25 September 2017

Parliamentary Triangle for sale - surely not

| Paul Costigan
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There’s nothing new about governments across Australia selling of assets, infrastructure, land, buildings or anything that they can put on the market to make instant cash.

Now we have the sale of two buildings in Australia’s Parliamentary Triangle – East Block and West Block. Is this going too far? (short answer – yes)

West Block was sold last week – and now the attention will be on East Block.

I admit that I noted this being announced a year or so ago but did not pay too much attention till now. However, I do wonder – just whose task is it to speak up when it comes to issues within one of the nation’s important precincts, the Parliamentary Triangle?

I would have expected that the National Capital Authority (NCA) had a significant role in looking after national interests within the Parliamentary Triangle (what else do they do?).

I would have expected that they would have seen the importance of these buildings, have done some research and to have come up with some creative ideas on how they could be used and re-used well into the future.

Sadly I expect that they simply went through the usual by-numbers / tick box consultation process and waited for any responses. I heard that there were none. Any intelligent leadership in the NCA with a commitment to wider community engagement would have seen this as a serious problem and worked out other ways to get some responses. After all, these sales would be the first for the inner circle of the Parliamentary Triangle.

Given the national role of the NCA, it should have been looking for responses not just from the people of the ACT but from the wider Australian community.

A quick tangent to this matter. Over on the northern side of the lake, the government is also selling off the two buildings that form bookends to Anzac Parade as it nears the lake. This sale could be justified depending on how it is handled and what we get as replacements. While the two buildings are in a significant location, it is not quite the same issue as selling off buildings within the triangle itself. Do we expect something architecturally interesting as the replacement? Given past experiences, I am not expecting much – but hope to be surprised.

Meanwhile back to the south side. Where was the leadership of this agency when it was required not to tick boxes but to initiate and lead discussions on what the future of these buildings could be?

As it turned out, it looks as though this was a case of the leadership of this ‘independent’ authority not looking beyond the bidding of the government in its quest to get some more dollars to spend on its more favoured projects – such as tax cuts to its friends or throwing money at coal mines. Significant proposed changes in the Parliamentary Triangle, such as selling off buildings, present a challenge for such an authority with a charter to ‘maintain and enhance’ the National Capital.

It is too late to stop this mistake on West Block’s future – as for East Block – we are still to find out.

Others have written about it in other publications.

Surely there were some creative ideas out there?

But wait – if we are to sell these buildings, maybe it is time to do away with the NCA as well? (maybe it could also be auctioned off).

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It seems to me that the proposal is a smart idea to sell the buildings to enable them to be reused for a new purpose. The buildings are historic and unlikely to be ever fully suitable to make them up to the standards required for modern office accommodation.

There is a multitude of historic buildings around this country that have been successfully reused for hotels and the like, and retaining the important parts of their heritage. I don’t see why this wouldn’t be acceptable here?

bringontheevidence11:20 am 28 Sep 17

The parliamentary triangle is a wasteland dominated by carparks and roads, and the Federal Government is clearly not interested in completing the original intended form of the precinct.

This is an excellent move.

Holden Caulfield4:47 pm 27 Sep 17

Firstly, given they are south of Constitution Avenue, the ANZAC Park buildings are currently part of the National Triangle. Although, I note the Commonwealth will relinquish its control of the site as part of the sale process.

Are they not pretty enough; or at least, not close enough to Parliament House to matter as much as West Block?

Secondly, why the assumption that the sky is going to fall down just because you think this sale is a bad idea?

Geocon is making all the right noises at the moment about the planned hotel conversion. I may be naive, but it sounds to me like the current building exterior will be kept and if any additions are constructed that they will be secondary to the main building.

As architect Fender Katsalidis handled the hotel conversion of Acton House successfully, don’t you think?

I wasn’t aware that West Block was empty, the building demands to be used. Assuming the building remains in its current form (and I acknowledge the dangers of assuming) and the conversion to commercial life is handled with sensitivity, I’m excited by the potential of this development.

The Parliamentary Triangle on the south side of the lake currently has less than half the number of buildings it was designed to contain over a century ago. With the Government having abandoned any intention of completing the building program, maybe it’s worth getting the private sector involved.

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