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The return of Westlake to Yarralumla

By Paul Costigan - 18 March 2015 24

yarralumla house new development

Yarralumla, originally titled Westlake by Walter Griffin, was once a ‘workers’ suburb that was largely out of sight and out of mind. Then came the lake and it has since become a very desirable lakeside suburb. The majority of residences have lush gardens with ample space for bushes and shade trees. Sadly many recent houses are much bigger than the originals and have diminished the greenery and tree cover. In amongst all of this, the very attractive ambience of Yarralumla has been maintained with many wide streets, generous green verges and an abundance of trees and parklands.

In 2005 the ACTPLA Yarralumla Neighbourhood Plan (A sustainable future for Yarralumla) there is this statement: “The Government has made the commitment to the Yarralumla community that any additional housing in the precinct would be limited to approximately 25 dwellings”.

yarralumla master plan

How things have changed. The new 2015 development proposals for the precinct around the Brickworks, if implemented, would eventually deliver 1800 new dwellings.

yarralumla ridge

The main site in question is presently a tree-lined ridge that serves as a windbreak and is a visually pleasing edge to the suburb. The trees are often visited by flocks of yellow-tailed black cockatoos, the ground cover includes several batches of native bluebells (the floral emblem for Canberra) but alas, I have not spotted any endangered weird frog species that may delay developments.

The government has done a praiseworthy job of uploading useful planning documents for comment. This is a conceptual stage designed to get the community to sign off on broad statements of intent. I recommend that excessive time and energy should not be concentrated on the details of these master plans. Experience has shown that these will be ignored later, as they are not linked to actual legislation.

new yarralumla developments

Far more attention needs to be given to the legislative planning requirements that ACTPLA employs to allow the developers to maximize their investment. Developers will push the requirements to their limits and ACTPLA has a history of bending restrictions to ensure developments proceed. Given the history of recent major developments, the ACTPLA requirements will most likely deliver bland-box badly designed buildings and nothing to match Yarralumla’s character and ambience.

Several desirable elements are promoted heavily in the present marketing. These are the standard minimal assets as supplied by any local government. They include parklands, footpaths, water retention for street trees, cycle paths and nearness to bus stops. What are not mentioned are the requirements for a real tree canopy, being impossible given the density of the buildings, and requirements for solar power, climate adaptation measures, and rain water re-use.

The ACTPLA requirements for parking remain out of sync with the realities of the number of people end up occupying such estates. It is guaranteed that many residents will need to park on the streets and on the verges as they continue to do in the inner suburbs where apartments have been introduced. The street trees will be the first casualties.

The present Land Development Agency concepts are akin to being a Trojan Horse. If accepted by the community, the land will be sold and developers will then appear with development applications that meet the inadequate ACTPLA requirements. Developers will be sanctioned to plonk on this significant site structures that are below acceptable urban standards for the second decade of the 21st Century.

I predict that this estate will end up like many you see around country towns. The buildings will be bland in style, will be subject to heat island effects and bear no resemblance to the well established nearby residences.

The Chief Minister is the Minister for Urban Renewal. Unfortunately to date he has shown little interest in aesthetics, in enhancing the green infrastructure, in addressing climate change through urban developments and has tended to regard residents, who generally do not oppose change but desperately wish for better, as NIMBYS.

The challenge now is to change the ACT’s planning legislation to require developments to incorporate climate adaptation measures (no green wash please!). This would require that the landscape (the planet) is to be considered first and that buildings are designed to be aesthetically attractive and to enhance the green infrastructure, not to diminish it.

It is not too late. We can do better.

What’s Your opinion?


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24 Responses to
The return of Westlake to Yarralumla
rubaiyat 6:33 pm 19 Mar 15

I’m not against new developments in sleepy old Yarralumla, I’ve always wanted the Government to do something with Yarralumla Bay and the empty paddock behind it.

I wasn’t even really against the Brickworks redevelopment but this proposal is a shocker and all “money at all costs” whilst short changing both the new and old residents on the infrastucture and planning upgrade that should accompany it.

All of which ignores the obvious growth should be around the urban centres and offer the most for those who want proximity and a more hip urban environment.

Plunking a large number people an obligatory drive from work fixes nothing. That’s just more of the same old Tuggeranong, Belconnen, Gungahlin, Jerrabombera bad ideas. Design workable transport corridors that don’t rely on cars, then increase the density along those and we can have most of what we want without the usual pain.

Acton 5:32 pm 19 Mar 15

Why do we have to engage in endless conflict over this fundamentally flawed housing development near the Brickworks when there are better options? Moving some, most or all of the planned housing a short distance across the Cotter Road to the adjacent horse paddocks area is possible. The mostly empty horse paddocks are infrequently used by residents, ecologically less significant, yet still central and spacious.

