Fears that Gungahlin is fast becoming a dormitory district with few jobs have been taken up by local MLAs in the Legislative Assembly, which last week called on the ACT Government to support greater commercial development in the Town Centre.
The move follows repeated calls from the Gungahlin Community Council for fewer mixed-use developments dominated by apartments with some ground floor retail or commercial space, and more commercial office buildings to attract employers.
The council has also criticised the ACT Government’s proposed planning refresh, Draft Variation 364, which had allowed for more residential development in the Town Centre, and less office space, but has now been allowed to lapse.
It has also been calling for a major Federal Government department to locate in the Town Centre as an anchor tenant.
Yerrabi Labor MLA Suzanne Orr took up the cause last Wednesday (10 February), successfully moving a motion, with Green and Liberal amendments, aimed at getting the government to pull more policy levers to achieve more balanced development and job creation in the Town Centre.
The motion called on the Government to support the further development of the Gungahlin region and Town Centre through specific planning requirements to achieve a better balance of uses within developments including community space and a higher level of commercial and business uses.
It seeks requirements for commercial fit-outs that allow businesses to set up without the need for significant modification or retrofitting, and calls on the government to ensure current sales of development sites incorporate requirements to support best practice mixed-use developments.
Green Andrew Braddock’s amendment called for the creation of an entertainment precinct that supported a night-time economy and Liberal Leanne Castley wanted the government to ensure more employment opportunities in Gungahlin.
Ms Orr told the Assembly that successive Federal Governments had overlooked locating a big department of agency in the Gungahlin Town Centre, and the current planning system had failed the community by delivering mainly apartments at the expense of offices.
”If we are to fully realise the potential of the Town Centre in the original intent and aspired to by the community, there needs to be a commercial approach to the development proposals in our Town Centre, a commercial lead where we know what kind of commercial activity we want to attract, what companies want to locate to our Town Centre, and we build, not retrofit for this activity,” she said.
She rejected the argument that there was not enough demand for commercial development, and warned that without intervention now there would be problems and poorer outcomes down the track.
”If we build the Town Centre based on current demand without future-proofing we will build out the opportunity in the future,” she said.
”We will be left with very little space for commercial, and just have residential and retail with no opportunity to harness future demand as it arises.”
Ms Castley said it was time for the government to take genuine action in securing jobs in the Gungahlin Town Centre.
”I want to see a plan for an additional A-grade office space in Gungahlin with the ACT Government actively working to secure a long-term tenant be it the ACT Government, Federal Government, or private sector,” she said.
Planning and Land Management Mick Gentleman supported the motion but offered little beyond acknowledging that DV364 needed more work and what would come out of the present planning review.
”Diversity won’t happen with more regulation but a planning framework that encourages diverse investment,” he said
Gungahlin Community Council president Peter Elford welcomed the fact that issues being raised by residents were getting some visibility and the community looked forward to seeing what the plan would be.
He said the motion was an important outcome particularly as it had cross-party support and input.
“That’s a really positive sign in an environment where sometimes we haven’t had the MLAs being as locally focused as perhaps they could be,” he said.
He said the way ahead was challenging but something needed to be done, because at present there was no clear vision for the development of the Town Centre.