West Basin and the North Curtin Horse Paddock are now key election battlegrounds after the Canberra Liberals pledged to save both from the current development plans.
The ACT Government immediately said the move would set back plans for West Basin by a decade and that the horse paddock pledge would be impossible to deliver, given the Commonwealth had the power to designate any ACT land for a national purpose, such as the planned diplomatic estate.
But the Liberals are betting on the current plans for West Basin and the horse paddock deal being unpopular and evidence of ”secret deals” to develop the Bush Capital and at any cost.
Leader Alistair Coe would not rule out altogether mixed-use development of West Basin but promised a ”proper consultation” so Canberrans could decide what would they like there.
He said the government should be consolidating development that is happening all around the city not planning more apartments at West Basin.
”My vision for that precinct is for a properly maintained green space, where people can actually congregate and enjoy the national capital and enjoy the lake,” he said.
”There is scope for improvements to the paths and a cafe or two, but to simply sell out and put 10-storey apartment buildings around the precinct is wrong, and our city just doesn’t need it.”
He also ruled out reclaiming the lake bed, which he called an extravagant and expensive proposition.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said successive Liberal federal governments had signed off on changes to the National Capital Plan allowing redevelopment of West Basin, including some form of housing.
He said the proposals set out under the recent Place Plan included parkland and small-scale mixed-used development with a 55-metre buffer zone from the lake edge.
”Ultimately what people will see over the next five years will be a few cafes and restaurants and a much larger green space in the Acton waterfront,” Mr Barr said
”In the end, what do we want from the lakefront? Do we want a place that people can use, and a space for some small-scale commercial activity? I don’t think there will be much opposition to Canberrans having a coffee by the lake at West Basin.”
Originally, 2000 apartments had been mooted for West Basin along Commonwealth Avenue but Mr Barr said recently that it would now be hundreds and they would be low-rise.
They can only be considered in the second half of the decade after the current plans to reclaim the lake bed, extend the boardwalk from Henry Rolland Park, and build the parkland are complete.
Local MLA and frontbencher Giulia Jones said a Liberal government would also rip up the horse paddock deal with the National Capital Authority.
”I have had conversations with the federal Liberal Party and I am confident we can unpick this deal,” she said, without going into details.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the federal Liberal Minister of Territories, Nola Marino, had signed off on the gazetting of the land.
He said the Liberals needed to say where the diplomatic estate planned for the horse paddock would go, but Mrs Jones dismissed this, saying there was plenty of land for embassies in Canberra.
”There are many steps to the deal that are required to be undertaken both at the ACT level and the federal level,” Mrs Jones said. ”We will not be undertaking our part of the deal.”
Acting Lake Burley Griffin Guardians convenor Michael Lawson welcomed the Liberals announcement, and its acknowledgement of Lake Burley Griffin as a national treasure.
He said the ACT Government was wanting to reclaim the 2.8 ha of the lake bed so it can make room to build apartments, and was in effect wanting to privatise the space.
”This has been consulted like a Canberra real estate development when the lake is a national asset,” he said. “There needs to be much wider consultation around Australia about the lake because it doesn’t just belong to people to turn off for developable land in Canberra.”
The group believes West Basin is an iconic location and has called for an international design competition so it can become a world-class public space.