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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

FATSEAS, Ms Marea, Chair, Inner South Canberra Community Council

HUGHES, Dr Janet, Vice President, Kingston and Barton Residents Group

LAWSON, Mr Michael, Member, Lake Burley Griffin Guardians

RAMSAY, Ms Juliet, Convenor, Lake Burley Griffin Guardians

WILSON, Mr George, Member, Inner South Canberra Community Council

[18:23]

CHAIR: I now welcome representatives of the Lake Burley Griffin Guardians, the Kingston and Barton Residents Group and the Inner South Canberra Community Council to give evidence today. Is there anything you would like to add to the capacities in which you appear?

Mr Wilson : I'm the president of the Deakin Residents Association.

CHAIR: Welcome. 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 of the respective houses. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as 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 Fatseas : Thank you to the joint standing committee for providing this opportunity for the Inner South Canberra Community Council to give a presentation and speak with you. The ISCCC is a voluntary not-for-profit community based association representing the residents in the inner south of Canberra. We are a peak organisation, with about eight residents groups that are members, ex officio, as part of the ISCCC, and they are the Old Narrabundah Community Council, the Griffith Narrabundah Community Association, the Yarralumla Residents Association, the Deakin Residents' Association, the Red Hill Residents Group, the Kingston Barton Residents Group, the Oaks Estate Progress Association and the Forest Residents Group. We have here also one of our committee members who is also president of the Deakin Residents Association; and Janet is vice-president, as she said, of the Kingston Barton Residents Group. The Lake Burley Griffin Guardians are an associate member, not a full member.

I'd like to just make a few points in opening. Our concerns really relate to the issues to do with federal responsibilities of the parliament, the government and the National Capital Authority. First and foremost we think that it's really important, now that there's proposed major infrastructure going through the Parliamentary Triangle and through other designated areas, to get the right framework in place for the heritage of the central national area. In that respect we call on the joint standing committee to see what it's possible for you to do in terms of restarting the consideration of the assessment of the National Heritage List nomination that was put in quite some time ago; I think nothing much has happened on it since 2009. I think there were hopes that something would be done by the Centenary of Canberra in 2013, but here we are in 2018 and it still hasn't been finalised. So it would be fantastic if the joint standing committee could find out where that's at and see if we could speed that up, because it's very important that that be finalised before the light rail project stage 2 proceeds. Also in that context we understand there's a nomination of Lake Burley Griffin and adjacent lands, and we think it's also very important that that nomination be considered.

We also support the NCA position that light rail stage 2 should not use overhead wires through the Parliamentary Triangle and that there should be an appropriate standard of landscaping, urban design and infrastructure. We think it's important that the quality of vistas along the main avenues towards Parliament House are taken into account, and that includes Commonwealth Avenue, Canberra Avenue, Adelaide Avenue and Kings Avenue. All of them are important, and the light rail will be going across several of those. We also think it would be prudent to evaluate the impacts of light rail stage 1 after its completion at the end of 2018 to draw lessons for stage 2. And we would like to analyse the business case for stage 2 to better understand the scale and type of density proposed along the light rail corridor necessary to make the project viable and the implications for the built environment and for public open space along that corridor. We note in the context of your terms of reference that the transport corridor from Civic right to the turn-off—I think it's where the turn-off is leading to the Governor-General's residence—appears in the National Capital Plan as designated areas for which the National Capital Authority has responsibility for determining detailed planning policy and for works approval. That's all I'd like to say as an opening statement.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Would a representative from the Kingston Barton Residents Group like to make an opening statement?

Dr Hughes : Yes. Our residents live very close to the intended route. Some residents will be less than 150 metres from Windsor Walk and we've had a long time to observe how planning decisions made in the Parliamentary Zone can impact on residents who live outside the zone but very close by. For example, paid parking was implemented and then had the obvious effect of increasing parking pressures in our residential area. If there had been compliance action by the ACT government then things might have gone well. Instead, residents had to encourage the ACT government to make changes in the way they dealt with the planning issues in our very small residential area. So we see it's very important, as Marea has said, that there be coordination of action by the ACT government and national authorities and that particularly they consider the densification issue, which has profound implications for the Barton area. It's already quite a high-density area, except for that very small area of about 70 houses in the heritage housing precinct. Those are our key concerns issues, and we share all the concerns expressed by Marea.

