Don't flood Canberra property market with Defence land, says ACT Government

ACT Government worried about bureaucracy-driven land surplus. Phillip Thomson reports.

The ACT Government has asked the federal government not to send the Canberra property market into disarray by pushing masses of surplus Defence Department properties onto the market. 

In its submission to the Defence white paper the territory government asked for the first opportunity to buy any land which might be sold in the future. 

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Defence Minister David Johnston last April launched the review to set out the future capability of Defence.

One option on the cards was a massive consolidation of Defence Department properties as suggested by the Commission of Audit earlier this year.  

The 3 million hectare, $20 billion Defence estate nationally was made up of 72 significant bases, 25,000 buildings and 6000 other structures. 


Defence was doing its bit to prop up Canberra's flagging commercial real estate market by spending millions on more than 24,000 square metres of empty workspace across the ACT.

The vacant floor space would be enough for almost 2000 public servants, according to the Commonwealth's own guidelines.

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Defence documents show the organisation spends more than $70 million on building leases in Canberra each year meaning consolidation would save millions of dollars annually in the territory alone.

"If Defence were to rationalise its land and to release land...directly onto the ACT market, this could have a long‐term impact on urban planning, land sales and future development sequencing in the ACT and surrounding region," the territory government's submission said. 

"The sale of any surplus defence force lands should take place in the context of territory planning strategies and be cognisant of the commercial and residential markets in which it is being sold.  

"Any ad‐hoc surplus land release could impact on future residential developments in the ACT and future commercial developments such as the eastern broadacre employment corridor."

The corridor extends from the Majura Valley to Hume and includes Symonston and the Jerrabomberra Valley.

"Future developments in surrounding ACT region could also be impacted, in particular Queanbeyan and Bungendore," the submission said. 

"It would be appropriate in such circumstances for the ACT to be given first right of purchase of any surplus Defence land in the ACT as well as appropriate consultation and engagement during the planning and sale process."

Already the supply of land in the ACT has been criticised. 

In October the ACT's peak residential building industry group recently warned a lack of supply of land could encourage attempts to defraud a land ballot system.

The Housing Industry Association ACT and southern NSW executive director Neil Evans made the claim after the Environment and Planning Directorate received a complaint last week of alleged fraudulent entering of names into the ballot. 

"When you hear stories like there are 300 or 500 blocks being released for a ballot, and you get 1500 to 2000 people registering for the ballot, that says supply and demand are  totally out of control," Mr Evans said.

"The Land Development Agency needs to get the supply operating at a higher percentage rate, so people don't start stooping to processes and procedures that are actually breaking the law because the land is so scarce."


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