Heritage protection confirmed for Northbourne Avenue public housing

Heritage protection confirmed for Northbourne Avenue public housing

The ACT Heritage Council has given final protection approval to 17 buildings in the Northbourne Avenue public housing precinct, potentially paving the way for a new legal challenge against the government's demolition plans.

The Land Development Agency said in September it would abide by the council's decision to award provisional registration to a representative sample of the 1960s architecture, considered a gateway to Canberra and critical to the city's public housing heritage and the work of the former National Capital Development Commission.

Heritage protection: the Northbourne Avenue public housing precinct.

Heritage protection: the Northbourne Avenue public housing precinct. Credit:Graham Tidy

A development application was amended to include existing protected buildings in new privately-owned housing developments.

The council voted to approve the final registration at a meeting on Thursday, following a second community consultation period. Both the Northbourne Towers, a set of nine De Burgh Street units, protected trees, cul-de-sac landscaping and at least one of each of five other types of buildings would be retained under the plan.


Designed by Sydney Ancher, the precinct includes post-war international modernist architectural style homes on either side of Northbourne Avenue at Dickson and Lyneham. The rundown Northbourne Flats at Turner and Braddon, adjacent to Haig Park, are not included in the protection decision and are separate to the precinct.

The first provisional registration process faced a prolonged legal challenge in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal after the National Trust's ACT branch fought for all of the precinct to protected.

Trust representatives argued all of the towers, pair-houses, three-storey flats, maisonettes and garden flats should be restored, while the Heritage Council originally registered about 40 per cent for protection.

A spokesman for the trust could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Earlier this year, the government fought to block the trust's legal standing to appeal the decision over an error in dates listed in the public notification of the heritage council's decision.

Heritage Council chair David Flannery said fewer public submissions were received in the second consultation. A 28-day appeal period will begin next week.

"There may be an appeal from one of the interested parties," Mr Flannery said. "If there is an appeal, we don't expect there will be time left in 2015 to deal with it ... so I expect it will happen in the first three months of next year."

"The council was very keen to see protected at least one of each of the five building types in the group and that's now been achieved," he said.

Work is already under way for a new house museum to be added to one of the Northbourne Towers.

"Of the house museums we've got, the Calthorpes' House is probably the latest one and it dates from the 1920s era, when the Parliament moved here.

"We haven't got any house museums that are of a later era so this as a 1950s house museum will garner a lot of interest," Mr Flannery said.

Separately on Thursday, Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the government would meet its commitment to building about 1300 new public housing dwellings. He told the Legislative Assembly nearly half the required sites had been identified.

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