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Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories
21/06/2018
Stage 2 of the Australian Capital Territory light rail project

BARNES, Ms Sally, Chief Executive Officer, National Capital Authority

SMITH, Mr Andrew, Chief Planner, National Capital Authority

WOOD, Mr Lachlan, Executive Director, National Capital Estate, National Capital Authority

[17:54]

CHAIR: I now welcome representatives of the National Capital Authority to give evidence today. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings in 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 given today will be recorded by Hansard and attracts parliamentary privilege. I now invite you to make a brief opening statement before we proceed to discussion.

Ms Barnes : Thank you, Chair. Very briefly, I'd just like to confirm that the National Capital Authority is committed to maintaining the integrity of the design intent and special character of the central national area of Canberra on behalf of the people of Australia. I stress that 65 per cent of the route that's been proposed by the ACT government goes through areas that are managed by the National Capital Authority, so this is a key project for us where we're working with the ACT government to get the best outcome. We welcome your questions and the opportunity to go through what's happened to date and our interests.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Before we get to the engineering, route options and approvals processes, I think you were present when we asked questions of the ACT government in relation to the relationship between the NCA and the ACT government. Is it the NCA's view that you have been involved in providing guidance and feedback on route options or have you been involved in assessing the routes provided to you?

Ms Barnes : In looking at what's been happening over the last year or so and talking to colleagues, it would be fair to say that there hasn't been a working group that's been co-designing this proposal. Certainly, there have been lots of discussions between NCA staff and ACT officials around the areas of interest and concern, thoughts and what they were taking into account. In terms of a formal approach or a formal agreement with the NCA that landed on the current proposed route, that would not be the case.

CHAIR: Were you ever asked to provide very high-level advice: 'The project is to get light rail from Civic to Woden. It's going to go through the national capital areas. Please give some initial advice in relation to how that should occur'?

Ms Barnes : Certainly officers provided us some of the ideas coming forward and what some of the unintended consequences or implications could be. I'll ask Andrew Smith to outline what happened in the last year.

Mr Smith : We explained at the very early stages of the project the options that are available to the ACT government under the National Capital Plan, which are to use either Kings Avenue or Commonwealth Avenue. The ACT government had a strong preference from the very beginning of the project that Commonwealth Avenue was their preferred route of choice. Within that, as we've heard today, there are a couple of sub-options related to how one does the east-west movement, around State Circle or through the Parliamentary Zone. They also did some exploration as to the project going through to the Woden hospital. I think it was in May last year that there was confirmation that Commonwealth Avenue was going to be the route chosen.

CHAIR: Does the NCA have a view as to whether the ACT government chose the right route?

Ms Barnes : I think it's an iterative process. We first saw definite material about the route, the design and the implications of the route in February. That was the first time we'd seen what the implications would be in terms of taking lanes off Commonwealth Avenue and modelling on what that might mean for backing up to Parkes Way and changing traffic directions. We also saw at that stage the proposal to close the through roads on to King Edward Terrace and to change some of the traffic flow along there. That was the first time we'd seen that deep level of detail in the definition design and that was the first time, that I can find, formal advice went back to the ACT government, which we did in April, around what the NCA could support in the initial definition design and what we thought was problematic.

CHAIR: I have a feeling, for some reason, that Commonwealth Avenue is a more important avenue than Kings Avenue. I don't know why. Is there a reason for that in Burley's plan? Is it meant to be more prestigious than Kings Avenue?

Ms Barnes : I'll hand over to the building expert. Certainly from a community perspective and certainly from the entrance to Parliament House, I think that's probably a perception, whether or not it's a reality in the original plan. But there have been changes to the original plan.

Mr Smith : Griffin conceived a triangle, and each road had different roles and were of equal importance. I think what has happened over the years is that when Commonwealth Avenue was originally built—we're talking in the 1920s, and there were some plantings—it was done to the full scale of Griffin's vision of the avenue. So today it has grandeur and majesty that gives it the sense of it being a higher order boulevard. Kings Avenue has some of those features, and it was developed at the same time, but it's narrower. Reid has been less significant. Constitution Avenue, up until very recently, was the unloved cousin. In truth, each of those three roads has equal importance in Griffin's composition of the city, but each performed a slightly different function.

CHAIR: What I like in your submission—you learn something new all the time. I didn't realise that Kings Avenue was called Federal Avenue in Griffin's plan, and both Commonwealth and Federal Avenue—or Kings Avenue—had a park and tramway as part of this plan. I was comforted to realise that. Where did those tramways go, do we know? Did a proposed tramway on Commonwealth Avenue then cut through the Parliamentary Triangle?

