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All is not lost for Gungahlin shopping centre expansion

By Paul Costigan - 3 June 2015 8

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The state of Canberra’s shopping centres is a hot topic of conversation at present.

Southlands at Mawson is going through an interesting phase of regrowth and has been the subject of community consultations, Westfield Woden’s tenants are murmuring about difficulties attracting customers and Civic is overdue for an intelligent and creative make-over.

Meanwhile, issues concerning the Dickson shopping precinct remain unresolved. (The ACT Government encouraged a proposal for a huge block that incorporated two more supermarkets and some dubious apartments. That particular monster was rejected by the locals and subsequently was deemed to be inappropriate by the government’s planning authority, which surprised many.)

In the home of the big box mall, the United States, following decades of rapid growth, there is now a steady decline in the malls with no new malls being built since 2006. As far as I know, no major malls have closed in Australia, although a couple are struggling with the telltale signs of dollar shops now occupying vacant spaces.

It was with interest that I read a recent media release from the development company that holds a major part the lease for the Gungahlin shopping centre. The development company heralded the imminent arrival of an expanded number of retail stores (more choice) to its end of the centre, which has Woolworths and Big W as the anchor tenants.

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This shopping precinct is a different style to the usual box mall approach as delivered (rightly or wrongly) to Tuggeranong, Woden, Civic and Belconnen. A model for the Gungahlin centre is the larger Rouse Hill town centre in northwest Sydney.

Both Gungahlin and Rouse Hill have open street malls with anchor retailers positioned away from each other so as to encourage shopping traffic past the many smaller ones in between. The Gungahlin model is smaller and has the main anchor tenants within internal small malls along with smaller retailers outside on street level.

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The most noticeable and positive aspect of the Gungahlin centre is that it is human-sized, being mostly restricted to two storeys. The buildings include some apartments, with some of these being three storeys high.

Here are two big lessons for those plotting the extra supermarkets into Dickson. It is really this simple! Keep the buildings in the main areas restricted to human scale (several storeys –  not eight). In addition, new supermarkets should not be plonked right up against the present Woolworths. This lack of separation will not deliver more shoppers to the stores in the open plaza areas but will instead concentrate the activity in the style of  ‘drive in drive out’ shoppers. (Surely that is not the government’s intention!)

Strangely, the Gungahlin centre is isolated from the surrounding suburbs, has just the one active street and is totally lacking in any distinctive design—most of the buildings are cookie cutter grey. The main street, Hibberson Street, more or less works as the main pedestrian area but the opportunity for something attractive has been avoided. There is an over-paved and uninspiring open space down the north-south axis in the middle that divides the two ends unnecessarily. It is shame that the library is off to the side at the western end; it would have been better placed in the middle and some of that paved areas given over to real parkland (grass that is).

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While there are many features about the Gungahlin shopping centre that deliver advantages over the usual closed box malls, it seems that the government and the developers did not have the confidence and vision to design the whole precinct as something far more engaging.

To be positive, I suggest that all is not lost—yet. The precinct needs a new master plan with an emphasis on introducing more creative landscape features to the whole area, there needs to be a creative design approach to the streetscapes and over time doing something should be done about the blandness of the buildings. The middle paved area requires a rethink with the introduction of some community focused permanent facilities to bring people to the area during the day and night.

The Gungahlin shopping centre could yet mature to be centre to attract not only more locals but also residents from other areas who have to suffer the closed malls.

A final note: The media release mentioned the extensions to the present Woolworths dominated Gungahlin Marketplace complex. Given that this new building will take over the open car park and bring in new retailers, this is a good thing for the whole centre. Sadly, I doubt whether there will be anything new, but just more of the same. This is indicative of the state of Australian retailing at the moment.

For the last couple of decades, developers, governments and retail centre managers have not been able to come up with anything innovative in what they serve up on their menu of retailer outlets. Given the closures in the United States, one wonders whether Australian retail head-honchos simply have their fingers crossed in the hope that online shopping and other factors will not bite here as hard as it is doing elsewhere. All the best with that!

The corner where the Gungahlin development is to happen – before:

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and after:

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What’s Your opinion?


