Andrew Barr sounds warning over housing development planned for CSIRO land in Ginninderra
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Andrew Barr sounds warning over housing development planned for CSIRO land in Ginninderra

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has warned he expects a "significant community backlash" when housing development begins on a massive area of national land owned by the cash-strapped CSIRO.

Mr Barr said he would not have allowed the land to be rezoned for urban development, and fears many Canberrans are being left in the dark on the impact of a major project that is moving at lightning-speed.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr urged the prime minister to rethink plans to move public servants to Armidale.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr urged the prime minister to rethink plans to move public servants to Armidale.

Photo: Rohan Thomson

"My concern there is, most planning changes in Canberra go through a significant process," he told an estimates committee on Monday.

"Molonglo Valley was eight years from its initial concept of it being an urban development to when we actually started.

The CSIRO plans to allow a developer onto its Ginninderra field station land for an urban development.

The CSIRO plans to allow a developer onto its Ginninderra field station land for an urban development.

Photo: Supplied
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"This has happened in eight months, and I don't think people are aware of it. I predict there will be a backlash."

The CSIRO plans to allow developers onto its 701-hectare Ginninderra field station, a huge swathe of land to the ACT's north-west, in a bid to raise revenue to fund new priority research facilities.

The field station is national land, meaning the ACT government had no real control over the project.

But it will have a substantial impact on the ACT's strategies for land release, capital works and infrastructure, with developers planning to construct hundreds of new homes in the area.

The development was first flagged in August last year, but was only made possible after the land was rezoned as an "urban area" as part of sweeping changes to the National Capital Plan last month.

On Monday, Mr Barr told an estimates committee he would never have rezoned the site.

"Not many Canberrans understand what is happening there," he said.

"And I will predict there will be a significant community backlash the second someone tries to build on it, because I don't think people are aware of the change."

Mr Barr was asked whether he was criticising the decision simply because it interfered with his own government's land release agenda.

The chief minister responded: "It doesn't worry me in terms of our land release program, I think some competition there is a good thing."

Much of the site straddles the ACT-NSW border and is framed by the Barton Highway, William Slim Drive, Owen Dixon Drive and Kuringa​ Drive.

The field station had previously been used for research projects, including for grains and agricultural systems.

Last year, ACT Labor Senator Katy Gallagher said the sale was a direct result of the federal government's cuts to the CSIRO.

"Without a doubt they're looking for access to cash because they're not getting it from the government," Senator Gallagher said in August.

She urged the ACT government to work with CSIRO on the development, and said she didn't necessarily have a problem with the proposal.

The CSIRO announced it was looking for a development partner for the site early last month.

It said its aspirations for the site were to deliver "the benchmark in urban sustainable design and also to tackle the problem of affordable housing".

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The organisation has stressed that it is not selling the land, but rather bringing developers in as partners to transform the site.

The CSIRO declined to comment on Monday afternoon.

Christopher Knaus

Christopher Knaus is a reporter for The Canberra Times.

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