NCA quietly approves tower shock on Northbourne

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The Mantra Hotel on Northbourne Avenue… just add seven storeys. Photo: Paul Costigan

THERE are problems with the National Capital Authority (NCA) that could be addressed by the soon-to-be-elected ACT Federal politicians. Here’s the background to the issues.

Paul Costigan.

Community members who studied the numerous planning strategies that popped up during 2018 and earlier this year noticed a disturbing trend in how the NCA approaches planning. The NCA no longer matches expectations that its prime role is the stewardship of the nation’s capital.

One incident was when residents noted that the NCA’s planners designated the eastern edge of Lyneham’s Southwell Park for apartment towers. Subsequent conversations with the NCA planner were reported as being “tense”; and after some targeted advocacy, this stupid proposal was removed. What was the NCA thinking?

Worse still is what the NCA has approved for the Northbourne Avenue/MacArthur & Wakefield streets intersection. Given the massive number of developments planned along Northbourne, most people would not have noticed the details for the developments on these four corners. No 3D modelling was offered, so it was difficult to spot how different the planning for this intersection was to elsewhere along Northbourne.

On the four corners of this key intersection, the NCA planners in their twisted wisdom have allowed for much taller towers, with some being 15 storeys or more.

To see what this means, add another five to seven storeys to the Mantra Hotel now located at this intersection. Once the developers get up to speed with new plans for these four corner blocks, there will be a massive grouping of towers to greet visitors.

Based on what they have quietly pushed through for this section of the gateway into the national capital, it seems that anything goes that will maximise profits on the sales. As for any responsibility by the NCA to maintain the character of this city – apparently that is now becoming a thing of the past.

One commentator offered a reason for this new NCA monstrous approach to planning. They pointed out that one corner is occupied by the ABC. Could the NCA be preparing for the day when the Commonwealth sells off this ABC site and magically the NCA’s planning will allow for a maximum sale price for the Commonwealth?

The NCA of the past would have understood that towers of 15 plus storeys dominating the skyline would seriously interfere with views of the hills that surround the city and would dramatically alter the character of this part of the city. But apparently this honouring of the city’s heritage is no longer a priority.

The NCA’s key strategic objectives over the period 2018-19 to 2021-22 include three key areas, with two being very relevant to what they are allowing in planning: Excellence in the care and custodianship of the National Capital’s special and symbolic places – and – Strategic planning and oversight of the places and spaces of national importance in Canberra, with a focus on place-making and environmental sustainability.

While there are a couple of years to go for the NCA and its planners to deliver good outcomes against these, all indicators are that they are being ignored and replaced with those akin to the dreadful stuff that we now see as normal from ACT government planning and the minister’s agencies such as the City Renewal Authority.

Over the last six years or so the NCA and the ACT agencies have become linked in how they deal with residents and ignore people’s aspirations. The NCA has been changed for the worse.

The NCA approvals for the MacArthur Northbourne corner towers were signed off just before the elections being called and await approval by the new parliament. The opportunity exists to have this madness put aside and for the planning decisions to be sent back to the NCA for real community consultations.

It will be over to the newly elected Federal politicians to resolve this situation. Talk to the ACT candidates for the coming 2018 Federal election about this.

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