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The time is ripe for Woden’s renewal

By 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?

What’s Your opinion?


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27 Responses to
The time is ripe for Woden’s renewal
1
R_Knight 2:15 pm
03 Mar 17
#

Good piece Chris, and good to see you at the WVCC meeting on Wednesday evening.

I think all the elements of improving the town center are known to people, but the trick is in execution. We need more people, particularly families, living inside the town center in order to provide ‘around the clock’ business opportunities. We need more flexible commercial floor space options in order to allow small, innovative operators to set up with small overheads, (something that setting up inside Westfield plaza can prohibit). 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. Callum street, being the likely alignment of future light rail, should also be transformed into a functioning ‘complete street’, which focuses on providing a human scale, walkable urban environment encouraging a transit oriented, people focused place. At present, these roads are dedicated to the quick and efficient movement of vehicles and they’re actually hostile to people crossing them. Fix them up, meaningfully connect the town center to Lyons and Curtin across Melrose Drive, and Edison Park across Callum Street, and you’ll set it up for success.

2
Rachel Ziv 4:03 pm
03 Mar 17
#

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.

3
John Thistleton 4:24 pm
03 Mar 17
#

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.

4
Suzanne Kiraly 4:34 pm
03 Mar 17
#

Thanks for this article, Chris. It’s an important issue and I agree with you that it should actually be a joint process between all stakeholders and not just government. I am for a community approach to urban renewal that has as many stakeholders as possible, including the residents of the local community who stand to benefit.

Even though I am a north-sider I often have business meetings on the southside and I would welcome any urban renewal plan that could inject fresh jobs and creative architectural developments in that area around the Woden Town Centre to create a buzz. The last time I was there I couldn’t help but notice that it was looking a little tired, and compared with the developments going on in Belconnen and particularly Gungahlin, I think it certainly needs some TLC and an injection of fresh attention.
Thanks for raising the issue – I hope that we get lots of community discussions on this.

5
JC 4:51 pm
03 Mar 17
#

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.

6
Roger Allnutt 5:09 pm
03 Mar 17
#

I think the question of renewal of Woden should be considered as a stand alone. I have major concerns about the light rail Stage 2. We currently have a perfectly adequate rapid bus system that gets you from Civic to Woden in under 10 minutes and spending billions to duplicate that could bankrupt the ACT. Any alternative route wandering round inner south suburbs would take for ever, and be devastating to the people along the chosen route.
Certainly Woden needs further renewal but not the piecemeal planning that has occurred in recent years. There are derelict (Alexander and Albemarle) buildings and apparently Lovett Tower is virtually empty. Yet new building are planned.
Woden Town Centre is unfortunately an ‘island’ surorunded by busy roads and any renewal needs to try and link surrounding suburbs in a better way. Eddison Park is neglected and yet that side of Callam Street could be vastly improved – there are also some pretty grim buildings there too.

7
pink little birdie 5:29 pm
03 Mar 17
#

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.

8
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.

9
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.

10
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.

11
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.

12
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!

13
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.

14
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.

15
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.

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