9 February 2022

Future shape of Gungahlin town centre up in the air as ACT misses report response deadline

| Damien Larkins
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Gungahlin skyline

Can Gungahlin develop into a bigger, thriving town centre without the right plan? Photo: Damien Larkins.

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.

READ ALSO Gungahlin has grown up despite still being seen as the new kid in town

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.”

See Gungahlin Differently

Bigger employers means more people and more opportunity for local business. Photo: Region Media.

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.”

READ ALSO No pool and now no cinema in sight: Gungahlin’s nine-year wait continues

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.

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Gungahlin town centre definitely needs some employment action.

But…. I’m not sure of the validity of Mr Elford’s claim that Tuggeranong town centre has at least 10,000 federal public servants working there.

He needs to focus on the employment numbers in Civic and the parliamentary triangle which is where many of his residents attend employment.

He shouldn’t be attacking Woden or Tuggeranong who only have a comparatively small number of Public Administration jobs compared to what he claims in his quote.

HiddenDragon8:37 pm 08 Feb 22

In essence, this story is another reminder that the Canberra economy (in spite of protestations to the contrary, at least as far back as the Carnell era) is still so heavily reliant on public sector spending for the generation of private sector jobs.

Rather than going around in circles about which further bits of the public sector should be frog-marched to Gungahlin and then, some years hence, to the Molonglo Valley, our political class should be laser-focused on what needs to be done to create in, and attract to, Canberra jobs which do not depend on public sector spending.

Think they are doing that. The key difference is the government employs here in large numbers.

Unless we get a major company wanting a HQ here, the best we could hope for is lots of smaller companies or branch offices of major companies.

And of the large companies most of them would be supporting government anyway, defence in particular.

ChrisinTurner1:05 pm 07 Feb 22

Gungahlin Town Centre was doomed by the decision to put their office accommodation at the Airport.

ACT government had no say in the development of office space at the airport.

That was all done by the airport using a loophole in the airports sale act that limited their requirement to seek planning permission. This was put in to ensure aviation expansion was not hindered but allows office and shopping centre development.

Been used by several airports in Aus and basically distorted the whole planning process but brought in good income for the owners.

Capital Retro5:36 pm 08 Feb 22

As I understand it JC (happy for you to prove me wrong though), the ACT Government had the opportunity to put in an offer for the “land bank with runway” (AKA Canberra Airport) but they declined.

As usual, you are standing in as their number one apologist.

That comment doesn’t make sense Chrisin Turner. John Howard privatised the publicly owned Canberra Airport in I think 2007. Development at the airport has been undertaken at the airport since then by the new owners. Gungahlin businesses or any other business makes their own choices on whether they will move their operations to the airport. It has nothing to do with the ACT govt!

1997 I think not 2007. 2007 was Kevin ’07!

Whether the government had the opportunity to buy the airport is not the point. Though first time I’ve heard that one.

The point is the poster I was replying to was blaming the government for developing the airport over Gungahlin. Just pointing out the simple fact the government didn’t develop the airport and wasn’t able to stop the airport development, which I am sure most would agree distorted the governments planning, especially town centre employment. Which is what the poster appears to be complaining about and one of the issues many have with Gungahlin town centre.

Call that being an apologist all you like, but that is the simple fact.

Also another fact at the time of the sale of the airport it was a Liberal Government in charge of both the ACT and Federally. If I recall rightly the last time the liberals were in power in the ACT. But again don’t recall the ACT government being offered it and I am sure if did were you would be carrying on like a pork chop.

Capital Retro9:53 pm 08 Feb 22

How can you excuse the ACT Government from this debate when you absolve them from having any say in development at the Canberra Airport?

I have a copy of the Commonwealth of Australia’s August 1997 “Sale of Phase 2 Federal Airports” which clearly states the Business Activities at Canberra Airport in 1995/1996 earned approximately 44% of revenue from non-aeronautical activities including retail and trading, property and carparking operations so they were aware of the possibilities that were presented if they were to buy the place.

Several purchase options were considered by the ACT Government in June 1994 but they seemed to get hung up on needing an EIS and other technical matters which probably sidelined their vision on what could be done there so it was a fait accompli that the private sector ended up being the only interested buyers when its imminent sale was announced in 1997.

We ended up with 2nd prize being a not-needed tram which will probably never get to the airport anyhow.

In 1997 non aeronautical income from airports in terms of retail was retail in airport terminals. Office space was airlines and aviation/travel related companies and parking well nothing new.

When sold no one expected airports to start setting up standalone shopping centres and office parks.

The development loophole in the sales act was to allow airports to expand for aviation related activities without local governments objecting and delaying development. For example an airline wanting to build a new maintenance hanger or the owner of the airport expanding the terminal.

Kudos of course to the airport owners for exploiting the loop hole (and not just Canberra it’s been done elsewhere) but that doesn’t change the fact that in Canberra the non aviation expansion at the airport impacted government plans for development elsewhere in Canberra, and with office space Gungahlin has been most effected. And the most effected of course being government coffers and of course government then needing to spend money expanding roads to cater for this development.

