The CSIRO has raised the prospect of selling its massive Ginninderra field station to make way for a new urban area on Canberra's northern outskirts.
On Wednesday, the research organisation said it had asked the National Capital Authority to include the site in areas for possible new development as part of amendments to the National Capital Plan, due to be released for public consultation next month.
Proceeds from any sale of the underused land would be put towards new facilities for priority research. The 701-hectare field station sits on the ACT-New South Wales border, framed by the Barton Highway, William Slim Drive, Owen Dixon Drive and Kuringa Drive.
Development of the area could make way for hundreds of new homes and take years to develop. It would have implications for the ACT government's land release timetable, which is tied to population demand.
The Ginninderra field station was first established in 1960 when research projects were moved from the current site of the Dickson shops. The area has been home to the development of a range of research projects including novel grains and agricultural systems.
CSIRO business and infrastructure general manager Mark Wallis said the move came as part of an ongoing review of the CSIRO property portfolio around Australia.
The organisation is the second largest government land owner after the Defence Department's national land holdings.
Mr Wallis said a final decision on any sale was yet to be made.
"The land is currently national land, so we've asked for the National Capital Authority to include it for consideration as urban land, as opposed to its current classification as hills, ridges and buffers and for scientific use.
"They've indicated to us their acceptance to include our request for that land in the amendment that will be out for consultation in September. In that consultation, people will be able to provide feedback on the proposed change."
No plans for how the land could be sold have been made, but Mr Wallis said the CSIRO would not play any role in developing houses or infrastructure.
He said suggestions from Labor MPs that Abbott government budget cuts to the CSIRO had made the sale necessary were incorrect.
"We continually review our property portfolio and we've looked at sites across Australia. This site, on a number of occasions, has been looked at for consideration and each time we've decided it was not quite right.
"This time we've decided it is the right time to go ahead in the context of underutilisation there," Mr Wallis said.
A spokeswoman for the National Capital Authority declined to comment on the proposal on Wednesday. Canberra's property sector welcomed the plans and called for quick consideration by the authority.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said any sale would see the CSIRO "embark on a lengthy and complex federal process".
"And there are robust ACT planning processes that will follow," he said. "CSIRO has said they would like to hear the community's views and I encourage Canberrans to have their say."
"The ACT government will keep a very close eye on this and make sure Canberra's voice is heard at every stage."