ACT News

New call for Lake Burley Griffin planning protections

A group of influential Canberrans say concerns remain about development around Lake Burley Griffin, warning National Capital Plan draft proposals could be "enormously detrimental" to aesthetics and heritage.

The Lake Burley Griffin Guardians group, formed in February, have warned proposed building heights and development at West Basin and City Hill could see public space lost forever to private residential development and commercial buildings. 

At risk? Canberra's Lake Burley Griffin.
At risk? Canberra's Lake Burley Griffin. Photo: Graham Tidy

The group's latest issues paper lashes claims that development in central Canberra would "revitalise the city" or reclaim the lake in line with Walter Burley Griffin's plans for the national capital. The claims represent only attempts to "pave the way for public land alienation".

The latest issues paper comes ahead of the National Capital Authority releasing new draft amendments next week. The NCA said some of the concerns were unwarranted as the majority of policies remained unchanged. 

Public submissions have been considered since July and more consultation is planned. 

In a separate development, a consultation period will open on Saturday for a new $10.1 million park and pavilion between the lake and Commonwealth Avenue

The Guardians group has restated calls for significant caution including for plans for the shoreline, which would take in the ACT government's City to the Lake plan.

Draft guidelines for the development of City Hill would see six to eight storey buildings ringing Vernon Circle around City Hill.

Led by convenor Juliet Ramsay, the group's submission to the plan's exposure draft process was co-authored with Grahame Crocket, David Mackenzie and Rosemarie Willet.   

"The lakeshore was finely delineated by planners after World War II to keep a semblance of Griffin's plan but adopt a shape more in line with natural topography," the issues paper said.

"Griffin's West Basin was a more streamlined ellipse that extended into the current Acton Ridge area. Putting promenades in the lake water may be OK but justifying it with the Griffin stamp is not."

Citing varying building height limits of between two and eight storeys, the paper argues allowing buildings of as high as 25 metres would damage the landscape setting of the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge and block views to the Brindabella and Bullen Ranges.

The current plan, not reviewed since it came into effect in 1990, requires building heights no taller than Parliament Drive. The authority says it is not proposing any change to height limits. 

The issues paper also warns overdevelopment of City Hill, one of the three points of the parliamentary triangle, could see the area buried in buildings between Vernon Circle and London Circuit.

The paper said development at five key junctions around the hill would not create a so-called "gateway effect" but rather an "invasion of towers" and diminish the architecture of a planned new convention centre. 

"A low-mid level horizontal city was envisaged by Griffin and is present in the best loved world cities such as Paris, Barcelona, Bath, Berlin, Washington, and Ottawa, in order to retain important landmarks of classical buildings, temples, trees or vistas. These cities should set to the model for Canberra, not Dubai and Dallas."

Former Australia Council for the Arts and Heritage Commission chief executive Max Bourke said the group hoped Canberra would avoid planning mistakes made in other capital cities. 

"The rapid alienation of Canberra from its central planning feature, the lake, will lead our heirs and successors, to shake their heads and say "how could they?"

"It reminds me in some ways of the building of the Cahill Expressway in Sydney many years ago, seemed like a good idea at the time, now one of the biggest eyesores in Sydney which alienate that beautiful city from its wonderful harbour," Mr Bourke said. 

National Capital Authority chief planner Andrew Smith said a 25 metre building was not a tower, and was a similar height to Northbourne Avenue's Space apartment building or Constitution Avenue's Jamieson apartments.

"There are some building sites within the London Circuit area that go up to the same height as the Nishi Building, the Lakeside, or sites around the Canberra Centre. 

"But there is nothing in the new exposure draft that goes above the heights of existing buildings in the city," he said. 

Strict design requirements for the lake shore would have to be met for any new development to proceed. Mr Smith said a consultation report would include all 39 submissions and detailed responses from the authority.