Don’t surrender West Basin to the developers

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The waterfront development of West Basin, envisaged under the National Capital Plan, will reclaim about 2.86 hectares of lake bed to create a lake edge.

“Water’s-edge projects, such as that proposed for West Basin, will destroy the current habitat, remove access for ordinary Canberrans and concentrate the benefits in the hands of a few. UnAustralian!” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE.

PLANNING is set to be an election issue yet again with one of the key issues for the October election being the protection of the foreshores of our lakes, and particularly the West Basin of Lake Burley Griffin.

One of the great joys of our beaches and rivers in Australia is the broad access by all people. Beach and riverfront ownership is now rare as successive governments have largely retained beaches and riverfronts in public hands.

What could be in the minds of the ACT and National Capital Authority planners and our governments that they even consider moving Lake Burley Griffin foreshore into private hands. 

“Water’s-edge projects such as that proposed for West Basin will destroy the current habitat, remove access for ordinary Canberrans and concentrate the benefits in the hands of a few. UnAustralian!

The Kingston Foreshore is illustrative of how a lakefront changes with intense development. Buildings push out into the lake and, where there was beachfront, the character is lost. 

Kingston Foreshore provides Canberrans with a clear understanding of the sort of changes that will transform West Basin and Acton Park if the city crosses Parkes Way. Developers and governments will invariably argue “vibrancy”. 

Such developments invariably bring a swathe of coffee shops and restaurants. However, these can also be developed on the foreshore for community good without destroying the longest piece of beach left on Lake Burley Griffin.

The recently developed Henry Rolland Park, just to the west of Commonwealth Avenue, illustrates how lake foreshore developments can be done in the community interest. West Basin can be improved and restaurants and cafes added. It can be made more attractive to encourage greater use by Canberrans as well as visitors from Australia and internationally. Well, when our country opens again!

There is a community group “committed to safeguarding one of Canberra’s greatest treasures, the open space of Lake Burley Griffin and its lakeshore landscape setting”. The Lake Burley Griffin Guardians were formed in 2015 and are supported by other organisations such as the North Canberra Community Council, the Walter Burley Griffin Society and Canberra Planning Action Group.

As the October election for the ACT approaches, the group is becoming more active. A “call-to-action” brochure, authorised by Penny Moyes on behalf of the association, has been dropped in letterboxes. It is political, pointing out that the Community Action Party does oppose the West Basin development while “independents and other parties have yet to state their policies”. 

Juliet Ramsay is the current convenor of the Lake Burley Griffin Guardians and was featured in a “must-read” article by my colleague Paul Costigan in “CityNews” in May. The article reviewed Ms Ramsay’s presentation to the Australian International Council on Monuments and Sites arguing for lake protection.

Although COVID-19 has played havoc with the electioneering, now is the time for the group to be political.

The Canberra Liberals’ shadow minister for planning, Mark Parton, indicated a cautious approach by his party arguing they will not be rushed into premature development. The most important thing for the Liberals is maintaining appropriate access to the West Basin Foreshore for the community. 

Independent candidate for Murrumbidgee Fiona Carrick recognised the importance of Lake Burley Griffin to all Canberrans. 

She said: “If development does go ahead, there must be a really significant setback from the lake”. Ms Carrick explained that all members of our community must be able to enjoy the amenity of the lake and our city.

Canberra does not have to be handed over to the developers. We can learn from international experience. The lake foreshore in Geneva provides a great example of a city that has protected its foreshore and is enjoyed not only by people of that city but by visitors from all over the world. Canberra could emulate that thinking as was done with the water spout!

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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.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Good on you, Michael. With fond memories of the original Residents’ Rally, formed by you, Bernard Collaery, Hector Kinloch and others. Residents’ Rally had its origins not far from the West Basin site, and grew in opposition to the public parking that had been opened up at the base of City Hill. Hopefully, in 2020 the Residents will rally once again and express their protest, this time at the ACT elections.

    Ann

  2. The spot is a characterless patch of dirt separated by a 6 lane freeway from the city with no function ecologically or socially.
    Development plays an important part in the growth of our young city. I agree that development should be done correctly and integrated with adequate landscaping. If its landscaping only who will use it?

    • I think this is the point worth repeating because it is the elephant in the room. The plans for yet more flats creating a barrier between the lake and the community is as flawed as futsul and pop-up container villages because nothing today has had community buy in.

      The centre of population draw remains the Central Basin because it is a nice walking circuit. West Basin offers nothing for people to do and it is not a simple circuit. Nevertheless, opaque business practices and concrete canyons are not the solution either. But is this a problem in search of a solution now? We are not having the same heated exchanges about the need to put flats on the Japanese Garden and that is the same thing. What is wrong with a vista to the mountains and beyond to remind residents and visitors that this is The Bush Capital and the Nation’s Capital is a designed city where the Lake is part of the Nation’s heritage?

      • What’s wrong with actually making use of the land however for an alternate purpose Palmerston beyond a soggy wasted pile of crud like it is now. Its close to the city, and if well done, should be developed.

        This debate should be about quality of development, not whether it should be developed or not. If we want a more compact city, then infill has to be part of that. Its not like there is a shortage of areas where you can see your vista’s – kilometres and kilometres of it.

        • JIm, that makes as much sense as the Chief Minister as it runs counter to what is happening. Can I suggest you take the time to read the design revision now out on the ACT pages and see what the Government is now proposing. It looks great as a glossy brochure but the pictures, the arguments, and the philosophy do not take the reality of the geography and climate into consideration.

          We only get one chance to get this right. A vista gone is gone forever; remember Canberra is meant to showcase what is great about Australia and to highlight our seamless connection with nature.

          • As I said Palmerston – it needs to be good development. The argument you are proposing, in line with the Guardian sooks is no development. I don’t think that washes at all. There is a long shore line of the artificial lake (i.e. not natural) that you can go and showcase whatever it is you want to showcase.

            There are two arguments here. No development at all vs development. Then there is the sub argument – if development is to happen, how to ensure it is good development.

            That is where the focus should be. Not the obsession of NIMBYS that don’t even live here that somehow a man mad lake has to be protected at all costs….

          • What vista do you get from west basin that you don’t get in broad terms from a million other places on the lake? If it was such a critical part of the city, why is there basically never anyone down there outside those transiting through on a lake ride or parking their car on a workday. There is little in that area to give any value in its current decrepit state.

            As I said, the debate should be about quality of the development – not caving into the nimby crowd at every opportunity.

  3. I understand your frustration Jim but the argument being made by the Government and developers is a polarising one. The comparisons used to sell this product are both false and misleading, and represent a lifestyle that Canberra does not have, and due to our climate and geography, will never have.

    It is worth noting the man made lake was built for a purpose. Unlike West Basin’s flashes in the pan, it was meant to outlast you and me and act as a mirror to natural backdrop. But running down West Basin using degrading language does little to support careful and inclusive design.

    So the question I would pose back to you is “why now?” what are the pressing drivers that make change so required and so immediate that this development needs to be pushed through without due process and reasoned debate?

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