A clutch of Inner South community groups have called on the ACT Government to suspend the Canberra Services Club’s application to deconcessionalise the lease on its Manuka Circle block, saying the $250,000 valuation of the prime site was not credible and the lease variation is not in the public interest.
The Club, which lost its building in a fire in 2011, is seeking to vary the lease so it can either redevelop or sell the land, and has floated the possibility of a $45 million mixed-use redevelopment.
But the community groups – the Griffith-Narrabundah Residents’ Association, Kingston and Barton Residents Group, Friends of Manuka Pool and the Inner South Canberra Community Council -argue that the lack of a finalised Master Plan and Conservation Management Plan or the Manuka Oval Precinct, as required under legislation, made it impossible for the ACT Government to adequately assess the lease variation request.
The Colliers market valuation of the land in particular has come under fire, with some calling it ‘laughable’ that the 2500 square metre site could be valued at only $100 per square metre. If it was accepted the Club would only have to pay $125,000 to change the concessional status of the block, giving it a potential multi-million dollar windfall.
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The Kingston and Barton Residents Group’s submission points to the nearby Hotel East land, with an area of 2,908 square metres, which the Government sold at public auction for $8.4 million, or $2,888.58 per square metre.
“If the Government was to agree to loss of community land that was gifted by the Canberra Volunteers Welfare Association (primarily supported and funded by efforts of Lady Gowrie) then the Government should at least be seeking value for money for its ratepayers,” it said.
The community groups are also concerned at the potential loss of more community land in the area if the club sells the land at then seeks discounted land for a new site.
“As there is little vacant land (or any currently for commercial sale that we are aware of) in Manuka we believe that the Manuka Occasional Child Care Centre (MOCCA), and Telopea Park School Tennis Courts and Montgomery Oval would again be under threat (both being sites managed by the ACT Government). If the lease variation was approved what assurances are there for the community that the ACT Government will not gift the MOCCA site to the Club?” the KBRG submission said.
Inner South Canberra Community Council chair Marea Fatseas said she could not believe that the proponent or the Government could take that kind of valuation seriously.
“People who are wanting to buy a home for their family are potentially have to pay $900 per square metre in an outer suburb, and for them to honestly think that they can have a reliable valuation, or it’s even anywhere near a credible valuation at $100 per square metre in Manuka is unbelievable,” she said.
“If the club thinks that’s a valid valuation then would they then object to the Government buying it back for that amount?”
The process reflected the Government’s piece-meal approach to planning in the Manuka precinct.
“It is just another example of ad hoc planning , it’s not even clear from the DA what the club plans to do with it. How can they work out the lease variation charge when they haven’t actually said what they plan to do with the land?”
Ms Fatseas said Manuka was an important area with a dozen heritage listed sites in the vicinity, and should be part of master panning process that takes in booming Kingston as well.
A spokesperson for Minister for Planning Mick Gentleman said the Minister’s involvement at this stage was to consider if the deconcessionalisation was in the public interest, and the independent ACT Valuation’s Office was reviewing the valuation submitted with the DA.
He said the payout figure for the deconcessionalisation had not yet been determined and would be made following a decision on the DA.
“Community feedback is an important part of the planning process and public submissions are considered by the independent planning and land authority when assessing all proposals,” the spokesperson said.
“The development application is currently under assessment by the authority, and it would be inappropriate for the Minister to comment on the specifics of the proposal.
“The Minister is confident that the authority will take concerns raised through public representations into account when they are assessing the proposal.”
The spokesperson said that as previously indicated, the formation of a community panel had been deferred pending the completion of the Manuka Oval media and broadcast facilities.
“Any future development of Manuka Oval would be guided by the community through the development of the master plan,” he said.