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Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories - 23/11/2011 - National Capital Authority

PENN, Ms Shelley, Acting Chair, National Capital Authority

RAKE, Mr Gary, Chief Executive, National Capital Authority

TINDAL, Mr Rob, Acting Director, Estate Development and Renewal, National Capital Authority

Committee met at 12:37

CHAIR ( Senator Pratt ): I declare open this hearing of the National Capital and External Territories Committee. Before calling the witnesses, is it the wish of the committee that the media be allowed to film the proceedings today in accordance with the rules set down for committees, which include not taking footage or still images of members or laptop screens? There being no objection, it is so ordered.

Today's hearing with the National Capital Authority occurs a couple of times a year. This is an opportunity for the National Capital Authority to bring to the committee and members of the public up to date with the workings of the authority and it allows us to ask questions and raise matters of current public interest of which there are a number. I would like to thank the National Capital Authority for your attendance today and for your ongoing support for this level of engagement. I welcome the acting chair of the NCA, Shelley Penn, and place on record the committee's appreciation to the past chair, Professor Don Aitkin, for his contribution to our work. We expect to cover several issues today, among them the proposals for a new diplomatic estate in Canberra. I would expect that, dependent on the response to the discussions today, the committee may decide to take further evidence on this question in the future.

Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I advise you that these hearings are formal proceedings of the parliament and warrant the same respect as proceedings of the respective houses. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. The evidence will be recorded by Hansard and attracts parliament privilege. I now invite you to make a short opening statement to the committee, and I welcome you to your new role, Ms Penn.

Ms Penn : Thanks, Senator. Thanks for the opportunity to address you. As you know, I was very recently appointed Acting Chair of the National Capital Authority, having been a member of the board since January 2010. I would like to acknowledge the significant contribution that the former chair, Professor Don Aitkin, made in his role with the authority.

By way of introduction, I am a practising architect, having directed my own small practice since 1993. Since 1999, I have also worked with government in a range of roles all focused on supporting design excellence in the public realm. My work with government commenced with a term as design director in the office of the New South Wales government architect. It included a four-year stint as Associate Victorian Government Architect where, with then Victorian Government Architect, John Denton, we established the office within the Department of Premier and Cabinet. My work with government has also involved numerous independent design review roles, including chairing of those, and also the cochairing of a recent comprehensive review of planning processes for the 22-hectare Barangaroo development in Sydney for the New South Wales government.

I mention my personal background as some context for my respect for an approach to my work with the NCA and the work of the NCA. My professional work—from the intimate scale of designing homes for people, which is what constitutes my practice, to the strategic design advice around better public places which constitutes my work with government—derives from my enduring belief that we are all profoundly affected by the built environment every day.

Large-scale urban planning decisions influence things like travel times, access to work, access to community services, environmental impacts and so on. Urban design, the mix of uses in a place, the quality of architecture and landscape in detail affect our health and well-being. There is substantial well-documented evidence to support this. Well-designed places are fit for purpose, safe, inclusive and legible. They help communities to connect better. They contribute to a sense of identity and belonging and they create meaning, delight and inspiration.

The national capital is a wonderfully complex and important place for Australia and Australians. In Canberra the range of human impacts I have mentioned is heightened and acute. The national capital must be a great place to live for a small but growing population but, above all places in Australia, it must capture and express Australian culture—a place that our diverse communities can visit and connect with which resonates and informs their view of Australia and of themselves as Australians. Equally, it must be expressive to visitors from outside Australia.

Along with important others, the NCA has the responsibility of supporting this as an enduring vision and also as an enduring reality. We are in a great position to do so, thanks to our predecessors: the legacy of Australian governments over time; of Marion Mahoney and Walter Burley Griffin; of the NCDC and its incarnations, including the present one; and of the ACT government and its development of a sophisticated approach to planning.

To support the development of the national capital as an exemplary place for residents and for all Australians, I believe the NCA needs to focus on a number of things, and I want to mention three particular points: there must be a national focus accompanied by sensitivity to issues affecting ACT residents; there must be a strong focus on high-quality design outcomes in the public realm and a strengthening of processes which support them; and there must be governance structures and internal procedures which enable these.

The government's response to the Hawke review will set the framework for what the NCA must and can do. In the meantime, we are continuing to improve our internal processes. It is essential that we operate with rigor, independence, transparency and accountability. It is unlikely that our decisions will please everyone, but we should be able to defend our decisions as having been robustly and carefully considered and observers should be able to feel that, even if they do not like the result, the process was fair, proper and appropriately informed.

We are working on a range of measures to ensure this is the case at the NCA. An example of that is, I believe, you are aware of our changes to our community consultation protocol and procedures over the past two or three years, and these include development of our online services to enable a broader range of people to more easily make comment and be heard on a range of issues.

