Brew Bar owner Peter Giannitsios at work at the Anketell Street store in Tuggeranong. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
Nappy Valley is turning grey - and that's bad news for the Tuggeranong Town Centre.
Along the main thoroughfare, Anketell Street, trade at the cafes seems to be brisk on a bright autumn day, but take a pace towards the lake and it's a different story. Many shop fronts are vacant, many offices unlit. The more you look, the more vacant premises you see - a result of a downturn in business.
And to add insult to the locals, the sparkling waters of the lake are a no-go zone, again.
TAMS officers on the no-go polluted lake. Photo: Elesa Kurtz
Gungahlin is the new Nappy Valley and the former children of the Tuggeranong region are growing up and leaving home. As they move away, they take their business with them.
And the teenagers now living in the valley are not happy either - they have no tertiary institution. The two universities are many kilometres to the north and the closest TAFE campus is Woden.
A Canberra Institute of Technology campus is expected to be built in Tuggeranong, with a feasibility study now under way. Also on the positive side, the new Southquay residential development right on the lake shore will bring thousands of new residents.
Acting president of the Tuggeranong Community Council, Glenys Patulny, at Tuggeranong Town Centre. Photo: Rohan Thomson
An expanded and refurbished health centre was recently opened, and a nurse-led walk-in centre will be added this year.
However, rumours are swirling in the valley over the intentions of the region's main employer, the federal government.
Centrelink seems safe but what is going to happen to the Social Services department, formerly the Department of Families, Housing, Community and Indigenous Affairs?
If its huge workforce is moved, when the lease runs out, to Civic or Woden where the federal government has long-term leases on vacant office accommodation, it will be a big hit to the community.
Defence has moved personnel from a building on Anketell Street to Brindabella Park.
Nearby on the main street, a newsagent has closed and a once-popular Malaysian restaurant is no more. Take a step towards the (polluted) lake and the Tuggie Palace sits alone, flanked by empty shop fronts.
On the water's edge, the recently renovated Arts Centre is almost deserted. The downstairs cafe had no patrons at lunchtime on a weekday. The upstairs cafe, which has a spectacular view over the lake, was closed - probably not financially viable except for functions, due to its relatively remote and unknown location and despite the million-dollar view.
What can be done about the stink in the lake?
A public forum will be held on Tuesday to discuss how to revive the lake, which is closed for periods every summer. Similar problems beset Lake Burley Griffin, Lake Ginninderra and the Gungahlin and Yerrabi ponds.
The culprit is faecal contamination or blue-green algae. And the contributing factors to both of those are the huge, concrete drains that so efficiently carry stormwater - and rubbish and nutrients - directly into lake. In fact, Lake Tuggeranong was designed as a sediment trap to protect the nearby Murrumbidgee River. It's worked well but now the build-up is causing the smell.
One way to reduce the inflow of pollutants is to install wetlands to filter the water. Locals hope wetlands will be built with some of the recently announced $85 million in federal funding for Canberra's waterways.
Having a lake where people are able to swim and sail - that is, business as usual, instead of semi-permanent pollution - will help draw people to the town centre.
Fixing the lake is the passion of Glenys Patulny, acting president of the Tuggeranong Community Council.
"It's quite ironic that they've just upgraded the beach at the lake but I don't think anyone's been able to swim in it for the last 10 years because it's usually closed at summertime,'' Ms Patulny says.
''They have put concrete drains into it and everything from the streets and backyards goes into the drains, which leads into the lake.
''We think the ACT government should be doing something about it. I know the budget is tight but we think they should be putting some money out to at least do one wetland a year,'' she says. "At the moment we keep getting negative publicity about the lake smelling. The lake looks beautiful but the ironic thing is sometimes you can't go out on it.
"It has got a significant impact on the atmosphere, the environment, that livability. I want to live here, I want to walk around here.
''If they fix up the lake and build the CIT (Canberra Institute of Technology) that could go along way towards redressing the balance.''
Ms Patulny says part of the land sales for new residential developments should be used to improve the lake.
''When my children were growing up, this was called Nappy Valley but now my children are in their 20s and 30s and now the Nappy Valley is Gungahlin.''
The children of the valley have no local educational facilities beyond college, she says.
''It would be nice to have a branch of TAFE here because at the moment students have to travel a long way to the universities.''
Mark Terracini, director of Raine and Horne Commercial, says one of the key factors for the future of the Tuggeranong town centre will be whether the Department of Social Security stays.
"There is a bit of uncertainty at the moment around it, obviously that's a big employment sector for Tuggeranong," Mr Terracini says.
"There seems to be a lot of political talk from the ACT government to keep them there … I'm pretty confident they'll stay."
He says the closed shop fronts and businesses reflect competition from the Hyperdome shopping mall.
