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National Trust slams Northbourne Avenue heritage "call-in" moves

The National Trust has slammed fast-tracked demolition plans for the Northbourne Avenue public housing precinct, calling Planning Minister Mick Gentleman's decision predictable and disappointing. 

The government "called-in" a development application for the area this week and on Wednesday Mr Gentleman indicated he wouldn't waste any time moving forward. The first demolition works, planned to include flats at the Dickson end of the precinct, will begin before Christmas. 

Trust spokesman Eric Martin said Mr Gentleman's use of the call-in powers had effectively ended any further legal or administrative challenges to demolition of the precinct, with 17 buildings to be preserved under a deal struck with the ACT Heritage Council. 

The Trust was calling for all of the 1960s buildings to be preserved, while Chief Minister Andrew Barr wanted just one of the Dickson Towers to be kept as part of redevelopment plans designed to increase housing density and raise money for the city to Gungahlin tram line. 

Mr Martin said an appeal to a separate development application had been expected to come before the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal late next month. A provision of the call-in decision ends the other development application process. 

"The Planning and Land Authority's legal responsibility is to consider the Heritage Council's advice in making a development application. They've done that," he said.


"What we are arguing is that the Heritage Council's process was flawed and there wasn't due process. To argue that through the Supreme Court is probably beyond the Trust's means and resources... with chances of success not high."

He said preparation would continue for the December 23 ACAT hearing if the development application wasn't withdrawn. 

"It highlights the problem: due process has not been followed in many parts of this whole process and it is unfortunate that heritage issues have not had a chance to be aired, and discussed and considered." 

"We do believe still that the Heritage Council and the development application process... still do not appropriately consider the heritage values of the site," he said.

Now considerably rundown, the houses were designed by architect Sydney Ancher​ for the National Capital Development Commission. Heritage experts agreed they had architectural and heritage merit, including as the established gateway road to Canberra. 

The ACT government is in the process of moving Northbourne tenants to new public housing sites around Canberra and plans for more than 1000 private homes to be built on the land. 

A spokeswoman for Mr Gentleman said a demolition contractor and planning approvals were already in place for the first scheduled demolitions in Dickson, but the plans had been placed on hold when the legal and heritage issues were being resolved. 

Mr Barr had criticised the appeals, pledging to use every legal avenue to push ahead with the government's plans.

"The changes to the development application require the contractor to seek further approvals from Territory and Municipal Services including a traffic management plan," the spokeswoman said. 

"It is anticipated that the contractor will be on site before Christmas to undertake site establishment. This will be followed by the stripping out of internal fixtures and fittings, after which the buildings will be demolished."