ACT News

Andrew Barr wants 20,000 people living in Canberra city within a decade

Chief Minister Andrew Barr wants the population of Canberra's city centre to swell six-fold within five to 10 years, from 3500 to 20,000.

Speaking after addressing a meeting of business leaders in Canberra, Mr Barr said the city could reach the target through ongoing population growth and an increasing number of retirees choosing to stay in Canberra after quitting the workforce.

Barr's vision: A digitally altered image showing more activity in Canberra's city centre.
Barr's vision: A digitally altered image showing more activity in Canberra's city centre. Photo: Rohan Thomson

At the last census in 2011, the city centre, bounded by Cooyong Street, Barry Drive and the edge of the Australian National University campus, had a population of 2823.

The 20,000 target for the city centre, including the new lakefront area to be opened up at West Basin, is in addition to the thousands more the ACT government wants living in the Northbourne Avenue corridor between the city and Dickson and further north along the tramline to Gungahlin.

Canberra's population was 392,000 midway through last year and is expected to nudge 400,000 at the end of this year. The population has been growing at about 5000 a year.

If one-third of those new residents made the city centre their home, Mr Barr's aim of 20,000 would be reached in a decade.


Mr Barr's CBD population figure takes account of more than 500 new apartments to be built on the site of the Allawah and Currong public housing blocks on Cooyong Street, with the site selling at auction for $47 million

It also includes the new development front at West Basin, with the first land to be sold in the 2016-17 year for 200 residential dwellings, plus 5000 square metres of commercial space.

"We're growing at around 1.5 to 2 per cent annually so the challenge for the city over the next 10 years is where we will accommodate this growth," Mr Barr said. 

"We need to meet at least half of that growth within the existing urban footprint. I'd like to see the CBD population move … to about 20,000 over the next decade or so and we've got the land release and sites available to achieve that."

But the date is not firm and other aspects of the City to the Lake vision remain up in the air. There has been no decision on when Parkes Way will be lowered to link the city more closely with the lake, and no decision on when work will begin on the new lakeside swimming pool, allowing the Civic pool to be demolished to make way for a planned city stadium.

Nor has the government firmed up plans for a national convention centre marking the link from City Hill to the lake, with Mr Barr now considering a proposal from the new owners of the casino for a major refurbishment of the existing conventional centre as part of their own redevelopment plans.

The Canberra city property owners group has urged the government not to begin development at West Basin while the city centre languishes with what the group described in a budget submission as "increasingly excruciating" rates, declining rents and increasing vacancies. 

The government has recently announced plans to move more public servants to the city. In all, 1700 public servants will work in the centre – about half in a new building beside the Assembly building on London Circuit and the rest in 20,000 square metres of refurbished office space in the city.

Mr Barr said population growth had slowed significantly under recent federal public service cuts, when more people were leaving for other states than arriving, but the rate of interstate departures had begun to level off. Canberra added about 2000 a year to its population through international migration and 3000 through natural increase (births over deaths). 

Mr Barr also pointed to the appeal of a city centre apartment to retirees, with more people retiring in Canberra to be close to children and grandchildren, to be close to a good health system and because their friendship and community links were here.

People would retire to the city "in spades", he said, with some Canberrans maintaining a city apartment, which they could easily leave for overseas travel or to visit a second property at the coast.