Many locals will applaud the National Capital Authority’s decision to close the Westside Container Village by the end of the year.
The so-called justification for its creation was specious: to bring people to the area ahead of the ACT Government’s sale of land at West Basin for commercial and residential development (the City to Lake project).
One would have thought the availability of such a desirable if contentious site would have sold itself without an ugly set of coloured boxes being called upon the promote interest.
That it also was temporary raises questions. Why encourage small business to establish only for a few years (to March 2019) and thus to attract more businesses than the food and drink currently there, unless the intention was a much longer tenure? This smacks either of a poor understanding of how small business operates or an unrevealed relocation plan – elsewhere on the lake? – to mollify these small investors.
Plagued by building delays and a shabby appearance, even when completed the site looked and was untidy, an undesirable set of visible circumstances which did not endear it and worse, the problem appeared to be increasing with trucks and more containers sitting around.
At a time when other Australian capitals are smartening up their waterways: Darling Harbour, Southbank, why are we cluttering Lake Burley Griffin with unnecessary man-made additions? Is it an anti—elite attitude by our egalitarian government, because if so it is ill-conceived: the natural beauty of LBG is available to all.
Already sections of the lake have been nibbled away, for example, Yarralumla Bay and the Kingston foreshore, and it is important to recognise any chance to create a corniche beyond the existing central basin will diminish if more and more lakeside land is taken for profitable government sale.
ACT governments should realise Canberra’s central area is more than a rich source of revenue, it is also a responsibility to be protected for the nation. We are its guardians.
Developers also must recognise this area bordering the parliamentary triangle is not somewhere to be exploited for private profit.
All of this made the decision to allow the container village to be built upon such a prominent site a surprise, more so that the NCA should have given its approval. Even if it had only agreed in principle, how could it have OKed the confronting design towering above any other structure nearby?
Possibly the issue has a precedent the NCA was unable to argue against: the earlier unsuccessful futsal slab which opened the section for development. If so, legislative action is required to ensure a repeat of these two unhappy experiences does not occur upon this site.
Meantime the anger and frustration of the traders is understandable and talk of relocation is reasonable, even if the temporary nature of their current leases must have been known.
Whatever the Westside Container Village was intended to provide, even if there were a need for it in Canberra, the shores of LBG should not have been the venue.
Pictured above is Westside in 2015. Photo: Paul Costigan