ACT News

Compromise deal spares 17 Northbourne Avenue buildings from bulldozers

Demolition of sections of the Northbourne Avenue public housing precinct could begin before the end of the year, after the ACT government backed down on plans to bulldoze the entire area and agreed to keep 17 buildings.

On Thursday the government's Land Development Agency said it would abide by ACT Heritage Council plans for provisional registration of representative samples of the 1960s architecture, considered the entry to Canberra.

Owen Flats resident, Laurel Dakin, feeds the magpies outside her public housing flat  which is expected to be bulldozed ...
Owen Flats resident, Laurel Dakin, feeds the magpies outside her public housing flat which is expected to be bulldozed as part of the Northbourne corridor plan.  Photo: Rohan Thomson

A development application will be amended so existing buildings can be incorporated into new private housing developments, reaching from Dickson and Lyneham to Haig Park. 

Chief Minister Andrew Barr had pledged to use "every avenue" available to proceed with full demolition of the run-down housing in order to sell the land and use the profits to fund the Gungahlin light rail line.

Heritage Council chairman David Flannery said he was 'delighted' with the agreement.
Heritage Council chairman David Flannery said he was 'delighted' with the agreement. Photo: Lannon Harley

After a year-long heritage process and legal battle, a meeting of the Heritage Council on Thursday resolved that both Northbourne Towers, a set of nine De Burgh Street units, protected trees and landscaping in a cul-de-sac and at least one of each of five other types of buildings would be retained.

The ACT National Trust branch has argued all of the towers, pair-houses, three-storey flats, maisonettes and garden flats should be protected, while the Heritage Council last year registered about 40 per cent for protection.

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The Trust launched an ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal appeal after it was bared from appealing the process over an administrative error on the now abandoned public consultation process.

The new decision will see the public have another opportunity to give feedback before a final heritage protection decision is made by the council. The buildings would be restored and incorporated into nearby developments of more than 1100 dwellings for private sale.

Designed by ​Sydney Ancher for the National Capital Development Commission, the precinct has been recognised as central to Canberra's urban landscape and public housing history but has suffered from years of poor maintenance.

In May, Mr Barr said the government believed only one building on each side of Northbourne Avenue should be kept and a small-scale museum created.

After securing assurances from the Land Development Agency, Heritage Council chairman David Flannery said he was pleased the government would abide by the decision. He said it could take until early 2016 to be finalised.

"I am delighted that this is the position that we have been able to come up," he said. "We've got a significant number of the buildings that will be protected, a representative sample.

"There is still room for redevelopment of a significant amount area of land for future development along the corridor.

"One of the things we've tried to do in this decision is leave six buildings towards the middle of the former precinct and that will allow development to be modulated so there is a some height differential along that strip of the corridor, so we're not faced with a continuous strip of eight-storey buildings."

National Trust spokesman Eric Martin said the government was continuing to mishandle the process, refusing to release information about heritage significance.

"We would argue you should assess the heritage values for heritage, you then set design parameters and then you look at what the development opportunities should be.

"That is the normal process. Not jump to what a developer wants and then try and manipulate the significance to meet that."

He said the National Trust was not opposed to development of the precinct but called for proper process, as had led to successful redevelopment around New Acton.

"We will make a submission arguing all of the heritage values need to be debated and resolved. We don't think we've had a reasonable opportunity to do that," Mr Martin said.

Land Development Agency deputy chief executive Ben Ponton acknowledged any possible appeal could come too late if the demolition is approved. 

"I wouldn't agree that the government's hand has been forced," he said. "This is a case of working with the Heritage Council to achieve an outcome … that will allow for renewal of the corridor to begin.

"The full registration is the appealable decision, which means that we can look to amend our [development application] and if that is approved we could seek to lawfully act on that."

The Dickson Towers are already empty, and tenants are expected to begin moving from the nearby bedsitter flats within 12 months.

An Environment and Planning Directorate spokeswoman said the Council would now formalise its decision and notify interested parties, before community consultation begins.

Below: the Northbourne Avenue housing precinct. Buildings marked in red are set for demolition, and those provisionally listed for heritage protection are marked in yellow.