These matters are important now and will be become even more so as Canberra grows. Clarity about the importance of the national capital; a robust approach to decision making and governance; excellent and genuine community engagement; a close and collaborative working relationship with the ACT government; and the clear demand for and demonstration of design excellence, which is set by the Commonwealth through the NCA, is essential. These will make the difference between the potential for Canberra to rapidly grow into a sprawling any-city and the scope for extension of the legacy of Canberra as an exemplary, sustainable, unique place to live and as an inspiring symbol of the nation. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Ms Penn. I think that gives us an opportunity for questions.

Mr Rake : Yes. I believe members are aware that we have also come prepared, if you wish, to brief you on the Bowen Place crossing proposal.

CHAIR: Yes, it is very nicely displayed there. Do you want to begin, Senator Humphries?

Senator HUMPHRIES: I will. Can I just associate myself with the comments of the chair about the contribution of Professor Aitkin. I hope that the next chair will be as competent and able to talk to a number of stakeholders as Professor Aitkin was in doing this job. On that score, is there any indication that the NCA has of when an appointment is likely to be made of a permanent replacement chair for Professor Aitkin?

Mr Rake : No. That is a matter for the minister and for the Governor-General.

Senator HUMPHRIES: When did Professor Aitkin cease to be chair?

Mr Rake : Professor Aitkin's term expired on 28 October.

Senator HUMPHRIES: The NCA is down one position on its board at the moment, isn't it?

Ms Penn : Yes.

Senator HUMPHRIES: There are a few things I want to cover today. I know Ms Brodtmann wants to talk about the diplomatic precincts. I will cover a couple of things before we get to that, if that is all right.

CHAIR: Andrew Leigh needs to leave at one. I am happy to come back to you later. Take the call now for some questions, then we might go to Andrew.

Senator HUMPHRIES: I will just ask a few questions and then pass to him. Where do we stand at the moment with the dialogue between the ACT planning authorities and the NCA with respect to The Way Forward report from July 2008? It is now more than three years since the report was brought down. The federal government accepted that there should be a dialogue between the two planning agencies to be able to deal with the issue of a lack synchronisation between the two planning bodies. Every time we have asked this question we have been told that discussions are continuing. Can we have an indication of just where that stands at the moment vis-a-vis an end point? Are we a quarter of the way there or half the way there? Where do we stand?

Mr Rake : There have been no active discussions for several months now. The primary reason for that, as I think I put into evidence last time I answered a similar question, is there is still a fundamental difference between the ACT government and the NCA about the range of responsibilities that we each have in the shared planning system. That was the primary motivation for Minister Crean asking Dr Hawke to examine the recent reviews of the National Capital Authority, in particular the report that this committee prepared in 2008, and to try and reconcile some of those differences or even arbitrate if need be. Dr Hawke's report was released earlier this year. The government is currently considering it and the minister has made a commitment to respond in the near future.

I think it is fair to say—and the chair may also wish to comment—that we are very pleased with the work that Dr Hawke did. We think that it draws on the strength of the report that this committee prepared. It does appropriately balance the interests of the national capital and the residents of Canberra. We think that it represents a very productive new path and we are very keen to hear a government response, hear what government would like our new direction to be and then to get on with it.

Ms Penn : To some extent at least it does seem to address some of the objectives of the ACT government that they have stated in a way that is very positive. We do actually have a good working relationship with them and we would like to see that clarified through the governance arrangements. I guess we just have to wait for the government response.

Senator HUMPHRIES: So you would say that the process initiated by The Way Forward is really suspended while this consideration of the Hawke review occurs?

Mr Rake : Yes, that would be the best way to describe it.

Senator HUMPHRIES: That would imply that there is some kind of role for the ACT government with respect to responding to the Hawke review. Are you aware of whether the ACT government has been invited to respond to the Hawke review and to make submissions to the federal government?

Mr Rake : I am not aware of that, Senator. In saying that, we are the subject of the review so we would not be coordinating those discussions if they were to occur.

Senator HUMPHRIES: I have one more issue before I pass over to Dr Leigh. I thought that the city looked quite good in the lead-up to the visits by the Queen and by President Obama in the last few weeks. Did the NCA undertake any special work around the city to prepare for those important visits which were going to throw the ACT onto the international stage?

Mr Rake : No, Senator. The only changes we made were to the lighting of the Kings Avenue overpass, the new bridge, which has a feature that enables us to reflect the colours of the home flag of the appropriate visiting head of state. We have been putting a lot of effort into lifting the standards of our asset management and the presentation of the city every day of the year. It is the national capital every day of the year. Certainly we are blessed with some important official visits from time to time, but we also want the city and our national capital to look great when everyday Australians visit their national capital. The improved presentation you have seen is a reflection of our team's hard work.

Senator HUMPHRIES: Thank you.