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8 Responses to
All is not lost for Gungahlin shopping centre expansion
sepi 5:49 pm 04 Jun 15

I like shopping at Gungahlin. I like that you can walk down the street past different shops.

The two groups of shops are too far from each other – most people tend to always go to one or the other, but if you have time you can walk to both.

the weather is usually fine at lunchtime and for most of the year is fine.

I agree the library would have been better placed more centrally – it is hard to park anywhere near it, then you have to go upstairs.

the shops with sunny windows are lovely – the big corner ones should have been reserved for cafes etc, not banks and such.

I hope they keep enough parking with their new development. Right now I drive to gungahlin to shop mainly as I can park close to the shops for free. If it becomes hard to get a space I’ll look elsewhere.

rosscoact 11:03 am 04 Jun 15

Goodness, I didn’t realise so many people were unhappy about stuff.

As a person who has never been even slightly inconvenienced by the elements or the design, would it be better if the Gungahlin town centre was an enclosed mall or that we had better weather?

watto23 9:38 am 04 Jun 15

bd84 said :

I don’t know what I’d do without JB hifi. I used to love it when the Woden store was over near KFC and opened til 9pm most nights. Bunnings and office works are useful like that.

Keijidosha 10:10 pm 03 Jun 15

vintage123 said :

It does get a tad windy along the main strip.

I still remember when the Woolworths section of the town centre was literally a building plonked in the middle of a sheep paddock, and it was a windy miserable place then. Further development has ignored that fact. Walking through the area last Sunday at lunchtime the only outdoor activity involved people scurrying between buildings while bracing themselves against the frigid breeze, or huddling in alcoves while waiting for a bus.

Coupled with the horribly designed, cramped carparks and baffling mix of street frontages it is a distinctly unappealing shopping destination.

bd84 8:13 pm 03 Jun 15

The shopping precinct in Gungahlin is like most of the rest of the area, very poorly planned. Pretty much built various parts in random places and then tried to join the dots later on.

There’s no compelling reason to walk between any of the 3 supermarkets in the cold, rain or heat. The road cross between the Big W and Woolworths buildings is fine, improved if they blocked off the road to most traffic. The Coles mini mall has inconvenient parking and little to offer, you wouldn’t even know there was an Aldi hidden across the road unless you stumbled across it driving down a back street.

The extension of the Woolworths mall will be good, except they are putting a KMart which only sells cheap and nasty $2 shop stuff these days. Hopefully there will be a JBHifi, it will make me happy.

rosscoact 5:00 pm 03 Jun 15

I like shopping in Gungahlin. It has everything I need on a normal cycle and when it doesn’t I go for a 20 minute drive to Majura park or COC or a five minute drive to the farmers markets.

Very occasionally I venture into the City for shopping but usually it’s for other reasons (oh alright, for cigarettes, whiskey and wild wild women).

I’m quite willing to concede that my needs may be simpler than others and I might also be easier to please.

vintage123 3:35 pm 03 Jun 15

It does get a tad windy along the main strip. I had some brunch there this morning post looking at that section of gundaroo drive (refer alt post), anyhow the cafe I went to was on the Southside of the street but faced North and I was seated inside next to the front window. Halfway through my snack I fell asleep as it was so relaxing in the sun. I guess you just need to find a nice little nook out of the weather.

Tony 3:07 pm 03 Jun 15

The shopping experience in Gungahlin if very poor compared to any other box malls in Canberra.

The fact that you have to walk outside in the rain, cold, heat, dark and traffic to get between shops is a terrible experience.
The fact that the floor surfaces outside and between buildings is rough, uneven and slopping makes pushing shopping trolleys or prams around a royal pain in the butt, if not dangerous.
The fact that the car park spaces are getting smaller and smaller, making getting kids and prams out of the car very difficult, not to mention the damage to cars from banging doors.
The fact that it does not have a range of shops that other Malls have (nor the space), such as JB Hifi, Spotlight/lincraft.
The traffic is a nightmare, both around the shopping area AND in/out of Gungahlin itself.

Whoever designed (or failed to design) this place should have no part if the future planning and design of the centre. They have already demonstrated their incompetence.

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