How North Curtin Horse Paddock’s fate was sealed from the beginning

Ian Bushnell 14 May 2020 28
NCA CEO Sally Barnes

NCA CEO Sally Barnes: ”To be quite fair, to go out and ask people about this when it’s definitely our intent is disingenuous consultation.” Photo: File.

An unapologetic National Capital Authority has defended the secrecy around its land swap deal with the ACT that delivered the North Curtin Horse Paddock, but it is holding out the promise of the community being able to access the proposed diplomatic precinct.

NCA CEO Sally Barnes told ABC Canberra this morning that the national interest came first and the Commonwealth had an obligation to provide land for countries pressing to develop new embassies.

”This was a negotiation between governments and sometimes that’s the way it has to go when you’re looking at that big picture,” she said.

”To be quite fair, to go out and ask people about this when it’s definitely our intent [to acquire the land] is disingenuous consultation.”

She said North Curtin was the best option and that other sites in Deakin and O’Malley were not suitable for diplomatic residences.

The advantages of a separate precinct included better security and avoiding the friction experienced when missions had been established in the suburbs.

Foreign governments also wanted their missions to be established in prestigious areas.

”We’ve looked at this from the bigger picture. What the nation needs, and there will be lots of consultation and lots of talk with local residents around how this space can be landscaped, maintain some of those values, some of those natural features the community likes, and make sure that if there are areas people want to walk through we can factor that into the design,” Ms Barnes said.

The ACT Equestrian Association, residents and nature lovers are furious at how the land swap involving West Basin on Lake Burley Griffin was negotiated and announced. They say the NCA did not want the plans to be made public in case it jeopardised the outcome.

They are angry that an important green space, recreational area and wildlife corridor is going to be developed.

The NCA has been seeking land to satisfy the demand for missions for many years and approached the ACT Government about three years ago about the prime North Curtin site.

It appears the NCA was able to use the ACT’s West Basin redevelopment plans as a bargaining chip in the negotiations. Last June Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the Territory was being held to ransom on the issue.

At that stage neither party would reveal which site the NCA had settled on, but according to Commonwealth legislation the NCA holds the upper hand when it comes to land in the Territory.

The Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Act 1988 states that ”the Minister may, by notice published in the Commonwealth Gazette declare specified areas of land in the Territory to be National Land”.

The North Curtin Horse Paddock

The North Curtin Horse Paddock: the land swap deal has angered horse owners and residents.

In effect, once the Commonwealth decided on the land it wanted, the ACT had to come to the party, although in 2013 the NCA was forced to dump plans for a much smaller estate at Yarralumla on its own land after an outcry from residents which prompted a parliamentary inquiry into the management of diplomatic estates in the ACT.

At that time the NCA said it would still need more land beyond its Yarralumla proposal to meet the growing demand.

The ACT Government said in a statement that the Commonwealth Government sought to simultaneously resolve the West Basin land matter through this process.

Ms Barnes said the outcome was mutually beneficial.

“It seemed to both governments that these were two things that would both be good from a national perspective and a city perspective to progress and this was the time to do it,” she said.

”Everyone realised that we’re an international city, that we have these international obligations and that it would diminish the city’s standing worldwide if we couldn’t meet those obligations.”

The deal was clinched towards the end of 2020 and announced by Federal Government press release in March, giving the Commonwealth a 25-year supply of land for embassies.

The NCA had originally wanted the entire site but the ACT was able to retain the eastern portion which was earmarked in the Light Rail Stage 2 business case for possible future development.

It also negotiated a two-year deal for horse owners so they would have time to find alternative agistment, although the planning and development process was probably going to take that long anyway.

The ACT Government statement said the deal would deliver on the NCA and ACT Government’s shared vision for West Basin involving the reclamation of the lake bed for parkland and public use.

The ACT Government’s plans also include the construction of about 2000 apartments set back from the waterfront.

The government said the deal ensured it could continue to implement the long-held vision for an urban waterfront at Acton and continue developing a City to Woden Strategy.

That includes light rail, which will require Commonwealth approval and a future National Capital Plan amendment.

Consultation on an amendment to the NCP to facilitate the proposal will take place in the next few weeks, followed by the development of any estate plan.

”We’d like it to be world-leading in terms of design, bringing in the needs of the local community about how they can get through the area, how we maintain green space, what sort of species they put there, then working with embassies to see how much land they can commit to and need. It’s really up to those countries to bring forward plans to get them approved and start building,” Ms Barnes said.


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28 Responses to How North Curtin Horse Paddock’s fate was sealed from the beginning
Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:08 pm 17 May 20

All you concerned horse owners who are being dispossessed of your boarding paddocks should form a group called “Stirrup Power” and get millions of dollars worth of government assistance in return for for your votes.

Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 12:06 pm 17 May 20

While I would prefer the land being restored to its former pristine state and providing a buffer as temperatures rise I can understand why it would be turned over to the diplomatic enclave. Bit hard to support its ongoing use as a horse paddock. Change can be good.

