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The time is ripe for Woden’s renewal

Chris Steel MLA 3 March 2017 27

Woden Valley

Canberrans should be aware that – despite negativity from some quarters – there is a growing optimism about Woden Town Centre’s future.

As a long time resident of Woden, the community opposition to a proposed six-storey residential development at Curtin Shops didn’t surprise me.

While MLAs rightly have no direct role in development approvals, it was pleasing to see the independent ACT Planning and Land Authority (ACTPLA) process working as it should and rejecting the proposal. The development was inconsistent with the Government’s Draft Master Plan, which proposed two storeys around Curtin Square as part of a lower scale urban village.

It occurred to me throughout the debate at Curtin, however, that the scale of the development and investment proposed at Curtin would be welcomed just down the road in Woden Town Centre.

While Canberra’s economy is diversifying, we’re still reliant in many ways on the Federal Government. It’s upsetting Woden has been so hurt by Federal Government decisions, including the recent announcement of up to 250 jobs to go at the Commonwealth Department of Health. These cuts are symbolised by the Alexander and Albermarle buildings as well as the now virtually-empty Lovett Tower.

Woden cannot rely on public servants for its future, and needs further private and government investment to kick start urban renewal. One of the reasons I stood for election last October was to help in delivering this investment into rejuvenating Woden.

I’m pleased to report from my conversations in the community over the last few months that a sense of optimism about Woden’s future is returning. The ACT Government has moved an additional 1,000 public servants into Woden, which will be complete in the next couple of weeks. There have also recently been completed upgrades to the Woden Bus Interchange and Phillip Oval, as well as ACT Government support for the new Abode Hotel in Juliana House, an adaptive re-use project.

Another catalyst for renewal will be the investment in light rail stage two to Woden – contracts will be signed for this within this term of government. Light rail is already bringing renewal to Northbourne Avenue and it will do the same to Woden.

Light rail will have more people live close to public transport and services, enliven Woden’s public spaces, and provide demand for local business, which benefits the whole community. More people living in town centres is also an opportunity for quality design and development to take place, and keep the open spaces and low density in our suburbs that make them such great places to live.

It’s also encouraging to see the sale of a half-stake in Woden Plaza by Westfield to Perron Investments for $335 million in December. I’m hopeful this sale foreshadows upgrades to Woden Plaza. The last substantial upgrade was in the 90s and, despite a fondness for the Plaza by many locals, upgrades would be welcomed.

Surrounding suburbs in Woden Valley are thriving. They are sought after for home buyers, with well-planned communities, an abundance of parks, good schools, Canberra’s major hospital and a growing cafe culture.

It’s important to distinguish between development at Curtin and at Woden Town Centre. Woden has a completed Master Plan, providing clear guidance for developers and height limits consistent with a Town Centre setting. I get a strong sense from the community they want urban renewal to take place in Woden Town Centre.

That doesn’t mean just any development should happen. Urban renewal also means demanding quality design and construction, rather than just accepting monoliths. Recent developments like Hindmarsh’s Bellerive and Trilogy Apartments have seen improved architecture – of course, this is a subjective view.

While the ACT’s planning processes are generally very good, there are some limitations. The planning process fails to reach many people in our community – like young people and working families – who have a legitimate stake in consultation. Chief Minister Andrew Barr has already raised this concern publicly.

While the planning process offers the community some input into development, this can be late in the process. In this sense, consultation during the master planning process for Woden was a much more strategic, constructive discussion. These types of discussions I think yield much more value to our community in the longer term.

The master planning process should not stop at the point ACTPLA publishes the final plan. I believe delivering the Woden Town Centre’s Master Plan’s objectives should be the source of ongoing discussion between the Government, planners, developers, business and the community.

I’ve proposed to the ACT Government we host a roundtable to discuss the delivery of the Master Plan and start better communication between all stakeholders about planning, urban renewal and transport in the Woden Town Centre.

