Dickson Towers demolition signals start of Northbourne transformation

Dickson Towers demolition signals start of Northbourne transformation

Redevelopment of the dilapidated Northbourne Avenue public housing precinct began on Wednesday, as two bachelor flat towers at Dickson were demolished.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr welcomed the long awaited demolition, which he said was the next phase of urban renewal along Northbourne Avenue as part of the light rail development. Former residents moved out of the buildings almost two years ago and demolition had been slated to start in 2015.

Mr Barr previously pushed for all but one of the 1960s precinct to be demolished, but a legal challenge to the ACT Heritage Council protection order by the National Trust saw 17 buildings in the precinct preserved.

The government will sell off the land to raise money for the city to Gungahlin tram project, and to encourage higher population density and redevelopment in central Canberra.

Demolition of the Dickson Towers begins on Wednesday.

Demolition of the Dickson Towers begins on Wednesday.Credit:Rohan Thomson

The demolition work is being completed by the Breema Group, at a cost of $366,000 - the first this week and the second by mid March. The four blocks of bedsit flats were home to single men until June 2014, when the tenants were moved and the hoardings installed.

"A number of people have been very keen to see this development project commence and to see some real signs that Northbourne Avenue is about to begin a transformation," Mr Barr said.

The government is considering a range of different options for the tower that will be restored at Dickson, possibly as a house museum.

Asked about his previous strong opposition to any of the precinct being retained, Mr Barr said "life goes on". Last year he said the government would use every avenue to secure complete demolition.

Demolition of the Dickson Towers begins on Wednesday.

Demolition of the Dickson Towers begins on Wednesday.Credit:Rohan Thomson

"Sometimes it takes a chief minister to push a little harder in order to get a little more done, more quickly in this city. I'm prepared to do that in relation to this corridor," he said.

The next demolitions will see the Owen Flats, on the western side of Northbourne Avenue, bulldozed. The housing is now vacant and the government will release tenders for their demolition in coming weeks.

Previous plans for eight-storey developments on either side of Northbourne ran into early trouble when the Planning Directorate ordered the retention of one tower in January 2015.

With plans caught up in heritage disputes, Planning Minister Mick Gentleman finally used his executive powers to "call in" and approve the demolition late last year.

The government reached a compromise deal with the Heritage Council to preserve 17 buildings in the Northbourne precinct as examples of the post-war international style.

Designed by renowned architect Sydney Ancher, the precinct includes post-war international modernist architectural style homes on either side of Northbourne Avenue at Dickson and Lyneham. Heritage experts pleaded for their protection, noting their unique status and links to the former National Capital Development Commission.

The run-down Northbourne Flats at Turner and Braddon, adjacent to Haigh Park, are not included in the protection decision and are separate to the precinct.

Ultimately, the Karuah Garden Flats on Dooring Street, the Owen Flats, the Karuah Maisonettes, the Lyneham and De Burgh Flats are also to be demolished.

The ACT National Trust branch had argued all of the buildings should be protected, while the Heritage Council registered about 40 per cent for protection.

The government fought the Trust in an ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal appeal, barring it from appealing demolition plans over an administrative error on the public consultation process.

Heritage Council chair David Flannery said the decision to demolish was made after an assessment of heritage significance.

"The future of the Northbourne Avenue housing at Dickson and Lyneham has been the subject of a protracted and sometimes polarised discussion in Canberra over the last several years," he said.

"The demolition is occurring in accordance with an approved development application and does not affect the heritage items included in the registration."

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

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