Kim Graham Kim Graham 10:09 am 17 May 20

Where are people supposed to keep there horses Canberra used to be a lovely place for horse owners I used to keep mine at yarrulumla which is now a golf course horse owners pay taxes to and we should have places to keep our horses

Dory Johns Dory Johns 10:26 am 16 May 20

Ah. They are using that old excuse again. What rubbish. Taxpayers' money is used to fund NCA. We should all have an interest in what they do whether or not they like it. We are their shareholders. Without us they don't exist.

Spiral Spiral 7:44 am 16 May 20

Development of areas like these horse paddocks is a complex issue especially from an environmental point of view.

Despite having a self proclaimed representative of the Greens as a frequent headlining contributor to Riotact it is disappointing how silent the Greens are on this topic.

Surely this type of issue falls right into the Green’s sphere of interest.

Rob Chalmers Rob Chalmers 6:24 pm 15 May 20

Maybe Barr should have thrown the Bridge over the River Kwai into the negotiations.

    Matt Fordham Matt Fordham 7:45 pm 15 May 20

    Rob Chalmers NCA is federal. Take it up with ScoMo

    Rob Chalmers Rob Chalmers 8:39 pm 15 May 20

    Matt Fordham Yer durrh..... and the NCA is responsible for the Parliamentary Triangle and making all the stipulations on where and how the light rail passes through it. A Senate Select Committee has also had a bit to say FYI.

    Matt Fordham Matt Fordham 8:50 pm 15 May 20

    Rob Chalmers I’m really lost as to your original point then. Maybe try being less vague

    Matt Fordham Matt Fordham 8:53 pm 15 May 20

    Or did you actually have a point to start with.

    Rob Chalmers Rob Chalmers 8:55 pm 15 May 20

    Matt Fordham I may have been to subtle.....trying to draw an analogy between two troubled bridges ...the one we have to build and this one. Too Boomerish ?

    Matt Fordham Matt Fordham 8:58 pm 15 May 20

    Rob Chalmers yeah, way too boomerish.

    On a side note - great movie. Haven’t watched it in ages. Now I might need to source a copy.

Claire Sadler Claire Sadler 4:07 pm 15 May 20

can we have a list of these embassies who want to have a presence in Canberra? Do not think any country will have spare money after this coronavirus to build embassies so postpone it for 10 years and make them take up the vacant blocks already allocated for embassies. Will the NCA ban existing embassies from selling current property in suburbs like Red Hill to pocket a profit or use the money to build a bigger embassy in the new location?

Gil Maher Gil Maher 7:17 am 15 May 20

Get rid of the hay burners. Leave the paddocks for our native animals.

Tjilpi1 Tjilpi1 2:43 am 15 May 20

Didn’t realise they were creating so many new countries that they need more land for embassies when the NCA has been trying for years to get some to build on existing blocks. So, what is going to happen to the diplomatic land in other suburbs that the embassies don’t want then?

Gabriel Spacca Gabriel Spacca 11:42 pm 14 May 20

The National Interest: The excuse you use when you want control.

Also see ...

It’s a territory matter, it has nothing to do with us: The excuse you use when you don’t want to touch it with a thirty foot barge pole.

Jared Gill Jared Gill 10:53 pm 14 May 20

Plenty of horse bush around. Settle down

    Tracie Campbell Tracie Campbell 6:01 pm 16 May 20

    Jared Gill - actually it's really hard to get horse agistment at the moment. More community horse paddocks are needed here.

Jeanne Theodore O'Malley Jeanne Theodore O'Malley 9:24 pm 14 May 20

When hasn’t the Andrew Barr crushed Canberrans?

Sarah Mavrogenes Sarah Mavrogenes 9:22 pm 14 May 20

Why, Sally?

Claire Perry Claire Perry 8:35 pm 14 May 20

ĺaraine Laraine Frawley Meg Ferguson Meg Doepeldoepel Alison Irwinalison Jeanne Theodore O'Malley Andrea Fleming

    Laraine Frawley Laraine Frawley 11:27 pm 14 May 20

    Claire Perry don’t think they can be saved twice unfortunately.

Geoffrey John Randal Geoffrey John Randal 6:49 pm 14 May 20

Fair enough, Canberra needs to host Embassies and if we don't like them as neighbours then the Horse Paddocks seem a better place.

Stan Vizovitis Stan Vizovitis 6:31 pm 14 May 20

National interest ! They'd sell anyone out

Kim Kim 5:32 pm 14 May 20

So the NIMBY’s want the ACT government to trash its national and international obligations for a few horses? Yes this is a big picture issue and Nth Curtin is the best site.

Acton Acton 4:06 pm 14 May 20

Which countries do not already have embassies here and if they don’t is there a need for them? If it is a choice between keeping green spaces, walking trails, recreation activities, birdlife, or an embassy from the People’s Republic of Wherethehellisstan, then most of us would choose the former. NCA must not ignore the people.

    chewy14 chewy14 7:55 pm 14 May 20

    If you think the general populace want to keep this land reserved for a privileged few horse owners, you’re dreaming.

    The land swap and development of both West Basin and the land adjacent to Adelaide Avenue is a far better outcome.

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