Dr LEIGH: I want to ask you to give us a run-down on the Bowen Place crossing developments. I am particularly interested in the way in which the public consultation process has shaped what looks like now being the final outcome.

Mr Rake : I might talk about the consultation and then ask Mr Tindal to talk about the design that we came up with. Our first engagement with the community was in December 2009. We pulled together a group of key stakeholders that represented a broad set of user groups and a broad set of heritage groups. We detected that they would be the most likely to have opposing views on the form that would be taken for the crossing. The NCA prepared seven generic schemes for consideration by that group. At the table, the group came up with an eighth scheme for us to analyse. We worked through the eight options and came down to a short list of three—two that were an at-grade crossing—a crossing very much like a pedestrian crossing but controlled with traffic signals or some other mechanism—and one grade separated solution, which was a footbridge. We put those three options to public consultation during 2010 and the community overwhelmingly, something like 97 or 98 per cent, supported the footbridge, which was the only grade-separated solution exposed at that time.

We had an online forum and we had several hundred comments. A number of people asked us to reconsider whether an underpass might be a viable solution. We had previously ruled it out because the early stakeholder group said that they thought people might have concerns about public safety. They thought people might be apprehensive about using a traditional underpass. At the close of the open public consultation we agreed that we would evaluate both a footbridge and an underpass. So there were only grade-separated solutions; we agreed that we would do away with a level crossing as an idea. Once we started doing some site analysis—looking at the levels, looking at the underground services—it became apparent that an underpass was really going to be a better solution and that the proposal from the community was a much better idea.

The thing that really stood out was that with an overpass—a footbridge—pedestrians or cyclists coming immediately off Kings Avenue would actually have to climb further to cross Bowen Place, leaving clearance for trucks, before they could descend. That increased the height differential that we had to deal with on the lake side of the road, and it meant that we ended up with a very long ramp of something in excess of 120 metres. Trying to do that in a space that was only 10 or 15 metres wide meant it was going to run a long way in one or the other direction and be inconvenient for users at one or the other end. So we decided to progress with an underpass. We prepared a very detailed site assessment and functional brief. We convened a design panel to help us make a selection, and we invited five consortia of leading design firms from across the country to prepare submissions for review by our design panel. Of the five firms that we invited, each had an example project or a strong reputation for urban landscape and urban infrastructure projects. We paid each of them $30,000 to prepare the design. That meant we received submissions that were highly refined, well thought out and responded to a functional brief that told them what we needed in the project and how we were going to evaluate it. We identified that our highest priority was public safety, particularly for users. We also identified accessibility as the second-highest priority and heritage as the third-highest priority. There were 10 criteria but those were the three highest.

The panel included the ACT government architect, user groups—the Heart Foundation ACT represented users of the space and the National Trust represented heritage interests—and professionals from both the architectural and the landscape architectural professions. This is the design that the panel recommended to us.

Having selected that, and Mr Tindal will go through the key features in a moment, we are currently undertaking open public consultation on this design and treating it as our pre-works approval consultation—it is a six-week consultation. During this period we will also apply for approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The early feedback from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. Some of it is gushingly flattering about the outcome we have come up with and we are extremely pleased to see that sort of reaction from the community.

Ms Penn : I just want to add—I do not mind blowing our trumpet—it is not an outcome yet and it will still be refined in response to the current consultation process and then developed. But it is the result of best practice design procurement process, which has involved good consultation and being able to learn from the community in terms of design interpretation and the brief. It is an excellent brief. I think we have an outcome that responds to those, so I commend my team for that, too.

Dr LEIGH: There would be more upfront costs in this than in past projects, am I right? This level of engagement and preparation of the multiple designs comes at a price. Perhaps then, you are suggesting there are lessons from that for future design projects.

Ms Penn : The NCA's experience over many years and also experience around other states of Australia and elsewhere is that ensuring you have excellent teams is one of the critical factors. If you do not have a capable team it does not matter how much coaching you give them they will never produce something that is going to meet your needs and aspirations. Paying an honorarium to a select group is quite a standard practice. It is considered highly inappropriate not to do so because you are asking for a significant amount of work. We have done that on a number of projects in the past—not all of them—but I would have to ask Gary to comment on the upfront cost versus others in terms of how we project ourselves with these projects. We really do have a long history of trying to procure projects in the best way we can, which does involve this kind of situation.

Mr Rake : The cost of consultation has not been large. It is now part of our everyday business that we are an open, engaging and transparent organisation. We have a dedicated consultation portal on our website and so it is quite easy for us to open a new discussion and to collect feedback from the community. We made an investment upfront on that but we have now used it on four or five key topics and we will continue to do so, so there is very little cost there.

