Comment

Manuka Green proposal a good fit for a go-ahead Canberra

The unsolicited development proposal by Grocon and the Greater Western Sydney Giants to expand and enlarge Manuka Oval's offerings has, understandably, caused some discontent among locals.

Many in the wider community believe otherwise, but development suggestions, both solicited and unsolicited, are to be feared or shot down. They are, in fact, a sign of a modern and upwardly mobile city.

Preserving the popularity and heritage of Manuka Oval will be essential.
Preserving the popularity and heritage of Manuka Oval will be essential.  Photo: Melissa Adams

While the ACT government's "confident, bold, ready" slogan may be a bit cheesy, there is something to be said about the sentiment. Canberra in 2016 is a multicultural, forward-thinking city that is successfully shaking off a decades-long reputation of being dull and lifeless.

People now want to be in Canberra, major sporting occasions actually occur in Canberra and, shock horror, businesses want to do business in Canberra.

Grocon and the Giants are two in a long line of major businesses wanting to get in on this positive development. For further proof, look at the international names in the Capital Metro light rail tender process – Mitsubishi, Deutsche Bahn, Downer EDI and Bombardier are global businesses each worth billions.

Unlike government proposals, unsolicited developments bring with them an element of shock. They seemingly come out of nowhere, surprising local residents and businesses. Even the government's preferred term of "unsolicited" has negative connotations, with the Oxford Dictionary listing "unwelcome" as a synonym.

Yet such proposals are not unwelcome; they are simply ideas that have not yet been considered by government. The Manuka Green proposal around Manuka Oval is, indeed, just that.

As it was announced, some locals protested about possible destruction of the heritage features of the Oval and the Manuka precinct. Grocon and the Giants have, so far, been upfront in making sure the heritage values are kept. The second mandatory attribute in the selection criteria for the group's design competition for the area (behind "projects with substantial public interfaces/public precincts") is "projects with heritage interfaces".

About eight years ago, I visited Adelaide and went to a rugby sevens tournament at Adelaide Oval. I had just emigrated from England and found the stadium striking, similar to some back home. It was old, it needed work, but it contained countless memories. The spaces around the Oval were pristine. History lived there.

A long-overdue redevelopment saw the usual protests about threats to that history. It's still debated today. But parts of the original grandstands, constructed in 1882 and 1929 (the year Manuka Oval opened), still exist. The scoreboard, constructed in 1911, still exists, as does the northern mound and Moreton Bay Fig trees that frame the ground.

These successful yet delicate renovations to Adelaide Oval show heritage grandstands and scoreboards can be mixed with modern, expanded sporting facilities in a sensitive manner. The outskirts of the stadium can be enhanced yet the character can be kept.

Indeed, securing advice from those who worked on Adelaide Oval would surely help all concerned in the future of Manuka Oval.

The historic buildings that surround Manuka Oval should be kept and preserved but, with the Kingston arts precinct being developed, many will soon stand empty and unused. It would be a shame for them be unloved and overlooked like Gold Creek Homestead, so new uses should be encouraged.

Quotes from Giants chief operating officer Richard Griffiths, who is relocating to the capital, about working constructively with the likes of Telopea Park High School on traffic management and infrastructure also show a willingness to cooperate with the local community. This is is not the stereotypical hallmark of 'big business'.

Traffic, both vehicle and human, is at the centre of local concerns. It is an issue Grocon and the Giants need to deal with sensitively, especially if residential development is to stay at the heart of Manuka Green.

Well-intentioned people constitute one of the particular charms of inner south suburbs like Manuka. There's an element of quaintness about the place. Yet quaintness need not be a block to progress. It's vital Grocon and the Giants work with the local community through this process but, providing that, there seems little to fear.

Richard Fox is a communications specialist and a cricket fan.