CHAIR: Thank you. The Lake Burleigh Griffin Guardians?

Ms Ramsay : Firstly, I'd like to thank you for holding this inquiry and inviting us to present.

CHAIR: It's a pleasure. Your organisation is a regular contributor to this committee and it's a pleasure to have you here in order to put your views forward.

Ms Ramsay : Thank you. We believe the landscape in question for stage 2 is of outstanding value and importance to Australians and to our national image. I will be referring to the Parliamentary Zone and the Parliamentary Triangle and the Parliament House vista, which is the heritage listed area. I did do a little plan for those particular parliamentarians who don't know Canberra so well.

As I've said, this is the area that gives Canberra its dignity and it is the physical face of our democracy. Therefore the route of stage 2 light rail holds many issues that relate to heritage. We have noted in our submission at point 1 that the approval process must stay with the Commonwealth, but the Commonwealth must be guided by a strategic heritage assessment, as Marea referred to, and a management plan for the whole of the Lake Burley Griffin and lake landscape. It's an integrated place. The process must be more clearly defined with regard to who has authority for what. That came out quite strongly in today's meeting.

CHAIR: That's one of the reasons we're having this inquiry. We were unsure ourselves when we started to look at this.

Ms Ramsay : Yes. There is also a need to set standards for approvals. Given that approvals are given 10 years previously, do they still hold today? Should there be another review and another approval process when those approvals age for a long time? With regard to point 2, as we noted for point 1, there is need to have a clearly defined role on what the NCA has power to do and what it doesn't. We are also concerned about the NCA board. The membership is ACT businesspeople. There is an absence of a heritage expert on that board. We feel there should be an independent heritage expert appointed to the board of the NCA so that there is a balance in their process of giving approvals.

Ms BRODTMANN: Wasn't that meant to happen ages ago—an ACT person and a heritage person?

Ms Ramsay : The people that are on the board are ACT businesspeople—and of course I'm ignoring the CEO, Ms Sally Barnes, who has got heritage experience—but an independent expert would be invaluable. The NCA has to demonstrate its heritage responsibility. It has a heritage strategy and a heritage inventory that should be on their website and updated regularly. The heritage records need to be updated to meet with the provisions for the designated area that were in amendment 86 of the NCP, the National Capital Plan, in 2016.

With regard to point 3, currently, the Parliament House vista is the heritage area that is listed on the Commonwealth Heritage List. There are individual buildings that are listed on both the Commonwealth Heritage List and the National Heritage List. That Parliament House vista area is a very important area. The light rail has had a bit of delineation change with the introduction of the EPBC Act, but since amendment 86 to the NCP it should go back to its original delineation of running along Constitution Avenue to City Hill and Russell and extending back to Capital Hill and along Anzac Parade to the War Memorial.

CHAIR: That's talking about that area of jurisdiction within the triangle. As opposed to being defined as small as it is currently, you want it extended for these approval processes. Have I misread you?

Ms Ramsay : It's on the Commonwealth Heritage List, so for all processes anything within it will have to be referred to the EPBC Act. All of the stage 2 route until well past Parliament is within the designated area because it contains national significance. The proposed stage 2 of the light rail is highly likely to impact the value of the bridges, the treescaping of the avenues—as you've mentioned today—and the designed spatial landscaping of the Parliamentary Zone.

The fourth point is that the heritage assessment for central Canberra is supposed to be finalised by the federal heritage division. Marea referred to this. We believe that no decision should be made until that assessment is updated and finalised and a current heritage management plan is in place. The proposed stage 2 is very different to stage 1. It has a difficult route crossing major traffic at least four times, has bends and corners and is likely to be very expensive and slow down speed. We believe trams should not traverse the Parliamentary Zone. It is the face of our democracy and is heritage listed. It includes major heritage buildings in a distinct, designed landscape setting that embraces the land access. This important area should remain intact for its significance to the Australian people. The tram infrastructure is likely to have an adverse impact on the historic, designed landscapes, vistas and treescapes.

