Do you remember that scene in Bridget Jones’ Diary when Mark Darcy told Bridget he liked her just the way she was? Isn’t it possible, highly likely even, that Cricket Australia feels exactly the same way about Manuka Oval?
One of the strongest arguments for redeveloping the Oval precinct was that its sporting facilities need to be upgraded in order to attract world class sporting events.
But Cricket Australia announced in April that Test cricket was coming to Manuka, with Australia to play Sri Lanka here in 2018-19, despite there being no plan in place to upgrade facilities between now and then.
That announcement must provide some relief to those lamenting the demise of the GWS/Grocon plan to redevelop the precinct.
GWS’s continuing commitment to playing several matches a year here and the sell-out crowd at the Giants’ most recent home game at the ground must further reassure them, as will today’s announcement that the Prime Minister’s XI match will switch from being a traditional one-day match to the more popular Twenty20 format.
Anyone who has ever listened to either the ABC Radio or Nine Network’s television coverage of matches at Manuka knows that commentators, visiting fans and players alike regularly wax lyrical about the picturesque nature and village feel of the historic ground.
The challenge for any developer keen to reshape the Oval and its surrounds is retaining those highly regarded qualities while creating a sustainable revamped precinct.
It had become increasingly clear that residents of the Inner South, regular visitors to Manuka Oval and users of the neighbouring facilities did not believe GWS/Grocon’s Manuka Green proposal could meet that challenge.
The Government recognised this, eventually, with Chief Minister Andrew Barr announcing on Friday that it had rejected the unsolicited bid from GWS/Grocon in its current form.
With an election only weeks away, Barr and co had little choice but to shelve the plan, particularly given the endless trouble their handling of it has caused them since the day it was announced (Minister Meegan Fitzharris being present at a briefing on the proposal from her husband, who was then working for a firm lobbying the Government on behalf of GWS/Grocon, being just one example).
Mr Barr has finally taken on board the April recommendation of cabinet colleague Shane Rattenbury, the only sitting member of the Assembly who attended a rowdy meeting of more than 300 concerned citizens on the GWS/Grocon proposal that month, and committed to community consultation on a new master plan for Manuka Oval and surrounds ahead of a competitive process for the site’s redevelopment.
GWS and Grocon may yet be a part of that future competitive process, but the Canberra community will have had an opportunity to define boundaries for the project before they and other developers next enter the fray.
Mr Barr said on Friday that the Government would set up a community panel via an Expressions of Interest process to commence within six weeks, with the aim of ensuring the panel is demographically representative of the Territory’s population while including relevant sporting groups. It would have its first meeting by the end of this year, with a view to a Territory Plan Variation being initiated by late 2017. The masterplanning process would include parking and how the Oval could be better connected with Manuka, Kingston, Lake Burley Griffin and Telopea Park.
The election must be looking close in both senses of the phrase – this is the third major backdown by the Government in recent weeks, following on from the announcement that the Manuka Childcare Centre (MOCCA) will not be forced to move from its historic Flinders Street site, and that controversial liquor licensing changes to encourage earlier closing times had been dropped.
It remains to be seen how much damage the great Manuka Oval debate has caused Mr Barr and his team, both at the polls and in terms of business confidence, particularly in the unsolicited bids process.
Will corporate giants like Grocon and their ilk have been scared off by the mix of community ire and Government bungling?
Not if there is a buck to be made here in the future, one would imagine, though this may be of little consolation to Labor powerbrokers looking back on some of the Bridget Jones-style own goals that led them here.
Charlotte Harper lives in the Inner South and learnt to swim at Manuka Pool. She is also a former wicketkeeper (for her school’s first XI side) and a fan of both cricket and AFL (though the Swans, not the Giants).