17 August 2020

Stick to one developer for Molonglo centre, government told

| Ian Bushnell
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Molonglo Commercial Centre

An artist’s impression of the Molonglo Commercial Centre. Image: Hames Sharley.

A single developer should build the Molonglo Commercial Centre to ensure an integrated outcome and avoid the mistakes made in Wright and Coombs, and in the Gungahlin Town Centre, according to the Weston Creek Community Council.

Council chair Tom Anderson and Molonglo representative Ryan Hemsley have written to Planning Minister Mick Gentleman and Housing and Suburban Development Minister Yvette Berry about plans for the centre, fearing for its future if the government continues its approach of selling individual parcels of commercial and community-zoned land, which it believes has not delivered high-quality suburban facilities in an integrated and timely manner.

They are worried about a continuation of the ”suboptimal outcomes” seen elsewhere in the ACT and urge the government to work with a major private sector partner to help deliver the entire Commercial Centre over a number of years.

While the current approach may mean larger short-term financial returns to the Territory, the council believes there is growing evidence that it is not producing the best overall long-term outcomes for the Canberra community.

”The shortcomings of this ‘parcelisation’ approach can clearly be seen in Coombs and Wright, where services such as shops and community centres have developed in a slow and disconnected manner,” they wrote.

Indeed, Coombs and Wright are still waiting for shops and the Weston Group Centre is under pressure from the overflow of shoppers from Molonglo.

They also point to Gungahlin where the delivery of the long-promised cinema complex has been dogged by delays.

”It is becoming clear that fragmented ownership is not conducive to good precinct design and often results in buildings internalising their uses to capture passing trade at the expense of the public realm.”

Aerial photo of Molonglo Centre

An early aerial photo showing where the commercial centre will be sited. Photo: Supplied.

Good examples of a successful single-developer approach in the ACT could be seen in Capital Estate Development’s Denman Prospect, Canberra Investment Corporation’s Crace and Worth Street Pty Ltd’s Casey, they wrote.

But the council urges the government to also examine comparable precincts in other jurisdictions such as the GPT Group’s Rouse Hill Town Centre in Sydney, LendLease’s Craigieburn Central in Melbourne and Stockland’s Point Cook Shopping Centre, also in Melbourne.

”In each of these examples, an integrated approach driven by a single developer has produced excellent design and delivery outcomes.”

Strong interest in such an offering could be expected from major national players who would inject skills and innovative ideas into the project, they wrote.

The council said the government should be involved to safeguard the public interest, through a joint venture arrangement with the private sector partner or by establishing an ongoing liaising process, similar to that established under the Delivery Deeds used recently for other large projects in the ACT, such as the Dickson and Lyneham on
Northbourne sites.

”Requirements for strong community consultation and involvement during the master planning stage and the use of the National Design Review Panel would further assist in facilitating an exemplar design development for this important piece of community infrastructure,” Mr Anderson and Mr Hemsley write.

They noted that the government received advice in 2012 and 2018 that a single-developer approach was preferable.

With the first land release of the Molonglo Commercial Centre not scheduled until 2021-22, the council believes that there is still time to consider a different approach to the development of what will become the principal retail and commercial hub for Molonglo’s projected 55,000 residents.

The precinct, located to the north-east of Denman Prospect, will eventually contain between 45,000 and 60,000 square metres of floor space to cater for a variety of commercial, retail, community and entertainment uses.

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