Another Canberra Foreshore? The West Basin Proposal

by The Editor

The City Plan Logo

Last week to much fanfare, the ACT Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher, MLA and Deputy Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, MLA and Minister for Planning Simon Corbell, MLA (whew!) launched a new masterplan. This plan proposes a dramatic repositioning of the West Basin of Lake Burley Griffin, known as Acton Beach or ‘the-spot-where-the-Open-Air-Cinema-was-held’. It’s an intriguing concept, that simultaneously follows a precedent, but sets an entirely new standard.

So, what to make of all this?

The comments in this piece are largely in response to the flyover video of the proposal available on YouTube video below.  As later discussed, there is little visual detail available via the ACT Government website.

The Concept
Firstly, the idea of linking this part of the city is long overdue. Currently, the easiest way to access this area is to make your way through the western part of the city (largely deserted outside of business hours) between Rydges Lakeside and New Acton to a spindly pedestrian bridge that spans Parkes Way. Once this far, you are about two kilometres from anywhere, with the most interesting nearby location being located across a stretch of water.

City to the Lake - The Beach Comes to Canberra

There can be no better idea than limiting the impact of Parkes Way on the landscape. By sinking the flow-through arterial and building a small street for local traffic over the top, it becomes simple for pedestrians to move from the city to the lake. How this will tie in with future light rail routes to other centres should be intriguing, all though at the early stages it appears trams will run perpendicular to Parkes Way over Commonwealth Avenue Bridge.

The position of the new rectangular stadium seems sensible enough – Constitution Avenue was always intended to be a much more cosmopolitan precinct than the grotty collection of carparks it is today. Similarly, infill between London Circuit and Vernon Circle is long overdue. The carparks there are a wasted opportunity, although the idyllic proposal of ‘focussing on City Hill’ seems a bit far-fetched with three lanes of traffic and a tram running to and from the city centre.

Stadium Photos

The BIG Catch
Who wouldn’t love to see a large sweeping foreshore filled with boulevards making better use of the water? It’d be a difficult argument to prosecute.

What has us concerned is the inevitable selling of key parcels of land for residential developments as a financial offset. The risk here is great – think of Sydney’s ‘Toaster‘ as an example of how appallingly waterfronts can be wasted. Kingston Foreshore is bad enough – but this is much, much more risky.

The argument – as the presentation video suggests – for establishing six blocks of apartments on the west side of Parkes Way does not ‘tie the city to the lake’.  If this was the case, there is an equally valid argument for bulldozing the back half of Commonwealth Park and enhancing the existing waterfront along Menzies Walk – overall a much cheaper option.

Rather, this sell-off will inevitably be used to fund the major works required.

City to the Lake - Boardwalk

The Canberran’s Plan
To protect the aesthetic values of a planned capital, we at The Canberran have a simple proposal. Prior to the sale of any new package of land for this project (both on Acton Beach and inside London Circuit) potential buyers must comply with the following:

  1. A design concept must be developed in consideration of the locale (such as the arts or law precinct).
  2. The bottom two floors of the structure must be available for commercial or community operations, with a green space in the centre (as indicated by the video) – perfect for restaurants, cafes etc.
  3. A fixed percentage of the price of the land package must be spent on public art for the site.
  4. This design must comply with a set of criteria specific to the City Plan
  5. The design will be subject to approval by an expert panel of internationally recognised Australian architects.

Only once this process has been completed will developers then be engaged in a bidding process for the land to implement their design. Strict penalties will be enforced for deviations from the original proposal.

Past experience proves the need for such strict design enforcement. Recent high-profile and large scale developments – such as our usual bugbears the Canberra Centre North Quarter, Sky Plaza in Woden and the Kingston Foreshore – provide highly visible examples of how planning in Canberra can go just so far awry.

City to the Lake - Boardwalk 2

Strangely, the City to the Lake page holds little in the way of images or plans. You need to go to a Facebook Page for that. So, if you start at the official City to the Lake page you must then click the link to The City Plan page. Once there, scroll to the bottom of the page for the diminutive Facebook logo. Yep – it’s that…um, easy.

Has all this got you intrigued as to how our city may look in the future – keeping in mind the Kingston Foreshore construction is now in its 16th year (and counting)? Here are some details on the public consultation process, which kicks off today (Wednesday 3 April 2013).

  • The display will open on 3 April 2013 at Suite 1, 72 Northbourne Avenue, (south east corner Northbourne Avenue & Cooyong Street) from 3 April to 21 May 2013
  • Public seminars will be held in the Theatrette at Canberra Museum and Gallery on the following dates:
    • 4 April 2013        12.15pm-1.45pm
    • 5 April 2013        4.15pm-5.45pm
    • 8 April 2013        5.15pm-6.45pm
    • 9 April 2013        12.15pm-1.45pm
  • The consultation period closes on Tuesday 21 May 2013.

Next steps

We’d love to hear what you think about this important proposal to redefine Canberra’s City.  Do you consider it a modern interpretation to the Griffin Plan, or see it as needless infill on a key green-space.  Send us your thoughts via the comments section below, and we’ll use them to provide a formal submission to the ACT Government in a couple of weeks.