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Cabinet papers: National Capital Plan born in 1990 amid disagreement over office space

The National Capital Plan to control development in Canberra was born in 1990 amid disagreement over whether to limit new Commonwealth office accommodation in Civic.

Strong objections from the Department of Administrative Services to the plan were taken into account, according to Cabinet papers released by the National Archives.

The plan had been subject to several rounds of consultations and had to be in place within 12 months of ACT self-government.

Cabinet accepted the recommendation from Territories Minister David Simmons on December 20, to approve the draft plan and called for a report on further areas that could be identified for "national capital uses in the central national area".

The plan had been prepared by the National Capital Planning Authority, followed by an "extensive process" of consultation.


"The object of the plan is to ensure that Canberra and the Territory are planned and developed in accordance with their national significance," the submission says.

"The plan will be complemented by a Territory plan to be developed by the Interim Territory Planning Authority.

"Areas designated generally comprise the Central National Area, main avenues and approach routes, and the inner hills which form the setting of the Central National Area.

"The plan specifies special requirements on development on land adjacent to the main avenues, Civic Centre, the river corridors and distant mountains."

The plan gave the territory government "great scope" to make its own decisions on questions of urban density, form and land use throughout all other areas of Canberra, the submission says.

Mr Simmons told ministers the ACT Government sought compensation for costs imposed on it by requirements of the plan.

However, Prime Minister Bob Hawke said the Commonwealth Grants Commission had already made allowances in ACT funding for "disabilities associated with national capital and seat of government influences".

Any other claims could be raised at the annual Premiers' Conference, the ACT Government was told.

The submission says the plan was amended in response to concerns by the Australian Property Group within DAS.

"Policies on Commonwealth employment in Civic were changed to permit flexibility in their application," the submission says.

DAS had strongly opposed the policies for employment location.

"Subsections restricting increased Commonwealth office employment in Civic, requiring prior consultation with the Planning Agency before locating in Civic and restricting the use of the Parkes and Barton National Lands to Commonwealth policy departments are, in our view, inconsistent with most recent Cabinet decisions," the department said.

"If approved, they may well result in increased costs of government office accommodation."

DAS had previously been directed to report on the merit of locating future government-built office accommodation in Parkes/Barton.

"Furthermore Cabinet has directed [in 1988] that Commonwealth office space will be commercialised and that departments will have the responsibility to choose the location of their accommodation within the limits of total program operating expenses," the department said.

"DAS believes that little speculative office space will be available in Canberra outside of Civic.

"Accordingly, departments could be forced into expensive new accommodation financed either by Commonwealth capital or through pre-commitment leases.

"Removing our recourse to the competitive influences of the Canberra market could therefore cause an increase in accommodation costs."

A corrigendum received by the Cabinet Office several weeks after the original submission replaced the department's previous concerns with a statement that many of the department's view were reflected in the current draft plan.

"The NCP [National Capital Plan] contains employment location policies which are based on a Cabinet-approved (1988) accommodation strategy which limits the growth of Commonwealth employment in the Civic and Parkes/Barton areas and encourages the development of the town centres," it says.

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