"Retail is a bit tough anywhere at the moment, whether that's Tuggeranong or City or Woden," he says. "When you've got town centres struggling themselves, they're prepared to drop rents."
New residential developments such as Southquay will help build up the town centre, he says.
In the last ACT Assembly elections, Labor was out-campaigned by the Liberals in the southern electorate of Brindabella, covering Tuggeranong, where the Liberals won three of the five seats.
A key factor was the energetic campaigning of then ACT opposition leader Zed Seselja.
Unlike their state and Northern Territory colleagues, ACT Assembly members are only allocated office space inside the Legislative Assembly building in Civic Square.
With Mr Seselja's move to the Senate, he is restricted to Civic as well. He wants to move his electorate office to the valley, but the cost to break the contract and refit an office to Commonwealth standards could be half a million dollars.
All that means Labor's Gai Brodtmann is the only MP, federal or territory, with an office in the town centre.
And she doesn't like what she sees as businesses close.
Her office is on Anketell Street, opposite the Hyperdome. Nearby are a surprising number of vacant office and retail spaces.
''We're friends with the businesses around us and we are part of the Anketell family,'' Ms Brodtmann says.
''There is a lot of activity going on, there's been a lot of investment in the past but we need to keep the investment coming. I've expressed my concern in the past about the empty office space around my office,'' she says.
The Member for Canberra wants the new CIT to be on the main street.
''My suggestion is, rather than exploring a greenfield site, they should include in that feasibility study an assessment of using some of that empty office space on Anketell Street, again to keep the density going, to keep the life going, in the main street,'' she says.
Ms Brodtmann is exploring how to have more residential developments in the heart of the town centre.
''I call this postcode 2900,'' she says. ''It's based on the scheme that was introduced in Melbourne about 20 years ago, which is called postcode 3000. To revitalise the city and bring energy back to the city, Melbourne City Council introduced the scheme of converting warehouses and building central residential premises,'' she says.
''So the CIT feasibility study could explore using existing space on Anketell Street because there is plenty that is empty at the moment.
''If we could couple that with even more residential in the heart of Tuggeranong in Anketell Street under this postcode 2900, I think we can still maintain the energy and totality of the Tuggeranong town centre.''
As the Liberal senator for the ACT, Mr Seselja is now a member of the Abbott government and therefore able to exert pressure to keep the Department of Social Services in Tuggeranong.
''I'd obviously like to see DSS stay. There was talk under the former government of moving DSS out of Tuggeranong and I think that would be a significant blow,'' he says.
Mr Seselja does not have a definite assurance, however he is ''very hopeful that it will stay in Tuggeranong''.
Some of the federal money for water projects should be used on wetlands to filter the water going into Lake Tuggeranong, he says.
He is also looking forward to a CIT campus being built in the town centre. ''It would certainly be a positive but hopefully it won't be a Mickey Mouse approach, I hope there will be a genuine campus in Tuggeranong rather just an outpost.''
Mr Seselja also wants to spread development across the Murrumbidgee River. "The biggest thing that affects Tuggeranong town centre is the decision taken before self-government not to complete the Tuggeranong Valley over the river. That has skewed the geography … the town centre is not in the centre of the town; it's on the western edge.''
The feasibility study for the CIT is nearing completion but Education and Training Minister Joy Burch says no decision has been made on whether it will be a greenfields site or go in the main street. And will it be a full campus or an outpost?
''I've not being shy about my clear determination and commitment to have a significant presence of CIT in Tuggeranong,'' Ms Burch says.
Figures supplied by her office show almost 3000 CIT students live in Tuggeranong but just over 1000 in Woden. In addition, the campus in Woden is ageing.
''The campus at Woden is an ageing, rambling precinct - that's not news to anybody. So it all stacks up and it is very logical to have a serious investment of CIT in Tuggeranong.''
As expected, she won't comment on whether the ACT budget will deliver the campus.
''It's not for me to make any comment on the budget but the people of Tuggeranong are very clear about my commitment and we will progress this as soon as we can.
''We will have full offerings of community services, aged care, childcare courses.''
ACT Assembly member Brendan Smyth lives in Tuggeranong and was briefly the federal MP for the area.
With 90,000 residents, the area is larger than Albury or Wagga but has far fewer facilities, he says.
''There is a view among a lot of residents they have been neglected by this government and that the new fronts of Gungahlin and Molonglo get far more of the resources,'' Mr Smyth says.
''I think we appreciate they are growing but at the same time there are a lot of issues here that haven't been addressed over the last 13 years. The main issues are employment, the quality of the environment and the need for additional resources, particularly in places like Lanyon,'' he says.
'' I think first and foremost we want to secure the public service, we don't want any public servants leaving Tuggeranong. We will continue to speak to the federal government to make sure they understand they just can't shift things around without consequences.''