The cost of asking for five initial designs will, I think, be paid back because we will not have to redesign this project in several stages. It will not be as iterative a process. We have come up with a much better outcome and it will prove its own worth as the project proceeds.

Dr LEIGH: Certainly, as somebody who has previously struggled across that intersection with a jogging stroller, I am a big fan of fixing it up. It does strike me that this might be the first project in Australia that has come out of an online forum, so that is another interesting feature.

Mr Tindal : The committee has in front of it a proposal which in essence bears some reference to the Holford cloverleaf, which was formerly in this area, hence the arcing travel of pathway through Bowen Place. This gives a very strong, elegant and simple geometry to the scheme in terms of getting across. It also provides the opportunity to work quite clearly and favourably with the natural topography through Bowen Place. In particular it delivers a path gradient of one in 33, which is a gentle ramping gradient. That means there is no need, for example, for landings, balustrades and so on. It is a very comfortable gradient for pedestrians and for cyclists.

The design itself breaks up into a few key components. Firstly, if you start at the Kings Avenue end and work your way through Bowen Place, you will see that there is a lookout across to the Carillon. You will see in the diagram that there is a dotted sight line across to that structure. Bearing south-westwards into Bowen Place, it drops gently into Bowen Place through a canopy of trees—some of those are existing and some of those will be replaced, as this project involves a significant amount of excavation to get down for the underpass. There will be a significant amount of excavation. A lot of the material in this site is actually fill. When Lake Burley Griffin was actually made a lot of fill was added to this area to make the lake edge. Obviously a lot of that fill will be easier to get out than normal excavation material.

Coming around into Bowen Place, as you swing down towards the underpass, you have a precast battered wall on your left, which is quite lovely in the sense that it transitions through Bowen Place from almost a vertical character to around 45 degrees where it is taller. That gives a lovely sinuous feel to that wall. The materiality of that wall will probably be one of the stronger elements of the scheme. It is very much a scheme that is set in the landscape. It will talk to other buildings and infrastructure in the Parliamentary Zone, for example, the National Gallery of Australia, Parliament House, the High Court and others.

When the path network gets to the underpass itself there is actually a flaring in the path network, so it goes from a path that is approximately four metres wide to a path that is six metres wide. That has been done on purpose by the design team and has been commented on by the panel and other stakeholder groups, such as Pedal Power, as being a favourable adjustment. It means that the sight line and the amenity in the underpass is one that is quite open and airy, which was a particular concern referenced in the design brief. That has created quite a spacious feel as you pass beneath Bowen Drive. Bowen Drive in this case has been split into two distinct carriageways. At the moment there are two carriageways, but certainly what will be created in effect are two bridges crossing the underpass.

Going beyond the underpass and coming onto the lake it will be apparent that you have a sight line directly through to the Carillon again. That is picked up in some of the perspectives that are in front of you. You arrive at a bioswale. There is a sustainable aspect to the project, which is good from a land management point of view and also from a water sustainability point of view. Then there is some street furniture and an opportunity to arrive, if you like, at the end of Bowen Place.

So the design is quite simple in its conception but it also has some very favourable aspects with respect to future use of the space. You will note that the large area of Bowen Place is relatively underdeveloped in this scheme and that means in the future there are possibilities for, for example, the National Gallery of Australia to introduce artworks and other place-making opportunities and events within the space. The National Gallery in particular, which was represented on the design panel, commented on that favourably.

CHAIR: Thank you for taking us through all of that. That was very enlightening. I have a question in relation to the new community consultation methodologies. It is really exciting to see how successful that is. My question relates to how you might see such community consultation going forward, particularly when you need to distinguish between local issues where you have in a sense a reasonable level of engagement with a local community and those things that you need a more national audience for in terms of drawing in the character of the rest of the country in the scheme of those landmarks.

Ms Penn : That is something we discussed around the board table as being incredibly important. I think we see the internet and current technologies that are pervasive and growing as our main outreach for that. We are very keen as a board to get greater engagement of the broader Australian community and we have to be clever. I don't think we have an answer on how we do that yet but we really need to find a way of getting people involved and having some resonance about the place.

I think it has to be through digital communications, although we have talked about other modes as well. Funding does not really permit, but we have talked about things like our members and possibly staff in the authority going to visit or having some physical face-to-face interaction with the broader community. That is much harder and logistically more difficult. We are conscious of that and are looking at ways of doing it. Gary, do you have anything to add?

Mr Rake : We are able to leverage off the internet and social media to broaden our reach, so where we have an active consultation page on our own site we can look for partner organisations to host links across it and that will reach out into broader Australia. The organisation and myself as chief executive are both active on twitter. We have found that we are able to get popular and relevant hash tags and build them into our messages. Each time we do that we get a new range of followers and a new range of hits through to our website. So it is a matter of following those trends, looking for the next innovation and—scary as it might be for a bureaucrat—being a little bit brave and not being afraid to openly engage with the community. If we trip up, we trip up.