Spreading or sharing the development lessens traffic congestion, allows more housing diversity and design flexibility, preserves existing woodland walking trails and GSM habitat, funds restoration of the Brickworks and allows the release of nearby land for appropriate development by the building industry to benefit the wider community. A shared development reduces the adverse impact on any one suburb and still achieves infill goals and benefits. Most viable solutions are compromises in one form or another. It might even be a win-win solution for all parties. What do you think?

rubaiyat 4:56 pm 19 Mar 15

chewy14 said :

rubaiyat said :

Isn’t that what the Kent St and Cotter Rd connections to the development would be for? If you densify the development in the whole area, dedicated buses to there from Civic and Woden would make perfect sense whereas currently they don’t have the critical mass of people to justify them?

And I like your description of the public transport and the area, are you trying to make it sound like Siberia? It should be prime residential land.

The same Kent Street and Cotter Roads connections that already jam up every morning? So how many thousand dwellings are they proposing? With how many roads out?

I really, really am sceptical of any proposed “public transport” it is such an after thought.

I’ll bet they just reroute the existing bus through the new development to make the existing already painfully slow and meandering service, even slower. Any future “services” whatever they’ll be will get caught up in the traffic snarls caused by the overdevelopment, so we have an even slower (if that’s possible) slow service to look forward to.

Then they’ll chop it in some future cuts. Since I have lived here they have cut two services and the last much slower one left, is only once an hour for most of the day.

It certainly doesn’t get me to the city or to interstate connections when I most need it, and I am one of the few to willingly put up with its inconveniences.

They have also proposed an Adelaide Avenue stop to the City, ignoring that it is at the bottom of a large cutting, in winter shadow, and a remote location on the edge of high speed traffic.

vintage123 4:38 pm 19 Mar 15

There appears to be room for approximately 200 traditional yarralumna style house and land packages as an alternative. However that said they would be frightfully expensive. Based on ACT development costs, each house and land package would retail in the vicinity of 9 million dollars each. At that price i really cannot envisage a strong market for sales. I think the market would be more forgiving with the 1800 units which would retail from 1.1 million to 3 million or there abouts dependant on size, location and car parking.

chewy14 4:04 pm 19 Mar 15

Acton said :

Chewy14 asked: “If there is sunmoth habitat there, the development would need federal approval under the EPBC act no?

Can you link some of these surveys?”

There will be a referral under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act because this project development is on a habitat of a critically endangered species. Various surveys have been done and links to a couple are below:

“The grassed area adjacent to Dudley Street and extending through to Denman Street has been identified as having significant ecological value in the Canberra context.”
Yarralumla Brickworks & Environs Planning Review – Susan Conroy & Munns Sly Architects March 2005, p36; http://www.actpla.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/2826/BrickworksReview.pdf

“The very large GSM population (up to 685 individuals) at Dudley Street is highly significant for the ACT.”
Report on Community Monitoring of Golden Sun Moths in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), November 2009 (assisted by FoG) p31; http://www.fog.org.au/advocacy.htm#submissions

The alternative to doing better is to do worse. Here is what Tony Powell, former head of the NCDC said of this development:
“It is a throwback to the kind of subdivision layouts that cheap developers favoured prior to the introduction of statutory zoning in the mid-20th century, commonly known as “slicing and dicing” within an encompassing gridiron pattern of principal streets, the aim of which was to produce as many narrow-fronted allotments and dwelling units as possible in order to minimise development costs and maximise profits. “

Urban infill is not incompatible with a garden city, but must be more creative than simply cramming as many people as possible, into as little space as possible, wherever possible.

Unless you have a preference for recreating some of the ugly apartment dominated suburbs of Sydney.

Thanks. The sunmoth habitat provides some constraints for them and their environmental plans then. That’s interesting.

As I said before though, the opposite of “minimise development costs and maximising profits”, is maximising development costs and minimising profits. To do “better” will neccessitate much more expensive housing in the area which partly defeat the purpose of developments like this.

Of course we don’t want them to build future slums in the area but there also has to be a realisation from current residents that they can’t hoard their inner city way of life and expect others to live in ridiculously expensive dwellings on the ever sprawling outskirts of the city.

chewy14 3:02 pm 19 Mar 15

rubaiyat said :

They are going to do nothing of the kind.

The densification is not happening where a natural flow of public transport is possible, and I’ll put money that once the high rise goes in whatever inadequate public transport is there, gets pulled anyway.