Ms Barnes : You mean after they'd gone down that route?

Mr Smith : They did the circles, but they didn't cut across the Parliamentary Zone, no.

CHAIR: Is there anything in Griffin's plan that would suggest that cutting across the Parliamentary Triangle was a huge affront to the plan?

Mr Smith : I think we might take that on notice.

CHAIR: If you could. Give him a call and see if you can find out!

Mr Smith : I know there is a drawing—I can see it—but I'd rather take that on notice.

Ms BRODTMANN: And to see if there is a route or a vision of a route that he had around that part of world. That would be really interesting.

CHAIR: It would certainly help the heritage considerations if it goes up again.

Ms BRODTMANN: Absolutely.

Ms Barnes : It's probably worth mentioning that his original idea was to have the tram in the median strip. As everything evolved and as his plan changed and morphed, it was the western plantings and the people that came after Griffin that actually decided not to keep that median strip open for the tram but to put some of those plantings on the median strip.

Ms BRODTMANN: So the median strip as in Alexandra Parade in Melbourne—running down the middle?

Ms Barnes : That was his original idea, I understand.

Mr Smith : Yes.

Ms Barnes : Wasn't there a median in Commonwealth Avenue?

Mr Smith : They were conceived as the same sort of design structure. I can see the drawing, but I'd rather go back.

CHAIR: We'll let you take it on notice. In relation to the utilisation of those two avenues or bridges, given that the proposal is for a bridge over Commonwealth Avenue, there'd be no difference. Now the requirement of Kings Avenue is used because a bridge would have to be constructed there. So the decision to now build a bridge on Commonwealth has nullified the argument, but because Kings Avenue is only two lanes you'd have to build a bridge in that regard. Does the NCA have a preliminary view in relation to the use of Kings or Commonwealth and the cutting of the Parliamentary Triangle?

Ms Barnes : I think we'd like to see more details around traffic modelling, in particular, and congestion, and if there's a way to keep Commonwealth Avenue flowing and to keep that majestic boulevard without congestion. We've seen the original design definition had some of Kings Avenue for light rail, but not all, so we haven't been able to compare and contrast broad cases.

CHAIR: On the issue of the wire-free running that you heard me asking the ACTU government about, I shared my view that the avenues—Kings Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue—should be wire free but so should Adelaide Avenue, in my view. What is the NCA's view in relation to a wire-free operation?

Ms Barnes : We share your view that Adelaide Avenue is an important avenue in that it's also linked to the Lodge and the Governor-General's residence. For visiting dignitaries and just the look and feel of that area we would prefer Adelaide Avenue to be wire free. We understand there are engineering constraints, but it would be our preference as well.

CHAIR: What capacity does the NCA have to assess this project? It is a big project. It's probably the biggest project that's come your way in some time. There are significant heritage issues to be dealt with. Do you have the resources you need to assess this project fully? Do you have the capabilities within your organisation or will you be looking to outsource a variety of assessments or do you require the proponent to provide you with particular reports and information?

Ms Barnes : We require the proponent to provide us with particular reports and information, but we're also going to be setting up an independent expert group to help us go through that material, particularly around urban design traffic management and transport infrastructure. We have skills in-house, but business-as-usual keeps going as well and we would we would like to get some leading thinkers in this area helping us with this project from here on in as the design and the material come together to help us with that work.

Ms BRODTMANN: Just going back to the heritage values, you touch on them in your report but, just for the benefit of everyone here, what are they specifically on Commonwealth Avenue? We could be here all night going into the into the rest of the Parliamentary Triangle, but I'm particularly keen to talk about the values for Commonwealth Avenue because I've got a concern that the values of the trees on Commonwealth Avenue are being compromised. I think I've mentioned this before in hearings. The fact that they go right back to Weston is a concern. So could you just talk us through those heritage values on Commonwealth Avenue not just in terms of their planting but also the architecture, the design principles and the landscape principles.

Ms Barnes : Certainly. I might ask Andrew to start and then I'm happy to perhaps give a bit of an update on the age of a lot of those assets and where they're up to.

Ms BRODTMANN: That would be helpful.

Ms Barnes : I think a consideration is their lifecycle—

Ms BRODTMANN: Absolutely.

Ms Barnes : in terms of the end of their life cycle and when they're going to need major infrastructure upgrades.

Ms BRODTMANN: Thank you.

Mr Smith : The NCA took ownership of Commonwealth Avenue, Kings Avenue and a number of other roads in 2008. One of our earliest actions after that was to initiate a heritage assessment of those roads. Not surprisingly, they were found to have Commonwealth heritage values, and we have nominated those to the Department of Environment and Energy. That nomination sits with them, but we have been managing them as if they've been heritage assets ever since.