CHAIR: In a sense, it depends on the nature of the question you are seeking to resolve as to which audiences you reach out to.

Mr Rake : Framing the question is something that we are still learning a lot about. The diplomatic estate is an area where the first question we asked was not quite explained the way we wanted it to be.

Mr ADAMS: Where does the name Bowen come from?

Mr Rake : One of the early inland explorers. All of the roads in the Kingston, Forest and Barton area are inland Australian explorers. I could confirm that for you.

Mr ADAMS: Okay, thank you.

Senator HUMPHRIES: As you know, Mr Rake, I run round the lake. To make the circuit between two bridges exactly five kilometres we have to run up Bowen Place and around that loop that follows the edge of the road. I notice that will not be possible under your design, because the barrier does not allow you to do that.

Mr Rake : No, you will need to start in Commonwealth Place and slightly overlap your circuit by about 120 metres.

Senator HUMPHRIES: Or you will have to start again and design a new plan! That is the other alternative.

Mr Rake : I am going to run 4.88 kilometres and claim it as a five-kilometre PB!

Senator HUMPHRIES: I like that idea. What is the cost of this plan?

Mr Rake : Approximately $10 million, all inclusive; design and construction.

Senator HUMPHRIES: It is not possible to do this within your budget; you will need special—

Mr Rake : We have allocated it from within our existing capital appropriation. This is a high priority project. The NCA has a role in capital appropriation. Our capital appropriation is only about $9 million in a standard year so this represents a little over an entire year's investment. We are staging it over a couple of years. It is a longstanding problem and is one that we need to fix. The board of the authority have taken the bit between their teeth and are setting on a path to fix it.

Ms Penn : Having said that—before we finally say 'go'—we will obviously be looking at the priorities at that time in our budget and our available funding. But as Gary says, we have committed to this as a very high priority.

Ms BRODTMANN: Why is there a need for a new diplomatic enclave here in Canberra, given that, from where I sit, O'Malley is not full and West Deakin is not full? I want to get a sense of the rationale. I know you are projecting out to 20 or 30 years but I am also interested to know why Civic and some of those commercial spaces are not being considered.

Mr Rake : West Deakin is very close to full. Although the sites are not all fully developed, they are almost all allocated. In O'Malley we have a large number of vacant sites, and foreign missions have not been interested in developing them for a number of years now. In the nature of Australia's foreign relationships it tends to be the case that, as foreign bodies look to establish here, we try to build a relationship, and it is in the interest of our foreign policy ambitions to find a site that those missions are comfortable and happy with, and they are not happy with the O'Malley sites.

Ms BRODTMANN: Why are they not happy with O'Malley?

Mr Rake : They are steep sites and hard to develop. They probably do not meet modern diplomatic needs. It is difficult to host a function in that area where people might want wheelchair access to a building. They are very steep and rocky sites. They are probably perfectly suitable as use for large residential premises but they are difficult for properties that are going to have large-scale public access.

Ms BRODTMANN: Why?

Mr Rake : DFAT have told us that we should allow for one to two missions each year for the next 20 to 30 years, so we have a need for somewhere in the order of 40 or 50 sites over the next couple of decades. We have less than five suitable vacant sites available at the moment.

Ms BRODTMANN: Have the missions looked at grading any of those sites in O'Malley such as flattening them out? I ask this question because it is only 15 minutes from Parliament House and, having served overseas, there are a range of enclaves in most capitals throughout the world. You have the people who got there first and they are right in the middle of the city. Then you have the second tier and then the third tier who are usually about 40 minutes away. I am just wondering, if O'Malley is too steep, have they looked at grading it, but also, are there any other options of greenfield sites. I am thinking of the Molonglo Valley. That is a whole greenfield site that could be pursued and it is only 15 or 20 minutes away, if that, from Parliament House.

Mr Rake : The grading of the sites has been considered and probably is not feasible for the land that we own in O'Malley. A range of other sites have been suggested as part of our consultation, and the board will consider those over the next few months. The sites that we are currently talking to the community about and are now moving into assessment are three sites that are, in our thinking, sensible in their context in relation to the current diplomatic estate and the current areas. That certainly does not mean that we would rule out other sites. We did, for example, consider the Curtin horse paddocks as a potential site. We deferred any assessment of that for diplomatic use because we do not yet have a handle on its role in the national capital open space system, whereas we do understand that already in other sites.

Ms BRODTMANN: What about the Molonglo Valley?

Mr Rake : We have not considered the Molonglo Valley. It is entirely territory land at the moment, so we would need to have a discussion with the ACT about that.