Put yourself in the position of a commuter having to take a long walk and wait for the slow and circuitious local bus, or to a nasty remote bus stop in the cold windswept shadow of the Adelaide Avenue cutting with cars screaming past you on a dark cold Canberra winter morning.

I am still unclear what happens when you return from the city in the evening and are on the wrong side of Adelaide Avenue.

Isn’t that what the Kent St and Cotter Rd connections to the development would be for? If you densify the development in the whole area, dedicated buses to there from Civic and Woden would make perfect sense whereas currently they don’t have the critical mass of people to justify them?

And I like your description of the public transport and the area, are you trying to make it sound like Siberia? It should be prime residential land.

Acton 2:56 pm 19 Mar 15

Chewy14 asked: “If there is sunmoth habitat there, the development would need federal approval under the EPBC act no? Can you link some of these surveys?”

There will be a referral under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act because this project development is on a habitat of a critically endangered species. Various surveys have been done and links to a couple are below:

“The grassed area adjacent to Dudley Street and extending through to Denman Street has been identified as having significant ecological value in the Canberra context.”
Yarralumla Brickworks & Environs Planning Review – Susan Conroy & Munns Sly Architects March 2005, p36; http://www.actpla.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/2826/BrickworksReview.pdf

“The very large GSM population (up to 685 individuals) at Dudley Street is highly significant for the ACT.”
Report on Community Monitoring of Golden Sun Moths in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), November 2009 (assisted by FoG) p31; http://www.fog.org.au/advocacy.htm#submissions

The alternative to doing better is to do worse. Here is what Tony Powell, former head of the NCDC said of this development:
“It is a throwback to the kind of subdivision layouts that cheap developers favoured prior to the introduction of statutory zoning in the mid-20th century, commonly known as “slicing and dicing” within an encompassing gridiron pattern of principal streets, the aim of which was to produce as many narrow-fronted allotments and dwelling units as possible in order to minimise development costs and maximise profits. “

Urban infill is not incompatible with a garden city, but must be more creative than simply cramming as many people as possible, into as little space as possible, wherever possible. Unless you have a preference for recreating some of the ugly apartment dominated suburbs of Sydney.

rubaiyat 2:09 pm 19 Mar 15

chewy14 said :

rubaiyat said :

watto23 said :

Completely agree. I note on the plan they have fixed the cotter road crossing and the traffic concerns, which was a valid concern.

They have done no such thing, just diverted the thousands of extra cars slightly. They all end up in Adelaide Avenue anyway and on the suburban streets leading to Yarralumla shops, more than doubling the number of cars using the same old inadequate roads and parking.

You don’t plunk Urban Infill so far from the city that you still need a car.

This is not Nimbyism, it is just more government land speculation.

Making a buck at the expense of good urban design.

That you still need a car?

Isn’t that the whole reason for densification along these transport corridors? So it makes regular and frequent public transport options far more viable?

They are going to do nothing of the kind.

The densification is not happening where a natural flow of public transport is possible, and I’ll put money that once the high rise goes in whatever inadequate public transport is there, gets pulled anyway.

Put yourself in the position of a commuter having to take a long walk and wait for the slow and circuitious local bus, or to a nasty remote bus stop in the cold windswept shadow of the Adelaide Avenue cutting with cars screaming past you on a dark cold Canberra winter morning.

I am still unclear what happens when you return from the city in the evening and are on the wrong side of Adelaide Avenue.

chewy14 1:56 pm 19 Mar 15

rubaiyat said :

watto23 said :

Completely agree. I note on the plan they have fixed the cotter road crossing and the traffic concerns, which was a valid concern.

They have done no such thing, just diverted the thousands of extra cars slightly. They all end up in Adelaide Avenue anyway and on the suburban streets leading to Yarralumla shops, more than doubling the number of cars using the same old inadequate roads and parking.

You don’t plunk Urban Infill so far from the city that you still need a car.

This is not Nimbyism, it is just more government land speculation.

Making a buck at the expense of good urban design.

That you still need a car?

Isn’t that the whole reason for densification along these transport corridors? So it makes regular and frequent public transport options far more viable?

rubaiyat 1:43 pm 19 Mar 15

watto23 said :

chewy14 said :

Completely agree. I note on the plan they have fixed the cotter road crossing and the traffic concerns, which was a valid concern.

They have done no such thing, just diverted the thousands of extra cars slightly. They all end up in Adelaide Avenue anyway and on the suburban streets leading to Yarralumla shops, more than doubling the number of cars using the same old inadequate roads and parking.

You don’t plunk Urban Infill so far from the city that you still need a car.

This is not Nimbyism, it is just more government land speculation.

