What would you like to see on City Hill?
That’s the question coming the community’s way soon after Chief Minister Andrew Barr revealed in budget estimates that he had charged the City Renewal Authority with staging an ideas competition for the significant but much-ignored site, which is visited more by rabbits than people.
“I’ve asked [CEO Malcolm Snow] and the CRA team to begin work on reimagining the space as a city park rather than the centre of a roundabout rabbit warren and a place where there is a flagpole,” he said.
Mr Barr said the area around City Hill would be transformed in the coming years and the site needed to be viewed in this context.
He said the Canberra Theatre redevelopment as part of the cultural precinct, the planned entertainment pavilion, development on land released and a nearby light rail stop meant City Hill would assume even more importance than it currently has, albeit underutilised.
These new buildings should not turn their backs on City Hill as the Supreme Court did but engage with it at the street level and also provide passive surveillance from a safety perspective, Mr Barr said.
“If we do the work now, then we can make some investments over the next four or five years and it forms part of a renewed city centre,” he said.
Mr Barr said the project would be a catalyst to finally rid the site of the rabbits.
He could envisage a small structure on it such as a cafe, which would be allowed under the National Capital Plan, as well as other seating areas.
Mr Snow said the competition would deliver not only interesting ideas but also engage the Canberra community in a discussion about the future of the place.
He believed it would generate national, if not international, interest.
“It is on one of the apexes of the National Triangle, it sits terminating the axis with Parliament House, suffice to say its a really important place, and we will over the next few months come back to the Chief Minister with a proposition about what we will be asking people to come forward with in that ideas competition,” Mr Snow said.
Mr Barr said the project would involve both levels of government and come under the just-announced National Capital Investment Framework. The CRA would be working with the National Capital Authority, which would have to approve any work.
He said more needed to be done to make City Hill more accessible but the government had created the east-west footpath that connects the two pedestrian crossings at Constitution Avenue on one side and at Edinburgh Avenue on the other so people could walk from one side of the city to the other using two signalised crossings on Vernon Circle.
Mr Barr said some work could be done in parallel with the projects going on around it but the park would likely be developed in stages.
He believed the CRA, which had transformed Haig Park from an unused and unsafe space to one with a regular market and new community centre, was the right entity to deliver a great new park for central Canberra.
Mr Barr ruled out any rezoning of the land, saying it would take too long, given it would require a federal parliamentary inquiry and approval from both Houses of Parliament.