Cooleman Court, Dickson & planning

Paul Costigan 17 August 2016 14
Cooleman Court

There’s been a lot said, and still to be said, about the future of the Dickson shopping centre – or as it is officially called, the Dickson Group Centre.

Many of Canberra’s group centres have been going through a similar process whereby the Government undertakes a master plan for the centre and surrounding areas – usually as a surprise to residents as they did know they needed one.

In all cases the result has been the identification of land (usually car parks) to be sold and subsequently the change of zoning laws that allow for the installation of some mix of commercial and residential use – in order to provide the community with a vibrant and exciting future – which they may not have thought that they needed.

Cooleman Court came to Canberra’s attention recently with the threatened closure by the landlord of a popular café, Sakeena’s Café, situated by the south entrance to the centre.

So off we went for a café visit and to look around the centre – having not been there for several years.

It was about 11am on a cold Monday when we arrived and gauging by the car parks to the north and south, this place was busy. In fact I would hesitate to say that there is a good supply of parking and most of it is timed (2hrs – 3hrs etc) – and – more importantly – it is free.


The different to Dickson is that that Cooleman Court is a small box mall whereas Dickson shopping centre is the open plaza variety. The other big difference is that you pay for parking at Dickson.

Cooleman Court was buzzing with people. Somewhere in recent years the owners had revamped the mall and it was looking fairly attractive – for a mall. I could imagine that residents from the surrounding suburbs would shop here for most of their everyday needs.

ColemanCrt-P1190732 ColemanCrt-P1190736 ColemanCrt-P1190741

There are two supermarkets (not three as planned for Dickson – why?), a fruit and veg outlet, several take away food places (one looking very tempting), and all the other stuff you expect from such a centre: travel, banks, hair places, clothes shops, chemist etc and even a cobbler. And a surprise – a record shop – Songland. Who would have guessed?


While the inside of the centre had been spruced up, the outside of the building is definitely looking a bit tired. But hey – that has not stopped the people jamming inside.

In the streets immediately outside are numerous cafes, restaurants, other food things and a host of other service outlets – in short, this is a successful group centre. One little surprise was that their garden centre – The Garden – was closed – empty – gone. Do locals not have gardens?

I have checked the stats on Weston Creek against the inner north. The inner north has twice the population and is younger. Yet the Dickson shops struggle and Cooleman Court bounces.

While these two group centres and their catchments are quite different, it does make you think about what it is that has not made Dickson far more successful.

I prefer the ambience of Dickson and its openness to the closed nature of malls, such as Cooleman, and others obviously agree given the success of the cafes at Dickson. But as for the other shops, they do struggle. One issue is the paid parking and that there is not enough, especially during summer when the pool is in full operation and people take any space available. And isn’t that going to be fun if the building of new supermarket monster goes ahead?

Then there is the fact that all the buildings owners do not exactly revamp their properties. Most likely they are waiting the chance for major development. Sadly that means that while the inner workings of Cooleman look attractive (for a mall), the plazas of Dickson are not going to win any tidy town or urban design awards right now. But those trees are wonderful – in summer.

And then there is the added bonus of the frequent beggars and the charity workers. Hmm – not so good.

I wish the community groups around Weston all the best in their dealings with the LDA in the coming years. My reading of the planning documents indicate that the community is now on record as agreeing to the taking over of much of the open space for future ‘vibrant’ developments.

Even if that leads ultimately to some good outcomes, based on how the agency has been handing the changes in Dickson, I can see similar problems for Cooleman. The current trend is for any new commercial/apartment blocks to be as big as possible and to be boring. And then with these new buildings occupying the present open car parks, all that free parking will be converted to paid parking. Fun!

The positive lessons from the various group centres should have been learnt and changes applied to those that struggle. This is one of the requests that falls on deaf ears in the Dickson debates. That is, it seems that there is no forward planning being put into place to see the Dickson shops survive the coming years of construction – not just with the proposed supermarket thingy – but with so much more of the group centre due for revamp with apartment blocks/towers everywhere. Surely some good old fashion planning would be timely right now?


Oh yes – what about Sakeena’s Café? The word on the street – at least from two friends we met – was that the café may not have to close after all. The food and coffee? The curry samosas we had were tasty – but not sure what happened to the curry – we could not taste any. The coffees were OK – nothing to write home about. However, given how busy the place was, there must be something happening there – maybe it is those cakes – so we will reserve our final opinions till after another visit – due reasonably soon.

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14 Responses to Cooleman Court, Dickson & planning
NinaCanberra NinaCanberra 12:19 pm 29 Aug 16

We are supposed to be getting an ALDI in Dickson! I don’t know when though.

bigred bigred 9:06 pm 22 Aug 16

I was down there at 11 am this morning on my motorcycle. Went to park in the motorcycle only parking and some woman had planted her Subaru Outback in the spot. But it was OK, she had a disability sticker. I politely advised her it was designated for motorcycles and she replied “are they booking people for parking here? Sums it up really.

Spiral Spiral 7:35 am 22 Aug 16

Paul Costigan said :

as for the outside cafes etc at Cooleman – the day I visited was cold and they were mostly empty. Will visit again in the spring – and on a different day to check out the parking again.


I keep hearing that the mall concept is dead and having the old style street shops is way of the future.

Then we get your comment.

