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JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE NATIONAL CAPITAL AND EXTERNAL TERRITORIES
30/03/2009
Immigration Bridge Australia proposal

CHAIR —Welcome. Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Mr Perry —I am the flag officer of the YMCA Sailing Club. My role is to simply look after the sailing and the racing.

CHAIR —Thank you. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence on oath, I should advise you that these hearings are legal proceedings of the parliament and therefore have the same standing as the proceedings of the respective houses. We have received a written submission to this inquiry from you. Do you wish to present any additional submissions or make an opening statement to the committee?

Mr Perry —I think there are a few points that we would like to add to what we have there. In terms of the sailing area and the location of the proposed Immigration Bridge, some of the additional points we were looking at that were not described in there were that we see that area as a safety area for our sailboats under adverse weather conditions. The prevailing wind is generally a north-west wind and, if it builds to a reasonable strength—getting close to what we consider to be the speed at which we might look at cancelling events but just before we get to that stage—the sailors use that as an area to take refuge, for safety reasons.

CHAIR —So it is like a wind shadow?

Mr Perry —It is very much a wind shadow there. It has less wind than the other areas of the lake. There is another option for sailors who are running downwind—which is with the wind behind them—which lessens to a degree the effect of the strong winds: they can go into Lotus Bay. But the preferred choice if there are additional races is to go around where the National Museum is and have a quieter time than sitting in very strong winds out there. It also is another refuge if we have storm fronts come through. The sailors will use that as an area of safe haven, if you like, until the storm front passes and the activities can be resumed. Mr Balfour, was there anything else?

Mr Balfour —No.

CHAIR —Can you just summarise your main objections to the current IBA proposal. Remember we are not dealing with any formal application. We are dealing with a concept design that has been published. The general attributes of a bridge in that location are really the subject of what I am looking for from you.

Mr Perry —Our primary objection is the actual location. The Immigration Bridge per se we do not have any problems with. I have only seen one particular design, so I presume that this is in a state of flux. The location is what would cause dramas in terms of the sailing activities. If you put a bridge up there, it would have an effect on the flow of wind. It would disturb the wind. The wind is quite variable there at the best of times, so a bridge there would have that influence on the wind.

Under regatta circumstances—and we run regattas often in conjunction with the CYC—a rounding buoy or a mark, if you like, is placed up in West Basin, which means that we have to progress around past the National Museum, where the bridge location is, up to the rounding mark and then come back. The problem with a bridge, particularly one with piers, is that it becomes very dangerous then for yachts and sailboats to negotiate shifting wind conditions and a set of piers. In the design I saw, there were eight piers placed 50 metres apart, which does not give yachts and sailboats much room to manoeuvre, particularly as it is a confined waterway at the best of times. We see that as a very significant problem in terms of continuing to sail around that area of the basin. We have a fairly restricted sailing area on the lake. It is not a big lake and we do run, with the CYC, some important regattas, including state championships—and we have run national championships. From our perspective, it is imperative that we maintain reasonable sailing courses on the lake.

The location of the bridge is, from our perspective, not desirable. With regard to the design of it, we are looking at a certain height that would allow masts to pass under it. We have yachts that have reasonable sized masts. We would probably be looking at a minimum clearance of about 12 metres to allow some of the larger yachts and sailboats to go underneath the bridge comfortably. We cannot go under Commonwealth Avenue Bridge because of its low height. So the height of the bridge was one of the main concerns, and the other one was the number of piers that would cause congestion.

CHAIR —If it were a single-span bridge of an appropriate height—and I have no idea how you build bridges—would that resolve the sailing club’s difficulties, or is there still an issue with wind turbulence?

Mr Perry —There would still be issues. It would resolve the obstacles caused by the piers, so that would be an improvement. The main concern then would be the effect that the bridge has on the wind flow in that area. I cannot give an answer on that until we see the design.

Mr Balfour —Some of the best sailing conditions on the lake are in the evenings, over the summer, when the sea breeze comes in. The sea breeze typically reaches Canberra around five or six o’clock in the evening and it gives us about 1½ to two hours of nice sailing. It is probably the least variable of the winds we sail in. Having the Immigration Bridge at the top of the course would affect the breeze all down the course. It depends on the design of the bridge, but even a single-span bridge is likely to have turbulence downstream of it. The lake is quite a challenging place to sail anyway, particularly with the nor’-westerly, which comes around Black Mountain in swirls and bursts. It is one of the fun parts of sailing on the lake, but it can be frustrating at times too.

CHAIR —Do you have any suggestions about alternative sites for the bridge? Are there any areas you can point to where a bridge going from one place to another would not interfere with the sailing course?

Mr Perry —That is a very difficult question to answer.

Mr Balfour —I think East Basin and Central Basin because—

CHAIR —Because you cannot get there anyway with your sailing boats.

Mr Balfour —We do not sail there. Ten or 15 years ago the 18-footers came down to Canberra and sailed in Central Basin, but I do not think they really enjoyed it and they have not been back because it is too small for them.

Mr Perry —But it is difficult to come up with an idea for somewhere else to site the bridge.

CHAIR —It is not really your job. I am asking the different organisations if they have made any suggestions in the public arena; that is all.

Mr Perry —It is primarily the location that is the major cause of the problems. Anywhere on the lake proper, from West Basin right up to Black Mountain Peninsula, would obviously cause us problems.

Ms BURKE —What sort of management agreement do you have to sail on the lake now? Under what terms and conditions does the club have rights to sail there now?

Mr Perry —That is a good question.

CHAIR —Don’t give them ideas!

