Moore / Time to get knocking down Northbourne

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The Australian News and Information Bureau’s 1963 photo of Northbourne Avenue flats. Photo National Library of Australia
The Australian News and Information Bureau’s 1963 photo of Northbourne Avenue flats. Photo National Library of Australia
WHAT doesn’t the National Trust understand about compromise? The current antics over the Northbourne Avenue development suggest an organisation that would like to see a “no-change” Canberra.

Our heritage is important. The processes are in place to ensure appropriate protection. The ACT Heritage Council has remained vigilant in protecting our city’s heritage since it was first established in the early days of self-government.

The ACT National Trust branch has also played an important role as a non-government organisation identifying important sites and arguing for their protection. However, contemplating the use of its funds to continue legal action against the proposed compromise reflects a stubborn and obstinate approach that will eventually mean a marginalised organisation.

Michael Moore.
Michael Moore.
I have been responsible for opposing a number of development applications. I have chaired ACT Assembly committees on planning, environment and heritage. However, this goes over the top.

The current Northbourne Avenue entrance to the city is simply inappropriate for our National Capital. On the one hand, the entrance is grand with the large central plantings and wide street. On the other, hand, the buildings that are up for redevelopment make the entrance to the city look dated, tired and dilapidated.

Protecting the heritage of architect Sydney Ancher and the development of public housing in the 1960s as part of the National Capital Development Commission’s expansion of Canberra does have a place. The Heritage Council has recognised this and, as part of a compromise, has identified the range of building styles used to house the large influx of public servants coming to Canberra in that era.

However, protecting all of them is pointless. The original approach of Chief Minister Andrew Barr and the Land Development Agency to bulldoze the lot and get on with the job has been put to one side. They have compromised significantly. The Heritage Council has worked through the compromise and has accepted a sensible solution that protects the characteristics of the area and the specific buildings. This should be enough.

Extrapolating from the approach of the ACT Branch of the National Trust is that very little change will be able to occur and urban renewal will become bogged down in over-zealous appeals.

Not everything built in the 1960s is worthy of protection. The same applies to the 1930s, the 1920s and right through the development of the National Capital over the last 100 years. There has to be a good reason to preserve buildings as part of our heritage. The responsibility of the Minister and the Heritage Council is to ensure the reasons are understood and recorded and the protections put in place.

It is easy to argue the development is linked to light rail. However, whatever public transport system runs down this Canberra transport artery, the pressure will be on for development. More than 1000 additional dwellings will be able to be built in this process. That is 1000 dwellings that seriously reduce the number of commuters on the road or in public transport coming from the other town centres. This is an important contribution to reducing fossil fuel use, to increase productivity and for appropriate use of the Canberra urban design.

In the same era as these public housing buildings were being designed and built, the National Capital Development Commission was also developing the “Y Plan”. This was the strategic plan that provided the shape of modern Canberra – extending initially to Woden and then to Belconnen and Tuggeranong and on to Gungahlin. One of the main principles of the “Y Plan” was to ensure that people had the opportunity to live close to where they worked. This was the idea behind the town centres and the linked public service offices (although this was never delivered appropriately in Gungahlin or enough in Tuggeranong).

The redevelopment of Northbourne Avenue is a key element of maintaining enough people in the area to support office buildings in Civic as well as renewing the grand nature of the entrance to Canberra. It is time to accept the compromise and get going with the redevelopment.


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Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.


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