In involving all parts of the community, I believe this roundtable will help turn plans for Woden’s future into a renewal that benefits all Canberrans.

What are your ideas to improve Woden?


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27 Responses to
The time is ripe for Woden’s renewal
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rommeldog56 4:43 pm 23 Mar 17

Chris Steel MLA said :

Today it was great to welcome the Chief Minister’s announcement of an ACT Government hosted Roundtable to focus on renewal of the Woden Town Centre. Announced during question time in response to questions by ACT Labor members, the Roundtable will form part of a Pop-Up Cabinet to take place in Woden in mid-2017.

Great to see a local member actively representing and engaging with their constituents. Well done.

Now, can you please have a quiet word with ACT Labor MLAs representing Tuggeranong/Brindabella ? Perhaps they can come out of hibernation and model their representation on yours…….please……thanks.

PS : This does not need a response in support of your colleagues, Mr Gentleman & Ms Burch. Its just an observation/comment/request/statement.

Chris Steel MLA 3:40 pm 23 Mar 17

Today it was great to welcome the Chief Minister’s announcement of an ACT Government hosted Roundtable to focus on renewal of the Woden Town Centre.

Announced during question time in response to questions by ACT Labor members, the Roundtable will form part of a Pop-Up Cabinet to take place in Woden in mid-2017.

More here: http://www.chrissteel.com.au/roundtable_to_help_deliver_woden_s_exciting_future

crackerpants 7:11 am 08 Mar 17

As a long time “local” (husband and I have worked in Woden for over 15 years) we’ve seen a fair bit of change, which lately has been of the decay variety. Watching the “construction” on the other side of Furzer street, my colleague’s theory was that it was indeed a training ground for heavy machinery operators. I would LOVE to see a running track there, maybe an outdoor gym…but given that Alex/Albemarle have drawn in vandals from far and wide, it might be short-lived.

Of more substance though, I think there needs to be a lot of thought given to basic infrastructure, rather than focusing on “vibrancy” in the face of ongoing access issues. I’m said on this page a few times that attention needs to be given to better linking Woden centre and the Phillip business district. Phillip has really picked up the pace over the last few years, with gyms, yoga studios and dance studios, and cafes to complement those. Afternoons and Saturday mornings see a steady stream of gym-goers attempting to cross Botany street west of the roundabout, and parents and little kids taking their lives in their hands trying to cross east of the roundabout. There are no crossings the entire length of Botany street.

Getting across Hindmarsh, while it looks formidable, is serviced by pedestrian lights at intersections.

Once in Woden, Corinna St is similarly difficult to negotiate west of Ball St – where the carparking is. People usually dart across Corinna St, walk up the bank, jump down into the carpark, then walk through it to the mall. This whole area either side of Hindmarsh could be made so much more accessible for foot traffic (and much safer), linking the two areas. This will help set the scene for the “vibrancy” to follow.

Benjamin Rose 7:14 pm 06 Mar 17

HiddenDragon said :

I trust that proposals for further development – particularly residential – along Callam Street will take careful account of this –

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1971_Canberra_flood

Already accounted for years ago. That’s why there’s a huge stormwater channel (a concreted section of Yarralumla Creek) there not to mention the flood-resistant architectural design of Callam Offices by architect John Andrews with the 1971 floods in mind.

Robert Issell 5:46 pm 06 Mar 17

Good work Chris for following up with issues affecting the Woden Valley.

It will be great to see the results of your representations for improvements in your Electorate.

Urban renewal is important at some stage in every suburbs timeline however maintaining and looking after what we already have is equally important.

A good maintenance program for our streets, parks, gardens and facilities should also be an important part of urban life.

Good luck with your efforts Chris.