Making a buck at the expense of good urban design.

watto23 11:53 am 19 Mar 15

chewy14 said :

If there is sunmoth habitat there, the development would need federal approval under the EPBC act no?
Can you link some of these surveys?

And the problem with people saying “we can do better”, is it usually comes from people who already live on large blocks of expensive inner city land and want to prevent change or densification occurring anywhere near them. And the “better” types of developments they talk about would be far more expensive and fit far less people into them.

We need to use this type of land efficiently and this necessarily means that the character of these older suburbs on main transport routes must change.

Completely agree. I note on the plan they have fixed the cotter road crossing and the traffic concerns, which was a valid concern.
A lot of the other initial complaints I read came across as Nimbyism. Like they picked up every little thing they could find to stop the development.

I’m happy for developers to be kept in check though, but not at the expense of making this city better and rather than pushing the population out further, increasing the sparse population of the inner areas, seems to be the best way to go, because it will cost less to provide services when needed.

chewy14 7:56 am 19 Mar 15

Acton said :

Thank you Paul for an informative and balanced article that resists the tired and rather cowardly ploy of maligning residents, some rich, some poor, some old, some young, but all trying to preserve the environment of one of Canberra’s beautiful areas against the encroachments of property developers .

You have many points I could comment on, but I will pick just one: “but alas, I have not spotted any endangered weird frog species that may delay developments.”

A prime reason justifying conservation over housing development in this area is the Golden Sun Moth. The GSM is listed as critically endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. It is critically endangered because it has undergone a significant reduction in its grassland habitat.

This grassland area between Dudley Street, Denman St and the Yarralumla Brickworks has been identified as a significant GSM habitat in environmental surveys.

Flattening and bulldozing a significant ACT Golden Sun Moth habitat to make way for roads, drains and multi-storey apartment blocks is recklessly irresponsible. This development, on a significant habitat, threatens an already critically endangered species with localised extinction.

But hey, it’s just a moth and what’s one endangered moth when there is money to be made for a light-rail. Yes, we can do so much better to keep Canberra the most liveable city. And we don’t have to turn on each other to do it.

If there is sunmoth habitat there, the development would need federal approval under the EPBC act no?
Can you link some of these surveys?

And the problem with people saying “we can do better”, is it usually comes from people who already live on large blocks of expensive inner city land and want to prevent change or densification occurring anywhere near them. And the “better” types of developments they talk about would be far more expensive and fit far less people into them.

We need to use this type of land efficiently and this necessarily means that the character of these older suburbs on main transport routes must change.

milkman 8:20 pm 18 Mar 15

Yay, ACT development. Perhaps the suburb will have to be renamed Yarraslumla.

Acton 4:40 pm 18 Mar 15

Thank you Paul for an informative and balanced article that resists the tired and rather cowardly ploy of maligning residents, some rich, some poor, some old, some young, but all trying to preserve the environment of one of Canberra’s beautiful areas against the encroachments of property developers .

You have many points I could comment on, but I will pick just one: “but alas, I have not spotted any endangered weird frog species that may delay developments.”

A prime reason justifying conservation over housing development in this area is the Golden Sun Moth. The GSM is listed as critically endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. It is critically endangered because it has undergone a significant reduction in its grassland habitat. This grassland area between Dudley Street, Denman St and the Yarralumla Brickworks has been identified as a significant GSM habitat in environmental surveys.

Flattening and bulldozing a significant ACT Golden Sun Moth habitat to make way for roads, drains and multi-storey apartment blocks is recklessly irresponsible. This development, on a significant habitat, threatens an already critically endangered species with localised extinction.

But hey, it’s just a moth and what’s one endangered moth when there is money to be made for a light-rail. Yes, we can do so much better to keep Canberra the most liveable city. And we don’t have to turn on each other to do it.

fritzmacgritz 11:48 am 18 Mar 15

All this whinging and moaning about development is often about elitists wishing to preserve their exclusive and valuable assets. The ridiculous thing in this town is that the places where people actually want to live are tied up in red tape and elitist opposition. I would prefer to live in said location rather than waste my time and money everyday commuting from the outer suburbs 20km away.

If the leftist ACT Government was indeed concerned about carbon emissions, family time, leisure and stimulating the economy, it would develop more sites like this an make them pragmatically affordable.

I would be happy to pay the equivalent of a house cost in the suburbs for a 3 bedroom apartment in a well planned location (with efficient transport links) that does not squander the use of land. Realistically, the small dribble of supply, coupled with builders and government wishing to squeeze every last cent, means that such apartments can never be a house alternative because they are small, poorly built for noise and are not family friendly.

And there is also the aversion to aesthetics – oh poor rich people – it makes the street look untidy!

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