22 August 2023

NCA must embrace higher density around Parliamentary Triangle, inquiry hears

| Lizzie Waymouth
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Canberra cityscape from the air

Greater Canberra says that inner South suburbs like Barton, Forrest and Yarralumla should be required to provide their fair share of housing close to jobs and amenities. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

The National Capital Authority (NCA) should work more closely with the ACT Government to ensure Canberra gets the infrastructure it needs, a community organisation has told the Joint Standing Committee into the National Capital and External Territories on Monday (21 August).

Greater Canberra told the inquiry into fostering and promoting the significance of Australia’s National Capital that the NCA should “embrace significantly higher density” around the Parliamentary Triangle, encourage a greater range of commercial amenities in the area and surrounding suburbs, and develop public transport systems to shift away from cars and improve access to key institutions.

“As a result of 1960s planning decisions, which abandoned much of the original plans of the Griffins, Canberra is a remarkably low-density city,” according to Greater Canberra’s submission.

“Most parts of Canberra have significant untapped housing potential.”

In particular, as secretary Andrew Donnellan told the inquiry, the NCA and ACT Government should be looking to provide housing in the central suburbs.

“Central Canberra … offers opportunities for housing that the ACT desperately needs,” he said.

“Unlocking more housing in areas that are well serviced by amenities and public transport, and in close proximity to employment opportunities, is vital to creating a more sustainable and prosperous Canberra.”

Mr Donnellan said Canberra has historically been one of Australia’s most expensive cities to rent or buy, although he noted that higher vacancy rates, particularly due to an increased supply of apartments, have helped to bring this down recently.

“We’re in a housing affordability crisis … we need to be doing everything that we can to address that and that means unlocking supply of various typologies, not just … detached houses,” he said.

“We need to see a move away from that towards a greater variety of high-density and medium-density housing that provides a variety of options for people at different stages of their lives.”

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Greater Canberra is also calling for better infrastructure and amenities around the National Triangle and says these amenities would make the area both more accessible and more lively outside of the working day.

“While the National Triangle is supposedly the heart of the nation’s capital … outside of business hours it is utterly lifeless,” the submission said.

Committee member Aymon Wuolanne said this area lacks facilities such as retail shops and is inaccessible to pedestrians in its current form.

“The Parliamentary Triangle appears to be a place where you’re meant to arrive by car,” he said.

“Surface car parks in the Triangle take up nearly twice as much area as the national institutions themselves; pedestrian walking from the lake to Old Parliament House has to dash across King Edward Terrace, which is a 60 km zone with few crossing points; and if you want to get from the National Museum to the other institutions, then you can forget about walking.”

Mr Wuolanne pointed out, though, that any commercial development in this area would require careful consideration since the area is a place of national significance, but he said “at a small scale, it would have a minimal effect”.

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Greater Canberra’s submission expressed its support for the City to the Lake project to link Civic with Commonwealth Park and Lake Burley Griffin.

“Key to this vision is undoing the mistake that is Parkes Way – preferably by burying Parkes Way completely,” it said.

“Burying Parkes Way would fulfil the Griffin vision for Lake Burley Griffin to truly become Canberra’s playground and will unlock access to Commonwealth Park.”

Asked by Senator David Pocock why this project should be a priority, Mr Donnellan said: “We’re really strong believers that Parkes Way is one of the worst urban design outcomes in this city’s history.

“It’s not a great impression for tourists who are used to seeing waterfronts that are much more accessible interstate and overseas.”

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There once was an ALP soul
Who astroturfed, all on a role
He said to our city,
“Well wrecking’s a pity
But walking to work is our goal”

In response to your verse, I must share,
A perspective to show that you’re not quite aware.
That Greater Canberra’s aims may be misunderstood,
Their goals and intentions might just be quite good.

Promoting walking, biking, and transit so green,
Reducing congestion, pollution unseen.
While astroturfing’s a cause for concern,
Let’s not assume their intentions to spurn.

The city’s progress is complex and vast,
Opinions diverge, and the die has been cast.
So let’s seek to understand, to engage in debate,
And find common ground before it’s too late.

If this article is to have any credibility, the author should have at least provided details of exactly who makes up the Greater Canberra organisation. Is my suspicion correct that it made up of developers, hell bent on destroying Canberra’s unique aesthetics.

