ACT News

Andrew Barr criticises Heritage Council over Northbourne decision on run-down housing estate

One of the Dickson Towers on Northbourne Avenue.
One of the Dickson Towers on Northbourne Avenue. Photo: Graham Tidy

The ACT Government will push ahead with plans to build 1100 apartments on Northbourne Avenue, despite a Heritage Council decision protecting about half of the run down public housing estate built in the 1950s and 1960s.

Mr Barr said the council's decision to protect one of the Dickson Towers and about half of the full precinct, including pair-houses, three-storey flats, maisonettes and garden flats was "absurd" and out of step with community interests.

Roundly criticising Tuesday's announcement, Mr Barr flagged the possible use of special legislation if required and said the government would pursue all options to continue with its plans to demolish the controversial buildings.

He didn't rule out an appeal to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal but said new laws would be a last resort. 

Developing the area is central to plans to grow population density in the Northbourne corridor and help fund the government's light rail line to Gungahlin. 

Mr Barr said one of the towers and one building on the Lyneham side of Northbourne Avenue should remain for heritage preservation. Videos, photographs and other media could be used to recognise the heritage value of the post-war architecture. 

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"It is not the government's intention to knock everything down and I think a compromise can be reached but the government is not going to sit by and have this entire area locked up, never to change," Mr Barr said. 

"That is an unacceptable outcome and I do not believe it has community support and in fact the response to the heritage council's listing has been overwhelmingly negative." 

Mr Barr ruled out using the new fast-track planning law passed last week because it related only to light rail infrastructure.  

"The government is keeping its options open as how we can progress from here but I want to send a very clear signal that we are determined to move ahead with this renewal project." 

The ACT Property Council moved quickly to criticise the Heritage Council decision on Tuesday. 

Speaker after Mr Barr's comments, Heritage Council chair Duncan Marshall said ACAT appeals were the right of interested parties in decisions. 

"I would invite everybody to look closely at the actual citation that [the] council has prepared to fully understand the reasons for its decision," he said. 

The council found the precinct has "considerable significance for its creative achievement including its architectural style, as a distinctive design of exceptional interest, as a rare and notable example of types of public housing."

It was found to meet five criteria for heritage registration, including technical and creative achievement and as a rare or unique example of form.

"Expert reports on the values of this precinct date back to at least 1999," Mr Marshall said.

"There have been several reports commissioned by the government, not by the Heritage Council, which support a finding of heritage values. The first statutory heritage listing for the precinct was undertaken by the Commonwealth government in 2002." 

He described the reaction by Mr Barr and other members of the community as surprising.

"The government has a number of options available to it, including calling in a development application that would impact this precinct and the government has a possible statutory role to take into account bigger and broader objectives within the territory - which might be to say one set of objectives can override heritage objectives in some situations." 

Last month it was reported planning directorate officials had approved the demolition of two of the three Dickson Towers, which each contain 21 bedsits previously used by single men.

A provisional heritage order required the northernmost building, near the corner of Morphett Street, Dickson, to remain in place along with significant trees. A planned 160-apartment complex could have to be scaled back as a result of the order. 

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