Commonwealth Avenue, as you've already mentioned today, is the principal ceremonial route to Parliament. That wasn't designed as such by Burley Griffin. He had Commonwealth Avenue and Kings Avenue as being of equal importance, but it has evolved so that Commonwealth Avenue has that importance now. I might also add that Griffin did do two plans for routes that I'm aware of, one in 1912 and one in 1915. But, remember, there was no Parliament House at the top of Capital Hill in his routes. He had one that looped around Commonwealth Avenue and Kings Avenue but it also looped around the top area of Capital Hill. Parliament would have been below that route.

He was also particular about the design of the Parliamentary Triangle. That was an important area to him. Having a route, as you mentioned, along Constitution Avenue helps to define that Parliamentary Triangle quite clearly. Also, as far as meeting demand for a light rail, it goes through the University of New South Wales area, past the ASIO building and up to Russell, which is a very important focal point of the workforce of Canberra. If it went straight down Kings Avenue, you'd be able to stop in two locations for people to access the Parliamentary Zone. You could have an electric people mover to help people move from those tram stops around the Parliamentary Zone. There is no need for the light rail to cross the parliamentary zone.

CHAIR: What's your view on wire-free technology? If it did what you said and went all the way down Kings Avenue, would you have it wire free or could you handle wires?

Ms Ramsay : I'm not an engineer—

CHAIR: No, I'm not asking you in that capacity.

Ms Ramsay : That is difficult for me to say; I can't say whether I'd like it or not. I'd have to see diagrams to see the impact of wires on Kings Avenue. Not Commonwealth Avenue—it's too important—but on Kings Avenue I'd have to see diagrams before I could say whether I would consider that an adverse impact or not. I do think that, for both Kings Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue, to put support bridges between the road spans seems to be the same issue for both bridges.

CHAIR: This concept of cutting across the Parliamentary Triangle, what's the difference between a large number of cars cutting across and the cars being removed and a tram cutting across?

Ms Ramsay : It's not so much a tram gliding across; it's the other impacts that are associated with the infrastructure. I think the curving from Commonwealth Avenue to cut across one of the landscaped areas and then going out the same way and doing those bends up in Kings Avenue and cutting across Kings Avenue twice to get into Barton are the adverse impacts.

Mr Lawson : You asked about wire-free transit. One of the things that struck me about one of the earlier presentations was that it appears that the route is predicated on battery technology, which doesn't yet exist.

CHAIR: I think that the current route is designed on technology that does exist now, but what I'd like to see doesn't exist just yet.

Mr Lawson : Yes. What you were indicating was that longer wire-free running. How I interpreted the answer was, 'We've designed it to the maximum capacity that exists in technology in the time it was built, not what we anticipate it will be.'

CHAIR: Yes, that's right. On the issue of consultation, have you been happy with the consultation so far from the ACT government? While that is bordering on slipping over the terms of reference of this inquiry, I'm asking all of you that question on the basis of getting an understanding from you of what level of consultation you'd be hoping for from the NCA as part of their approval processes. I should mention that this is a roundtable hearing, so questions can be directed at one or all. If participants would like to add to something that somebody else has said, please just indicate and ask for the call. You're welcome to do so.

Ms Fatseas : From the point of view of the ISCCC, there's a problem when we have a decision that's already been made in advance of an election without any prior business case having been prepared. It leaves us in a very difficult situation in trying to represent the views of the community because we don't have any business case and so we don't understand the basis on which the proposal has come forward. Now we're waiting to get some of that information so that we know what the trade-offs will be for the community. If we're getting this big piece of infrastructure, what comes with it and what are we expected to deal with? For that, we need more information. We need to know what the traffic impacts are going to be. We need to know what the implications are for the scale of development along the light rail corridor and the implications for cost to the budget and, therefore, what the costs will be for members of the community through taxes and rates. There are many different issues that, at the moment, we don't have enough information on.

