A land swap between the ACT Government and the National Capital Authority involving West Basin and the North Curtin horse paddocks has been greeted with outrage by shell-shocked community activists and equestrian groups.
The NCA revealed on its website yesterday that the Commonwealth had secured land in Curtin for the expansion of the ACT’s diplomatic community, either to build new embassies or residences over the next 25 years.
The deal also clears the way for the planned redevelopment of the West Basin area on Lake Burley Griffin in the city, where the building of up to 2000 apartments has been flagged.
The City Renewal Authority’s next planned stage includes reclaiming the 2.8 hectares of lake bed to expand the boardwalk, followed by building another lakeside park, landscaped public spaces and eventually residential development.
While the Lake Burley Griffin Guardians were aware of the negotiations, the ACT Equestrian Association was blindsided by the deal which will carve 70 per cent of the North Curtin paddocks off for diplomatic use.
The other 30 per cent fronts Yarra Glen on the proposed light rail Stage 2 route to Woden and would be prime land for development along a public transport corridor.
Lake Burley Griffin Guardians representative Juliet Ramsay said the group was devastated and the deal set a frightful precedent.
“We cannot believe the Commonwealth cannot buy land or simply acquire land for embassies, and the fact that it is using the lake bed as a swap deal is appalling,” she said.
”It will be so damaging to the heritage of the lake and its parkland area.”
She said the NCA had avoided following through with the heritage listing of the lake and parklands and the government’s plans would destroy the balance and symmetry of the lake.
The result would be the loss of parkland and 200 trees and the blocking of vistas from Vernon Circle and New Acton, including those from Morris Property Group’s Barracks development.
Ms Ramsay said whatever park is being planned at West Basin would not have parking and would essentially be for residents.
The Lake Burley Griffin Guardians said it would campaign against the Barr Government at the October election and hoped a Liberal government would reconsider the plans for West Basin.
City Renewal Authority CEO Malcolm Snow said the deal would allow the City Renewal Authority to proceed with the second stage of its plan for a new urban waterfront at West Basin – the Acton Waterfront project.
Following on from the creation of Henry Rolland Park and the construction of 150 metres of new boardwalk, the second stage would extend the lake edge boardwalk by a further 500 metres realigning the lake edge consistent with the National Capital Authority’s 2002 Griffin Legacy plan, as well as two more public jetties.
He said that future stages would be subject to the NCA’s Works Approval and ACT budget bids, and include the construction of a new lakefront park and landscaped public spaces adjacent to the boardwalk that will separate the lake edge from any new buildings.
New buildings would be set back a minimum of 55 metres from the lake edge in accordance with National Capital Plan requirements but smaller public kiosks would be permitted on the boardwalk.
Construction of stage two was scheduled to commence in the second half of the year but may have to be reviewed due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
President of the ACT Equestrian Association Christine Lawrence said the horseriding community was shocked by the news.
She said the land had always been attractive for developers due to its position but it was a significant part of a network of paddocks and trails that included Equestrian Park at Curtin and the Arboretum.
Ms Lawrence said people had been using the land since the 1970s and the government had only last year reassured the association that it would not be rezoned.
Planning Minister Mick Gentleman has also flatly rejected suggestions that the Curtin horse paddocks would be released for development.
But horse owners will not have to move immediately as the NCA has a deal with Territory Agistment until 2022.
The NCA has told the association that development at the Curtin site would not commence until sometime in 2023/24 because the National Capital Plan will need to be amended and an estate development plan created.
The association will be talking with City Services and the planning directorate about appropriate land to replace what is being lost.
The North Curtin Horse Holding Paddocks are located off McCulloch Street in Curtin. The complex comprises 30 hectares divided into five paddocks.
The NCA said that it has been approached by a number of missions wanting to establish or expand diplomatic representation in Australia and these requests had not been able to be met to date.
With regard to West Basin, it said it was the approval authority and would ensure that all development was of a high quality and well designed.