I know you have a profuse dislike for Barr, but afraid in this case nothing to do with them.

You’re right JC,
I don’t know how anyone could blame the ACT government for the significant commercial and office development that has occurred at the airport.

They literally had no control over it, saying that they could have bought the airport themselves 20 years earlier is non sensical.

Capital Retro2:44 pm 09 Feb 22

This report seems to contradict your’s and your fellow pile-on posters’ claim:


Specifically: “Following the privatisation of Canberra Airport in 1998 the Airport obtained approval in the 1999 Master Plan, with the support of the ACT Government, for a wide range of land uses in a variety of different precincts to develop a diverse and vibrant airport.”

The ACT Emergency Services has their headquarters on Canberra Airport land. I think that may have had something to do with the ACT Government.

Capital Retro,

That report, written by the owners of the airport says nothing remotely close to what you’re suggesting.

If you think that’s wrong, perhaps you can link a copy of the 1999 Masterplan with the details of proposed expansion of the airport?

Protip: if you had ever seen that document, you’d know it doesn’t remotely outline the amount of development that has occurred on site.

The only thing that really matters is:



“Canberra Airport is subject to Commonwealth legislative control. The ACT Government does not have control over planning, development or operations at Canberra Airport”.

But he has a copy of it?

And besides if I understand the crux of your argument Retro that it’s all the ACT governments fault for not buying the airport.

I’m sure if they had, then you would have been whinging about how (local) government has no place in running an airport or that it was some form of virtue signalling.

Yep. Canberra Airport doesn’t have to worry about local planning rules and approvals just aircraft and airport controls over the ground space.

What I do have an issue with is both Federal and ACT Government have separately funded projects, made planning decisions and employment decisions that have directly benefited the airport owner or the surrounding area, to the detriment of other parts of the ACT, Gungahlin and Tuggeranong in particular. .

Another issue was moving public servants and government workers out of areas like Tuggeranong town centre to the airport was bad for a number of our town centres. I moved from Tuggeranong to the airport when I worked for Government in the early 2000s. No longer able to catch a bus or cycle to work. The building I worked in near Anketell St stayed empty for a decade.

Canberra Airport negatively impacted the long term spatial design of Canberra.

Capital Retro9:51 pm 09 Feb 22

All this happened concurrently with 20 unbroken years of Labor (with a dash of Green) government.

Capital Retro9:56 pm 09 Feb 22

Standing Committee on Tourism and ACT Promotion report on an International Airport in the ACT, June 1994.

May be of interest to you and a fair bit of virtue signaling in it too!

Let’s not forget that it was the Liberal Carnell/Humphries govt in power in ACT at the time. From 1995 to 2001 I think

20 yrs of Labor govt in ACT CR! Maintain the rage all you like. Just a reminder though the Canberra Airport was privatised by the Howard govt with the full support of Kate Carnell who was CM at the time. And It has been consecutive Fed Lib govts who have made the employment decisions benefiting the airport!

Capital Retro7:59 am 10 Feb 22

Indeed it was Jack D. and what has happened since?

The Canberra Airport people have created a profitable business model and they continue to optimize the opportunities that acquiring the airport gave. Note that any potential purchaser would have been aware of those “latent” benefits.

Meanwhile the Labor/Green alliance has given us a not-needed tram and billions of dollars of debt.

Imagine what it could have been like if the Canberra Airport people had also taken over the ACT?

That’s true Jack. Although I note Rudd and Gillard also made some beneficial employment moves to Brindabella Park.

Capital Retro,
So you think exploiting different planning system loopholes to have ad hoc development in areas not slated for that type and level of growth is a good thing?

Or that having to retrospectively fix up the massive problems created in areas like services, transport and employment by doing that is a sign of “success”?

Hilarious, you really do change your position on an issue more than you change your clothes.

If the ACT Government was in charge of the airport, no doubt you’d be calling it a massive failure.

Capital Retro9:10 am 10 Feb 22

Rudd and Gillard certainly optimised the VIP travel facilities based at the airport.

Obviously I disagree with that notion the team has been quite successful and is a useful addition to public transport in Canberra.

But the irony in your statement is if the development at the airport hadn’t gone ahead where do you think much of that office space may have ended up? Yup Gungahlin. That of course would have made light rail even more useful and balances out the peak flows by having people need to come in as well as head out.

Also ironic you mention the cost of it, but no mention of the cost to the ACT government of fixing the roads around the airport to support the additional office and shopping spaces and missing out on the income which would have come from land sales elsewhere.

But yep all Labor’s fault.

Oh as for Gillard and Rudd taking advantage of the VIP terminal. Last time I looked that was airport related so that would 100% be an appropriate thing to have at an airport. Unless you have somewhere else in mind.

And I’m also sure the the 3 clowns who followed have also taken advantage of that too. Probably more so seeing none (except maybe Turnbull but stand to be corrected) have made the lodge their home whilst in office.

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