I know that the ACT government released some more information today, and that will be very useful. We're planning to have a public forum on 10 July. It means that we have a little bit more to go back to the community with, which we haven't had until now. I haven't had a chance to look at that document to see whether that will give us enough to go back to the community with, but the point is that community consultation is valuable if it's informed. That's when we get the best outcomes—when people know what the implications will be. We've got traffic implications, heritage implications, cost implications and implications for public realm and the built form. So there are a whole lot of implications that at the moment we can't talk to the community about because we don't have that information.

Mr Wilson : If I could just elaborate on that, the Deakin Residents Association, in anticipation of being able to make a submission to you, conducted a survey over the last couple of months—and I've got copies of it here—in which we asked community members various questions. But, as Marea's suggesting, it was really hard to take the thing forward in the absence of firm proposals. One of the key things that came out of it in the answers was that people really didn't have much cost-benefit information, and we see that as absolutely critical. We know that in our case, in putting the light rail down Adelaide Avenue, which runs right down the middle between our suburb and Yarralumla—the other residents association—we would like to see that wire free. That came out very strongly in the responses to our submission. Residents were also strongly opposed to tree removal in the survey. Many were very concerned about the impact of light rail on the Canberra landscape and the heritage of the national capital. There were a few other surprises, I must say. A number weren't as concerned about infill as we thought members of the suburb were. But again, in the absence of any information, it was really very difficult to proceed with that. There are concerns about the Curtin horse paddocks. I don't know if you're aware of this, but it's a large area.

Ms BRODTMANN: The chair used to drive buses here. He knows every inch.

CHAIR: I did, actually. I was supposed to not reveal that in the inquiry about light rail!

Ms Ramsay : It's on your website.

CHAIR: It is.

Mr Wilson : Anyway, just where is this infill going to take place? Are we going to see an emulation of what's happened on Northbourne and elsewhere? We do note that both sides of Adelaide Avenue at the moment have schools and embassies on them, so it's really not going to be open to the sort of development that's taken place elsewhere. Therefore, is the infill going to take place further down? All this is not known, and it's information that we really need.

Mr Lawson : We've got a number of concerns about consultation. I'll give you two examples. One of the concerns is the time that elapses after consultation to when a plan progresses and then the consultation that was taken is used to justify the subsequent plan, which has been modified. I'll give you an example of that time. The draft Acton structure plan was in consultations for about three or four weeks last year. It closed in May last year. There's not been a word said since, so a year's gone by. For example, on West Basin, the early consultations on West Basin were for a completely different project to what it is now. It didn't include light rail. It included a lot of public infrastructure which no longer exists. But the outcomes of those consultations—the 15,000 people who said it was a good idea—have been taken as justification for the latest version of the project.

The other concern, I think, is that the National Capital Authority has been so badly cut back in recent times that it's actually a risk to the project in its capacity to consult effectively at the strategic level. It's able to consult at the work approvals level, but, to actually take a project of this complexity, this size and this potential long-term impact on Canberra, I think that the NCA doesn't actually have the capacity, not just in heritage but in a whole bunch of other areas. Heritage is the one area that we look at, because it's the one that's primarily our interest, but we think that that's a significant risk to both the ACT and the Commonwealth on this project. It's really refreshing and welcome to see the parliament take an interest in it, because I think that you'll come to learn—or to recognise rather than learn—the real pressures that are on the NCA in trying to step up to the mark on a project of this scale.

Dr Hughes : There were previous comments and also the discussion by the NCA earlier about the importance of having sufficient quantitative data about where people want to go to guide decisions about the route and the passenger forecasts. That is really important to ensure sufficient, valid information is provided, because in some previous consultations insufficient information was provided and further questions had to be asked. Often there is a very short time frame to provide answers. It has been our experience that forums for discussion of a number of community groups are very valuable for ensuring that the community understands the implications of what they're being asked to comment on. We obviously need a bit of time to organise those sorts of things.

