ACT Government claims that a two-year delay on releasing land for the long-awaited Molonglo Group Centre is based on what the community had asked for have infuriated community representatives.
The Indicative Land Release announced with the ACT Budget shows the first release for the Molonglo Group Centre to commence in 2023-2024 instead of during the current financial year.
A bitterly disappointed Molonglo Valley Community Forum (MVCF) says the government has broken an election promise to fast-track the group centre, which will eventually provide the services the growing district needs.
Interim MVCF spokesperson Ryan Hemsley said the delays are incredibly frustrating for residents of Molonglo Valley, who since 2012 have had to rely on neighbouring facilities in Weston Creek, which are already under significant pressure.
“This will leave residents of Molonglo without access to local community and retail facilities for at least another decade,” he said.
ACT Minister for Planning and Land Management Mick Gentleman was asked to respond, but a government spokesperson issued a statement saying that starting land release this year, or even next financial year, would have seen individual blocks released – the opposite of what the community had said it wanted.
“The community has said it wants to see less of a piecemeal land release and more holistic planning, with a group centre that develops in a coordinated way,” said the spokesperson.
The spokesperson also said the community wanted to be consulted on the concept plan, and the government was only responding to this engagement in deciding to further refine the work completed so far.
“The delay allows the government to hear from the people who already live in Molonglo Valley about what they would like to see in their group centre,” said the spokesperson.
However, Mr Hemsley said this explanation does not reconcile with the Indicative Land Release program, which outlines multiple individual land releases between 2023-2024 and 2025-2026, rather than one significant release that would enable that holistic and coordinated outcome.
He said the draft concept plan was first compiled more than seven years ago, in June 2014, and the government had plenty of time to consult the community on it.
“The EPSDD [ACT Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate] has had plenty of time to involve the community in the finalisation of this document, but this has not occurred,” said Mr Hemsley.
“More concerning is the fact the National Capital Design Review Panel has reviewed the 2021 iteration of the concept plan and found it lacking in areas it claims were better resolved in the 2014 plan.
“It is unclear why the ACT Government could not already be undertaking consultation on the Molonglo Commercial Centre on the basis of the 2014 concept plan, with a view to deliver this important community, recreational and retail hub in a more timely manner.”
During the next five years, sites for up to 4000 homes will be released for development in Molonglo Valley, the single highest number of any district across Canberra.
MVCF member Monique Brewer said the ACT Government continued to pour more residents into the area without providing the infrastructure needed to service them.
“My kids will have grown and left before we see anything,” she said. “It is really disappointing when you come in expecting – and you’ve been promised – all these fabulous planning initiatives that don’t come to fruition.”
Ms Brewer said MVCF had been asking the government for updates on the group centre since its inception, but had received little information.
“The community expectations were quite clear, and it’s really disappointing they [ACT Government] are not listening,” she said.
MVCF has still not seen the updated concept plan that was submitted to the National Capital Design Review Panel.
The Canberra Liberals said the government has dropped the ball on the Molonglo Group Centre, calling on it in the ACT Legislative Assembly to nominate a start date for construction.
Deputy Leader of the Canberra Liberals and MLA for Murrumbidgee Giulia Jones said the government needs to come clean and table its full plans for Molonglo.
“The Molonglo Valley is currently experiencing significant residential growth, with a forecast population of nearly 35,000 by the end of this decade, and is the fastest land release region in the territory,” she said.
“Delivery of critical community facilities, shops and services in Molonglo Valley have been plagued by significant delays, forcing residents to rely on neighbouring facilities in Weston Creek.”
Ms Jones said the National Capital Design Review Panel had made an extraordinary critique of the government’s ability to deliver high-quality outcomes for Molonglo Valley.
“The Minister for Planning should be greatly embarrassed to receive such a report,” she said.
The Liberal motion was amended by Labor’s Marisa Paterson, with support from the Greens to remove the mention of a starting date for Molonglo Group Centre.