On 22 June, the Joint Parliamentary National Capital & External Territories Committee heard evidence from the National Capital Authority's Don Aitken and Gary Rake recently. I asked them about some concerns that have been raised with me about development in the suburb of Campbell and some proposed memorials for World Wars I and II. Here are some snippets from the transcript.
Dr LEIGH: I draw your attention to the suburb of Campbell and a letter that I understand a group of Campbell residents have written to the NCA. Can you clarify for me the role that the NCA has in regard to Campbell?
Prof. Aitken: We both responded within 24 hours, I think, to that letter from the residents of Campbell. We are proposing a taskforce of the ACT government and the NCA to look at those issues. They are serious and proper issues and somebody needs to do something about it reasonably quickly. They are proposing a master planbut the problem with that is that if it is done well it takes a long time and the residents want fairly quickly some clear sense of what is likely to happen. So we thought a taskforce was the better way to go. We have had discussions already with the ACT government about that. I hope that we will be able to say something positive very soon.
Mr Rake: As to our particular role, the NCA has the planning approval power for most of the land surrounding Campbell. Of particular interest, the NCA controls planning along Constitution Avenue, which is a major road to the south of Campbell. Within the last decade we have proposed and proceeded with a major amendment to the National Capital Plan that would allow for major redevelopment and a larger scale of development along Constitution Avenue. So, one of the issues that the residents of Campbell are interested in is what that will mean for traffic movement and parking in their suburb.
There is potential for developments that we approve to have unintended negative impacts on traffic. It could block up the suburb; it could be used as a rat-run. To the extent that that happened, we control the cause but we do not control the solution. Within the suburb, planning is controlled by the ACT government and if a change were to be made to one of the roads to make it less attractive as a rat-run that would require the efforts of the ACT government. So the question the Campbell residents are asking, and it is a very good one, is: how are you two going to come together to make sure that decisions made here do not impact here and force another government to have to pick up the can? We think a taskforce would be good because we can identify issues in priority order. We should say that we think the taskforce should include Campbell residents so that they can identify the issues and help us to prioritise them.
Dr LEIGH: That is good to hear. Will that operate on an ongoing basis?
Mr Rake: I think it would be sensible. I do not know what the finish line would be, but at least until the majority of development on Constitution Avenue is complete. So I could see it being needed for the next three to five years at least.
Dr LEIGH: Would that complement public consultation processes taking place?
Mr Rake: Yes.
Prof. Aitken: It would not replace it.
Dr LEIGH: Mr Rake, can I take you back to something you said in answer to Senator Faulkner's question at a recent Senate estimates hearing on the subject of statutory NCA approval. You told Senator Faulkner there would be no issue with this approval given the recommendation the NCA had made to the Canberra National Memorials Committee. Can you take the committee through how the NCA made a recommendation to the memorials committee and what was taken into account?
Mr Rake: As I have put on public record before, there is not a clear evaluation process—there is not a detailed written evaluation of the matters considered by the board at the time, other than that they believed the site that they were recommending was appropriate, that it was consistent with the allowable uses under the National Capital Plan in that part of the national estate and that it was a proposal that the authority was happy to take ownership of once the physical form was complete. We would own the memorial and maintain it. The answer I gave Senator Faulkner was that, in recommending this proposal to the Canberra National Memorials Committee, the NCA has expressed a strong statement of in principle approval for the proposal. It is parallel to proposed works in the Parliamentary Zone where the Parliament Act has, in our view, the higher authority. Before proposals are tabled in each house of parliament the NCA expresses a view about whether it would be prepared to grant works approval. We then wait for parliament to express its view through each house and then we exercise our formal power on the instrument. The process here is parallel, although there is not any formal doctrine that says we must defer to the CNMC or the Parliament Act, but that is the practice that has emerged. So my answer to Senator Faulkner was that, by expressing our view of support, we stated that we are willing to provide works approval, subject to any technical deficiency that we find along the way. If we suddenly found that there would be an unacceptable traffic impact, that would be a technical deficiency that we would have to turn the proponents' minds back to and have them find a solution to.
Dr LEIGH: So traffic impact would be taken into account. What about impacts on views, including the views of residents in surrounding suburbs, were they taken into account?
Prof. Aitkin: Sorry, do you mean opinions or views?
Dr LEIGH: Visual views.
Mr Rake: The main visual assessment will be based on the heritage impacts. If this proposal were going to overshadow and have a very direct impact on adjoining properties, we would certainly take that into account, as we do for more major developments, but the fact that it would be within the line of sight from someone high on the hill who had a view down probably would not be a major criterion in the assessment.
Dr LEIGH: You mentioned in answer to Senator Faulkner that there was a character element. Does that require some assessment of public opinion?
Mr Rake: At the moment it does not, and that is the change I spoke about a few moments ago. Before we give future advice to the CNMC, the NCA would seek views on the character of a memorial. The process that has been used in the past is for the memorials committee to approve the commemorative intent and the location—and they do rely heavily on the advice of the NCA—but for the design or the character to be procured by design competition and for an independent jury to be used. That was certainly the case here. The Canberra National Memorials Committee are engaged in the development of the rules of the competition, the design brief that goes out, then the jury does its work, identifies a competition winner and recommends that to the Canberra National Memorials Committee for them to endorse as the final design or the character of the memorial.
Dr LEIGH: So the views of the local service community would not also have been taken into account? For example, the ACT branch of the RSL has passed a motion saying that it does not support the memorial, as I understand it.
Mr Rake: Not in a consultative manner. The then National President of the RSL was the chair of the competition jury. I guess to that extent we would expect that he would bring the views of the RSL to the table.
Senator HUMPHRIES: That is not quite true that the RSL said they do not support it. My reading is that they have adopted a neutral posture on it.
Dr LEIGH: My apologies. My advice was that the ACT branch of the RSL had discussed the issue at a council meeting in April and voted to offer no support for the—
Senator HUMPHRIES: That is right. They are not offering support but, as I understand it, they are not opposing it.
Dr LEIGH: Yes, thank you for the correction. Mr Rake, at Senate estimates you said that the NCA and the ACT government have 'inherently different interests when looking at Canberra'. Can you expand a little on what you meant by that?
Mr Rake: The question I was asked and to which I believe I gave that portion of the answer was about the elements of Canberra as a planned city and whether the NCA takes a strong view on I think environmental planning—my recollection may not be quite right there. But there are some elements that every city should take account of: sustainable design, healthy open spaces for its residents and good transport systems. They should exist in every city regardless of its size, whether it be a rural town or a national capital.
The things that the NCA are particularly interested in are those elements that are unique to Canberra, with its special role as the national capital. In trying to convey how we balance the interests of local residents and the nation as a whole, we tried to identify if there is a demonstrable national interest that is different to the interests of the local government and the local residents that requires our involvement. If there is not then we probably should not be involved in it. That is not to say that there is a deficiency in the local views, but there are some elements that are of national significance and that is where our role properly lies.
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