29 August 2023

APS agencies in limbo as plans for major city office block fall through

| Ian Bushnell
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An artist's impression of office block

An artist’s impression of the proposed London Quarter building. Images: Walker Corporation.

The developer of the proposed London Quarter office complex in the city has walked away from the project, throwing the plans of the three Commonwealth agencies into disarray.

The 11-storey office block on the gateway city corner of Northbourne Avenue and London Circuit was to become home to the departments of Employment and Workplace Relations, Education and the Australian Electoral Commission, and plans had been submitted to the National Capital Authority.

But Walker Corporation has confirmed that its plans had not found favour with the NCA which had asked for changes to the design.

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A Walker spokesperson said it would no longer be able to deliver the project on time and had decided not to proceed.

“We’ve worked very hard with the National Capital Authority to obtain works approval to deliver this significant project for our long-term and valued clients DEWR and AEC,” the spokesperson said.

“Despite the best efforts from all of the project team, the ongoing delays with obtaining that approval are such that the ability to meet our client’s delivery timeframe is no longer possible. For that reason, the project will not be proceeding as planned.”

However, the NCA said it had not received any formal communication from Walker Corporation.

A spokesperson said a works approval application was submitted in late April 2023.

“After an initial review of the application and discussions with Walker Corporation’s design team, the proponents agreed to amend their application in relation to the height, size and scale of the building,” the spokesperson said.

“The adjustments to the design were informed by the National Capital Plan and comments from the National Capital Design Review Panel.”

The NCA had expected to receive an updated design package and the proposal would be released for public consultation.

As the lead agency, DEWR had signed a 15-year lease for London Quarter and all three government tenants were planning to move to the new building from their current Marcus Clarke Street premises in 2026.

The 70,000 square metre site was to be named London Quarter, and the building would provide touchless amenities and an open floor plan.

The land, currently a surface car park near the Law Courts, was sold by tender for a reported $60 million, but the sale was dependent on the project being approved.

New DEWR, Education building.

A ground-level view of the project, which the City Renewal Authority called a once-in-a-decade opportunity.

The City Renewal Authority released the prime block for sale in 2020 when the Commonwealth sought invited expressions of interest for future leased accommodation in the city.

The CRA called the sale and development a once-in-a-decade opportunity to accelerate the city centre’s renewal with a sustainable, high-quality development that will locate thousands more workers adjacent to the city’s cultural, retail and hospitality offerings.

On Friday (25 August), a spokesperson said it was now up to the Commonwealth on how it would proceed.

“We’ve learnt today that the Commonwealth and Walker Corporation have mutually terminated their agreement for leased office accommodation. The agreement with the Territory had not yet settled,” the spokesperson said.

“In 2022, the Territory issued several conditional land sale contracts to prospective developers for the Commonwealth’s office requirements, therefore, we are awaiting the Commonwealth’s decision on how they will progress.”

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A DEWR spokesperson said the department was informed late on Thursday that the new building would not proceed as planned.

“The developer has advised they do not intend to continue with the development. The department is working closely with involved agencies and the developer to finalise arrangements. We will then work to determine next steps, including longer-term accommodation options,” the spokesperson said.

In February, DEWR officials told the Joint Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works that the building would provide a modern, flexible workplace and save the Commonwealth $9 million a year on leasing.

The three agencies’ current home at 50 Marcus Clarke Street – a 12-storey building with 40,000 square metres of lettable space – sold last year for a then-record $335 million to Charter Hall and GIC.

The lease there expires in 2025 and the former Department of Education, Skills and Employment had been actively looking for a new, more extensive site to accommodate all its staff.

Comment was sought from DEWR.

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PC__LoadLetter9:06 am 28 Aug 23

It isn’t a good spot for an office anyway. The trams would forever taunt its occupants, cruising past every few minutes, despite being several blocks away from a tram stop in either direction. And they’re planting hyper-allergenic plane trees along the tram route there, which will surely mess with the air con intakes.

HiddenDragon9:00 pm 26 Aug 23

Sounds like there might be some game playing going on here, perhaps with a view, among other things, to re-start the drum beat for a clipping of the wings or abolition of the NCA.

Any serious review of the NCA, which was established as part of the self-government arrangements for the ACT, should also look at those broader arrangements. Aside from other good reasons for doing that, the prospect of several decades of federal deficits, outlined in the recent Intergenerational Report, strongly suggests that the time is ripe to look closely at the costs of governing and delivering government services on this continent.

Daniel O'CONNELL1:31 pm 26 Aug 23

The planners at the NCA strike (again).

What a joke… actually a decent looking building and large enough to help revitalise what is currently a grubby car park and it’s blocked?? What exactly is the NCA expecting to built in the middle of the city?

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