1 July 2020

Government land sell-off for units heightens Gungahlin dormitory fears

| Ian Bushnell
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Gungahlin Town Centre. There are fears it will become a dormitory without a solid employment base. Photo: Region Media.

The Suburban Land Agency has been accused of pursuing easy money by selling off a commercial block in the Gungahlin Town Centre as a mixed-use site with an allowance of up to 350 units.

Gungahlin Community Council is alarmed that the CZ1 Core block, one of five blocks in the town centre to go under the hammer on 25 March, will likely be developed as a high-rise residential tower when a commercial development and the jobs that it would bring is urgently needed.

The decision exacerbates community concerns that the Government is abandoning the idea of the Town Centre being a vibrant hub and is allowing it to become a dormitory without a jobs base.

Gungahlin Community Council president Peter Elford says the council had been underwhelmed by Draft Variation 364 which, while addressing some building height issues, fails to adequately cover green space and walking and cycling amenities in the proposed new precinct code.

There were also questions over the loss of community land and the equivalent replacement with floor space.

But Mr Elford says the loss of a paragraph that defines the Town Centre as a major hub for employment, shopping, social activity and public transport raised a major red flag, and no one has been able to explain why it was taken out.

The amount of commercial or office space reserved has also been cut from 100,000 square metres to 65,000 square metres, and Mr Elford says even the Suburban Land Agency (SLA) questioned the planning directorate on this.

“They’ve not really tried to pitch [the idea], or tilt the playing field to make it possible for commercial sites in Gungahlin to become attractive,” Mr Elford said.

“I accept there are challenges but the ACT Government in our view should do more than say no one wants to do it, they should create some incentives to do it, such as free light rail for tenancies.”

Gungahlin blocks

Gungahlin sites for sale. Image: Supplied.

Now a key commercial site on Hibberson Street is on the market and set to deliver a further 350 units (52 affordable) in the Town Centre, where 57 per cent of respondents to a council survey say they do not want any more residential development.

Mr Elford pointed to Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s argument for gifting UNSW a prime city site to develop its new campus when “the alternative could have been to build more apartments”.

“That would have been probably the highest economic use, in a cash sale for the government. But we recognise that in developing Canberra’s CBD, yes we need more residents, but we also need jobs and diverse economic activity.”

Mr Elford said the same principle should be applied in Gungahlin but it seemed the SLA instead opted for the easy sale.

“There is no effort to get a good outcome to establish some employment, reduce the total number of people commuting, to give then some vibrancy, some sustainability for business in the Town Centre.

“Once these sites are sold, they’re sold, and they’re no longer available to contribute to the net vibrancy of the Town Centre, other than yet more units.”

A Core commercial site usually required an anchor retail tenant but by allowing 350 dwellings on the site, the government was “making a pretty clear statement that they expect it to be residential without even entertaining the option of something else”.

“It’s a pretty weak effort,” Mr Elford said.

The other four Gungahlin sites are zoned CZ2 mixed use and can deliver a total of 461 units, including 80 affordable units

Woden site

The Woden site on Melrose Drive. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

The SLA is also selling two key sites in Belconnen and Woden at the same auction.

The blocks will go under the hammer at 11:00 am on 25 March in The Bradman Room at Manuka Oval, and should bring a handy sum into the ACT Government’s coffers, especially with the Budget position deteriorating.

In Woden, Block 2 Section 180, on the corner of Melrose Drive and Corinna Street is Zoned CZ2 for a variety of uses including multi-unit housing, hotel accommodation, serviced apartments and shops, and is billed as being part of the urban renewal phase of Woden Town Centre.

Within walking distance to Westfield Woden, local office buildings, the library, bars, restaurants, the Bus Interchange, and future light rail, the 11,212 square metre site offers a chance to be part of Woden’s growing town centre, the SLA says.

It can carry a maximum of 480 dwellings, with 74 affordable, 10 public, and five community housing units.

In Belconnen, a 7,125 square metre CZ2 site on the corner of Swanston and Chandler Streets (Block 17 Section 152) is located within walking distance to Westfield Belconnen, University of Canberra and local office buildings.

The maximum number of dwellings allowed is 550, including 87 affordable, 10 public and 5 community housing units.

Colliers International is marketing the sites for the SLA.

Original Article published by Ian Bushnell on The RiotACT.

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