24 September 2019

Civic Square Precinct added to heritage list

| Lachlan Roberts
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Civic Square Precinct.

The Civic Square Precinct has been added to the ACT’s heritage list. Photo: File.

The Civic Square Precinct has been provisionally registered on the ACT Heritage Register for its social and cultural values, raising questions about what future building constraints will be put in place.

The precinct, which was designed by Roy Simpson, includes the Canberra Theatre Centre, Ainslie Place, the South Building which houses the Legislative Assembly, and the North Building which houses CMAG.

At its recent meeting on 19 September, the ACT Heritage Council decided that the Civic Square Precinct was eligible for provisional registration due to its important central location, open space, and because it has been home to local administration and cultural facilities since the 1960s.

The ACT Heritage Council said it determined that the Civic Square Precinct has heritage significance under five of the possible eight criteria, including its importance to the ACT’s cultural history and its strong association with the ACT community.

Deputy Chairperson of the Council Dr Ken Heffernan said the precinct was first nominated in 2011 by the Heritage Council itself.

“A provisional listing means that the ACT Heritage Council has decided that the precinct has values. It is a place for the people, and it has social and cultural values … we have determined it has met our criteria,” Dr Heffernan told ABC Radio.

“There is subjectivity involved so there is a four-week period for formal comments. The listing will stay in place for nine months while the comments are looked into.

“Heritage listing is about making sure we focus on what is, in fact, important but not ending up making ambit claims or getting in the way of things. The heritage listings are as much about the future as they are about the past.”

The Civic Square Precinct site boundary aerial shot.

The Civic Square Precinct site boundary. Photo: Supplied.

Dr Heffernan said the Civic Square Precinct is a place for the people of Canberra.

“It is significant to the ACT for its social and cultural values because it is an important open space for public use,” Dr Heffernan said. “The precinct is a place where we can celebrate our victories and recognise important people and cultural moments.

“Perhaps you remember jostling for room as people packed into the Square and down Ainslie Place to welcome the 1989 Canberra Raiders after winning the premiership? Or maybe you have memories of going to Civic Square with family for the big Christmas tree or to watch the fireworks?”

Heritage architect Eric Martin said the issue will always be what physical restraints will be put on the precincts and the surrounding area.

“I think the library is an unfortunate intrusion of the space but there is scope to do something around the Canberra Theatre and the North and South buildings and the parking spaces,” Mr Martin told Region Media.

“It will be unfortunate if we put up a 15-storey building on all those sites so I think there should be some vertical constraint on proposals to the main building.”

Click here to have your say about the heritage assessment. To read more about the history of the Civic Square Precinct, click here.

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Main thing for me is that it doesn’t stop reasonable redevelopment of the theatre in its tracks. It desperately needs a significant upgrade, and I’d be very frustrated if this listing was to stop that going ahead.

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