Fladun / Derelict blots on the Canberra landscape

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Images of the derelict buildings in Woden. Photos by Chris Fladun-Dowling

I AM perplexed. I find it hard to understand how our politicians and top bureaucrats can walk and drive past enormous monuments to administrative and commercial paralysis and not do something about it.

Sonya Fladun.

Two such monuments stand in the Woden business and shopping precinct – the derelict Alexander and Albemarle buildings. The Federal Department of Health walked out of those buildings some seven years ago, and they are still awaiting demolition. They are now an absolute disgrace in the centre of Woden, an embarrassing contrast to the new and innovative office buildings that surround them. Despite some efforts to maintain security, vandals have enjoyed themselves for years. Broken windows and doors, boarded up doors and graffiti give this central part of Woden all the charm of an abandoned Soviet industrial site.

Seven years is a long time to sort out the future of properties in the heart of a major administrative and commercial centre, especially in the context of a buoyant property market. I read that there has been a stalemate between the owners, Doma Group, and planning regulators. I don’t know the intricacies of all that, but years of progressive neglect have produced an eyesore that is quite unacceptable from the viewpoint of the community.

Across town it’s a different story, but the long delay in determining the fate of the vacant Federal Government-owned Anzac Park East building and its twin Anzac Park West is even more extraordinary.

Located at the lower end of Canberra’s iconic Anzac Parade, Anzac Park East has been empty for 20 years. Vandals have been active there as well and the signs of neglect and extensive decay have long been evident. It might have once been re-purposed and refurbished but now it’s apparently too late for that.

According to the reported conditions for sale set by the Department of Finance it may be another four years before demolition takes place and construction of new buildings at these very prominent sites in the centre of Canberra gets under way. By then it will have taken a quarter of a century to sort the problem.

Not far away another Doma Group-owned building, the former CSIRO headquarters on Limestone Avenue, Campbell, also stands abandoned, plastered with graffiti and the target for vandals and indeed looters who are quietly stripping the building of copper piping and anything else of value. Decisions about the heritage status of the building will apparently take some time, as will planning decisions by the National Capital Authority. Meanwhile, another eyesore has been created through delay and neglect.

Undoubtedly the reasons are complex, and specific to each site, but it does seem Canberra has a persistent problem with vacated government buildings falling into administrative and commercial limbo.

Perhaps Federal Government bureaucrats don’t focus enough on the interests of their own home city. Many seem to regard Canberra as a temporary camping group rather than our national capital. Perhaps the ACT government is hamstrung in its dealings with its big brother to deal effectively with the planning and administrative decisions associated with surplus Federal government property in Canberra’s commercial centres.

Perhaps developers need to be given strict time limits on the redevelopment of sites in key areas of the city. Perhaps the Federal Department of Finance, the National Capital Authority and the ACT government all need to try harder to work together.

One way or another our politicians, bureaucrats and property developers have managed to create a series of eyesores in the heart of Australia’s national capital. Sometimes policy failure can stare people in the face but they still can’t see it. Surely, they can do better.


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