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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1997

Mr LANGMORE —by leave-I will not repeat everything the honourable member for Canberra (Mrs Kelly) has said about this complex inquiry but I will emphasise a few points. The Joint Standing Committee on the Australian Capital Territory supported the application relating to Ainslie Avenue and section 38 because development there will substantially increase and diversify shopping opportunities in Canberra. It will certainly increase the attractiveness of Civic for other recreational activities. No one appearing before the Committee opposed the development, although many questioned its size and its timing. They also criticised the lack of sufficient complementary infrastructure facilities and the lack of an environmental assessment of what had been happening in Civic overall.

The background to the controversy is that there has been much faster development in the Civic Centre than was envisaged in the 1982 Civic Centre policy plan. Yet without the plan being revised, there would be insufficient infrastructure, such as car parking, roads, or upgraded public transport, to cope with the increase in office space and employment. There has also been controversy and protest over the use of suburbs surrounding Civic-particularly Reid and Braddon-in regard to the disruption caused by overspill car parking and increased traffic flow through those suburbs generated by increased employment without the necessary adequate infrastructure being provided. So section 38 became the focus for all the dissatisfaction with what has happened to Civic.

There were many excellent quality submissions to the Joint Committee about these issues. As I did at the public hearings, I publicly praise the people and the groups who commented on these issues for their careful research, comprehensive discussion of the issues, and rigorous analysis. Like the honourable member for Canberra, I particularly express my appreciation to the staff of the Committee for the difficult work they have done in preparing this report.

The Committee carefully considered the evidence from the developers, for the National Capital Development Commission and from the Department of Territories as well as that from the critics. The report recommends the closure of Ainslie Avenue as proposed, but a number of conditions. There are two main reasons for agreeing to the closure: The commercial value of the project, and the preference of many people for more pedestrian areas. I talked with many people about the issue, and the majority supported the closure of Ainslie Avenue to traffic between Monaro Mall and section 38 so as to create a pedestrian precinct. If the area is set aside for pedestrians, it will not be a particularly major step to allow the two buildings to be linked.

The plans to minimise the interference with the vista are attractive, and I hope that both the roof and the sides of the area can be predominantly glassed so as to maximise visibility. Even if this happens, the vista down Ainslie Avenue to Mount Ainslie will still be interrupted and a barrier will be placed in Burley Griffin's plan. But the line of the boulevard and tree plantation was broken 20 years ago when the Monaro Mall was built, so that reduces the significance of the vista now. Like many in the community, I regret this interruption to the Burley Griffin plan, but I think that the other factors justify the closure.

The size of this development will contribute to an over-supply of retail space in Canberra, for at the same time as section 38 is being built, the Tuggeranong Town Centre will be built, and approval has been given for further expansion in Belconnen. It was surprising that no retailer protested about the effect on the size of the section 38 development on retail market conditions, but it is not the job of the Committee to regulate retailing; that is for retailers themselves. However, I will certainly remind small retailers of this when they complain to me about the over-supply in a couple of years, as I am sure they will.

The important aspect of this report is that it includes a number of recommendations by the Committee and commitments by the NCDC and the Department which will go some way to coping with the problems of the excessively rapid growth of office space in Civic which has already occurred and which will curtail future office construction. One of the most important commitments is that the NCDC and the Department of Local Government and Administrative Services have agreed that no further leases for government office space in Civic will be entered into beyond commitments already made. This means that the justification for further office development will be removed. Sites have been identified in Belconnen and in Tuggeranong for new offices as well, allowing renewed dispersal as the metropolitan plan prescribes. I hope that this government decision will encourage developers considering construction of offices on the Town House Motel site and the Canberra Times site to decide not to proceed. It is clear that the buildings already under construction or committed will lead to an over-supply of office space within the next 12 to 18 months, as was publicised in the Canberra Times this morning.

Secondly, the Commission and the Department of Territories have undertaken to construct an additional 3,300 parking spaces by the end of this year and a further 1,200 over the following two years. This is in addition to the 3,000 parking spaces associated directly with section 38. This will still not be sufficient but will be a major increase. This preparation of new car parking spaces is long overdue. The current shortage of car parking spaces in Civic is the clearest indication of the problems caused by the Commission's failure to either apply its 1982 Civic policy plan or to revise it so as to take account of the rapid increase in office space.

Thirdly, the Commission has agreed to prepare a revised Civic policy plan, and that is to be published by June. The Committee requests that included in that policy plan be a comprehensive environmental assessment of all the impacts on Civic and the surrounding suburbs of air pollution. I am concerned about figures cited by the Commission in a letter to the Committee, which has been tabled with this report, which show levels of lead above maximum permissible levels for substantial periods of the year in peak periods of the day. This problem must be directly addressed. The first step is an environmental assessment, and when that is produced the community will have the chance to review it and to comment on it, and the Committee is likely to do likewise-depending on what it says, of course.

The important thing about the preparation of a new Civic policy plan, which is to be published in June, is that it will give people the opportunity to comment further on any remaining inadequacies they see in what is happening in Civic. These three steps are major changes in policy and there can be no doubt that the inquiries into section 38 and into the metropolitan plan by the JPC have added substantially to the pressure for those changes.

This report takes account of all the evidence presented by both proponents and critics of the section 38 development. The conditional approval will minimise the damage while allowing the benefits to occur. Not everyone will be satisfied with this, but if we take account of all the issues involved the report must be recognised as a reasonable decision.