Ms BRODTMANN: So those roads are Commonwealth Avenue and—

Mr Smith : Kings Avenue and Constitution Avenue, and then there are number of other—

Ms BRODTMANN: Adelaide Avenue?

Mr Smith : No, we're not the landowner of Adelaide Avenue, but the National Capital Plan requires that all heritage assessments we undertake or that are undertaken as part of an application comply with provisions of the EPBC Act. Commonwealth Avenue was developed in two tranches. The first and most intact original tranche of land is that part south of Lake Burley Griffin. That was set out to the original design geometries of Griffin. The planting itself was done by Charles Weston. That postdated Griffin. They did have different ideas about landscape structures, but Commonwealth Avenue south of Lake Burley Griffin is probably one of the highest quality extant pieces of Canberra urban design from the very early days of the city's development. The assets, however, are ageing and deteriorating. That may be something Sally wishes to talk about, because we have to manage it.

Ms Barnes : The bridges themselves will need some work in the next few years. The avenues and the pathways and walkways need continuous maintenance, and it's time for revitalisation for those. The Weston trees are now—the plantings are—

Mr Smith : They're about 90 years old.

Ms Barnes : Yes. So we would have to start thinking about what we would need to do with those trees anyway and how we would—we're obviously keeping them in as good order as we can for their age and looking after them very carefully, but there will come a time when we need to think about what happens as those trees start to reach end of life.

Mr Smith : You can see that in other parts of Canberra where there are the same species. They're starting to fail. It's really just an old age thing.

Ms BRODTMANN: What species are they?

Mr Smith : Forms of cedar—deodara and atlantica, I think. If I'm wrong I'll come back to you with the species. I'm sure someone in the room will know it.

Ms BRODTMANN: What work needs doing on the bridges in the next few years?

Ms Barnes : The bridges were built in the early sixties. Some of the standards for bridges have changed since that time—lane widths, safety considerations—so we're doing a major piece of work at the moment looking at the bridges and their requirements in the next little while. It will require some capital investment, probably in the next two to five years just to maintain them. Lachlan, would you like to comment?

Mr Wood : No. I think that's sufficient.

Ms Barnes : From a safety perspective of bridge standards perspective, use perspective, it's also been raised with us, which we'll be looking out at the same time, in relation to public safety around walking and cycling across the bridges, we could improve some of that, as well. So we're going to take the opportunity to have a look at the bridges themselves and the standards and then look at whether we can do improvements to pedestrian and cycling access.

Ms BRODTMANN: Yes, it gets pretty squishy.

Ms Barnes : On the western side, particularly, you've got to walk with your wings in.

Ms BRODTMANN: What are the upgrades needed for the avenues and walkways in the next few years?

Ms Barnes : The strategy that was put out by the National Capital Authority last year—the Commonwealth and Kings avenue strategy—started to look at how those important avenues could maintain their heritage values but be revitalised and at what we would do in terms of lighting, verges, treatments of—

Mr Smith : Basically, this is the framework for the replacement of the built assets and landscape assets as they deteriorate. Rather than adopt a piecemeal approach, we've set an overall strategy that could be followed for the next 20 years or so, so that as assets age and need replacement there's a coordinated and coherent strategy. It's an example of the authority having to take a long view about the city. Even if we do it over 20 years, that infrastructure will stay for another 50, so it's worth our while taking a step back, having a look and then setting out the appropriate path.

Ms Barnes : That paper was put out for consultation last year.

Mr Smith : About this time last year.

Ms BRODTMANN: What's it called?

Ms Barnes : The Kings and Commonwealth Avenues Draft Design Strategy.

Ms BRODTMANN: We had a briefing on it.

Ms Barnes : Yes. There was quite a lot of public feedback on it. The big feedback from the public on it was they quite like the landscaping, the plantings and the pedestrian and bike access, but they were very concerned about any restrictions or congestion—

Ms BRODTMANN: Parkes Way was the big issue that I had from the community, in terms of on and off—it's bad.

Ms Barnes : That's right, and that's still an issue that we'll need—we're carrying that forward as we work on this project as well, because it'll need to be considered as we move forward on this project.

Ms BRODTMANN: I'm glad you've raised that, given the briefing last year about the intersect between that plan and the light rail.

Ms Barnes : We've looked at the public consultation and the comments, but we don't really want to finalise that strategy until we've got greater clarity around this project, because we should work the two together, particularly around the plantings, the landscapes and the boulevard idea. If there are going to be changes we want them to work in together.

