It could be a case of all quiet on the War Memorial front after the National Capital Authority gave the all-clear to the main works for the controversial $500 million redevelopment of the nation’s most revered institution.
Opponents of the redevelopment resigned themselves to the project going ahead after the NCA approved the so-called early works in June, paving the way for the demolition of Anzac Hall.
This approval seals the future look, content and direction of the Memorial and will draw a line under the debate that has raged in Canberra since the redevelopment plans were first proposed.
Memorial Director Matt Anderson said the approval was a significant milestone, with the project now securing all necessary approvals to deliver the new southern entrance and parade ground, the CEW Bean Building extension, and the new Anzac Hall.
“The Memorial will work with the NCA to comply with conditions noted in their decision,” he said.
“For modern veterans, this is also a significant milestone as they are now one step closer to having their stories told in the new galleries.
“The Memorial would like to thank all Australians who participated and contributed in the public consultation process.”
The Memorial argued it needed more room to tell the stories of more contemporary conflicts and missions such as Iraq and Afghanistan, but opponents argued that the redevelopment would impact on heritage aspects, that it was unnecessary and a waste of money, that the award-winning Anzac Hall should not be lost and that the AWM’s commemorative role would be compromised.
As with the early works, the NCA said in its consultation report that it was not up to it to decide on the cost of the redevelopment or the curatorial direction and role of the Memorial and that it could only deal with planning issues, finding that proposed redevelopment works were not inconsistent with the National Capital Plan.
It said the proposed works had been designed in a manner to strengthen the geometries intended in the Griffins’ Plan.
The alterations and additions to the main building, including the new Anzac Hall and glazed link, realignment of the eastern road running parallel to the main building and alterations to the parade ground so it is an extension of Anzac Parade, strengthened the relationship between the built elements on the site and the Land Axis, the NCA said.
“The proposal is an evolution of the AWM, which is widely accepted as a successful reinterpretation of the 1918 Griffin Plan,” it said.
The NCA found that the proposed architectural massing, scale, use of materials/finishes, proposed plantings, hardscape and softscape were of a quality and design that complemented the site and its immediate surrounds.
“The proposed works achieve a harmony between architecture and landscape give continuing effect to the City Beautiful and Garden City characters of the national capital,” it said.
The NCA said that heritage issues had already been dealt with through the EPBC process and Environment Minister Sussan Ley’s approval of the project.
While submissions for the early works had been dominated by opponents, mainly from Canberra, the main works application had attracted submissions from across the country, including a range of veterans’ organisations.
Of the 587 submissions, 73 per cent were in support of the proposal, summarised as being recognition of service and sacrifice of subsequent generations; an enhanced visitor experience; changes being sympathetic to the original design; a high-quality modernisation, architecturally ambitious and to be well executed; and that the AWM would retain its prominence as a Canberra icon.
But the Heritage Guardians, which has long opposed the redevelopment, said many of the submissions were only one-line responses.
“The NCA makes much more of the numbers for the project this time around than it did of the numbers against at the early works consultation. Then it said 590 out of 601 submissions ‘expressed concern about some or all of the proposal’,” the organisation said.
The Guardians also questioned the Memorial’s research, where surveys asked leading questions, and 70 per cent of its consultations were conducted in RSL or similar ex-service clubs, at the Memorial or at the Shrine in Melbourne using a glossy presentation of dot points and architect’s illustrations and no mention of the cost.
The NCA responded to criticism that the early works approval amounted to a fait accompli, saying it agreed to assess an ‘early works package’ because it offered several benefits to the project.
These included minimising the impact on the visitor experience, reducing project time and cost risks, and enabling the AWM to provide opportunities for a broader range of smaller, local contractors to be involved in the project and give it a better chance to engage veterans, defence families and veteran-owned businesses on the project.
“Staged project delivery is common practice in major construction works. It is not uncommon for an applicant to discuss the structure of an application with the NCA, particularly when the proposal is large and/or complex,” the NCA said.
“It is not unusual for the NCA to grant works approval for early works packages in these instances. This strategy enables both the NCA and proponent to focus on particular aspects of a proposal. It also facilitates site works to commence in a timely manner.”