Well you’re partially right, just another minority group, where a few individuals use the organisation as a front to promote their views as having wider community support than they really do.

Just like all of the “community councils”.

No, Greater Canberra is not a developer group or made up of developers. It is a community organisation made up of members of the local community concerned about planning outcomes and the lack of voices for younger and lower income people in the Canberra housing debate. Its goal is to make housing in Canberra more affordable. It is non-partisan with its membership containing members of the ACT Labor Party, ACT Greens, Canberra Liberals and non-aligned members. It also requires prospective members to disclose any affiliation including potential developer interests.

Greater Canberra could be more forthcoming about their funding then.

It won’t make housing more affordable except through lowering quality. If you look at poster child Auckland, prices merely steadied (at the same time as a large scale slowdown in all of NZ) with a flood of small apartments (when given the choice people prefer detached housing). Then prices rose the same actual amount as the rest of NZ with COVID, before rate rises caused all of NZ to give up its gains. Auckland prices remain far higher than elsewhere.

Developers sell to maximise profit and will never flood the market to reduce prices. Nor does anyone else sell below market price without reason. The post-war ownership boom was due to government building, price falls otherwise are due to recessions. Promoting private density doesn’t improve affordability for a given quality, improvements come through lower quality.

Greater Canberra is entirely member funded and doesn’t receive any donations. They’ve been rather forthcoming about this and publish their financial reports at their public AGMs. I believe they had around $1400 in their accounts last year, all their work is entirely volunteer driven.

You are wrong about that, nearly every housing academic agrees that it would make housing more affordable. The Greater London Authority recently published its research into it and concluded that greater market supply ‘makes other housing more affordable.’


There is no evidence it lowers quality as it doesn’t effect building quality requirements. It makes housing more affordable by reducing the cost of land, often one of the highest component cost of building in cities, relative to each dwelling.

Let’s build some high density Favela style dwellings on the Western side of Mt Ainslie and the Eastern side of Black Mountain. That could provide 50,000 dwellings within 3km of City Hill without a single knockdown rebuild.

I jest of course, but Canberra will have to come to terms with having so much undeveloped land in the centre of the city. ANU land, LBG foreshore, nature reserves, parks etc. it’s unlike any other world city.

The old NCDC planning experts weren’t dumb and they realised that a polycentric city design based around Town Centres that operated like neighbouring cities do in Europe. Cities such as Manchester/Bolton/Stockport or Rotterdam/Hague/Dordrecht. There was meant to be jobs, education, facilities, services, entertainment for people within their own region such as Tuggeranong. This government has changed from a poly focus to a Civic focus, despite a relatively low inner north population and little developable land.

Guess what? Kingston and Barton are already the most densely populated suburbs in Canberra. Barton is also crammed with large office blocks with many more under construction or planned e.g. the National Security HQ with 5,000 staff and the Tax Office. That makes the remaining green space crucial for the people already living and working there.

old canberran2:03 pm 22 Aug 23

Well said Peter. For anyone to claim that planning in the 60’s abandoned Burley Griffins plan obviously has no knowledge of the existence of the NCDC or their objectives. The abandonment of the Griffin plan started in 1988 when the developers took over. Canberra doesn’t need more houses, it needs less people.

the NCDC were the reason that the BG plan was abandoned. BG’s original plan for a medium density city focused around boulevards and trams was shelved by the NCDC in favour of a car centric approach. Its false to say that anything the NCDC did was in line with the BG plan.

Peter Graves12:19 pm 22 Aug 23

Allow me to comment on this “build anywhere for anything at any time proposition”, by contrasting it with the treasured symbolism of the US capital’s “National Mall” (from https://washington.org/dc-neighborhoods/national-mall)
“Seeing the Washington Monument rise majestically to the sky, surrounded by the stately U.S. Capitol Building at one end and the dignified Lincoln Memorial at the other, it’s hard not to think of America’s history.
Wander along the wide, pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined boulevards and take in the history and scenery of America’s front yard, “

I invite Mr Wuolanne to visit Washington’s National Mall at night and view the Vietnam War Memorial – to see the faces of the living reflected in the names of the dead.

Not everything possible in Canberra needs to be enlivened. The Parliamentary Zone needs to be treasured for its symbolism, the Rose Gardens, views and peaceful passage – on foot.

Peter Graves
Chair, Canberra Chapter
Walter Burley Griffin Society

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