Ms Penn : I think it is important to understand that, with those three sites, we have had some initial talks with people about them. We are doing an assessment to see whether they would be viable and whether they would be appropriate. That includes the view of the community, obviously, as well as all of the sorts of impacts around public amenity, access and traffic and so on. It may be that that assessment says that none of the options are right because you cannot tick all the boxes adequately. We have eight or 10 alternatives flagged as other potentials. It is really investigative. Consistent with my opening comments, we feel that we need to do that rigorous analysis. That has to be comprehensive and has to include the pragmatics as well as the community impacts and so on.

Ms BRODTMANN: I understand; it is just that it does strike fear into the hearts of certain suburbs. That is why I want to be sure you will be exploring all options, particularly the greenfield sites that have endless potential and possibility. On another question that is on the diplomatic estate issue. A number of missions located in Yarralumla have recently had their land values and, therefore, their rates increased significantly. I understand that at least one mission has explored informally with the NCA the possibility of handing back a portion of their land as a result of that. Has the NCA considered undertaking a stocktake of land to ascertain if missions wish to retain their existing allocation? Would it be possible for missions to relinquish their land holdings? And, finally, to what extent would this free up land in the existing diplomatic estate enclave for other missions, thereby relieving the pressure for a new diplomatic estate?

Mr Rake : Without naming the missions involved, yes I can confirm that there is at least one that has contemplated subdividing their mission and giving a portion of their land back. There are mechanisms for that, we would be very helpful in trying to progress that for them and we have had that kind of discussion. There are mechanisms and it could be done quite easily.

We have opened that door ourselves with a number of other missions who are concerned about the increased cost of their rent, and have identified that one of the options would be for them to relinquish a portion of their site. In at least one other case the mission is the holder of a very large site, a large portion of it is undeveloped and it could be quite a sensible and mutually agreeable outcome for them to hand back some land. That would free up additional sites in suitable areas that would minimise some of the need to chase new areas.

Typically, we find reluctance with the representatives of those foreign missions. They are concerned about being the representative of their nation who downsized their holding and who gave away a legacy that was developed by their predecessors. In some of the private discussions I have had with them it comes across as a matter of pride. My own sense is that it will not be a particularly productive area. We might get a few, but I do not think we will get a lot.

Ms BRODTMANN: You alluded—it was not the word 'prestigious'—to the fact that there is this desire to have Forrest and the inner south as the main area for the diplomatic enclave. But internationally that does not apply—there is a whole mix there. As I said, if you want to use that term 'prestigious' there is the inner core, the midway core and then the 40-minutes away core. I think there are precedents there internationally, so that does not seem to be a pressure to me.

Mr Rake : We do not set Australia's foreign policy in relation to dealing with missions to establish a presence here, nor do we set some of the other parameters like provision of security services. We do get feedback from DFAT and from protective services about the practical benefits of having missions located in the inner area—in the central national area, it does not necessarily need to be on the southern side of the lake. The central national area does include the northern side—for example, Campbell or Reid would be equally suitable if there were spaces there. It is more efficient for the protective services to control a precinct rather than individual sites.

Senator HUMPHRIES: Could I just follow up a few questions there? The Stirling Ridge site is national land. At one stage part of Stirling Ridge was identified as a possible site for a new Lodge—is part of the site still reserved for that purpose?

Mr Rake : Yes, that is still the case. The entirety of Stirling Ridge and Attunga Point are covered by an annotation in the National Capital Plan which notes that the official establishment trust is considering them, and has been for several decades, as a potential site for a future Lodge. In fact, that is probably the reason—I do not have the direct knowledge, I was not involved at the time—that Stirling Ridge was retained as national land at the time of self-government and the separation of territory land and national land.

In looking at other similar sites around the lake, Weston Park and Black Mountain Peninsula were both marked as designated territory land because the Commonwealth did not have an intended development use of that land and so it did not retain land management. Yarramundi Peninsula was retained, and at that time the Commonwealth was contemplating the potential for it to be used for a national museum. Stirling Ridge was retained with the annotation that it could be used as a future prime minister's Lodge. The area that we are evaluating for potential diplomatic use would not rule out the potential to use the remainder of the ridge for an official residence.

Senator HUMPHRIES: Of those three sites, only Stirling Ridge is national land though?

Mr Rake : Correct.

Senator HUMPHRIES: If one of the other sites were determined to be the new diplomatic estate, what would the status of the land at Stirling Ridge revert to? Simply national land reserved for unspecified purposes?

Mr Rake : At the moment Stirling Ridge is national land for national capital use. So in fact, if Stirling Ridge were to prove a suitable site, there would still need to be an amendment to the National Capital Plan to allow diplomatic use as an additional use on that land. So, even as it stands, we might own the land but the planning rules would not allow diplomatic use, so there would have to be an amendment. On the other sites, we would need to both gazette the land as national land and change the planning rules to allow diplomatic use.

