21 September 2020

Liberals step back from pledge to stop West Basin infill project

| Ian Bushnell
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West Basin

West Basin: the Greens have laid out their conditions for future development. Photo: ACT Government.

The Canberra Liberals appear to have backed away from their commitment last month to stop the approved West Basin lake infill and boardwalk project.

Liberal leader Alistair Coe had ruled out the infill phase of the West Basin development but not some form of mixed-use development.

The government had already signed contracts for the project ahead of the National Capital Authority giving its approval.

Region Media asked the Canberra Liberals if they would still walk away from the project and tear up the contracts if they won government in October. But a single line response ignored the question about the infill project.

”While the Canberra Liberals support public infrastructure and amenity improvements, we will not support Labor’s plan for thousands of apartments,” the party said.

The response throws into doubt its stated position on the West Basin development and its other pledge to unpick the North Curtin Horse Paddock land deal.

It will disappoint the Lake Burley Griffin Guardians who believed the Liberals would at least stop the lake infill.

Guardians acting convenor Michael Lawson has noted previously that state governments, notably Victoria, had walked away from signed contracts.

”Until it’s finished and commissioned, it can be prevented if there is political will to do so,” he said.

He said the Guardians took all parties at their word, and ”when the Liberals say they’re going to unpick the deal on the Curtin horse paddock and this, we take it as said that they’re going to do their best to unravel it if in government”.

In August 2020, Chief Minister Andrew Barr said any residential development would include hundreds of dwellings – not the 2000 first proposed in February 2019 – and would comply with the national planning rules.

A recent commitment from the ACT Greens to low-scale development at West Basin that ensures the vistas are maintained and includes some public and social housing did not go far enough, according to the Guardians.

The heritage lobby group remains implacably opposed to any residential development at West Basin and had also wanted the Greens to commit to stopping the approved infill and boardwalk project.

READ ALSO Liberal pledges on West Basin, North Curtin Horse Paddock ignite election

Greens leader Shane Rattenbury and candidate for Kurrajong Rebecca Vassarotti have given the Guardians a statement of position for the ACT election, which contains six pre-conditions for residential development in West Basin.

If the Greens continue to form government with Labor after the election, they could have an influence on the direction of development at West Basin.

They say any development needs to protect and enhance the public domain, with public access to the Lake and surrounds maintained to cater for a wide range of recreational pursuits. The planned 55-metre buffer between the lake and any residential development must be enshrined in any agreement.

”Maintenance and enhancement of the public domain needs to address the issue of access to vistas and, as such, any residential development needs to be of an appropriate scale and design that does not detract from this,” the Greens say.

They say any residential development must include a commitment to social and community housing, with a diversity of housing types and tenures.

Design would need to be sympathetic to the landscape and of a contemporary high standard.

The Greens say the tree canopy and green spaces must be maintained and, wherever possible, significant trees incorporated into the design of spaces and any trees lost replaced by appropriate species.

They say there would need to be further in-depth public consultation, built into future phases of the project.

The new lake edge after the infill project. Image: ACT Government.

Mr Lawson said the Guardians remained opposed to residential development, which amounted to privatisation of the public space and would be a lost opportunity for a more visionary approach to such a premium site.

”We wouldn’t object to international standard buildings with international institutions in them but we’re opposed vehemently to Kingston Foreshore-style development because it is a tragic loss of opportunity,” he said.

Under the National Capital Plan, buildings can rise to 25 metres or about eight storeys along Commonwealth Avenue.

The Guardians took heart from the Greens statement about the vistas, which indicates they would oppose those maximum heights, and the commitment to high-quality design and protection of the trees.

But Mr Lawson said he would have thought a Greens party would be opposed to the infill project getting underway that would have enormous environmental costs.

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Who would like to join my new group – Avengers of the Urban Realm?

This should remind us of other removals of public and recreational spaces around Canberra. For example, the popular Pitch n Putt in Woden. It is now a weedy and neglected site, shadowed by spreading blocks of high rise apartments, built with the consent of Barr and Rattenbury. Habitual Greens voters should feel an enormous sense of betrayal by what this once environmental party has become. A Labor lapdog.

“But Mr Lawson said he would have thought a Greens party would be opposed to the infill project getting underway that would have enormous environmental costs.”

Are there really enormous environmental costs? Large chunks of the site are car parks for goodness sake….

There would actually be a much higher environmental cost in not developing the area.

But you don’t expect the self appointed “guardians” to be logical do you?

Nope, logic most definitely is not their strong point! Amazing the air time they get on here in particular like they are genuine experts…. not just a tiny lobby group with many based in NSW.

so very true – the Greens are not and have never been anti development. There is a small number of people who pretty much oppose anything in Canberra – and many of their members don’t even live here – one prominent member who comments regularly in the Canberra times lives in Moruya!

I reckon the guardians would have probably opposed the building of the lake in the first place

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