Residents to fight against embassies
Foreign embassies looking for new diplomatic headquarters in Australia's national capital are facing fierce opposition from Canberrans, none more strident than in Yarralumla.
In the firing line is the Commonwealth's planning agency, the National Capital Authority, which is looking for 40 more large blocks of land, including nine blocks on Stirling Park, a popular stretch of bushland on Lake Burley Griffin's southern foreshore.
Peter McGhie, one of more than 30 residents who removed woody weeds from the park over the weekend said: ''The reality is no one will benefit from having nine embassies on the last prime unoccupied land left in Canberra.''
He said new embassies would be allotted to African dictatorships or minor countries in terms of trading. Part of Stirling Park is identified for the Prime Minister's new Lodge.
Mr McGhie said although it was an NCA issue, residents would turn up the heat on territory politicians on the eve of the election, including Planning Minister Simon Corbell, whose Molonglo electorate included Yarralumla.
''It is their place after all to preserve open spaces where residents want it.
''Our main aim is to let the NCA know they have a fight on their hands and this is getting serious. We'll keep going with this, we'll chain ourselves to bulldozers.''
Mr Corbell has agreed to meet with the group to listen to their concerns but said the government did not have any power to decide on the land, as the issue belonged with the NCA.
The Federal Golf Club was keen to sell some of its lease for embassies. Mr McGhie said Red Hill objectors against the golf club site came out in large numbers and included a high-profile media figure.
An NCA spokeswoman said no decision had been made and land was still being assessed.
''Environmental, heritage and community values, tenure, servicing and preliminary bushfire assessment will all be considered when assessing the suitability of the area.''
She said the golf course site was not as suitable as the Old Brickworks and Stirling Park in Yarralumla because it lacked services.
In comments posted on the NCA's website, the following was typical of many Yarralumla residents' objections:
''Stirling Ridge is a poor choice. Full disclosure; I live in Yarralumla. I've opted to spend a lot of money and pay a large sum in ACT rates to live here.
''So regardless of Australia's commitment to provide land for diplomatic use I've got a vested interest in what happens here.''
Yarralumla has premium diplomatic missions, including those of the United States, the United Kingdom and China.
Janet McGhie accepts her group could be called NIMBYS.
Nevertheless she believes big embassies are inappropriate and would be better located at O'Malley, the Old Brickworks, new Molonglo suburbs or a horse paddock in Curtin.
Residents are preparing legal arguments, saying Stirling Park is designated open space, and has not been fully considered under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act or the ACT Nature Conservation Act and new embassies would take an amenity away from walking groups, runners, orienteers and children's school groups.
They believe substantial parts of the 60-year-old Fitzgerald Street pin oak plantation would have to be felled to extend Clarke Street into the park and to permit access to the park for construction vehicles.
''Inevitable destruction of parts of the Stirling Park environment will impact particularly on the bird life, the close to pristine condition of parts of the bush on the ridge, the grassland and threatened species of flora and fauna in the park.'' The nine embassy sites facing Fitzgerald Street would have access from extending Clarke Street into Stirling Park and continuing Clarke Street in a broad loop to join Hopetoun Circuit.