26 February 2024

Molonglo Valley earns its own town centre with growing population

| Ian Bushnell
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The booming Molonglo Valley: a group centre wasn’t going to cut it. Photos: Ian Bushnell.

The growing Molongo Valley will have its own town centre to serve an expected population of more than 70,000 residents by 2050.

New Planning Minister Chris Steel has decided to upgrade the planned group centre in the new suburb of Molonglo, saying it would not be able to support that number of residents.

Mr Steel said the proposed commercial centre had been classified as a group centre when the projected population of Molonglo was 55,000.

“At current projections, the area could even surpass the population of the City Centre and Woden Valley,” he said.

“That’s why it is time to reclassify the suburb of Molonglo to reflect the scale and status of this district.”

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The decision will require a change to the National Capital Plan, and the ACT Government is now working to develop a case to be put to the National Capital Authority.

A similar amendment will also be needed for the Territory Plan.

That process will take up this year and the change will happen in 2025.

Mr Steel said the first land release for the commercial centre was due in 2024-25, and the Suburban Land Agency would release an estate development plan later in the year.

Chris Steel

Planning Minister Chris Steel says the government is ensuring enough land for the town centre.

He said planning for the commercial centre already included the provision of critical infrastructure expected in a town centre, such as a college, library, community centre, transport interchange, a town park, and other recreational facilities.

The government would also conduct a community needs assessment for the whole Molonglo Valley district.

“This includes understanding what additional community infrastructure and services are required to support this growing and vibrant community, such as places of religious worship, cultural facilities, government and social services, and recreation facilities,” Mr Steel said.

“This feedback will help not just to finalise plans for the proposed Town Centre but also in existing and future suburbs, which will be released in Molonglo Stage 3.”

He said the government envisaged big box homemaker stores, not just supermarkets, in the town centre, and work was already underway on land needs.

It also foresaw an employment base that could be supported by eco-tourism, for example, at Stromlo Forest Park, and the space industry due to Molonglo’s proximity to Mt Stromlo observatory and the Deep Space Tracking Station at Tidbinbilla.

Announcements on infrastructure to support the development of the town centre were expected in the coming days.

Ryan Hemsley

Molonglo Valley Community Forum chair Ryan Hemsley says the decision means people won’t have to leave the district to do their basic shopping.

Molonglo Valley Community Forum chair Ryan Hemsley welcomed the decision, saying it had become clear that the district would need a town centre given the population projections.

The Forum had been pressing for the change, attracting the support of Liberal MLA Ed Cocks.

Mr Hemsley said a group centre was never going to be tenable, and the decision needed to be made now, not later, when it would have been a case of unscrambling the egg.

“The overwhelming sensation is that of vindication,” he said.

“It’s been taken at the right time with the right people holding the right offices. I’m confident we can get a good outcome.”

Mr Hemsley said the change in planning minister appeared to have expedited a decision on what would happen in Molonglo.

He did not expect delays in progressing the town centre, although the biggest risk would be any holdups with the Molonglo River bridge and associated intersections.

“If the National Capital Plan amendment goes through this year, we’ll be well placed to have Molonglo town centre delivered in a reasonable time frame,” Mr Hemsley said.

He said that without a town centre, Molonglo residents would have been forced to rely on the neighbouring Belconnen and Woden Town Centres indefinitely.

“It means that people won’t have to leave the district to do their basic shopping needs that residents of Canberra’s other districts can do within their town centres,” Mr Hemsley said.

“It means we will be able to have more facilities in Molonglo for residents of Molonglo.”

Mr Hemsley also thanked Mr Cocks for his advocacy on behalf of the community.

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Mr Cocks said he was glad the government had finally taken a step in the right direction to come on board, but it was important to ensure it delivered on this decision.

“Where we are now, it is really critical that we move to focusing on delivery,” he said.

“Delivery has been a critical problem right across the Valley. We’ve seen delays with the bridge and real congestion problems. We’ve seen delays with shops, with local infrastructure, so from here, it’s critical that we get down to delivering.”

The consultation will include surveys and pop-up activities throughout the district.

Reclassifying the Molonglo Group Centre will form part of the Minister’s Statement of Planning Priorities, which will be released soon.

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Stephen Saunders9:15 am 27 Feb 24

The ACT is like NSW and VIC, but on a smaller scale. They all adore the developer and real-estate side of big population. The infrastructure and services side, it’s more like a case of tell somebody who cares. You want shops, schools and ovals? Maybe.

There’s no realistic transit plan for Molonglo. Those 70,000 punters will just have to squeeze themselves into the inadequate roads, as best they can. Even the bridge over Coppins Crossing is a grudging concession.

Meanwhile other existing town centres southside suffer from a lack of attention from the Govt.

The state of Woden Square and its surrounds is appalling. A new CIT won’t make a lick of difference.

Michael Dawson10:15 am 27 Feb 24

There should be a growing sustainable population to warrant any upgrades on the south side. With the new WFH policy of APS, I doubt people will even think of living in Tuggeranong because of two public offices there.

It’s a fair point Michael. ACT Government want 15,000 new dwellings in Tuggeranong under their new planning strategy for large RZ1 blocks.

But to ensure they won’t meet their urban planning goal, the ACT Government has run down Tuggeranong infrastructure, removed bus stops and bus services, dropped education performances and left the entire region and its 80,000 residents to wither on the vine.

Mr Barr keeps implementing counter productive policies and strategies into large parts of the city. Most notably Woden and Tuggeranong.

I should also note that Tuggeranong grew by almost 5,000 people to 89,500 in the 5 years to the 2021 Census. Which is the opposite of ACT Government rhetoric about Tuggers and therefore not an excuse for Mr Barr to cease funding in the area, remove services and reduce amenities.

I will note too that Woden/Phillip population more than doubled over the same period that the ACT government took away our numerous indoor and outdoor sporting facilities, and community spaces in Woden.

As obvious by Molonglo over the last decade, there seems to be little correlation between population changes and effective urban planning in the ACT.

Four suburbs built in the Molonglo Valley but not one oval (that is not locked behind a school fence). And the government wonders why kids are not playing sport…

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