4 August 2020

Lake Guardians take West Basin fight into Barr's electorate

| Ian Bushnell
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West Basin Phase 2 development

The drawing of the West Basin Phase 2 development, reclaiming the lake bed and extending the boardwalk. Images: ACT Government.

The planned redevelopment of West Basin has been put on the election agenda with the Lake Burley Griffin Guardians targeting voters in the Chief Minister’s own electorate.

But Andrew Barr has hit back at the Guardians, accusing them of misrepresenting the proposal, which he says would be considerably smaller in size and scale than previously reported, with the number of apartments in the hundreds, not the 2000 often stated.

The heritage group has printed 20,000 leaflets outlining its objections to the government’s plans to fill in the lake, extend the boardwalk and eventually allow the building of apartments on the prime lakeside site.

The leaflets are finding their way into letterboxes, imploring Kurrajong voters to contact local candidates about where they stand on West Basin.

Acting LBGG convenor Michael Lawson says going political was a hard decision for the group, which has members across the political spectrum, but was taken out of frustration with the Labor Government and extreme disappointment with the ACT Greens, where the group thought there would have been sympathy for the cause.

”We’ve been stonewalled by the government, and the Greens are basically in lockstep with Labor on this,” he said.

Only the Liberals, eyeing a disaffected constituency, have been open to the Guardians’ calls for a different approach to developing West Basin that doesn’t include apartments.

”It’s because they probably see inner-city people who are disenfranchised and disenchanted with the current planning system and the way it operates in Canberra,” Mr Lawson said.

A Liberals spokesperson told Region Media that good public access and use of the surrounds should be maintained and be given significant weight in any decision making.

”The Canberra Liberals are dismayed by the timing of the West Basin and North Curtin Horse Paddock land swap announcement. It would be easy to believe that the government is hoping to slide this through under the radar while everyone is focusing on the current COVID-19 crisis. Our local MLAs are on record criticising the lack of consultation with the local community and supporting the retention of green space,” the spokesperson said.

Mr Lawson said that for all the government’s talk of consultation, it remained wedded to the original proposal to build an apartment estate.

”They’ll pretend they’re consulting but everything else doesn’t change the original plan, and the original plan for this was to turn off 2000 apartments and six city blocks, plus 20 per cent extra commercial,” he said.

The Guardians no longer trusted the government to deliver the quality space it says it wants to create by the lake, a sentiment they feel will resonate with voters.

”I suspect it will link to a general disenchantment about how development is done in Canberra because there is a lot of marketing spin, glossy fly-through videos about how wonderful it’s going to be and nothing happens for a long time. And then what is eventually delivered is frankly disappointing,” Mr Lawson said.

An artist's impression of the West Basin waterfront

An artist’s impression in 2017 of the West Basin waterfront once completed, but Chief Minister Andrew Barr says the development will be of a smaller scale than previously reported.

Mr Barr said the Guardians were in the minority and the project had a lot of community support, four elections after the West Basin Amendment to the National Capital Plan (NCP) was enacted by the Howard Government in 2006.

”The long-term plan (beyond 2024-25) envisages a small-scale, height-limited, mixed-use precinct, set back 55 metres from the lake edge, that offers small-scale independent retail, cafes, restaurants, community arts spaces and entertainment options,” he said.

The residential and commercial component would help pay for the overall project.

”This is the financial model under which Canberra’s infrastructure has been financed for more than a century,” he said.

He denied there would be any loss of green space, saying the project would more create more accessible, attractive and connected public spaces landscaped with trees and plants, for all Canberrans to enjoy.

But Mr Lawson said West Basin was the best site in Canberra and deserved better.

”It’s got opportunities that are global, you could put something in there that would be a great thing for Canberra,” he said.

The ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury told Region Media that it supported a more compact city and urban infill for a range of environmental reasons but believed that the West Basin development should only proceed if it included as much useable open space as is there now and if it provided a continuous waterfront walking and cycling promenade that avoids the Kingston Foreshore problem of a narrow boardwalk that is too small for cyclists to get past.

”So far, the City Renewal Authority has committed to both of these issues and the Greens have also been pleased to see just how popular the first new park in West Basin has been,” he said.

He added that the area should not just be a luxury precinct, and should include public housing and other affordable housing options too.

The Guardians' leaflet

Part of the Guardians’ leaflet being letterboxed in the seat of Kurrajong. Image: Lake Burley Griffin Guardians.

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Impressive how the self-designated Guardians, with a membership of about 100 people, seem to drum up publicity for anything they do. Many local charities and footy/netball clubs with much bigger memberships would love this disproportionate level of coverage.

The self appointed Lake Whingers (they aren’t guardians of anything) are going to be in for a rude shock if they think they’ll gain community support to maintain the empty bitumen car parks and unused lake frontage of the current West Basin.

Perhaps they should start their own political party and run their campaign on keeping the “natural beauty” of our man made lake.

Spot on Chewy. I’m all for ensuring its quality development in that area, but this pretending that there is some significance to that part of the lake foreshore. The focus should be on balanced development with high quality outcomes.

Next step the Whingers will probably try to get the Futsal slab heritage listed….

Yes, they should be lobbying to ensure the development is good quality and incorporates significant green spaces and maintains full public access.

Instead, they’re lobbying to protect unused bitumen and a dilapidated waterfront.

I’ve seen homeless people camping around near where the boat shed is, it’s that underutilised.

It’s crying out to be redeveloped and incorporating a reasonable amount of apartments makes perfect sense.

Might be a bit hard. Many of the members appear to live down the coast so not able to put their hands up.

I bet the guardians love the Coombs shops too. Looking at a picture of it in another article the design reminded me of a 1960’s/1970’s T canberra suburban shopping centre. They could stand out the front click the heels and hope that a shoprite or an Owl may appear. And for good measure maybe a Young’s or a Mcewans.

Won’t someone thing of the heritage of the – checks notes – 50 year old man made lake?

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