Street style shops are terrible. When it is wet or bitterly cold, or really windy, or even sometimes just too hot, people vote with their feet and head to the enclosed malls exactly as you saw.

Sure street shops are pleasant when the weather is great, but we also have to shop when the weather is bad. We can’t wait until spring to do our shopping. Sometimes we have to do it today.

That is the problem with Gungahlin. It combines the worst of the two styles. The clinical sterility of a mall but with the inconvenience of having to brave the elements on bad days to get to the other sections of shops. Instead of being the best of both worlds, it is the worst of both worlds.

Paul Costigan Paul Costigan 11:02 pm 21 Aug 16

Thanks for the suggestions. A piece on Mawson/Southlands is done and in the queue ready to go soonish.

I will now be visiting Kippax and Kambah to follow through on the comments.

Yes Jamison is similar to Cooleman – I know Jamison well – and may include comments later on.

as for the outside cafes etc at Cooleman – the day I visited was cold and they were mostly empty. Will visit again in the spring – and on a different day to check out the parking again.

gazket gazket 3:35 pm 21 Aug 16

Coolemon Court is more like the Jamison Centre.
Dickson is more like Kippax than Cooleman Court.

theword theword 9:02 am 21 Aug 16

“Cooleman Court… It was about 11am on a cold Monday… In fact I would hesitate to say that there is a good supply of parking…”

You have to be kidding? I was there on Friday and again yesterday afternoon, and it was nearly impossible to get a car park. There were a lot of frustrated car drivers.

I wouldn’t say 11am on a Monday would normally be a busy time and based on the photos you took there were not a lot of free spaces.

bigred bigred 3:17 pm 20 Aug 16

Ezy said :

bigred said :

For all its mayhem, I prefer Dickson even if just for its quality coffee.

Have you tried Lava Espresso on Brierly Street? Easily the stand out coffee in the area.

Yes, seems like could be an Oasis but consistently runs out of the food I want.

Ezy Ezy 8:25 am 18 Aug 16

bigred said :

For all its mayhem, I prefer Dickson even if just for its quality coffee.

Have you tried Lava Espresso on Brierly Street? Easily the stand out coffee in the area.

gbates gbates 9:20 pm 17 Aug 16

Please don’t tell this rubbish government about the free parking in Weston Creek. The only reason it’s still free is because they forgot the area exists.

Weston Creek is actually a fairly good example of a shopping area that’s been done right. Instead of being completely dominated/held to ransom by one shopping centre operator, there’s a number of different buildings housing small businesses on Brierly Street and Trennery Court. Step outside of the appropriately scaled mall and you’re greeted with, dare I say it, a mildly vibrant street-scape (Creekers like mild).

The only negative is that there’s not really a central place for the one or two daily buses to stop.

chiflean chiflean 9:19 pm 17 Aug 16

The place has a Target Country. That pretty much sums up Cooleman Court. The surrounding areas of the district are trying but it seems most Weston Creek people are too lazy to walk far from where they’ve parked. I imagine that’s why the garden place didn’t make it. It’s a shame – it has potential and some decent places there. The Woolworths, however, is abysmal.

bigred bigred 8:20 pm 17 Aug 16

I know both centres quite well as a former northsider who has crossed the lake. Cooleman Court is in an interesting transition phase at present because of the influx of people into Molongolo before any retail/services being available. The other issue is the rapid greying of the population.

Paul touches on the food/coffee issue, with the offering pitched at older tastes. Thank goodness for the Meating Room, Masala Hut and the Laos Thai.

To my way of thinking the exterior of Cooleman Court is not up to it. Parking is often difficult. There is little to none parking enforcement leading to a free for all at busy times, with disputes between aggrieved parties not unknown. The pathway outside is angled in a way that makes trolleys very difficult to use.

Of course, ACTION has a number of services from Woden that wind through Weston Creek suburbs and end up at Coolamen Court. And, of course, different routes service different stops at opposite ends of the Centre.

For all its mayhem, I prefer Dickson even if just for its quality coffee.

bj_ACT bj_ACT 1:56 pm 17 Aug 16

I don’t know about claiming Dickson shops are struggling compared to Cooleman Court.

Woolworths, McDonalds and KFC in Dickson were reportedly amongst their companies most profitable stores across all of Australia. The restaurants at Dickson get far more patronage than Cooleman Courts restaurants and well the Dickson Tradies is much much nicer and more popular than Royals Weston.

But if you really want to feel good about Dickson shops, pop down to Kambah village and see how much the ACT Government has done to maintain the facilities around the shops and how little they have done to encourage development into the area. I saw a poor bloke in a Wheelchair struggling with the uneven and cracked paths and the haphazard design around Woolworths and the horrible public toilet blocks.

Raging Tempest Raging Tempest 1:17 pm 17 Aug 16

Did you miss the outside non-mall area, also full of shops and restaurants, post office…

JC JC 12:20 pm 17 Aug 16

Oh yawn. Yeah you need to get out more. Maybe go visit Kippax. The master plan that had been out in place there had seen a good transformation compared to 10 years ago.

Though I guess you would prefer a time machine to go back to the 60’s when Canberra was this pristine planned city with (seemingly) endless tracts of land readily available to subdivide into 800-1000m2 blocks of low density suburbia and endless NCDC money for roads more roads and massive free carparks.

Ps How long has Dickson had paid parking for?

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