The ACT Government has missed a deadline to respond to a report into shaping the future growth of the Gungahlin town centre.
The report into the Draft Variation to the Territory Plan 364 was tabled in October 2021.
The draft variation aims to help guide the form and character of Gungahlin town centre as it grows and develops. It proposes several changes, including creating a balance of residential and commercial spaces, broadening the boundaries of the town centre and providing flexibility on where community facilities will be located.
In its report on the draft variations, the Standing Committee on Planning, Transport, and City Services made eight recommendations. These included thorough investigations of how the ACT Government can support and encourage growth, a larger town centre precinct footprint, and making a mix of retail, business and community usage a requirement of land sale and lease contracts.
The ACT Government was meant to respond to the report by 30 January, 2022, however it is yet to table a response.
Gungahlin Community Council (GCC) president Peter Elford says the future of the town centre has been a long-running issue.
“It goes back to the 90s and the original planning framework for the Gungahlin Town Centre,” he says.
The GCC started a concerted campaign to find the right balance back in 2016.
“We recognised that the developments that were going up in the town centre just didn’t seem to be consistent with what most residents expected,” Mr Elford says, “which was a town centre with employment and retail and commercial and community and entertainment centres, just like any other town centre in Canberra.”
Mr Elford says one of the biggest issues is a lack of a big employer to attract people and create a vibrant town centre.
The ACT Government has around 500 staff in Gungahlin and a new Defence Housing office is set to open soon, but he says it’s not enough.
“Unlike Belconnen or Woden or Tuggeranong, there isn’t one or more large federal government agencies that are employing 10, 20, 25,000 people,” Mr Elford says.
“That’s then the fundamental catalyst that drives other businesses, restaurants, pubs, all of the support businesses that you might associate with having a big employment base.”
Mr Elford says getting the balance right is a complicated process.
For example, a proposed night-time economy and entertainment precinct could be dead in the water if it interferes too much with residential space.
“There’s a large amount of residential development going into the town centre, which is terrific, then that in some ways clashes with a proposed entertainment precinct because people are trying to sleep,” he says. “It’s going to be very difficult if there’s a vibrant nightlife.”
“Conversely if there are restaurants and an after-dark environment that may be something that attracts some people to the town centre.
“We need to sit down and work that out.”
He notes all of the parties committed to a large community centre in Gungahlin as part of their 2020 election campaigns.
But Mr Elford says, despite some initial public consultation, so far there hasn’t been much movement by the government to deliver it.
“It hasn’t really done a good job in a lot of people’s views on understanding what the actual demand is,” Mr Elford says.
“There’s a desperate shortage of facilities to support community groups and community services.”
If the right balance isn’t found, the ACT could miss an opportunity to develop a precinct that works for everyone.
“One of the challenges the ACT Government has is it doesn’t generally take a place-based approach to development,” Mr Elford says.
“The roads people do the roads, the planning people do the planning, community service and education do their thing, it’s not very well synced up.”
Mr Elford says he’s been in touch with the Planning Minster’s office, who say they hope to table a response to the report soon.