CHAIR: On one of the things I want to be very clear about in this inquiry, but also in the decision-making processes, is that I'm a Western Australian so my states' rights hat is always on and the deputy chair is a very strong Territorian, who reminds me of Territorian's rights on regular occasions. In the same way that this committee has to consider these issues within the jurisdiction that this committee has, the NCA and the parliament has to consider its approvals based on its jurisdiction. The federal government and the parliament won't be approving this project as to whether it should go ahead or not. The federal parliament and the Australian government won't be making those cost-benefit decisions at all. The NCA will be considering the project in relation to its impact on those areas where we actually have that jurisdiction as well. I have had to make sure that we make sure that's well understood, because I don't want an assessment that wants the federal government or the parliament to approve this project. We will approve the elements that we're required to approve. People who have issues with the project for a variety of other reasons need to keep those decision makers who made those decisions accountable for them, which will be the Territory and not the Commonwealth or the parliament. I think that's very important.

There are considerations in where that line is in relation to the information we need to do to do our job. We need to ask for the frequency and number of per day and per hour of the trams that will be cutting across the Parliamentary Zone, as proposed, in order to assess the impact there. I didn't necessarily think we would have to get down to that level of detail, but I think that we will for certain elements. Can you just reflect upon that? Do you have anything to say about my statement there about the jurisdiction issues that we're dealing with? Do you think that is well understood by the community? Do you think that if the federal government approves this project that we have rubber stamped it—so the funding, the budgets and the cost-benefit analysis—and we are then responsible for the whole box and dice?

Ms Fatseas : I think that people don't distinguish very well between the ACT government and federal government generally. This afternoon I was interviewed on 2CC radio. In fact, it just seemed as though the initial questions I was asked suggested that we were running some kind of forum. I think there is still perhaps a need to distinguish a bit better between the roles of the federal government and ACT government in the public's mind. In terms of the actual issue about that distinction, I think the Commonwealth role and, through the National Capital Plan, the reference to distinct towns or cities that is actually in the National Capital Plan has implications. I haven't looked at the document in relation to the Curtin horse paddocks. Obviously, there is green space on the other side that could separate the cities. On the mint's side, there is green space. I don't have enough expertise on that but, clearly, there's something in the National Capital Plan that refers to distinct towns as being part of the design of Canberra as the national capital.

Mr Wilson : If there are certain benefits to this project, then it's inevitable and you mightn't have to think about the costs and the benefits. If this thing was really going to make a huge difference to transport in Canberra and improve things, then the national space might be a little more tolerant of some damage to the heritage values. That's where there's a point of contact between the sorts of things that you're saying you have to consider and those that would be a state, territory or local government responsibility. It really is about the size of the benefits that the whole project will deliver to the community in getting people from here to offices in the national capital space and back again versus the cost or damage that might be done to the aesthetic value.

CHAIR: You're absolutely right, and that's the issue that I have considering Kings Avenue. For example, I asked the question about the impact of the length of time on patronage and the like because it's very easy for us to recommend that Commonwealth Avenue not be used, if it has no effect. However, if it has great effect, then saying so could make or break the project, and that's not my intention at all so it's misleading.

Ms LEY: Following on from that, would you say that most of your members, and this is a very broad question, would be happy to see the light rail if—and they would all have different definitions of this—it was done properly or that there's a bit of instinctive resistance which wouldn't be unexpected that will probably provide more of a hard edge to the discussions.

Ms Fatseas : I think there are a diversity of views and especially depending on how close people are to the corridor and whether they think they'll benefit or not benefit and then be asked to contribute to the cost. I think the issue about whether it's done well is really important. I think people have strong views, as George mentioned, about the wires. I think people may be influenced by an evaluation of stage 1. If they think that stage 1 has been done well—and we'll know that in the next six or eight months—then people might have a different view than when there's uncertainty about whether it will be done well or not.

Ms LEY: Would you say your members are representative of those communities or are mainly people who would probably fall on the no or only-if-all-of-these-conditions-are-met side of the argument.

Ms Fatseas : It's interesting, because we've got a pretty broad range of people who are members. As I mentioned, we're like a peak body and our members are the residents groups for the eight suburbs in the inner south and they have very strong connections at the grassroots level with a lot of the residents. They often produce newsletters that go to all of the households, and they have a range of ways of interacting with people in their suburbs. But I think the survey that George referred to indicates that there are people who have very positive views about it as well. It's a diversity of views, but I'll throw over to George.

