SUBMISSION on the Draft City Plan

The Weston Creek Community Council is pleased to offer the following comments in relation to the Draft City Plan and we thank you for this opportunity.  In broad terms we support the need for a Plan for the City.  This is needed to outline the future for the City and the Australian Capital Territory.  We are conscious that many of our comments are not supportive of the proposals in this Draft Plan.  Our comments question some of the assumptions and offer alternate views than those proposed.

 It seems to Council that the Draft Plan is based on plans for European Cities which have a far greater population than Canberra.  While Canberra’s population will grow to around 500,000 in the next 20 to 30 years, it remains with a giant footprint of the size of Sydney that cannot be undone and yet the comparisons always made are with Copenhagen, Amsterdam and now Paris, with Constitution Avenue being likened to the Champs Elysees. These cities have population densities many times greater than Canberra’s, with a well-established tradition of high density living and high public transport use. However, Canberra has a unique quality which should be a prime consideration and any planning decisions should be based on this rather than other dissimilar cities. 

It is admirable to want to achieve a higher density of population with the consequent advantages that accrue with increased use of public transport and careful allocation of space.  While it is difficult to obtain figures for comparison purposes these are the best that we can find.  Amsterdam has just over 1 million people in 366 sq km or 2800 per sq km, while Paris central has 2,125,017 in 105 sq km in the central part of the City or 20,000 per sq km.  Sydney on the other hand has 1900 people per sq km and Melbourne 1500.  Sadly we can find no figure for Canberra.  The fact that Canberra is so widespread means that while an increase in density can be achieved it must be planned in a way that reflects the city’s character. 

In the Draft Plan comment is made that the main shopping area of the city has moved several times and we note that the last movement has resulted in an inward looking shopping core with little interaction with the adjacent areas.  It has also allowed some areas to become almost “dead zones”.  A similar consolidation of professional and legal functions has occurred in the west of the city and consequently the city has a disconnect of specific use areas with little interaction between them.  We also question the “walkability “ of the City when you consider the distance from where the proposed light rail stop will be and West Basin.  In a similar vein the creation of a “Champs Elysees” on Constitution Avenue is creating another precinct yet the comments in the Plan are to make a vibrant city centre.  This proposal for a Grand Boulevard is very likely to draw people away from the central area.

Let us now comment on some of the specific aspects:

Amendment 59

Griffin’s intent to make City Hill central to the city’s operation is reflected in the overall proposals but it is difficult to see the area as a gateway to the Central National Area given the developments that have occurred since the original plan. Its location can still be developed as a hub albeit of a different kind – possibly the centre of government and a green public recreation space for the public and in particular people working and living in the central area.  This could be made more possible by taking traffic under the hill and completely redesigning the area to be both a central  focus for the city and providing a vista to the lake through opening up the green space. 

Amendment 60

As we have said above, whilst Griffin envisaged Constitution Avenue as a grand boulevard we are concerned that the current proposal will stretch the “City Centre” even further away from the aim of a vibrant city heart.   It will provide at least a third sector for the city and although this will link to Russell and complete the National Triangle we have great difficulty with the placing of a Football Stadium here on this Grand Boulevard. This is simply not the right location for a football stadium – in other cities new stadiums tend to be built on the periphery of a city or CBD, for instance in industrial areas undergoing revitalisation.  It would be a shame to build a stadium in such a prime location.

Currently the land use along Constitution Avenue is dominated by the Convention Centre, Canberra CIT, St John’s Church lands, the East and West Anzac Buildings and the new ASIO Building which have set a character that will be difficult to integrate into a vibrant boulevard. We note the possible relocation of the CIT but the other users will remain.  It is difficult to imagine just how a broad sidewalk together with a mix of shops and cafes will thrive in this location without attracting trade from the already established areas in the City centre.

Amendment 61

The Development of the West Basin area is envisaged as a cultural and entertainment area. On the surface this sounds a great idea.  We do ask though what is to happen to Commonwealth Park which already provides a part of this function.  The Plan suggests that there would be a major loss of green space and development would be based on a waterfront promenade. This is a loss of a ”green edge” to the lake  and we strongly oppose development right to the waterfront and would prefer a considerable green park area immediately adjacent to the lake.

One of the unique aspects of Canberra is that its lakeshore has, until the recent arrival of Kingston Foreshore, been relatively free of development. There’s something to be said for public parkland and paths lining the entire length of the lake. There is a significant risk that whatever is built at the shoreline may not bring the hoped-for atmosphere to the area. Once things are built they can’t be unbuilt. In our view, development down to the lake in that part of the city would not be right.  It would be taking away from Canberra’s unique character.  It should be avoided, and parkland right down to the water preserved.

