2 August 2019

Minister lobs hand grenade at Canberra Services Club with leases decision

| Ian Bushnell
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The prime Manuka Circle site where a fire destroyed the Canberra Services Club. File photo.

A community group has welcomed a decision to reject a bid by the Canberra Services Club to remove the concessional leases on land in Manuka and Barton that has dealt a blow to its $100 million redevelopment ambitions on the sites.

Planning and Land Management Minister Mick Gentleman says that removing the concessions, which some argued would have delivered a windfall to the club, as well as paving the way for $50 million worth of mixed used development on each site, was not in the public interest.

A spokesperson said that retaining the concessional status of the Canberra Services Club Crown lease supported Manuka Oval as a sporting and entertainment destination.

“As Canberra continues to grow, we want to ensure that community land is used in a way that provides the greatest benefit for Canberrans,” the spokesperson said.

The two sites are on Manuka Circle, where a 2011 fire destroyed the club’s headquarters, and Blackall Street, the site of the former Rugby Union Club it bought in 2015. Critics say they have been grossly undervalued in the applications to change the nature of the leases.

The matters will go to the ACT planning authority but it is obliged to follow the Minister’s direction.

Club president Mike Kinniburgh reportedly has said the decision puts the club’s future at risk.

The Kingston Barton Residents Group, which opposed the club’s applications, said it always supported the Canberra Services Club rebuilding on its spiritual home at ‘shell shock corner’ but its proposal was out of step with community and the Government’s expectations.

“Despite concerns by the club that they may not be able to secure a loan we are aware of other organisations with concessional leases securing finance,” president Rebecca Scouller said.

Griffith-Narrabundah Residents’ Association, Friends of Manuka Pool and the Inner South Canberra Community Council also opposed the move, arguing against the loss of community land, citing the valuation issues and pointing to lack of planning guidelines in the precinct.

Concessional leases are granted at less-than-market value to provide core community or social facilities.

The Auditor-General intends to inquire into Crown lease variations as part of the 2020-21 audit program.
The club was approached for comment.

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I reckon those who decided to do a bit of a ‘stocktake’ on the joint after realising how much of a potential goldmine they were sitting on are feeling a bit silly about now.

HiddenDragon5:54 pm 05 Aug 19

“As Canberra continues to grow, we want to ensure that community land is used in a way that provides the greatest benefit for Canberrans,” the spokesperson said.

This principle always has, and always will be, consistently applied in all such cases……

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