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Unused 'embassy blocks' scattered around ACT

Gai Brodtmann on a vacant block of land reserved for an embassy on Forster Crescent.

Gai Brodtmann on a vacant block of land reserved for an embassy on Forster Crescent. Photo: Melissa Adams

Nearly two dozen vacant blocks of land in Canberra's diplomatic precincts are being held in reserve for foreign embassies, even though many of the nations holding onto them already have established missions elsewhere in the capital.

And despite Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade stipulations that construction work must start on vacant sites within 18 months of possession, numerous parcels of land have been sitting vacant at the whim of foreign governments for years.

Pakistan has a reserved site in Yarralumla that it has held onto without developing for more than 50 years.

Vacant block of land reserved for the Republic of Pakistan off Perth Avenue.

Vacant block of land reserved for the Republic of Pakistan off Perth Avenue. Photo: Melissa Adams

Nations who share diplomatic relations with Australia can be offered 99-year leases for land in the ACT to build chanceries and head-of-mission residences.

But under its written rules for diplomatic and consular premises, DFAT states: “There is an obligation to start building within 18 months and to complete construction within 36 months from the date of commencement of the lease.”

The fact that some foreign nations appear to be snubbing this rule and clinging onto parcels of undeveloped land while other countries are struggling to find room to establish a presence in Canberra has become a contentious issue in the battle over Stirling Park.

Vacant block of land reserved for the Islamic Republic of Iran on Empire Cct.

Vacant block of land reserved for the Islamic Republic of Iran on Empire Cct. Photo: Melissa Adams

Resident groups opposed to a new diplomatic enclave being proposed for Stirling Park say there is plenty of unused vacant blocks in Yarralumla and O'Malley.

They insist that Stirling Park and its popular Stirling Ridge should be left as open space.

A parliamentary committee is currently holding an inquiry into the allocation of land to diplomatic missions in the ACT.

The National Capital Authority, which owns the land, has earmarked it for nine new foreign embassies.

NCA Chief Executive Gary Rake said many of the missions currently in O'Malley were in temporary arrangements until they took up more formal sites elsewhere.

“Yes there are some that have reserved sites that have been undeveloped for many years, but we are dealing with often complex diplomatic relationships,” he said.

“If we were to take a strong stance on one site because it had been left undeveloped for too long, it could upset a number of diplomatic relationships and all we would gain is to get one nation off the waiting list.”

It is understood that the Government of Pakistan has recently made strong representations to the NCA regarding the land and work on developing it is expected to start soon.

Most nations who flout the rules for development timelines only stretch it for a year or two.

But all blocks that have been leased or reserved are paid for either in advance or in instalments.

“No mission gets to sit on a block for free,” Mr Rake said.

There are currently four blocks in Yarralumla that are reserved or leased and remain undeveloped.

There are a further nine in Deakin and another 10 in O'Malley.

These are in addition to 12 blocks in O'Malley that foreign missions insist are too steep or rocky to develop.

Member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann, who initiated the inquiry, said the debate over the diplomatic enclaves had become convoluted.

“Demand and supply issues aren't clear and that's why this inquiry has been so necessary,” she said

“What it highlights is the need to establish transparency, certainty and flexibility in the management of a modern diplomatic estate.

“Most importantly, this issue highlights the need for a long-term plan for the estate's management.”

Duirng a committee hearing last Friday, DFAT's Sally Mansfield said progress was being made, through bilateral discussions, with some missions over their undeveloped sites.

Mr Rake said the NCA always took advice from DFAT when negotiating leases with foreign nations.

10 comments

  • residents groups of stirling ridge should be glad that they would have a diplomatic embassy next door rather than a ACT public housing house - take your pick, I know which I would choose.

    Commenter
    westy
    Location
    canberra
    Date and time
    February 19, 2013, 12:54PM
    • even the Iranians?

      Commenter
      WotTha?????
      Date and time
      February 19, 2013, 3:31PM
  • @westy - being a Yarralumla resident who has both types of those neighbours living very close by - I would prefer neither!

    Commenter
    sew
    Date and time
    February 19, 2013, 3:35PM
    • ALERT...ALERT vacant land, Government must build ALERT ALERT... been vacant for too long - cant have too many green patches around.....

      Commenter
      maylaila
      Location
      !
      Date and time
      February 19, 2013, 3:36PM
      • So, during the election you had canidates openly proclaiming how they were going to land bank for future development - well this is what happens if you land bank, you have vacant land for years.

        Commenter
        Tom
        Date and time
        February 19, 2013, 4:23PM
        • What an absolutely rancid piece of trivial politics to dredge up by Brodtmann.

          Rather than query WHY these mission haven' built here, it seems Canberra Labor wants to play with the big wigs of international affairs and have a bit of a hissy fit over why it cant collect a few dollars in taxes (if they COULD collect, that is), or why Iran isnt "behaving itself" by following our fickle and esoteric local building regulations (Bad Iran! Very naughty!).

          How about our limp wristed local government focuses itself on making the town a fantastic place to live by getting some of the 300 million public servants here to mow the lawns, plant some trees and take some pride in the place. Get them out of the offices and on the end of a rake.

          We are an international scandal to attempt to call ourselves a capital city. Act that way, not like some scheming parent on the local schools P&C complaining about someone parking their cars on "the lines" or kids not respecting "the rules".

          Get some VISION.

          Commenter
          evanism
          Date and time
          February 19, 2013, 4:40PM
          • One must question the policing of lease agreements in the ACT. The same situation exists for the Catholic cathedral site next to Commonwealth Park. The only building on this site is an underutilised archbishop's residence.

            An archbishop and housekeeper nuns are the only regular inhabitants, that is when there is an archbishop appointed. The previous auxillary bishop, choose to live in a private home in Campbell throughout his tenure.

            The cathedral plan was abandoned when St Christopher's Cathedral as built at Manuka in 1939 and further extended in recent years. This prime site could be well utilised for other purposes, so why are taxpayers and ratepayers funding concessional leases for a select few.

            Commenter
            patrick
            Date and time
            February 19, 2013, 5:40PM
            • Give 12 months notice to do something or the land is lost. The same should happen to blocks of land at the Kingston Foreshore. Give the speculators who sit on blocks of land 12 months to do something or hand the land back with a refund.

              Commenter
              duststorm
              Date and time
              February 19, 2013, 6:28PM
              • Im surprised we aren't housing boat people there!

                Commenter
                yoda
                Date and time
                February 19, 2013, 8:46PM
                • So, is the block of land that housed the South Vietnamese Embassy still being held or was it finally sold?

                  Commenter
                  YS
                  Date and time
                  February 19, 2013, 9:47PM
                  Comments are now closed
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