Transport for Canberra

The Transport for Canberra strategy is integral to the Planning Strategy and is a given but this is complicated by Canberra and the Regions preference for car transport. While we support the positive action with regard to alternate transport modes their uptake, particularly of public transport, depends on a suitable level of service in both timing, route and location.  The figures in the Draft Plan are quite important with 71% of people working in the City travel by car,  55% in their own car, 16% as passengers in a car [p 44].  Based on 38,000 workers in the City this is 21,000 cars heading to the City every working day.  The 2011 Census has 29.4% of journeys by bus [18.5%] and walk or bike [10.9%].

Our question is “what is to be done about long term parking on the periphery of the City for those who find Public Transport not workable or they live too far away to either walk or ride a bike?  This is the vast majority of those who currently work in the City.  The Report indicates 10,500 spaces for parking [p47 Fig 16].  This is a shortfall of 10,500 so only half of the vehicles by the data in the report are catered for. There is a need for additional parking structures on the periphery of the City and/or dedicated Park and Ride direct to the City from Districts in both Peak and non-peak hours.  We note the mention of “offsite options” which we take to mean parking facilities on the fringe of the City area with continuous public transport to the shopping and employment areas.  This is something that needs to be quantified and identified to make the Plan complete.

Also, we have looked at the data in the draft plan and note that the population of the city area is only planned to increase from 3,000 to 8,000 by 2030 [p36].  Currently 38,000 people work in the City and this is to grow to 45,000 by 2030 and of these 60% are Public Servants.  Even if all the growth in population in the City then work we still have the “what to do with the 38,000”.  We also raise the issue of Commonwealth employees and note the spread of these employees, particularly to the Canberra Airport environment in recent years.  Are there agreements with the Commonwealth Government to maintain a minimum of their employees within the City area?

Master Planning

The already completed and mainly implemented ANU Exchange Master plan has delivered some striking buildings but what it hasn’t delivered is vibrant public open spaces. The buildings are sterile and the areas around them are almost totally hard paved. Small attempts at public art are not engaging and overall the scale is wrong in both the expanse of the spaces and their treatment in landscaping sense.   Again this leaves very little opportunity for interaction at a street level.

We believe that the Section 84 Master Plan was the basis for the Canberra Centre redevelopment and are dismayed to hear that this “introverted” centre is to be extended even further. This is a blow to the development of a vibrant heart when what is need is more active shopfronts and some penetration of open space into the buildings i.e outward rather than inward looking.

Current Projects and proposals

Within the City to the Lake development proposal we are pleased to see mention of improved connections and public access in particular from the City to the lake and to Commonwealth Park and City Hill.  The support for more people living in the City is a concept that is realistic in view of the need to house an increasing population but it is necessary to meet the aims of sustainable development and environmental leadership.  Given the general mediocrity of many existing high rise developments it is essential in this crucial location that design excellence be achieved.

The Capital Metro proposal is receiving much attention and funding. A statement was heard from ACTPLA at the City Plan workshop “that everyone supports the proposal”.  This is not correct in that there is considerable concern about the level of funding required, particularly in relation to the transport needs of suburbs that would not be serviced by the proposed light rail (80 – 90% of Canberra, in other words).  In fact the money expended on this project will result in less funds being available for much needed bus services in other parts of the city.  A Northbourne – Gungahlin light rail is an inherently inequitable solution, benefiting a small segment of the population at the expense of all others, further exacerbating the divide between public transport ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.  Spending $600 million on improving the overall bus network would lead to much better public transport outcomes, for the Canberra community as a whole, rather than spending it on 12km of light rail track.

Comment has also been made about the fact that Northbourne Avenue divides the City without considering that light rail would have the same, or greater effect.  The establishment of a Busway could meet the same objective, be less disruptive and less expensive.

One question too on the decision to plan for light rail from Gungahlin to the City is the need to look behind the reasons why this is so.  Gungahlin is a dormitory District with little employment so that almost everyone needs to travel out of it to go to work.  There is a similar situation developing in the longer term with the new Molonglo development as there is no employment there and none identified for the future and so this will also become a dormitory District as well.  Where is the transport planning for the future for Molonglo?  A single bus route as proposed now to Woden will not persuade people to use public transport

The development of a Strategic Cycle Network Plan is applauded provided it is carefully integrated with the public transport system.  Park and Ride is in the same category but with a need for regular, and possibly dedicated bus services which should relieve pressure on parking spaces for city centre employees.  However, the need for parking for shoppers and people visiting to access personal services should not be forgotten as they usually travel outside peak hours

Council too questions the desire to build a football stadium within the City area to be used some 20 times per year.  There are transport issues to consider with this proposal.  Again there will be a need for access to parking as Canberrans and those from the region are unlikely to travel in large numbers by Public Transport.  This is highlighted by the situation now in Manuka when games are held there.  We should also look at the experience at Bruce Stadium.  This has worked well for many years now.  Surely it would be much better to upgrade that facility which has proven itself over the years.

In relation to the Community views expressed in section 2.5, we are in broad overall agreement.

Council would be more than happy to discuss this Submission.

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