The ACT Government will press on with its preferred route for Stage 2 of light rail to Woden although it will mean negotiating changes to the National Capital Plan and delays to the project.
The report into Commonwealth and Parliamentary approvals for ACT light rail by the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories says Stage 2 is only partially consistent with the National Capital Plan, which already provided public transport corridors and serves to protect areas of cultural and heritage significance such as the Parliamentary Triangle.
It has recommended that if the ACT Government insists on its preferred route through Parkes and Barton it must submit to a two-stage process in which it negotiates with the National Capital Authority to amend the National Capital Plan to accommodate the route and then apply to the Commonwealth for approval.
Minister for Transport Meegan Fitzharris said the report provided clarity for the people of Canberra.
“The Committee clearly outlined a pathway to obtaining approvals for the project. We can now confidently continue the project’s development,” she said.
“The ACT Government will pursue its preferred route for light rail from the City to Woden via City West and Barton.”
Ms Fitzharris said the ACT Government would work with the NCA on any possible changes to the National Capital Plan and continue to finalise a referral under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) in the coming weeks which will commence formal approval for the planned alignment. Committee Chair, Ben Morton said the development of light rail must not come at the cost of the long-term character and heritage of the National Capital.
“We are not seeking to slow or hinder the approvals process, but rather to provide certainty for the ACT Government and the people of Canberra,” he said.
“The Light Rail Stage 2 project passes through and is adjacent to a number of key cultural and heritage sites. Like all projects and proposals in these areas, it must be consistent with the legal requirements imposed by the National Capital Plan.”
Mr Morton said that if the ACT Government were to use the routes provided for in the NCP the project could quickly and easily move forward through the other approval processes.
“‘However, should the ACT Government choose to pursue a route alignment that is only partially consistent with the National Capital Plan, this will unavoidably add further complexity, time, and cost to the project,” he said.
An alternative route would be along Constitution with a lake crossing at Kings Avenue but Ms Fitzharris said the preferred route was designed to provide a north-south light rail backbone for Canberra and would also enhance the public realm through the Parliamentary Triangle, as well as alleviate traffic and parking congestion.
“It will support the revitalisation of suburbs along the corridor, and create more vibrant, community-focused, active and modern precincts. The Barton route also incorporates as many of the key employment hubs and national institutions as possible in the Parliamentary Triangle,” she said.
The committee’s report has also recommended that Parliament require light rail stops, landscaping, and signage to be unobtrusive and complementary to the heritage value and the character of the Central National Area and Parliamentary Zone, as well as an appropriate replanting and landscaping strategy to remedy the removal of any significant trees, such as the Weston plantings.
It details certain areas that should be wire free – Commonwealth Avenue; Kings Avenue; State Circle; Brisbane Avenue; Sydney Avenue; Canberra Avenue (to Manuka Circle); Hobart Avenue; Melbourne Avenue; Adelaide Avenue (to Kent Street); and in the Parliamentary Zone.
Ms Fitzharris said the ACT Government was acutely aware of the national significance of many locations along the City to Woden route, particularly within the Parliamentary Zone.
“A formal assessment under the EPBC Act is a rigorous and well established Commonwealth process to manage heritage significance,” she said.
The ACT Government would consider the recommendations and encouraged the Federal Minister and the Parliament to respond to the Committee’s report in a timely way to ensure the ACT Government could deliver its commitment to the Canberra community.
The Public Transport Association of Canberra welcomed the report, saying it provided much-needed certainty.
Chair Damien Haas said the committee had a number of common-sense recommendations around the design and approvals processes.
“The timely release of the committee’s report means that the ACT Government can get on with the job of delivering the crucial next stage of Canberra’s city-shaping light rail network,” he said.
“Importantly the committee’s report means that the NCA and the ACT Government can resume working on a light rail route through the Parliamentary Zone that can serve the people of Canberra, service national institutions and satisfy heritage concerns.”