Canberra’s West Basin Development

Jack Kershaw - September 22, 2020

The following are 3 letters from Jack Kershaw


21September 2020

The apparent demise of ordered planning in Canberra can be traced to a paradigm shift. Development is now largely being “sold” to government. For example, the scope and scale of New Acton wasn’t in any town plan. Its persuasive cashed-up developers, boasting their long-term commitment, engaged high profile private-sector planners, architects, engineers, heritage experts, etc, to put together an “irrefutable” scheme for the precinct. It was even presented by the developer to an invited audience at the National Gallery theatre. Of course, the authorities couldn’t say no, especially to the money being offered for the land.

However, a close examination of New Acton as-built, reveals major shortcomings, including excessive building bulk at the western end, and traffic issues, which a predetermined government precinct plan would have prevented. Now New Acton has now been reportedly on-sold; with its original developer apparently now embarking on a similar approach on cheap land at Dairy Road, Fyshwick, for development never envisaged in any town plan.

Similar forces and processes are involved on the airport land, City Hill, in some new suburbs, and on innumerable “have-a-go” private development projects; as well as in the activities of the City Renewal Authority. (Developers are even running their own “public” consultation – that’s got a lot of integrity [not]). The CRA is removed from the normal planning processes, and is headed up by a largely faceless Board with connections to developers and unions. It has strong political links, hopefully not like those in the NSW property development scandals of the 80’s and 90′, that ended up in the ICAC. The private-sector-like CRA is mainly looking after the highly significant precincts of Northbourne Avenue and West Basin – not going at all well (to put it mildly), especially in the context of the national capital.

Commercially attractive, and innovative as they may be, such privatised methodologies clearly cannot be relied on, and (as with building quality), we need to return to normal professional public-sector town planning and urban design – however, with perhaps or even definitely, more creativity, and cultural/heritage-awareness. This is the national capital.

Jack Kershaw FRAIA (retired)

Canberra’s West Basin (Acton Foreshore) Development, and the Civic to Capital Hill section of the proposed Woden Light Rail route.

18 September 2020

Dear all, at ACT Election time,

Richard Johnston (The Canberra Times, Letters, Sept. 15), points out that the West Basin (now “Acton Foreshore”) development plan (“City to the Lake”) has been around for nearly 30 years*. That pretty much confirms its status as a lemon. 

To be fully effective, the scheme relies on the outrageously expensive vertical duplication of Parkes Way (through traffic underground) and other major infrastructure works. The City Renewal Authority is already severely compromising that, in an effort to get the Acton Foreshore property development going (because that’s what it’s all about, and to hell with anything else).

Associated planned blocks of flats, including at City Hill and along Commonwealth Avenue, will eliminate important views of the lake and mountains, and overshadow the puny (just 50 metres wide) jaw-breaking public domain we’ll be left with in Acton Foreshore, even after the expensive and dodgy reclamation of a chunk of the lake.

Trees demanded by the National Capital Authority will likely disappear to preserve lake views from the flats (any trees along Kingston Foreshores?).

All we really need are more legible pedestrian overpasses from Civic into Acton Foreshore and Commonwealth Park, and careful re-landscaping of the West Basin precinct; as well as improved access from Acton Foreshore to Commonwealth Park in their northern sectors (returning the anachronistic “Archbishop’s House” land in the latter, to the public realm, is desirable, and essential for that). And, of course, there must be no private property development in either precinct.

As well, we need the current troubled and outrageously expensive, Parliamentary Triangle-destructive, Commonwealth Avenue Bridge-destructive, cultural landscape-destructive, and City Hill Precinct-destuctive, Civic to Capital Hill section of the Woden tram line, with its insanely expensive underground electricity supply, and complicated infrastructure works, to be re-routed; with less disruption and cost, say, via a much more free-flowing route taking in Edinburgh Avenue (very close to Acton Foreshore), straight on to Liversidge Street, the southern shore of Acton Peninsula, an elegant new sail-boat-friendly bridge (for trams, bikes, and pedestrians) redolent of Griffin’s missing crossing, to a better, sunnier, public precinct at Lennox Gardens North/Flynn Place (better for Floriade too), Flynn Drive on to State Circle, and continuing to Woden as currently planned – a route on which normal overhead power lines would be acceptable, and on which a couple of stations could be closed at peak hours (if inter-town travel speed at those times is a factor).

For proponents of inner city residential densification, don’t forget there’s still cosseted Reid, (yes, really), provided it’s done sensitively (we live in hope).

Jack Kershaw FRAIA (retired), former President Residents Rally for Canberra Inc.(4 seats in the first Assembly), and Canberra Community Action on Acton Inc. *(both organisations heavily involved in these issues nearly 30 years ago). 

Re Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, BC Ref: 2019/8582 – Public Comment, in connection with Stage 2A of ACT light rail – City to Commonwealth Park.

20 August 2020

1. Decisions to proceed with this project appear to have already been made. However, this belated public consultation process could indicate that the route is in doubt (with a better one available). 

2. Genuine ecological matters have been invoked to justify re-siting major projects in the past. For instance the relocation of Geoscience Australia from cryptic Narrabundah Lane to the more prominent corner of Hindmarsh Drive and The Monaro Highway, Canberra (see contemporary minutes of JSC’s on the National Capital, and Public Works). 

3. In any case, critical aspects of Stage 2B (Commonwealth Park to Woden) have not yet been resolved, especially the lake crossing, impacts on Commonwealth Avenue Bridge and Commonwealth Avenue South, the connection to State Circle, and the developmental balance of The National Triangle.

4. The general character of the Stage 2A project site, south of and including City Hill, is that of highly valued formalised open space and geometry, steeped in the important planning, design, and engineering heritage of the national capital.

5. The choice of the route for Stage 2A, and 2B as far as Parliament House, along with related property development, will wantonly destroy that heritage, and many highly valued prospects of the the Central National Area, the lake, and the mountains beyond, especially to and from City Hill and Commonwealth Avenue North.

6. Based on the documents accompanying the subject approval application to the Environment Department, with that destruction will go the loss of important habitats for listed threatened species and communities.

7. Extensive submissions, proposing an alternative route, addressing the above matters and more, have been made by the writer and others to the decision makers, stakeholders, and interested parties including those listed in the Cc address box above..

Jack Kershaw FRAIA (retired), Former president Canberra Community Action on Acton Inc., and Residents Rally for Canberra Inc