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Property group calls for government to rule out light rail taxes or charges

Canberra's peak property lobby group has warned the ACT government against increasing rates and charges or introducing new taxes or levies to pay for the $783 million light rail line. 

In a submission to the environmental impact statement public consultation process, the Property Council of Australia ACT branch said its members "applaud the ACT government's vision" for the 12-kilometre tram linking the city and Gungahlin, but warned businesses would suffer from some "value capture options" designed to raise revenue. 

Executive director Catherine Carter acknowledged Chief Minister Andrew Barr had ruled out a special light rail levy but said increases in charges, land tax or district levies would damage business viability in Canberra, including in the city. 

Ms Carter said a construction compound in the London Circuit car park, next to the ACT Magistrates Court, would further hurt struggling adjacent businesses. 

"We also call on the ACT government to consider opportunities for temporary rate relief or other mechanisms to reduce operating costs during the construction period.

"The Property Council would not support any increases in rates, land tax, lease variation charges, direct levies and a new district levies tax arising from the development of the Capital Metro light rail corridor," Ms Carter said.

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"Similarly, the Property Council does not support any new value capture mechanism aimed at using increases in land values to raise money for the light rail project, particularly in an environment where commercial rates have been dramatically increasing year on year."

The Conservation Council ACT Region supported light rail as a way of reducing car dependency and providing a comprehensive and revitalised public transport system.

"Such moves can contribute to achieving the government's emission reduction targets, reduce congestion and pollution, reduce the need for additional road infrastructure, and deliver health benefits through active transport options of walking and cycling," the submission said. 

The group called for sensitivity in ecological management of the line, including around nature conservation areas, bushland, public open space and residential areas. 

"Where removal of trees is unavoidable, replacement offset vegetation should be planted, preferable with habitat trees and other indigenous flora," the submission said. 

Anti-light rail lobby group Can The Tram said the 1600-page document was too long and inaccessible for public consultation.

"It's almost like the authors were intentionally trying to limit the documents' accessibility and usefulness for consultation purposes," the group's submission said. 

Members questioned the project's employment projections, the impact on ACTION buses and total travel time on the line.

"By channelling so much investment into one tiny corridor in the north of the city, the light rail project also risks undermining investment, growth and land values in the rest of the city, negatively impacting on residents of those areas," the submission said. 

The Canberra CBD business group and a series of local business operators urged the government to find alternatives to closing the London Circuit car park for four years, including suggesting Haig Park or new parking developments in the city. Dozens of submissions from nearby traders were received.

The ACT National Trust branch said any reduction of trees on Northbourne Avenue as envisaged by Walter Burley Griffin and the National Capital Development Commission should be restricted.

"There needs to be consideration of the endpoint, future links and impact on the significant City Hill," the submission said. 

Construction of light rail will begin next year, with the first services to start in 2019.