The development of the Lawson Two housing estate in Belconnen is in doubt after the Suburban Land Agency (SLA) failed to find buyers for the eight residential and one mixed-use blocks.
The sticking point is an electricity substation on the site that presents technical and planning challenges for any developer, and makes for a risky proposition.
Lawson Two is envisaged as medium to high-density community and the 43ha site on the shores of Lake Ginninderra was released to the market via a two-stage tender process in 2018.
But SLA CEO John Dietz recently told the Legislative Assembly’s Planning and City Services Committee that the agency was reviewing its options after the tender had failed.
He said an initial design solution proved too costly for interested developers, and a technical answer had not yet been found.
“We were very open for industry to come up with a technical solution that they could provide and we wouldn’t pretend to suggest that we have all the answers and therefore working with industry, we might come up with something that we haven’t quite thought of – at the moment we haven’t,” he told the committee.
He said all three options of returning to the market, the SLA developing the land itself or a joint venture development were all on the table.
The SLA would be looking at ways to to reduce or share the risks associated with developing the site.
“If there is an opportunity for government to investigate build-to-rent options or affordable options, then they’re things that we would investigate in this second process and perhaps by sharing the risk between different areas that have the ability to mitigate the risks through a joint venture then maybe we can find a solution,” he told the committee.
An SLA spokesperson said the substation’s location in the middle of the site made the land technically challenging and the market has been unable to accurately cost infrastructure works and planning challenges.
It was also too costly to relocate the substation.
“Over the next few months the SLA is reviewing the viability of all three major options based on current market advice and will present options to the SLA Board and [Housing] Minister [Yvette] Berry,” the spokesperson said.
Lawson Two, adjacent to the Lawson One residential estate, was marketed as being within walking distance to schools, the University of Canberra, GIO Stadium and Calvary Hospital and an opportunity for multi-unit development.
The site can have a maximum of 940 dwellings over nine blocks with building heights up to six storeys.
It would also include 80 affordable dwellings, 20 community dwellings and 24 public housing dwellings.
The Lawson Two masterplan dedicates one hectare of the site to creating community hubs, including a proposed village centre, neighbourhood playground and community garden. Two blocks are zoned for community facilities.
Under the tender, successful purchasers were responsible for the construction of civil infrastructure and surrounding landscaping.