Community groups are alarmed at the second use of call-in powers to approve a major development at Manuka Oval, this time for the $11.6 million Media Centre at the southern end of the ground.
Minister for Planning Mick Gentleman used his call-in powers to approve the four-level, 19 metre tall development before Christmas so that it could be ready for Manuka Oval to host Canberra’s first Test cricket match, against Sri Lanka in January 2019.
“It is important for work to start soon to ensure it is complete in time for the Test match next summer – and with minimal disruption to the upcoming AFL season. Given the approval by the National Capital Authority, the extensive consideration of the heritage aspects of Manuka Oval and the lengthy consultation with the community, I was satisfied that the project should proceed,” Mr Gentleman said.
Community groups had questioned the Media Centre in its present form, which the Government said was designed to meet International Cricket Council specifications, mainly because of its size, cost and impact on the heritage nature of the area.
Having seen off the GWS Giants unsolicited development proposal in 2016 year, they are now concerned that the Media Centre will set another precedent for future development around the Oval.
A spokesperson for the Minister said that the site had been fenced off in December and works would start in late January/early February, including minor demolition works, site services and footings. Construction should be complete by October 2018.
In September last year, the Government awarded the contract to Kane Constructions, which has been working with architects, Populous, to finalise the design.
The Minister said in a statement in December that “particular care was taken with assessing this proposal to promote high quality, creative design, while at the same time safeguarding the important heritage and iconic values that Manuka Oval holds for the Territory”.
The spokesperson said the Minister imposed a number of conditions on the project approval including demonstrating compliance with relevant aspects of the National Capital Authority’s Development Control Plan for the precinct; showing that the Tree Management Plan meets NCA and ACT Heritage requirements; endorsement of the ACT Government Architect; and providing a revised Landscape Plan, endorsed by the NCA, ACT Heritage unit and the Tree Protection unit.
“Delivering the Manuka Media Centre is core to our commitment to developing Manuka Oval as a modern international sporting ground. The addition of the media centre will open up all kinds of opportunities for Manuka Oval to play host to more top-level fixtures for the community to enjoy while further strengthening Canberra’s event economy,” the spokesperson said.
ICC media and broadcast requirements include print press rooms with 75 seated desk positions, press conference facilities, two TV broadcast studios, and six radio boxes. The Media Centre will be 40 metres long and have a total floor space of 2804 sqm.
The centre will also be used to cover Canberra’s four AFL matches per season, with facilities available for other events on non-match days.
“Our intention is that it will also be made available to local residents’ groups for meetings and other functions,” the spokesperson said.
The Government also called in Manuka Oval’s lighting project, and Inner South Canberra Community Council chair Marea Fatseas is concerned what this may mean for the future of the Oval and its surrounds.
“Will this use of call-in powers now become the default approach for any future development proposals for Manuka Oval?” she said.
“As much as the Government promised to be more open and transparent after the election and embrace community thoughts, it feels like when call-in powers are used all the time it doesn’t matter what we say or suggest, that it won’t be taken into account,” she said.
“The use of ‘call in’ powers erodes public faith in the integrity of planning regulation and public consultation. Fears that media facilities at the Oval might not be ready in time is not a substantial reason to justify overturning due process.”
She fears it could be the start of future development around the Oval, saying the community would like to see the heritage aspect of the Oval and the buildings on that precinct preserved and not overshadowed and built out.
“At 19 metres this is close to an average six-storey development and will be very prominent in the skyline of Manuka and surrounding suburbs,” she said.
“The key thing is how you manage the boutique aspect of the oval, one of the big attractions is that vibe. We’re not saying it doesn’t need improvements, maintenance or updating but I think there is a fine line between being boutique and unique and the MCG.”
She said Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s comparison to the Adelaide Oval was misplaced.
“It’s not like Adelaide Oval, which doesn’t have residential on its doorstep, or many of the other ovals,” she said.
Both questioned the ‘build it and they will come’ attitude of the Government, and the scale and value of the centre, which is on a par with Lord’s in London.
Do you think the Media Centre is over the top? Will it be a white elephant? Will it make Manuka Oval a genuine Test venue? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.