Mr Wilson : There is a core of these associations that really quite likes Canberra the way it is. Our objective in Deakin Residents' Association is to maintain the garden city concept, and that densification, which is part of the whole light rail package, is not consistent with that at all—a lot of people think that anyway. At the same time, people really are very interested in getting better public transport but they're concerned that maybe the decision to go down this route—and I acknowledge what you've said, Chair—is nevertheless in play. Are people going to walk all the way from the suburb down to the middle of Adelaide Avenue to catch the tram to get to Civic? Answer: no. They don't really make a great deal of use of buses at the moment, and they're going to be removed—and that's another issue that we haven't talked about. What happens to the existing bus routes through our suburb? Are we going to try and encourage people to use light rail?

I would imagine that will be the case. So there's a diversity of views, certainly.

Mr Lawson : On behalf of the guardians, I'd say that our members are very strongly invested in Canberra, but not necessarily Canberra the status quo. We'd observe that the light rail proposal has been to two local elections so far and that it has been endorsed by the electorate. That said, though, it's a significant transfer of cost to the next generation, because it'll be the next one or two generations who will be paying for it. I'd say that our members are particularly concerned about the heritage aspects, but not necessarily about locking in the Griffin plan as Holy Writ.

CHAIR: We're coming to the conclusion of our roundtable today, so I'm happy to give you the opportunity to raise any issues or concerns that haven't been raised here so far.

Mr Lawson : In 2013, I think it was, the National Capital Authority put out a background paper on issues on the renewal of Kingston and Commonwealth Avenues, which is on their website. One of the things that they said that they thought was important was to pursue heritage protection of the Weston-Griffin plantings. We're quite concerned that—

CHAIR: Can you just remind me what those plantings are.

Mr Lawson : These are the trees, particularly on Commonwealth—

CHAIR: The Commonwealth Avenue trees

Ms BRODTMANN: By Charles Weston, who we spoke about.

CHAIR: Yes, of course.

Mr Lawson : We do have concerns about the loss of any of those trees, in particular, when looking at what happened on Northbourne Avenue between the original plan and the execution of light rail. We think that the Commonwealth parliament really should take a very close interest in the minutiae of how many trees are taken away.

CHAIR: Please tell us more about the trees and why they're important.

Mr Lawson : As I think Mr Smith alluded to, they weren't originally in the plan for Commonwealth Avenue, but Weston did put them in there. When Weston led the planting of those trees he looked for species that he thought would be long lived and adaptive to Australia's harsh landscape. I'm not qualified in this area, but the argument is put that they are nearing the end of their life and that there will be a requirement to replace those trees. We would be concerned if that was translated into 'there's an ability to remove some of those trees for the route'. We note that, in actual fact, the formal public statements of the NCA were to seek heritage listing of those trees. So they did recognise the importance of them, and we're a little bit concerned that maybe that might be dissipated in the actual development proposal. Obviously, there's a balance between preserving the existing trees and the ability to put in a light rail route that's economically feasible.

Ms Ramsay : The Kings Avenue trees in the median strip are much younger than the ones in Commonwealth Avenue.

CHAIR: In what way is that an argument?

Ms Ramsay : No, it's not.

Ms BRODTMANN: They're not Weston's, are they?

Ms Ramsay : No, they're not, but they're cedrus deodara and the ones on Commonwealth Avenue are cedrus deodara and cedrus atlantica. There was some talk, at one stage, of the importance of the particular form of those trees leading up to parliament. I don't know whether that's ever been proved by anybody, but it seems to have been a bit of a character of that planting, and then having the deciduous trees on the sides.

CHAIR: Thank you all for your attendance here today. I don't think anyone's been asked to provide any information, but if you have please do so by Friday, 6 July. You'll be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence, and you'll have the opportunity to request corrections to any transcription errors. Thank you to everybody who has participated in this inquiry tonight. We appreciate the evidence that you've given. There is a wealth of information and the submissions to this inquiry have been fantastic.

Committee adjourned at 19:04