Political storm brewing for Steel in Weston car park row

Ian Bushnell 4 June 2020 27
Coolo Park

”Coolo Park”: the land in Weston slated for a new car park. Photo: File.

The ACT Government’s plans for a small car park opposite Cooleman Court in Weston that will cost more than $600,000 is fast becoming a political hot potato for Transport and City Services Minister Chris Steel.

The government has decided to push ahead with the temporary 63-space car park on treed open space at the corner of Parkinson and Brierly Streets, but an e-petition to the Legislative Assembly has been launched by community members opposed to the loss of green space and upset at the running sore that is the empty Coombs shops and the lack of services in the new suburbs of Molonglo.

It is the pressure on parking caused by Molonglo shoppers that prompted Mr Steel to propose a new 108-space car park as a solution, only for that to be scaled back to the current 63 after community concerns about the loss of trees, green space and increased traffic in Watling Place next to the site.

But the Weston Creek Community Council says the new proposal is not worth the traffic problems it would create and that extra spaces could be found around the centre without building a new car park.

Now, with a development application lodged, the e-petition has attracted 870 signatures, the support of Green Caroline Le Couteur and Liberal Giulia Jones, and the Assembly will have to automatically investigate the matter.

The issue is also a lightning rod for the perception that the Labor government doesn’t care about green space, its impotence to deal with the owner of the untenanted Coombs shops, the lack of services in new suburbs and development matters in general.

With the October 17 election less than five months away, Mr Steel is now facing a fight on his home turf that could lose him votes to the Greens and the Liberals.

But Mr Steel seems determined to press on, saying the need for more parking will not go away, particularly with the Kambah shops supermarket redevelopment getting underway after Christmas and driving even more people to Cooleman Court. He is urging the community to have their say on the DA.

The landscape plan

The landscape plan for the car park, showing trees to be removed. Image: Canberra Town Planning.

While the DA submitted by Transport Canberra and City Services describes the site as undeveloped, and having been previously used temporarily as a site office for nearby works, the petition calls it parkland and a vital community asset, dubbing it ”Coolo Park”.

Zoned community facility, the site can only be used as car park if it is deemed ”temporary”, and the petitioners argue that ”no reasonable person would consider levelling parkland, covering it in bitumen and felling mature trees” if that is the case.

The government sees the car park as a stop-gap measure until Molonglo has its own shops and group centre, as well as a Park and Ride facility for Cooleman Court.

The man behind the petition, Watling Place resident John Davies, says the government’s approach was flawed and Mr Steel acted on anecdotal evidence collected by an informal survey of shoppers.

He says the main problem is that people want to park as close as possible to the Cooleman Court entrance.

Many Molonglo residents wanting their own shops have backed the petition, Mr Davies says.

Community Council chair Tom Anderson, who has told Mr Steel that at least an extra 65 spaces had been identified around the centre, believes the project is unnecessary and a waste of the $616,000 price tag.

Mr Anderson called for a new traffic study to be conducted in February. He says the new access point from the Brierly Street roundabout will exacerbate traffic issues there, as will a new pedestrian crossing over Parkinson Street.

Mr Anderson wrote to Mr Steel in April detailing community concerns and advising that the council would likely object to any development application.

Transport and City Services Minister Chris Steel

Transport and City Services Minister Chris Steel and Labor MLA Bec Cody on site last year announcing the project. What may have seemed a winner could now be a political liability. Photo: File.

”It is council’s view that the key problem is the provision of parking at peak times, predominately mid-morning to mid-afternoon Saturday and some other shorter periods during the week,” he wrote.

”The remainder of the time, while the parking provision is busy, demand for parking is being met. Expediting provision of shopping and other services at Coombs, Wright or the Molonglo Group Centre may mitigate the pressure into the future, or it may not, which means there can be no certainty about the temporary use of the land for a car park.”

Mr Anderson also suggested that more regular policing of parking limits might help ease pressures.

The DA shows that about half of the land will be paved and at least three mature trees will need to be removed, to be offset by new plantings.

New concrete pathways will also be provided to retain and expand access to the existing pedestrian network, and new lighting installed.

Mr Steel said the revised plans directly responded to community feedback including removing the entrance from Watling Place, reducing the size of the car park and further distancing it from residences, planting more trees and minimising the need to remove existing trees.

He acknowledged it was frustrating that the owner of Coombs shops hadn’t tenanted his building with a supermarket, but that only added to the need to provide more parking at Cooleman Court until the Molonglo Group Centre is built and other supermarkets become viable.

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27 Responses to Political storm brewing for Steel in Weston car park row
The cat did it The cat did it 5:50 pm 11 Jun 20

Mr Steele also has problems in north Curtin, where numerous residents aren’t convinced that turning the Cotter Road horse paddocks into ‘prestige’ housing is a great idea. Government looks as if it will use the excuse of needing more diplomatic land to develop another McMansion-stuffed eyesore, as it did in O’Malley. Greens could do very well in October as a result of this miscalculation.

Alex Elliott Alex Elliott 8:56 am 07 Jun 20

Build the carpark underground and put the park back on top. Everyone wins. ;)

Ray Adams Ray Adams 6:45 pm 05 Jun 20

I'm thinking multi level car park.

Andrew Brettargh Andrew Brettargh 5:09 pm 05 Jun 20

Multi story and solar panel the top.. pays for itself..