Senator HUMPHRIES: But, if it is not going to be used for the diplomatic estate now being proposed—

Mr Rake : We would retain it for potential use as an official residence—a new Prime Minister's residence.

Senator HUMPHRIES: You do not need the whole site for that, though, do you?

Mr Rake : The site has not been analysed in detail for that purpose, so the existing reservation would remain in place, which is an annotation against the entire Stirling Ridge.

Senator HUMPHRIES: If it were decided that it was not to be used for a diplomatic estate and only part of it, or none of it, was to be used for a new Lodge, is it possible that the federal government could say, 'We don't need this land at all; we're going to hand it back to the ACT'?

Mr Rake : That is certainly a possibility. If its purpose were a conservation area—a nature park—the other nature parks around the lake are territory land within designated areas.

CHAIR: In that context—if you do not mind me interrupting your line of questioning—often in planning, when there are historical planning decisions made to set aside land, the fact that it has been left vacant means that that land acquires other environmental and social uses, and in some instances it is often the only way such high-quality environmental assets have been retained. Then you are left with the difficult decision of having to relinquish the original purpose.

Mr Rake : Yes.

CHAIR: To what extent is that a problem within land that the National Capital Authority controls, and have you done an assessment of whether—even aside from this particular estate—that is an issue and whether we really need to re-examine the environmental and social values attached to the current use rather than its planned purpose?

Mr Rake : Briefly—I have this stack of details—

Ms Penn : Gary has the proper answer, but I think it is an incredibly important issue and it is something that the board is very conscious of. The current environmental and social values are key for all of the sites that we are looking at. In other jurisdictions I have experienced that issue where a road reservation was set aside for 40 years for a major bit of road infrastructure. The solution in that case was to preserve a bit of land that had developed incredible environmental values over time by finding an alternative clever solution—which was also costly, but worth it in the view of the government of the day. In this case it might be more complex, but I think the point is that they are serious considerations; they are not something to be ignored or glossed over.

Mr Rake : As the controller of a Commonwealth place, we are obliged under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act—I will just say EPBC Act from now on—to assess whether areas under our control have Commonwealth heritage values. We have undertaken that assessment on Stirling Ridge as part of the Lake Burley Griffin and Adjacent Lands Heritage Management Plan. That assessment and that plan were awarded a national prize by the National Trust just last year, and we have identified that on the majority of Stirling Ridge there are very high conservation values and they meet several criteria for inclusion on the Commonwealth Heritage List. In fact, we have made a nomination for the inclusion of Lake Burley Griffin and adjacent lands on the Commonwealth Heritage List.

The portion of land on Stirling Ridge that we are assessing for diplomatic use does not contain particularly high conservation values. There are seven management zones that our environmental consultants have highlighted for us, and the area we are assessing has the lowest conservation value and, in their view, has very little conservation value. But one of the important things for us to think about in the assessment of any potential for development is what impact that development might have on the areas that are precious. A good example is bushfire control. If the local emergency services authorities require a fuel reduction zone around built areas, it would be problematic for that fuel reduction area to be into the conservation area. It would probably need to be managed more in the low-conservation area than in the high-conservation area. So we have a very good handle on that.

As part of our discussion with the community—one of the elements that we did not express very well—we explained to the community that we would be assessing all of these sites as though the Commonwealth already had control even though in the case of the Federal Golf Club land and the brickworks we do not have control, because if we took control then a much stronger test would apply under the EPBC Act. That test is: a Commonwealth agency that controls a place with Commonwealth heritage values or national heritage values must not take action that has, will or is likely to have an adverse impacts on those heritage values unless there is no feasible or prudent alternative, and all measures that reasonably can be taken have been taken to mitigate the loss of those values. So for a development on the top of Stirling Ridge, we would have to think about the button wrinklewort habitat, and unless there was no feasible or prudent alternative we could not go and destroy that habitat. That has guided the footprint of the area we are looking at; we are looking at those that have very low heritage values.

Senator HUMPHRIES: The existence of two other possible sites means there is a mitigating alternative?

Mr Rake : Potentially.

Ms Penn : And potential of other sites that we are not yet investigating but are on our list, and if we have to we will look at those as well.

Mr Rake : Similarly, the land adjacent to Federal Golf Club is probably the next most relevant example. At the moment, we do not control that place and we do not have a strict obligation to assess whether it has Commonwealth heritage values. As part of our evaluation if we controlled it, we would say, 'Does it have Commonwealth heritage values and would this development have an adverse impact on those values?' If it would, it may rule the site out.

Senator HUMPHRIES: What is the process from here? What steps are now to be taken to decide which is the diplomatic estate?

