Would a few shops in the Parliamentary Triangle mar one of Canberra’s great public precincts?
A submission to the National Capital parliamentary inquiry doesn’t think so and is calling for a rethink on commercial activity in what is a retail desert in Parkes and Barton.
Greater Canberra, a community advocacy group that supports affordable and high-quality housing in the ACT, says that the ceremonial heart of Canberra is also home to thousands of public servants and one of the most visited areas in Canberra, yet it can only offer cafes.
The submission says after hours, it is “utterly lifeless” apart from events such as Enlighten, and the lack of essential amenities detracts significantly from its attractiveness to both workers and tourists who have to travel to Kingston or Manuka to find facilities which Civic or any of the town centres have in abundance.
Greater Canberra believes that providing facilities such as a small supermarket, chemist, bank, or post office could be done sensitively.
“These amenities would make life easier for workers and tourists, and potentially provide a method to activate the Parliamentary Triangle more consistently outside of business hours,” the submission says.
Greater Canberra secretary Andrew Donnellan told Region that he was not advocating an entire shopping district in the Parliamentary Triangle or nearby.
“We think there’s probably room for a bit more ground floor commercial use in some of the buildings and potentially in some of the facilities that the government and NCA might build later,” Mr Donnellan said.
“They are already building a car park [next to the John Gorton Building] that’s going to have a childcare centre.
“The NCA needs to think about how they permit a little bit of retail and a few other facilities that are small scale and limited, appropriate in scale and impact, that are able to serve workers in the Parliamentary Triangle and also provide more facilities for tourists.”
Mr Donnellan said there were elements of the way the Parliamentary Triangle had been structured that didn’t work and made it quite difficult for workers.
He said, at present, workers could say farewell to their lunch break if they needed to do a chore in Kingston or Manuka.
“If you work in Civic, you’ve got a lot more options at your doorstep, and this is obviously a big issue for the ATO people who are moving from Civic to Barton,” Mr Donnellan said.
He said the government and NCA needed to look at what does and doesn’t work in the Parliamentary Triangle from a practical point of view.
The flagging of commercial activity to be included in the new National Security Precinct in Barton was welcome because the area was notoriously short of amenities.
Greater Canberra also wants less parking in the Parliamentary Triangle to encourage greater use of public transport.
The submission says that it is imperative that the NCA and the national cultural institutions fully embrace the need to shift away from cars towards public and active transport.
“Key institutions such as Parliament House and the Australian War Memorial are segregated from the public by multi-lane arterial roads whose congestion detracts from the prestige and amenities of these areas,” it says.
“We have built fortresses against citizen access to what is supposed to be public space, preventing Canberrans and Australians at large from enjoying the important civic centres of their capital city.”
The submission says frequent, high-quality public transport services should replace cars.
Mr Donnellan said the NCA needed to take a strong stance in favour of public transport and against the private car as the default way of getting to and from the Parliamentary Triangle.
“We need to look at what measures the NCA, and the national institutions can take to make sure that public transport is first in people’s minds,” he said.
Greater Canberra recognised the motivation for the new 1000-space car park in Parkes, which will replace parking lost to the security precinct, but would prefer less parking in the Parliamentary Triangle
Mr Donnellan said the area was already relatively well served by Rapid buses, and the addition of light rail would make it one of the best in Canberra serviced by public transport.
Greater Canberra also says the Federal and ACT governments should work together to boost bus services and active travel and streamline approvals for light rail Stage 2B.