Canberra Times 18 February 2016
Community and residents’ groups are fearful of the impact a proposed $800 million Manuka Oval development would have on one of Canberra’s most established suburbs.
The GWS Giants and Grocon went public with their plan to redevelop the oval on Wednesday, outlining a vision that would include 1000 new apartments up to seven storeys high, a 300-bed hotel and up to 450 underground carparks to service new office and retails space that would be opened up on the grounds.
Giants chairman Tony Shepherd said the building works would be staged over eight years and create more than 2000 local jobs.
The proposal appears to have won bipartisan political support, with Labor Chief Minister Andrew Barr saying the proposal could help meet the future needs of Manuka Oval.
The Canberra Liberals also endorsed the “significant and creative investment in the Manuka Oval precinct”.
“This sort of proposal has the potential to create many jobs during construction and I look forward to further discussions with the community and proponents,” Opposition leader Jeremy Hanson said.
But inner south residents and community groups were surprised by the scope of the redevelopment which they believed had progressed to advanced stages of negotiation with the ACT government without any public input.
They have called for the government to fund an independent community consultation process on the proposal which they have said threatens to turn a 100-year-old community oval into the MCG.
Kingston and Barton Residents Group President Rebecca Scouller said the group was pleased to see their local member, Mr Barr, saying there would be “ample opportunity for the community to have their say”.
Ms Scouller said it was disappointing to hear the ACT government had been liaising with the Giants for over 18 months while local residents had been requesting a copy of the master plan for more than two years.
“Numerous requests to MLAs and senior government officials for information and consultation has continually fallen on deaf ears. This raises concerns about a genuine commitment to community consultation,” she said.
She noted that increasing the number of residents by more than 1500 people and having an extra 2260 workers coming into the precinct daily would have a significant impact on traffic, parking, Manuka Pool and the safety of school children travelling to and from school.
Inner South Canberra Community Council chair Gary Kent said “this proposal, if it proceeds, will potentially have a huge impact on a very old and established part of Canberra, with significant heritage values”.
“The council recognises that a number of benefits could potentially flow from this project, including better access between Manuka and the Oval precinct, freshening up of what is now a very tired looking precinct, and improved facilities for sports patrons.
“But the risks to the local community are immense and the consultation process must be thorough and all encompassing. The community was very disappointed with the lack of consultation that preceded the Manuka land swap fiasco and will not accept a repeat of that,” he warned.
Mr Barr said planning and approvals could take in the order of two years and a trust arrangement for management of the oval could be required.
“Clearly there is a series of trade offs associated with the level of revenue that is generated from the commercial and residential activities on the site that is then put back into improving spectator amenity and the like,” he said.
The government would consider its land holdings around the oval, but Mr Barr said the historic Manuka Pool and areas inside the fence, the caretaker’s cottage and the Jack Fingleton Scoreboard needed to be preserved.
Land outside the pool boundary would be made available for the development. Mr Barr said the Manuka Arts Centre and radio station would be relocated when a new facility at Kingston was ready.
Areas of land given to the consortium would be subject to Territory Plan variations or long term sub-leases. Mr Barr said the consortium would have to negotiate with the Canberra Services Club over its former site.
He said private funding would speed up redevelopment, while government-funded work would take as long as 50 years.
“The government is not entertaining building on Telopea Park, the government is not entertaining building on Manuka Pool, there are no grand conspiracies here,” he said, reiterating that “local heritage considerations and the rights of neighbouring residents to continue to enjoy their local open space must also not be compromised”.
Mr Shepherd said the consortium believed the community would come on board with the project.
“Canberra is s a funny old town. It’s very traditional and quite conservative at times, but I get the feeling at the moment that Canberra needs a stimulus. I think it’s been tough in a business sense in Canberra for a while. It’s a beautiful city and it is our national capital and we love it, but it might just need something to be proud of,” Mr Shepherd said.
“Inevitably there will be [unhappy] people, anything you put forward in a development sense has always got naysayers, but I would be surprised if the majority of thinking Canberrans weren’t in favour of it.”