Tom Adam Tom Adam 2:22 pm 05 Jun 20

Why won’t they make it multi storey, instead of stealing parklands??

Not a wise investment.

Steve Herczeg Steve Herczeg 10:38 am 05 Jun 20

I've always wondered why there's a statue to celebrate single mothers at the top of the street.

    Kellie Beat Kellie Beat 9:04 pm 05 Jun 20

    Steve Herczeg Is that what it’s for?

    Steve Herczeg Steve Herczeg 9:23 pm 05 Jun 20

    I don't know, but there's one taller figure that seems to be female, with two smaller figures. There's no other taller figure, male or female. So one can assume it's a single parent family. Given the taller figure appears to be wearing a dress, one could presume the artist was depicting a woman.

Marcia Denman Marcia Denman 8:05 am 05 Jun 20

No, No and No

Peter McDonald Peter McDonald 10:45 pm 04 Jun 20

Just remove the pine logs and let people park. Cheap as.

Peter Norton Peter Norton 6:44 pm 04 Jun 20

Parking at CC was bad for years before new suburbs made it worse. This was proposed years ago and action is too slow. This is classic NIMBY, with the petition started by the nearest neighbor. This has always been identified for development (not parkland). It looks like it has been squeezed in on a small scale to preserve most trees and leave green space. It's time to get on with it.

    Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 10:36 pm 04 Jun 20

    am interested how you think it was identified for development. Looks to me it was identified to be open space in the Territory Plan. Do you know something else that we haven't been told?

    Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 7:27 am 05 Jun 20

    Ashley Wright the zoning on this piece of land is not as clear cut as Peter purports. It was zones open space until the 2016 masterplan as far as I can tell. The intent appeared to be to develop a new community centre on the site, but this was stopped for sensible reasons but the zoning CF remained. The exclusions list included car park. Do you know anything different?

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 7:37 am 05 Jun 20

    Bill Gemmell as I stated above there has been no recent change in zoning for this land. A masterplan alone doesn’t change the zoning. Ifyou actually go to actmapi and look at individual blocks it will tell you when the last change in zoning took place, and in the case of this block none is listed which means it has been zoned like that for some time.

    Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 7:40 am 05 Jun 20

    Ashley Wright well aware of how zoning versus masterplanning works. Still looking and curious about what happened.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 7:48 am 05 Jun 20

    Bill Gemmell maybe what’s happened is you were mistaken.

    Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 7:49 am 05 Jun 20

    Ashley Wright maybe or maybe not. Suggest you look at DV329 with a date of effect 31 August 2018.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 9:47 am 05 Jun 20

    Bill Gemmell my apologies. I thought the block in question was section 75 block 1. It is block 2 which has had its zoning changed.

    Though still not sure why that is a big issue. A carpark other than temporary is still now allowed.

    Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 9:48 am 05 Jun 20

    Ashley Wright no worries. It is a morass to wade through. You made me look again as well. The definition of temporary is the question to be resolved by wiser minds. Thanks.

Mat Barber Mat Barber 5:08 pm 04 Jun 20

If they're saying they want it and then complain when they get it then just cancel the project and refer everyone back to the decision when they complain in the future.

Jacqui Donegan Jacqui Donegan 4:35 pm 04 Jun 20

It’s a grab-and-go shopping centre (not a day out) - who would be prepared to park that far away?!

Michael Groenhout Michael Groenhout 4:27 pm 04 Jun 20

I'll do it for $599,000

Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 4:26 pm 04 Jun 20

More like it is becoming a "crown of thorns" for the Minister.

Ryan Hemsley Ryan Hemsley 4:16 pm 04 Jun 20

Canberra doesn't need any more surface car parks. The government would be better off expending its time, money and energy getting the Molonglo Commercial Centre off the ground, rather than delaying it by yet another year.

Spiral Spiral 1:05 pm 04 Jun 20

Parking at Cooleman Court can be very difficult but I agree this seems like a lot of money and loss of a green area for not much gain.

And really is just an admission of defeat in regards to the Coombs shops.

Based on his track record, the only thing Mr Steel should be planning is his retirement.

And of course get someone else to plan his retirement party if he wants it done competently.

    JC JC 4:28 am 05 Jun 20

    What’s the defeat at Coombs?

    What power do you think the government has to force a supermarket to sign a lease at those shops. And whilst I realise the landlord has a big part to play in the whole saga what exactly can the government do about him? He has complied with the development requirement to build the building what else is there to (legally) do?

    Spiral Spiral 8:17 pm 05 Jun 20

    The defeat is that this is recognition that the Coombs shops are unlikely to ever open.

    The Coombs shops have been a disaster right from the start.

    The tightened restrictions on supermarket size for such establishments made it more difficult for any developer to find a tenant.

    The developer the government sold the land to appears to have a history of poor development success.
    The design is really second rate.
    The developer is asking exceptionally high rental rates and appears to not really be trying to fill the shops.

    The government has admitted that in hindsight they should not have sold the land to him and promised to change their processes.

    There probably isn’t anything that can be done now, but government bad decisions has led us to this disaster. It seems likely that Mr Steel will just wash his hands of the whole matter.

    I agree the government has no power to resolve this but they sure are happy to change legislation when it comes to things they actually care about.

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