HiddenDragon 5:43 pm 06 Mar 17

I trust that proposals for further development – particularly residential – along Callam Street will take careful account of this –

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1971_Canberra_flood

bj_ACT 11:35 am 06 Mar 17

JC said :

Rachel Ziv said :

I would definitely welcome an upgrade to the shopping precinct in Woden! It surprises me how busy it gets, yet compared to the Hyperdome it definitely lacks some of the major players in retail. Given the location, increase in local workers and upgrades to transport I don’t see why it wouldn’t become a CBD in its own right in the coming years.

I am confused. What major retail players at at the Hyperdome and not in the Plaza? If anything would have said the opposite was true. The Hyperdomes doesn’t even have DJ’s/Myer department store anymore. It (Hyper D) is more like a country town or group centre style mall.

I’m with you JC. I think “Ivan’s Fashions at the Hyperdome” is about the only type of shop Woden Plaza doesn’t cover. Maybe include the Communities at Work second hand clothes shop that is inside the Hyperdome to give people an idea of how well the Hyper D is trading.

No good having both a Kmart, Big W and Target at the one centre, when you don’t have a David Jones or Myers.

Maya123 10:45 am 06 Mar 17

Benjamin Rose said :

The town centre needs a good reshuffle and more variety.

A fresh food market similar to Belconnen’s fresh food market should be developed in the Phillip trade precinct and non-trade businesses that offer services in the redeveloped area should be encouraged to move into the town square.

The centre isn’t too bad these days. Callam Offices need a pressure clean and landscaping. Westfield however needs to reset the centre, renovate the interior and get David Jones out of the 1980s.

Westfield Woden has too much floor area and the surrounding population can’t economically sustain it. The lack of investment in the centre and very high rent are evidence of this unfortunate situation.

mountainman said :

I just can’t believe how much graffiti there is in the Woden area. The abandoned buildings like Alexander and Albemarle buildings are targeted and look terrible next to the newer buildings.

What is happening down near the Gallam Offices? They still seem to be in use, but there is graffiti everywhere.

Then you go across to Phillip. Such a depressed looking area.

The office buildings do look terrible however I don’t graffiti is an issue in the town centre. When I think Woden I think of a boring shopping centre, less than stellar citizens loitering at the interchange, and the literal ghost town Woden is on weekends (excluding Westfield’s ‘interior’)

Although I hate graffiti tags scribbled on a wall or similar, I disagree about the graffiti murals and art underneath Callam Offices – why do people hate the only actual piece of colour and vibrancy in the centre? It’s been repressed so much that it exists only in a storm water channel at nobody really sees! I’m not saying we should have murals everywhere in the centre but everything else is so grey and depressing. Even MLC/Lovett tower looks depressing – ditch the concrete hoods on the windows and repaint with a warmer colour and even that building would look attractive.

Yes, there has been some great art in the stormwater channel at times. I haven’t been to admire it for awhile, so I’m not sure what is there at present. Plus I heard it was to be banned there (sad), so perhaps the good stuff is gone :(. I have walked up and down the stormwater channel when there was good art there, admiring and photographing it. It was an art gallery in itself. Directly under the office building the paintwork was less talented (a lot less), but still had colour. Lots of wannabes there, rather than talented like in the channel.

Benjamin Rose 1:29 pm 04 Mar 17

The town centre needs a good reshuffle and more variety.

A fresh food market similar to Belconnen’s fresh food market should be developed in the Phillip trade precinct and non-trade businesses that offer services in the redeveloped area should be encouraged to move into the town square.

The centre isn’t too bad these days. Callam Offices need a pressure clean and landscaping. Westfield however needs to reset the centre, renovate the interior and get David Jones out of the 1980s.

Westfield Woden has too much floor area and the surrounding population can’t economically sustain it. The lack of investment in the centre and very high rent are evidence of this unfortunate situation.

mountainman said :

I just can’t believe how much graffiti there is in the Woden area. The abandoned buildings like Alexander and Albemarle buildings are targeted and look terrible next to the newer buildings.

What is happening down near the Gallam Offices? They still seem to be in use, but there is graffiti everywhere.

Then you go across to Phillip. Such a depressed looking area.

