Design competition launched for Canberra's Mount Ainslie summit
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Design competition launched for Canberra's Mount Ainslie summit

New signs, pathways, outdoor furniture and a cafe could be added to the summit of Canberra's Mount Ainslie as part of a new design competition launched on Wednesday.

The ACT government and the National Capital Authority will conduct the competition for Australian landscape designers and architects in early 2016, with three firms to be shortlisted to participate in a one-week design process.

Territory and Municipal Services Minister Shane Rattenbury and National Capital Authority chief executive Malcolm Snow at the top of Mount Ainslie.

Territory and Municipal Services Minister Shane Rattenbury and National Capital Authority chief executive Malcolm Snow at the top of Mount Ainslie.Credit:Rohan Thomson

The winning firm will prepare a preliminary plan for the renewed summit by the middle of the year, replacing ageing infrastructure last updated at the lookout in 1988. The competition is designed to produce a ten year strategy for the area and could include improvements to the walking tracks on the mountain.

Planning for Mount Ainslie is controlled by the ACT government, but the mountain is defined as a designated area under the National Capital Plan. The authority will work to ensure planning and design changes align with the plan's rules.

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Territory and Municipal Services Minister Shane Rattenbury said the popular tourist attraction and exercise spot attracted tens of thousands of Canberrans and visitors each year and needed new infrastructure.

The new plan could include outdoor seating, picnic areas, sun and wind protection and improved interpretive signage. The competition area is an 830-metre contour on the mountain.

"There's no doubt we need to make sure that Mount Ainslie is a contemporary space, an attractive space, that befits its national status as one of the key viewing points of the national capital," Mr Rattenbury said.

"It could take a little bit of time. We need to see what the design phase is, what the outcomes are and start to price that from there. I want to be quite open about the scope of ideas that people could come with... I don't want to constrain that at this point."

Mr Rattenbury said careful planning was needed.

"I don't think anyone in Canberra would want to see anything gaudy on this landscape, anything that was over the top. But there is scope for a degree of creativity and for people to come forward with ideas that make this a beautiful place to come."

National Capital Authority chief executive Malcolm Snow said the competition was primarily about appreciation of the summit's natural setting.

"My vision for the summit is that people come here to appreciate that they are within the landscape of the city. Canberra makes a lot of the fact that it is a city within this broader landscape and it's from an elevated position such as this that you really get that strong sense of the setting of the national capital.

"The design brief talks about the opportunity for the designers to identify the possibility of some sort of facility. I think any new commercial development for this area would need to be examined very carefully," he said.

"There are other lookouts in Canberra, and I think of Red Hill, which already have a commercial facility on them. Do we need to put commercial facilities on every hill in Canberra, I ask?"

Expressions of interest for the competition will be advertised through the ACT government's tender website and the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects.

Tom McIlroy is a political reporter for the Financial Review in the federal press gallery at Parliament House.