23 September 2019

Manuka Oval Media Centre call-in not cricket, say community groups

| Ian Bushnell
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Draft plan for a new media centre at Manuka Oval.

An artist’s impression of Manuka Oval with the planned the Media Centre.

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.

Draft plan for a new media centre at Manuka Oval.

A street view of the planned Manuka Oval Media Centre.

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.

Kingston and Barton Residents Group president Rebecca Scouller said the consultation process was flawed and also criticised the use of the call-in powers.

“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.

She said the area’s growing population needed a place to play and relax, and people wanted the area activated for recreational use such as installing exercise stations and expanding the pool.
“We’re not anti-use of the Oval, we’re anti-poor decision making around the Oval,” 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.

Draft plan for a new media centre at Manuka Oval.

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.

“ACT ratepayers, who have experienced massive rate increases, may well wonder whether they will get value for money for the expenditure of $11.6 million on a Media Centre that seems to be of similar scale to the Media Centre at the pre-eminent Lord’s Cricket Ground in the UK, which accommodates more games and 28,000 spectators, nearly double that of Manuka Oval,” Ms Fatseas said.
Ms Scouller echoed her remarks. “An outdoor entertainment area to host 96 people and catering for more print journalists than the media centre at Lord’s suggest that this development is more geared to a function centre than a media centre designed to meet ICC guidelines,” she said.
“AFL and Big Bash will never need a media centre of this capacity and we are not guaranteed another Test match so this is an expensive investment for potentially a one-off event”.
She said the ACT Government should be striving for a state-of-the-art media centre but the current design did not seem in line with planning for a future city and future technologies and the media centre may become quickly redundant.
Ms Fatseas also believes that as public land, the Oval requires a Land Management Plan that has to be approved by the Legislative Assembly.
The Minister’s spokesperson confirmed that Manuka Oval did not have a public land management plan but said this did not prevent the development from proceeding.
“However, the Minister’s decision does require the Tree Management and Replacement Master Plan as approved by the NCA and the Conservator of Flora and Fauna, to be implemented,” he said.

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.

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Seems we need a much larger media centre than Perth which has been praised by ICC. Why does it need to be so much bigger here?

Manuka oval is a premier facility for the broader community to enjoy.. About time for Canberra to grow up..

Premier facility for what? Canberra doesnt have any oval sport based franchises. We pay to have the odd cricket and afl game. Happy to have the sport here but perhaps the government shouldve looked at developing Phillip oval into a premium oval with decent 10-15k capacity facilities. Great public transport links, woden gets a boost and we can sell off manuka oval for apartments. Win win win.

Capital Retro8:49 am 15 Jan 18

I have been living in Canberra for 35 years and I have never been to Manuka Oval yet I have devoted a lot of my time to junior sports (rugby league, athletics etc.).

I don’t believe there is anything there for me to enjoy and when you say it is time for Canberra to “grow up” what do you mean, exactly?

Capital Retro9:51 pm 14 Jan 18

Well said John.

What baffles me most is why is a “media centre” is required at all for anything these days.
All news (including sporting results) is instant via iPhones and the like, indeed most premier sporting fixtures are available live on personal devices so I can’t see any growth in live crowds as more and more people take the wifi options which will be greatly enhanced when 5G arrives soon.

I happened to briefly watch part of the ODI live tonight (England v Australia) and the “crowd” was pitiful, and that was at Melbourne.

Instead of this dreadful waste of judgement and money, the government should be starting a sinking fund to pay for extensions to Canberra’s sewage needs, with capacity now exceeding demand.

I have a strict policy. I will not watch any cricket or anything else coming from Lourdes cricket ground in London because I hate the sight of that “capsule” media centre in the background of every shot. Ugly AF. Now it looks like the ACT government will be replicating that disaster.

There is a difference however. The media centre – and oval – at Lourdes is used quite often, whereas Manuka Oval is very rarely used at all. So how can this expense be justified? It’s not a question of “build it and they will come”, you actually have to have the sporting events at the ground in the first place before anybody will come.

Seeing as how the sports svengalis interstate very rarely grace us with any of their events – and when they do, expect the ACT taxpayers to subsidise them – how can this expense be justified? It is just delusions of grandeur, on a par with the NSW government knocking down and rebuilding Allianz and ANZ Stadium at a cost of millions.

I don’t have enough information to comment on whether the development should have been approved, however believe that this type of decision is the perfect example of where call-in powers are appropriate.

There is no substantial change of use for the facility, and no massive change to the “planned” purpose of the venue – ie this is a media centre specifically enabling a major sports venue to achieve its stated, long standing objective.

Where call in powers are inappropriate in my view, are for things like adding a residential, commercial and hotel to a sports ground – that should go through a proper process.

Capital Retro12:51 pm 12 Jan 18

This is outrageous – another way to waste millions on this government’s pet projects. Very few Canberrans per-capita support high level cricket; even less follow baseball yet the same government is handing the local Cavalry professional team $5 million for a new pitch and “members bar”.

I would like to see the opposition (do we have one?) launch an enquiry into just how much is being spent on sport in the Territory, not only directly but through the government’s ratepayer funded associates like UC and CBR.

I’d like to know where you get your assertion that very few Canberrans per-capita support high level cricket?

Capital Retro10:12 pm 12 Jan 18

Well, how many turn up and how many don’t?

Right, now I know you’re trolling with that ridiculously simplistic assertion. I was hoping you’d actually have some real numbers, something that would provide some interesting discussion about the merits. It’s almost always sold out when matches come. You seem to dislike cricket, which is fine, not everyone loves it, but please contribute to the debate constructively.

Capital Retro2:53 pm 19 Jan 18

I neither love or dislike cricket. Excuse me for being simplistic again but where is the business case for the government’s largess and please answer my earlier question namely why is a media centre needed in the first place?

Do these residents have the power to stop the capital of Australia growing. There are a lot more people that like cricket and want to see Canberra grow than residents opposed to the idea of change in their suburb.
Sometimes, you just get told what to do or what is happening, you may not like it, but a lot of other people do.

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