The office buildings do look terrible however I don’t graffiti is an issue in the town centre. When I think Woden I think of a boring shopping centre, less than stellar citizens loitering at the interchange, and the literal ghost town Woden is on weekends (excluding Westfield’s ‘interior’)

Although I hate graffiti tags scribbled on a wall or similar, I disagree about the graffiti murals and art underneath Callam Offices – why do people hate the only actual piece of colour and vibrancy in the centre? It’s been repressed so much that it exists only in a storm water channel at nobody really sees! I’m not saying we should have murals everywhere in the centre but everything else is so grey and depressing. Even MLC/Lovett tower looks depressing – ditch the concrete hoods on the windows and repaint with a warmer colour and even that building would look attractive.

bringontheevidence 11:53 am 04 Mar 17

Maryann Mussared said :

As the access to Civic becomes more compromised by light rail work, I am sure people will start to re-examine the various Town Centres.

Loaded statement much?

As a broader issue, Woden really missed the regeneration bandwagon when the locals put up such a song and dance about the Woden Green plans. Woden (and its community) now has a terrible reputation among developers who are more than happy to shift their investment to other, friendlier town centres.

That’s why there are literally thousands of apartments and townhouses being built in all the other town centres while Woden struggles along with a couple of projects.

It’s the new residents that bring in the patronage to allow cafes, shops and restaurants to thrive, providing more services to existing residents.

MilesAndrew 11:31 am 04 Mar 17

Live music is an excellent idea!!! Dj’s, Bands, Singers, Musicians – get them all in.

Oh rooftop bar anyone?? Yes!!!!!

Lets also engage our thousands of local artists and have a ‘Finds’ type gallery. Affordable art from local creatives who can showcase and sell their works – rotate the artists, charge them a fee, allow them to sell their work and get their name out there. boutique stores like this would be great for something different.

Maya123 10:53 am 04 Mar 17

The trouble with Woden, is that it is an inside mall. No street life. The same reason that much of Civic is ‘dead’.

Melissa Carrington 10:25 am 04 Mar 17

Woden is just very dull. It needs more venues to bring much more ‘vibe’ to the area. I think some good restaurants / places that have nice outdoor seating, places where you can go and listen to some live music.

Just about enough 1:41 am 04 Mar 17

I would like to see something done about Woden. It is so dark and dingy, old and out of date… I use to love shopping there but now I avoid it like the plague. It would be good to see it bought back to its glory.

MilesAndrew 1:29 am 04 Mar 17

Woden really has become Canberra’s number one embarrassment in terms of town centers. Having lived there most of my life this is a sad fact. Woden square should be a major draw card, a hub of activity if you will, instead it is derelict and probably not the safest place to be after dark.

Regardless of all the upgrades to roads and transport surrounding the area (I am in agreement of anything that will enhance access to Woden and Eddison Park) What is the overall vision? Adding Cafes? Adding a Target? Really is that it people????

Lets try and lift Woden above the predictable. Lets do something that the other Town Centers are not already doing. Ideas?

Seeing as the ‘park’ next to Albermarle building isn’t even attracting flies, lets open up the the existing space with the vacant ‘dead grass’ lot to be a shaded park with public exercise equipment with a running track and benches. Better still lets have access points for electricity so that you can host some night markets where local vendors can pay a fee and create a real sense of community.

As for Woden Square, lets avoid just opening cafes which don’t open at night. Let’s get some resto-bars, boutique local shops, pubs, Cat Cafe, hell, lets even have a freakin Nordic Spa or get the boys who have opened the Escape Rooms in Phillip to a more central location. Honestly, if all 3 levels were occupied with attractions that were open on weekends and didn’t close at 3pm then Woden Square might have a chance.

Please understand that my suggestions are probably not viable, but are more aimed at generating discussion and working towards a more unique vision for this part of town. Woden could be great, but the conversation does not get me excited for the future. Maybe if we all speak up and submit more crazy ideas then we might get away from Woden becoming a place we usually avoid.

