At the proposed site, Yarralumla resident, Dr Alan Cowan, is part of a campaign hoping to stop the development of diplomatic housing in Stirling Park, Yarralumla.

At the proposed site, Yarralumla resident, Dr Alan Cowan, is part of a campaign hoping to stop the development of diplomatic housing in Stirling Park, Yarralumla. Photo: Rohan Thomson

The demand for new embassies in Canberra has been questioned at an inquiry into the proposal to site a diplomatic enclave in Stirling Park.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told a parliamentary committee on Friday there was a spike in interest for new missions.

However, residents opposed to the new enclave said the diplomatic estate in Yarralumla and O'Malley had vacant blocks.

The joint standing committee on the national capital and external territories is holding an inquiry into the allocation of land to diplomatic missions in the ACT after a row erupted over the National Capital Authority's proposal for nine embassies at the park.

The residents say Stirling Park and its popular Stirling Ridge, even though owned by the authority, should be left as open space for all Canberra residents to enjoy.

Any new diplomatic enclave should be built in the greenfields area of Molongo rather than the established Stirling Park which was one of the last pieces of vacant land in the central area, they said.

The inquiry heard suggestions for subdividing the larger blocks held by missions in Yarralumla.

Resident groups said if an enclave was built in Stirling Park, the land could remain vacant for 10 years because the government could not force countries to build on their allocated blocks.

DFAT's Sally Mansfield told the hearing countries establishing missions in Canberra wanted visibility and to have room for a flagpole.

''Last year there were three new missions that established a presence in Canberra and I think in the year before that there were two,'' she said. ''I certainly think over the next couple of years there will continue to be interest and that may in fact be more than one a year.''

Seven or eight countries had sent teams recently to explore how to establish missions in Canberra.

NCA chairwoman Shelley Penn said the nominated site for the enclave was highly suitable in terms of the national interest.

''Although the vast majority of Stirling Ridge is of very high environmental value, there are no environmental values attached to the subject land which is located at the fringe of the greater Stirling Ridge area,'' she said.

Dr Alan Cowan from the Save Stirling Park Group said the NCA should not have sole responsibility for planning and developing diplomatic estates and approving the development.

''The need for diplomatic estates is not urgent … some 40 per cent of the diplomatic estate is actually underdeveloped,'' he said.

ACT senator Gary Humphries asked how likely it was that small countries could afford or would need land in Stirling Park.

Ms Mansfield said nations often rented office space for the first 12 months while they considered a permanent mission.

''Most embassies do want some sort of upfront presence, they want to be seen, they do want their flagpole up there,'' she said.

''I'm aware of at least one country who has quite a good block but does feel they don't have the sort of frontage they would like.

''For example they have tourists from their country who will drive by and not be able to see their embassy and I've had comments that that mission would like to move to a block where there is a better, more obvious presence.''

Member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann said the committee was trying to get a realistic assessment of the demand for new missions.

Ms Mansfield said there was a rise in interest for new missions.

Ms Brodtmann questioned the ''1950s approach'' of allocating ''large chunks'' of land for diplomatic missions.

NCA chief executive Gary Rake said the ''days of the four-acre block'' were gone.

Member for Fraser Andrew Leigh asked how the Curtin horse paddocks were considered by one study to be a potential diplomatic site.

''One of the things I am struggling to work out is why the Curtin horse paddocks could be right for new diplomatic estates but aren't on the current list for land release for the general public,'' he said.

Any new diplomatic enclave should be built in the greenfields area of Molongo rather than the established Stirling Park, a parliamentary inquiry has been told.

Residents opposed to the National Capital Authority's proposal to build embassies in the park said it was one of the last pieces of vacant land in the central area and should be preserved.

However the NCA disputed the environmental values of the grasslands section, the site of the enclave.

The two sides came together on Friday at a hearing by the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories into the allocation of land to diplomatic missions in the ACT.

The committee decided to hold an inquiry after a row erupted over the NCA's proposal for nine embassies at the park.

The residents say Stirling Park and its popular Stirling Ridge, even though owned by the authority, should be left as open space for all Canberra residents to enjoy.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade official Sally Mansfield told the hearing countries establishing missions in Canberra wanted visibility and to have room for a flagpole.

Member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann questioned the "1950s approach" of allocating "large chunks" of land for diplomatic missions.

The NCA's Gary Rake said the "days of the four acre block" were gone.

The inquiry heard suggestions for subdividing some of the larger blocks held by missions in Yarralumla.

Resident groups said if an enclave was built in Stirling Park, the land could remain vacant for 10 years because the government could not force countries to build on their allocated blocks.