28 May 2020
YMCA staff

Unhappy Gungahlin YMCA Early Learning Centre team members. The centre faces an uncertain future. Photo: Supplied.

Property behemoth Geocon has been accused of putting profit before children’s lives by refusing to compromise with the YMCA Early Learning Centre next to its proposed 15-storey residential tower in Gungahlin.

It’s the latest salvo in the row between the YMCA and Geocon over The Establishment, formerly known as Air Towers, proposed for the site bounded by Gundaroo Drive, Gozzard Street and Swain Street.

The project has already been approved but a new development application to amend the original plans reignited the row.

The YMCA entered into talks with Geocon last week but they ended without any resolution of the conflict over the key bone of contention, the shared driveway.

YMCA Canberra CEO Torrien Lau said three proposals were put to Geocon and its joint venture partner Empire Global to change the present driveway arrangement but they were rejected as not being feasible.

These included moving the site’s access point to an alternative site, moving the centre’s access point, and creating a parallel driveway and two separate entry and exit points.

”I strongly believe there was a feasible option that could meet all the concerns from us and the community, as well as give them an alternative design that still enabled them to develop the site adequately,” Mr Lau said.

YMCA staff member

A centre staff member on the job. There soon may be plenty of real-life trucks next door. Photo: Supplied

The YMCA also repeated an offer for the developers to buy the child care centre’s land so the business could relocate.

But Geocon says the driveway access point issue was resolved in the original DA submission.

”The DA amendments submitted recently are minor in nature and do not steer far away from the original submission,” Managing Director Nick Georgalis said.

”We are always open to talk to our neighbours to help [them] through the process of delivery [of the project] and [we] look forward to working closely with them to try and minimise the disruption to their operations.”

Mr Lau said the YMCA’s own risk assessment was that it was not a matter of if, but when, a child actually walks or runs on to the driveway in front of oncoming traffic.

”With over 8,000 traffic instances going through that site a week it’s only a matter of time before a child gets hurt,” he said.

Mr Lau said the driveway was always a problem but with fresh changes boosting the 300-odd car parks by 20 spaces and the ground floor converted to commercial tenancies requiring parking, the situation was now worse.

”On top of potentially 300 car parks, you’ve got deliveries for tenants and waste trucks,” he said.

”If you’ve got potentially 300 cars going out in the morning when parents are trying to drop off, and then coming back in when parents are trying to pick up kids that site is already congested with traffic and parking.”

Geocon proposes to manage the traffic with a 20 km/h speed limit, convex mirrors and speed bumps, according to the DA’s traffic report.

It also says waste trucks will reverse into the site from Swain Street and leave in a forward direction.

Development location

How the development sits on the site. Swain Street, where the shared driveway is located, is off Gozzard Street. Image: Geocon.

Mr Lau said Swain Street was too narrow and there would be no traffic in or out while deliveries were being made or waste collected.

He said the proponents were underplaying the traffic impact on the site and ignoring the safety risks.

”It’s putting profit before the life of a child,” Mr Lau said.

“Someone is going to get hurt here and they are prepared to risk that so they can make as much money as they can out of this site. That’s unconscionable.”

The one-storey child care centre caters for 84 children whose parents and carers all drop off and pick up children by car.

Mr Lau said the YMCA would now mount a campaign against the development, and other community members had already decided to make submissions on the new DA.

He had written to the Health, Education and Planning Ministers detailing the YMCA’s concerns.

”I want to make sure that they know before it goes ahead, and if something terrible does happen that they were made aware of it before any potential accident,” Mr Lau said.

He said the centre was highly rated and a successful business, but was likely to die the death of a thousand cuts if the tower in its present form goes ahead.

Concerns about overshadowing, privacy and noise during construction remain.

Mr Georgalis said Geocon took the safety of its employees, workers on site, neighbours and pedestrians very seriously.

”Their safety and wellbeing are always a consideration with every step of the delivery process. This delivery will be treated with the utmost consideration for all,” he said.

Original Article published by Ian Bushnell on The RiotACT.

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