ACT under challenge in the development stakes
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ACT under challenge in the development stakes

The push by Queanbeyan to attract significant business investment in direct competition with the ACT is a wake-up call that Canberra has to stay on top of its game.

If we don't do everything we can to make this jurisdiction the pre-eminent place to do business in South Western NSW there are plenty of competitors across the border ready, willing and able to try and steal our lunch.

While Queanbeyan's advocates claim their push, spelt out in a business case prepared for the Queanbeyan-Palerang Council, is about "repatriating" local workers and plugging an alleged "leak" to the ACT, the issue is more complex than that.

Queanbeyan has benefited significantly from its close proximity to Canberra over the past 105 years. There is good reason to believe it is larger, more prosperous and has stronger real estate values than if the national capital had been established elsewhere.

Developments such as Jerrabomberra in the 1980s and 1990s and, more recently, Googong, are a direct response to the high land prices and scarcity of larger building blocks in Canberra. Murrumbateman's Fairlea and developments flagged for Braidwood and Yass are other examples.

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The population drift across the border, which is costing the ACT government millions of dollars in potential rate revenue each year, has been exacerbated by the rising land prices and shrinking block sizes that have made it harder and harder for Canberrans to own their own free standing home than ever before.

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The city state has never existed in isolation and remains a relatively small, and landlocked, jurisdiction within a much larger state.

This means that the ACT government does not have a monopoly on either residential or commercial property development within relatively close proximity to Civic and the Parliamentary Triangle.

While it is true that Queanbeyan's commercial district may have punched below its weight in the past due to apparent under investment and neglect many parts of Canberra are also less than they once were.

This newspaper's letters pages regularly receive epistles from residents who are concerned that Civic and many of the town centres are no longer as well kempt or as visually appealing as they were in the days before self-government.

While, in its defence, the ACT offers competitive fees and conditions for those wishing to set up in business in Canberra, that is no longer enough given the increases in land prices, residential and commercial rents, and rates and charges that have occurred over the last five years.

With Queanbeyan, Murrumbateman, Yass, Bungendore and even Braidwood and Cooma all lining up for a slice of the Canberra pie the Barr government cannot afford to be complacent.

That said, it does appear as if Queanbeyan will be coming off a low base and could take some time to achieve that level of critical mass that brings self-sustaining development.

The council has only received one application for a new commercial development in the CBD over the past decade and, according to the rejuvenation proposal, the city centre is blighted by a high commercial property vacancy rate, poorly maintained shopfronts and traffic congestion.

Despite that, things can change quickly and our neighbours don't have to do a lot to make themselves increasingly attractive to Canberra residents. The ACT would do well to avoid complacency.

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