Canberra Times 12 September 2016
By Graham Carter, National Trust(ACT)
Manuka Oval is an important heritage-listed site and the National Trust (ACT) supports the ACT government’s decision to reject the massive redevelopment proposed by a consortium comprising Grocon and the GWS Giants Football club. The site includes the oval, caretaker’s cottage and setting, grandstands, seating areas, practice areas, parts of road verge and surrounding landscape areas.
The iconic site was established alongside other historic buildings such as Parliament House and Albert Hall. The prominence and importance of the oval has not wavered in the community, and remains highly valued as a place for sporting matches, recreation and social activity. It is heritage-listed because the oval and the landscape demonstrates the importance of recreational and sporting venues for the community. The heritage value of the site is vested in its tangible fabric and intangible values – the history of the place and activity gives Manuka Oval its strong historic, cultural and social heritage significance for the ACT community.
The oval and the landscape is an integral component of a collective of 19 neighbouring heritage-listed places in the Griffith, Kingston and Barton areas that were identified in Walter Burley Griffin’s and the Federal Capital Advisory Committee’s plans for the new city and were among the first developed as part of the emerging nation’s capital. They comprise Telopea Park, Telopea Park School, Manuka Swimming Pool, the former Griffith Child Welfare Centre and Old Jazz School, Brassey and Kurrajong Hotels, the Baptist Church Kingston, Kingston Power House, Manuka Shopping Precinct, Kingston Shopping Precinct, St Christopher’s Cathedral Precinct, St Paul’s Church, the Kingston, Red Hill, Forrest and Barton Barton Housing Precincts, Blandfordia 4 and 5 Housing Precincts, and the former Canberra Services Club site. All these sites are subject to the provisions of the Heritage Act 2004 (ACT).
The trust’s general position is that the best way to conserve a heritage building, structure or site is to use it. When properly done, adaptation links the past to the present and projects into the future. Individually and collectively Manuka Oval and the other sites must be conserved and appropriately designed and managed in a manner respecting their heritage significance and the features intrinsic to that heritage significance, and consistent with a sympathetic and viable use or uses.
Any development that has a potential impact on significant fabric (and/or other heritage values) is required to be guided by professionally documented assessments and conservation policies relevant to that area or component. This includes the ACT Planning and Development and Heritage Acts, the National Capital and Territory Plans, Heritage Registrations, Conservation Management Plans, Development and Control Plans, These are essential considerations that must be addressed before any masterplan is developed.
Unfortunately, the government in its conflicted concurrent roles of regulator (planning, development and heritage), owner and developer seems in public eyes to subjugate heritage and environment considerations in favour of private profits and/or government revenue.
This appears evident in the proposed developments such as Thompson, West Basin and Manuka Oval. This is something about which the trust and other community organisations are becoming increasingly worried. They are also concerned that their capacity to represent legitimate concerns about major developments at ACAT is being made untenable. These issues are compounded by the lack of transparency and a largely ineffective FOI Act.
The vision of the National Capital is supposed to be a “great and beautiful city”, within the landscape setting of the city and the distant mountains. The inner areas have a unique character and help to set Canberra apart from other cities. They form part of the soul of our city and are recognised both nationally and internationally as the best examples of how the principles of the Garden City movement were applied in Australia.
Over recent years the ACT government has made many references to the need to maintain control over areas of “national character”, including the parliamentary triangle and roads into Canberra. What the ACT government has failed to do is maintain control over areas of “Canberra character” which generally pertains to the inner suburbs and the landscape.
Currently these inner areas are being decimated by ill-considered high-rise developments and urban infill. Although these suburbs and the overall streetscape cannot be frozen, it is important to retain the essential design qualities of the inner areas as part of the overall heritage and character of our Garden City.
Unfortunately, these areas are being lost to our community due to poor planning and management by government and the interests of developers, as has been demonstrated by the recent unsolicited proposal for the development of the oval and surrounding areas.
Consequently Canberra is starting to look like any city anywhere.
The future of the oval must be predicated on the application by EPD and NCA of heritage values, sound town planning, urban design principles, and proper broad scale community consultation. It is essential that there is a proper and agreed vision for development that includes consideration of the “Canberra Character” of the site and surrounding suburbs.
There must also be a full and transparent assessment of social and economic impacts as well as opportunities and broad community agreement on the desired aims, objectives and outcomes of all stakeholders including residents, who will inevitably be affected.
This is an essential exercise that must be undertaken before calling for expressions of interest or the formation of the consultative panel as is now being proposed by the government. Given the obvious constraints of development of this site there should be a transparent comparative cost benefit analysis of both Manuka and other alternatives sports venues such as Phillip Oval, which is larger and is proximate to the Woden Town, which would benefit from revitalisation.
This would assist the development of design options in terms of their desirability, viability and feasibility and exploration of different ways that the project vision can be achieved. The outcome of this analysis would determine which site and surrounding area should undergo master planning and the terms of reference for a community panel.
Graham Carter is on the council of the National Trust (ACT).