Ms BRODTMANN: When you are looking at the heritage impact of the proposed project, what will you be looking at? What will you be assessing? What will you be seeking to see that will be affected?

Mr Smith : The project, in terms of its heritage impact, is, as I think we understand, much more than just Kings and Commonwealth Avenue; it's about the changes to those avenues and changes to the original landscape structure; ensuring that those key qualities of clarity, appreciation of the vista and the appropriate landscape structures are in place—whether or not that needs to be exactly the same is an area for discussion. Within the parliamentary zone, the definition of design that we've been provided completely changes traffic movement and sets aside much of the Griffin structure. We'll need to understand whether that's an appropriate change. On Kings Avenue, there are very similar matters in that instance. The proposal is for the rail to go on a footpath, and whether or not we're prepared to accept that or whether that aspect of it compromises free movement. The heritage values of that place will also need to be considered.

CHAIR: On public consultation: in the submission from the ACT government, there is 'works approval application submitted to the NCA by the TCCS' and then there's 'public consultation'. I'm assuming that that's your public consultation in relation to your processes. I think this is an issue of concern to some of the community groups that have made submissions to the committee. What should we expect from the community consultation that will occur through your approval processes? I assume it's not to repeat all of the consultations that ACT have done. What kind of consultation would you expect that you would conduct?What kinds of questions would you be expecting to ask the community? What feedback from the community will impact on your final approval?

Ms Barnes : The NCA board and the authority would have to be fairly comfortable with the material being put forward before they put it out for consultation. The consultation would be to get the community's view on where the project is going, the design elements and how the heritage values are going to be protected. We're not at a stage yet where we have formal material. We would think it's in a format for answering all of the questions that are ready for public consultation when we go out. It will be with the project more formed than it is now.

CHAIR: At what point do you go out to public consultation saying: 'Here are the issues the NCA has identified. What are the views of the community?' Is public consultation further down the path? 'Here is the draft approval with the following conditions, community. Give me your views'?

Ms Barnes : This is a very large project and a very different project

CHAIR: Are there multiple?

Ms Barnes : Yes. This is a very different project, so it may require different types of consultation. We can run through the general consultation process and when we do that. But, you're right, it's generally at a stage where it's fully formed and we can get the community's views.

Mr Smith : That's perhaps the difference between the consultation that we will have and that which precedes it. Ours will be very much around the material that is proposed to be built, and that will be at a fine level of granularity. At the moment, consultation has some artist images and a red, pink or blue line on a plan. We'll be looking to understand and take to community comments about which particular materials, where they'll be, clear identification of loss of trees if that's proposed, new planting, and new safety measures that are proposed for this. It's quite a detailed level of—

CHAIR: Your consultation is in relation to the actual proposal that you have before you, the actual route. You're getting down into metre-by-metre type issues—

Mr Smith : It could well be, yes.

CHAIR: as opposed to consultations by the NCA looking at this project from a much higher perspective in relation to the NCA consulting with the community about what route options you should approve or not. Should there be any consultation taken by the NCA in relation to more substantive route considerations?

Mr Smith : The NCA would proffer the view that consultation has already happened through the revised National Capital Plan, where we quite explicitly identified where rapid transit routes would go. We've been very agnostic about mode because, at that stage, we were not aware that the ACT government were going to move forward with a light rail stage 2, and there may have been other technologies that came forward. In the National Capital Plan at a strategic level there is information about the location of intertown transport routes. We identified to the community three years ago that Kings and Commonwealth Avenue were possible future paths for those routes.

CHAIR: But, in relation to Kings or Commonwealth, there won't be any consultation from the NCA with the community in relation to those broader route considerations? The consultation will be at the point in which you are talking about the metre-by-metre smaller issues?

Mr Smith : The consultation with the authority operates at two levels: at a strategic level, which I've just described, and at a works level. Should this project proceed—

CHAIR: It'll be at the works level in relation to the project in front of you.

Mr Smith : Obviously, before that, or any project, there's a lot of interaction. We would not go to a public consultation unless we were satisfied that it was of an appropriate quality for that place.

Ms Barnes : But, as I've said, this is new. It's a larger project. We haven't tested an appetite to go out for the NCA to do a route check, because that's been the work that the ACT government's done. We'd be open to any ideas.

CHAIR: The NCAA looking at the issue from a higher level in relation to the routes as part of our approval process is something that I think this committee should consider as well. Thank you for your attendance here today. If you've been asked to provide additional information, please do so by forwarding it to the secretariat by Friday, 6 July 2018. You'll be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence and will have an opportunity to request corrections to transcription errors. Thank you.