Maryann Mussared 9:23 pm 03 Mar 17

I would love to see Woden improved!. This article and conversation is an excellent contribution to the debate. As the access to Civic becomes more compromised by light rail work, I am sure people will start to re-examine the various Town Centres. I am especially supportive of better communication between planners, developers, government and the community. I also appreciate there is still some free parking!

mountainman 8:07 pm 03 Mar 17

I just can’t believe how much graffiti there is in the Woden area. The abandoned buildings like Alexander and Albemarle buildings are targeted and look terrible next to the newer buildings.

What is happening down near the Gallam Offices? They still seem to be in use, but there is graffiti everywhere.

Then you go across to Phillip. Such a depressed looking area.

Chris Steel MLA 5:56 pm 03 Mar 17

R_Knight said :

And we need more public investment in large ‘anchor’ uses such as education and recreation.

However, one major issue I think needs to be addressed is pedestrian accessibility within the town center and its immediate surrounds. The Woden town center is an island, isolated from its surrounding suburbs by high capacity, high speed roads, (yes, 60km/h is high speed compared to an elderly pedestrian moving at approx 3km/h). Callum street and Melrose drive need to be narrowed, the traffic calmed, protected and connected bike lanes installed, and pedestrian desire lines provided safe and pleasant crossing points.

I think the anchor point idea was a really important take out for me from the meeting. There is certainly a health focus in the region which has real potential.

I would also add community services. The Woden Community service is also a major community service gateway now for the whole of Canberra with their One Link services. This has seen the organisation grow incredibly fast. There are also the likes of Koormarri and the Smith Family located on the cnr of Launceston and Callum.

Light rail is certainly the catalyst for a discussion around shaping the eastern edge on Calum St, the bus interchange and Eddison park. The question of how the light rail will arrive in Woden is a live discussion and this needs to be thought out and considered carefully. The Government will hold more consultation on this component.

However, your points about the active travel components of our transport system will also be important part of discussion. The Minister is keen to ensure that we discuss the transport system in the frame of integration rather than one type of transport so very glad you touched on this.

Chris Steel MLA 5:43 pm 03 Mar 17

pink little birdie said :

They should put a playground where the fountains used to be and surrond it with cafes. It would be massively popular.
That area went downhill when they filled in the pond.

Parks are important and I have heard that from members of the community. While a ‘pocket park’ has been established behind the library, further green spaces are something that is on my mind because we need to attract people back into Woden’s dead heart. We have some great examples closeby of high quality playgrounds and parks like Chifley shops which has been a great drawcard for families.

If we are talking about having more people living in Woden Town Centre then we do need to ensure that those spaces are available, particularly for families. Public servants also currently don’t have many great spaces to eat during breaks.

Thank you for raising.

Chris Steel MLA 5:38 pm 03 Mar 17

John Thistleton said :

Only a game trader sets up shop in Woden Mall. If you are successful expect competition. An outbreak of sushi shops in recent times sent well established ones broke. The mall upgrade is long overdue, as is resolving a more seamless integration with Eddison Park, one of the most under-used green spaces in the territory. Architect Rodney Moss drew up plans for high-rise accommodation along Melrose Drive, only to see the government abandon them when Woden folk objected. A familiar scenario throughout the town centre. Busy roads are throttling this beautiful part of Canberra. So good luck Chris Steel with your fresh ideas and energy.

I think now that we have a Master Plan in place with the territory plan variations announced today implementing the plan this will provide certainty for investment. More info here:

https://www.yoursay.act.gov.au/woden-mawson-and-athllon-drive

Melrose drive is good place for residential development with the activated spaces closer to the centre. It’s important that we activate the square in particular.

Section 9 is currently a vacant (green field) lot which may also provide further space for development along Melrose Dr. I understand Corinna Chambers is empty on the bottom floor now so i’m not sure what its future holds.

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