Mr Balfour —I do not know that there is anything formal. The fact that we sail on Saturdays and the Canberra Yacht Club sails on Sundays goes right back to even before Lake Burley Griffin was filled and we were sailing on Lake George. It has to do with Christians and the YMCA. We got Saturdays and they got Sundays.

Ms BURKE —So, historically, there has been a long association between the club and the lake.

Mr Perry —Yes.

Ms BURKE —Where else can you sail in Canberra?

Mr Perry —We do not sail elsewhere. We can use the alternative lakes—either Lake Tuggeranong or Lake Ginninderra. I believe we can get permission to sail there. If Lake Burley Griffin gets closed down because of bacterial levels or something, and we are desperate to run our races, we would look at something like that.

Ms BURKE —But that has not been something you have had to do. The lake is available and it has water. Unlike other waterways across the country at the moment, there is still water in it.

Mr Perry —Yes.

Mr Balfour —The reason we would have to get permission is for the powerboats to operate. We operate powerboats as safety boats. If we went to other lakes, we would have to talk with the appropriate people—

Ms BURKE —You would have to talk to the authorities because of the other craft on the lake, jet skis, swimmers and all the rest of it.

Mr Balfour —Yes. We would be reluctant to go to those lakes because both of them are much smaller than the main basin of Lake Burley Griffin and we would be constantly running into the shore.

Ms BURKE —Is there fairly heavy usage of the lake for sailing?

Mr Perry —On the weekends there is very heavy usage. When we run national or state championships, they occupy four or five days. We have things like the Chief Minister’s Regatta, which is conducted by the CYC. The lake is busy throughout the summer period. There is always training being done on the lakes.

Mr Balfour —During the summer school holidays the lake is being used seven days a week for sailing. Both we and the CYC run school holiday training courses during the week, and then we sail on Saturdays and the CYC sails on Sundays.

Ms BURKE —And the rowers and the dragon boats train mainly during the week, and on a different part of the lake, so you are not running into each other.

Mr Balfour —The rowers concentrate on Tarcoola Reach and around towards Government House. I do not how far they go up, but I have seen them as far as Central Basin. We have rules. They are powerboats, so they are supposed to give way to us. But they are not that manoeuvrable, so we teach our sailors not to make demands on them. The rowing clubs themselves have routes around the lakes. Because they row backwards they have routes so that they do not run into each other. As the chief instructor, I am aware of those routes and I try to locate our sailing courses where they are not going to conflict too much with them.

Mr Perry —And we do tend to complement each other. They like flat and still water, so they tend to row in the mornings. But we tend to sail when the wind is up. Going back to your original question, our special lease purpose is for a sailing club and its associated activities.

Ms BURKE —You obviously have berthing rights, because you have boats in the water.

Mr Perry —Yes. They are moorings.

Ms BURKE —Yes, that’s right. I just wanted to get an idea of the usage in the vicinity.

Senator CROSSIN —Is there another section of the lake where a bridge could go?

Mr Balfour —Central Basin, which is east of the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, and East Basin, which is east of Kings Avenue Bridge, do not affect sailing at all. One other possible area would from Black Mountain Peninsula across to Weston Park, towards the top end of Tarcoola Reach. We certainly do not race down there. The CYC sometimes put buoys down in that area. I am not certain how far they go down, because I have not sailed any of their courses. There is a lot of rowing traffic there because they are coming from the clubhouses around to the rowing course. I think the rowers could probably cope with one pier in the middle of the lake because it is much narrower there. That is off the top of my head.

Senator CROSSIN —Have you had any formal meetings or consultations with IBA?

Mr Balfour —No. They have not approached us and we have not tried to approach them.

Senator CROSSIN —Not at all?

Mr Balfour —No.

Senator CROSSIN —Not in a letter, not in a meeting, not in consultations, not in briefings?

Mr Balfour —No. They have had a meeting with Lake Burley Griffin Users Group. We are part of that group but we do not always attend the meetings.

CHAIR —That is the question I was going to come back to: what has been your interaction to date with the IBA and the NCA with respect to the Immigration Bridge proposal?

Mr Balfour —The NCA have been talking with the lake users through the lake user group. I know, because I have received it, that they have drawn up a design brief for the bridge. I did not participate in that and the club has not participated in that, but that is more because we did not attend the meeting that discussed that. We have no had any contact at all with the people who are proposing the bridge.

CHAIR —With the document that you have described as the design brief, what is that seeking to elicit from your club? Is that asking your club questions?

Mr Balfour —No. All it was for us was just information on what the users group are suggesting be part of a design brief for the bridge if it is located at its proposed location.

CHAIR —Have you responded to that or is it asking for a response?

Mr Balfour —No. It does not ask for a response.

CHAIR —Okay. At this stage, from your perspective, you do not feel that your organisation has been adequately consulted with about this proposal?

Mr Balfour —No.

Mr Perry —We did get indirect information. I do not know whether Yachting ACT is going to this meeting as part of this inquiry, but I believe that there was some ongoing correspondence.

CHAIR —The Canberra Yacht Club is going to appear later today.

Mr Perry —Right, but not Yachting ACT. I believe there was communication with Yachting ACT. I might just be able to verify that. I believe that there was some form. Maybe it might be best left for those guys to elaborate more on it.

CHAIR —Sure.

Mr Perry —They have had more to do with it as the executive of Yachting ACT.

CHAIR —Thank you very much for appearing before the committee today. I do not think we have given you any homework or any additional material to provide, but please do take the initiative if you come across something that might be useful in your view for the committee’s considerations. I have just been advised that we have received a submission from ACT Yachting. We have not invited them to appear, but the Canberra Yacht Club is scheduled to appear shortly.

[11.47 am]