5 July 2018

Section 66, Deakin and the fight to preserve Canberra as the Bush Capital

| Emma Hartley
Join the conversation
Microbats Section 66 Deakin. Photo: Ben Appleton.

Microbats Section 66 Deakin. Photo: Ben Appleton.

I enjoy my Sunday mornings with a cup of tea, the weekend paper, and the chirping of a jackhammer down the road as much as the next man. Indeed, I can’t help but admire the determination with which the ACT Government is literally laying down the trackwork to make sure that its growing population doesn’t outstrip its infrastructural expansion.

Canberra is a unique city in the way it is still deeply rooted in its natural landscape, having thus far avoided becoming lost in a black cloud of high rises and car fumes. However, when development projects are implemented at such an alarming rate, some of Canberra’s unique environmental characteristics risk being blocked out of the picture.

A development proposal from the construction firm Hindmarsh for a block of land on Kent Street in Deakin known as ‘Section 66’ has met with a strong community backlash. In April this year, Hindmarsh submitted a development application for the allowable building size of its storage facilities to be increased from 500 m2 to 20,000 m2, understandably invoking outcry from the Deakin, Hughes and Garran Residents’ Associations who, along with the Red Hill Regenerators, see this plan as an invasion onto precious wildlife space.

As someone who moved to Canberra from Sydney with the hope of enjoying the bush without having to go completely rural, I am concerned about the precedent this development might be setting for future urban development proposals. The land at Section 66 was the first place where gang-gang nests were photographed in Canberra. The trees also play host to microbats, sugar gliders, and crimson rosellas. The baby gang-gangs eat the blue gum nuts from trees that have been there for over 50 years. There have also been sightings of eagles, swamp wallabies, and echidnas while on their commute to the Red Hill Nature Reserve. Yet the DA environmental report overlooked this diverse population when it was carried out in July 2017 – in the middle of winter when the plants were not blooming and the gang-gangs were not nesting.

These environmental concerns are new territory for the Legislative Assembly which saw one of the largest petitions to date in November 2017 with over 3,100 signatures calling for the protection of the Red Hill Nature Reserve and its surroundings, including Section 66. In response, the Assembly announced the drafting of an “Integrated Plan” and resolved not only to include, “a detailed environmental plan to protect Red Hill Nature Reserve from the impact of the proposed developments” but also emphasised that development must take place in “close consultation with the community.” It is encouraging to see that the Deakin development may be paving the way for new approaches to environmental conflicts that could increase as Canberra pursues its urban growth.

Chris Steel MLA states that, “I hope that the lease-holders take into account community and environmental concerns and the integrated plan before they progress with any development on their block.” In the meantime, residents who sent in their objections against the development proposal at the end of May are anxiously waiting for the outcome to hopefully be delivered in the next week.

With the Nature In Our City inquiry underway by the ACT Government, the Deakin development certainly demonstrates the intimate relationship of Canberra residents to their local natural landscapes even as Canberra continues to urbanise. As a young and still relatively small city, Canberra must take the opportunity to keep its physical infrastructure one or two steps ahead of its expanding population while still preserving the green spaces that Walter Burley Griffin first envisaged as part of this garden city.

Do you think Canberra’s green space and bush settings are at risk from development? Is Section 66, Deakin a test case? How can Canberra preserve its environmental jewels while at the same time ensuring it has the needed infrastructure for a growing city?

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Unfortunately Canberra will be gone is less than 5 years, developers have all politicians on their payroll and nothing will stop them.

HiddenDragon6:21 pm 09 Jul 18

When this goes ahead (as it inevitably will), it will be interesting to see how thoroughly the recommendations of the bushfire risk assessment report are implemented.

The same issues arises – if anything, more powerfully, given the proposed location – for the plan to build a large number of retiree residences on the Federal Golf Course.

No doubt they will want to clear more woodland for that purpose. But please don’t write off our precious habitat just yet – in the last 30 years we have fought off 59 other attempts by developers to bulldoze Red Hill woodland – and won.

Thanks Emma for expressing the views of thousands of Canberrans. We came here to escape overdeveloped and overcrowded cities. The endangered woodland and grassland on Section 66 is the last 5% of its kind in Australia – and this developer wants to bulldoze it. There is no excuse for this environmental vandalism. Who does the Barr Government serve?

Jacky Fogerty9:16 pm 08 Jul 18

Great article and very well researched, thanks so much!

Has anyone who has commented taken the time to actually see where this section 66 is?

I gather not because if you had of you would see that 2/3rds of the block is taken up by the existing Telstra exchange and carpark and the rest is grass around the outside of it.

So it is hardly a plan to rezone virgin bushland and of all places in Deakin to rezone into housing it probably makes the most sense.

Though guess those concerned for the environment will suggest high density is bad we should build more on the outskirts. Never mind that would use up more and more green space. No NIMBY’s in Deakin and Garren.

Jacky Fogerty9:14 pm 08 Jul 18

Just to be clear, the current Development Application is for Section 66 Blocks 7 and 8, which are over two-thirds endangered yellow box red gum woodland, including native grasses and wildflowers. The buildings and car park are not leased by the developer and are not affected by the Development Application. If you have a look at the Canberra Nature Map, you will see that at around 50 native animal and wildflower species have been photographed on this site or within 100 metres in the last few months alone.

Just to be clear it isn’t a development application, it is an proposal to rezone the WHOLE of section 66, 2/3rds of which are the existing Telstra exchange and carpark to zone CZ5 which includes residential use.

A picture says 1000 words, see block outline in the document below.


Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.