Mr Rake : We have asked the community to help us frame the questions for the assessment. I guess this is an unprecedented early stage to be bringing the community in and, again, we probably did not explain that well enough to the community. We received a lot of 'Yes, do it' or 'No, don't do it' views, when what we really wanted was, 'Tell us what we should be asking.' We now have the list of questions. We have advertised for a consulting team to help us and we will make a selection in the next few weeks. We had over 500 responses, many of them were very, very useful. We believe it will take us through until April 2012 to complete this initial assessment. We will probably defer our public forum, which we would normally hold in April, until May so that we can provide that information to the community in advance of the public forum and in advance of the board deciding whether to press on with evaluation.

Chair, you mentioned the potential for this committee to have another look. We would welcome that and we would very happily make all of the information from our assessment available to the community and to this committee for a more detailed examination. I think that would be a really useful part of this process. The earliest that we would be making a decision would be towards the middle of next year. At that point, all we would be decided is that it is now worth preparing a detailed urban development plan for further consultation with the community. That would occur ahead of proposing an amendment to the plan which, again, would have statutory consultation periods. So on any site that is suitable there are going to be at least two more opportunities for the community to frame an outcome. But at the moment, we just need to methodically work through and test whether these sites are suitable at all.

Ms Penn : That is right. That decision may alternately say: 'None of these are appropriate. Where else can we go in including some of the places perhaps that Ms Brodtmann has suggested?'

Senator HUMPHRIES: Tomorrow the Senate is considering the proposal for a new bench of the High Court, not the one the judges sit on but the one the public sits on. Can you refresh my memory as to the criteria for the parliament having to approve these sorts of works?

Mr Rake : Any works within the parliamentary zone, the area south of the lake and bounded by Commonwealth and Kings avenues, fall within the auspices of the Parliament Act 1974. Unless they are de minimis—that is, so trivial as to not warrant the attention of the parliament—they need to be approved by both houses of parliament. Given the fact that the High Court is a National Heritage List and is, in my view, one of the three most important places in the national capital, along with the parliament and the War Memorial, we felt that a work in the forecourt could not be considered de minimis and should be laid before the houses for their consideration.

Senator HUMPHRIES: So this new bench is going to be built at a cost of $77,000. That sounds like a very expensive bench. I am sure I could go down to Bunnings and get a couple of quite good benches we could let you have for about $2,000. Why is this bench going to cost so much?

Mr Rake : It is more complex than your average bench; it is actually a traffic control measure. It will stop vehicles parking on the High Court ramp but will still allow emergency access when we need it. It is a piece of traffic control infrastructure that will have a public benefit as well.

Mr Tindal : I might also add that a high standard of precast is envisaged for the work and that level of precast is not available in Canberra. We would probably have to go interstate to procure that precast and of course the consistency of that work with the quality of the built environment around it, the quality of concrete finishes of the High Court, the National Portrait Gallery is really important. The work is conceived as being reversible so, if at some point in the future it is considered that it is no longer necessary for any reason, it could be removed. So it is being designed for that. It is also worth mentioning that, in terms of the actual physical manufacturer of the precast element, it is an unusual cantilevering arrangement. It is not a normal, regular concrete beam and requires special reinforcing. The design character has been developed in consultation with Col Madigan, who was involved in the design for the High Court. As part of that design exercise we sought his approval. It is a design to be in keeping with the spirit of the High Court.

Senator HUMPHRIES: The point made here in this document tabled by the minister is that there is some deterioration in the landscape treatment around the High Court at the moment. I understand there have been longstanding problems with the fountain outside the High Court. What is the expected lifetime of public architectural or landscape works like this meant to be? This has all happened within about 30 years, hasn't it? Is that the expected lifetime of these things?

Mr Rake : They vary from five years to 50 years, depending on the nature of the infrastructure. The deterioration we are talking about in this part for our works is caused by vehicles driving onto the area. Further up the High Court ramp where the High Court is looking to do work itself, it might be argued that the selection of trees for that area was not appropriate at the time of the original design. So they have had a lot of tree roots lifting tiles, cracking tiles and that has caused trip hazards and requires a bit of remediation work. We have also had changes in health and safety standards, or public safety standards—for example, there has been consideration of the treatment of the handrail on the bridge between the High Court and the National Gallery. Some of the handrails around the High Court have had to have additional protective screens put in place to stop children falling through gaps.

Ms Penn : But it is fair to say that one of the things we look for when we were evaluating design proposals, whether they be for benches or buildings or public spaces, is that they will be enduring and they will age gracefully so they should have a long design life. That is a key criterion. There is a growing awareness in the design community and industry that that is appropriate in a good design outcome. Something that will fall apart or be hard to maintain is not going to propose a good design outcome.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for your assistance to the committee this afternoon. If we do have any questions, we will send them to you in writing. Hansard will be made available to you to review whether there are any corrections.

Resolved (on motion by Senator Humphries):

That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.

Committee adjourned at 13:33