26 September 2021

Cut the planning shackles so Manuka hotel project isn't delayed

| Ian Bushnell
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Construction site at Manuka

The Capitol Hotel and cinema complex construction site. Little room for a main entrance. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

As the first stage of the Liangis Group’s hotel and cinema development in Manuka rises to its full commanding height and people start to get an idea of how the former premium shopping and restaurant precinct could be reborn, the planning authority has thrown a spanner in the works.

It has approved the project’s bigger second stage but is demanding that it include a central entrance with a porte-cochère, a fancy name for a covered entry for vehicles, on the Manuka Circle/Canberra Avenue frontage that befits what the National Capital Authority calls a grand boulevarde.

The National Capital Design Review Panel also wants a pedestrian link or arcade through the centre of the development, connecting Franklin Street and Manuka Circle and on to Manuka Oval and Telopea Park.

Because the development is on one of Canberra’s major avenues, it comes under the watch of the National Capital Plan.

READ MORE Manuka hotel project on the brink over Canberra Avenue entrance condition

The proponent has already had to change the design so it is less Parisian and more Federal Capital in look, but despite that, Stage 1’s elegant curves on the gateway corner of Franklin Street and Flinders Way and Manuka Circle is showing what is possible when developers look beyond the brutal geometry of modernism.

But family matriarch Sotiria Liangas is putting her foot down about the entrance condition despite the planning authority rejecting the proponent’s Reconsideration application.

There will “never” be a Canberra Avenue entrance, she declared.

The impasse is not good news for Manuka’s struggling businesses, which have already seen the precinct’s decline before the pandemic hit.

The redevelopment of the nearby former public housing sites and now the Capitol Theatre building pointed to a Manuka renaissance that has been eagerly awaited.

But the revitalisation that a five-star hotel, cinemas, shops and restaurants will bring is now at risk because the planners want to retrofit Canberra Avenue.

There are very good practical reasons why a Canberra Avenue entrance is not a good idea.

Not only would it be dangerously close to the road, but it would pose immense traffic management problems.

Artist's impression

An artist’s impression of the project. Images: Stewart Architecture.

There will be access from Canberra Avenue to underground parking, but the kind of grand entrance sought will introduce a major congestion point in an already busy area from the Captain Cook Crescent traffic lights that includes a service station, Flinders Way, Furneaux Street and the next set of lights near the cathedral for the pedestrian crossing to Manuka Oval.

Canberra Avenue is a busy four-lane arterial road that carries cars, trucks and buses. Who will want to sit in a cafe or bar and watch the traffic go by or the gridlock that would emerge?

Activating that frontage will be an impossible task when the life of Manuka will be in Franklin Street, away from the heavy traffic where the main entrance is planned.

There will also be entrances opposite the cathedral and on Flinders Way, close to the two public car parks.

As Mrs Liangis says, the entrances will be where the people are.

Another view

Another view of the project.

The notion of a pedestrian link is also misguided. Unless another crossing is envisaged, people walking to and from Manuka Oval can use the existing crossings and walk into and out of Manuka via Captain Cook Crescent, Flinders Way and Furneaux Streets.

A central arcade will not provide a shorter or more direct journey and in any case, would you want a well-sauced mob marching through the middle of your sparkling new building?

The Liangis Group is pouring millions into a landmark development to restore Manuka’s fortunes as a retail and entertainment precinct that will serve not only the inner south but the many Canberrans and interstate visitors who will visit.

A single tree that sprouted between buildings and fed on sewage delayed the project once. It does not need another potentially greater delay because of an outdated and impractical planning notion.

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Bureaucracy at its worst with no concept of real world realities. When Manuka oval and st Christopher’s can’t be accessed from Canberra ave, why should a five star hotel? Stop being a handbrake and let’s get on with revitalising Manuka to it’s former bustling days. Franklin St has been languishing since the 90s

James-T-Kirk7:40 pm 27 Sep 21

Nah… it’s Canberra Avenue.

It needs a grand covered entrance. A couple of traffic lights and some turning lanes.

Who cares if traffic is slowed by me wanting to visit the lobby to take a couple of photos… I say… go for it.

Don’t budge on little bit NCDC we want you back….

Oh.. while I have your attention I want to talk about those ugly TV dishes on everybody’s homes as well as those ugly antennas for TV. We should go back to the original plan.. if TV doesn’t work then those homes can simply do what we did in the old days…. make babies and play family bonding games like monopoly .

Absolutely ludicrous to have a grand drive in entrance on Canberra Avenue, which is long past being a grand avenue. It is a congested thoroughfare and it would be quite dangerous to have vehicles queuing to enter from this road. Opposite is the quite ugly external view of Manuka Oval. Similarly a passageway through a quality hotel is ridiculous. It is a small block and there should be no issue walking to the existing crossings, as people do now. The new hotel complex rising looks classically smart and should lift Manuka’s reputation as a run-down dated part of Canberra. All credit to Mrs Liangis for building a quality timeless construction of which the locals can be proud.

Let her do what she wants.

She’s a smart cookie.

Capital Retro4:05 pm 28 Sep 21

She sold me a pair of shoes from her Fyshwick shoe store in 1983. I still wear them but I think she outlast me.

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