Government needs to earn community’s trust on Kingston Arts Precinct

Ian Bushnell 12 July 2019
Kingston Art Precinct

Fender Katsalidis’s vision for the Kingston Art Precinct remains a work in progress. Image: Geocon.

It’s probably more of a PR stumble than a disaster but the surprise axing of a Q&A at Wednesday evening’s presentation of the architects’ vision for the Kingston Arts Precinct has not gone down well with the stakeholders who were specifically invited to the event.

While Fender Katsalidis architect David Sutherland’s presentation on the arts component for Geocon’s proposed $750 million Precinct development was well received, many at Canberra Glassworks had a shopping list of questions that went unanswered.

The revelation to some that the planning slate had been wiped clean so that Fender Katsalidis’s vision was now the Master Plan also had them scratching their heads and wondering what all those community consultations had been about and doubting the value of other ‘Master Plans’ across Canberra.

There is no doubt that there is enormous goodwill and hope about what can be achieved at Kingston, and that everybody from the Government and Geocon to the arts organisations and residents want a great outcome.

But no matter how much the community would like to be on board they are not there yet, and at the heart of its doubts is a lack of trust.

The Kingston Arts Precinct has a long and torturous history that is not isolated from other planning rows in the Inner South, such as the ill-fated unsolicited bid from Grocon and the GWS Giants to redevelop Manuka Oval and the Government’s ambivalence to convening the Manuka Oval Community Panel.

The community understandably remains sceptical about a pro-development Government agenda, and it must be said that the selection of Geocon as the successful tenderer has not helped.

Rightly or wrongly Canberra’s biggest and most outlandish developer has its critics but it is not in Geocon’s interest to do anything other than a quality job.

Certainly, Geocon’s retaining of Fender Katsalidis, whose credentials are impeccable, shows its desire to create a piece of urban landscape that will stand the test of time, and enhance its brand.

Meanwhile, the Government has extended the consultation period and the Suburban Land Agency has said it is not about to rush the process and wants to get it right.

After so many years in the making, this is commendable and hopefully means everybody will be able to have a say on how such an important part of Canberra will unfold.

But first, the Government has to earn the people’s trust by being as open and transparent as possible and not try to control or manage the process for dubious reasons. It needs to review Wednesday night’s decision, realise it was a mistake and commit to giving people the honest, if sometimes difficult, answers they deserve to hear.

It might not be all smooth sailing, sometimes the optics will be awful and the outcomes unintended but it will create an Arts Precinct we can all own and be proud of.

What are your thoughts on the proposed Kingston Arts Precinct? Comment below.

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