Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris has admitted planning rules for Northbourne Avenue and the Federal Highway should have been finalised before the light rail was built, as she forecast a different approach for the network's second stage to Woden.
Ms Fitzharris addressed the issue on Tuesday after the ACT's peak business, property, planning and architecture groups this week went public with concerns about revised plans to reshape the corridor with 37,000 dwellings in the coming years.
The groups support the intent of the City and Gateway strategy, but say changes made to the draft plan, including scaling back proposed building height increases in Downer, have jeopardised some planned projects and created uncertainty for landowners.
Downer residents are pushing back against the industry groups' call, saying the primary entry point to the national deserved "something better than a corridor of high-density apartments".
Speaking at a Property Council transport event, Ms Fitzharris agreed the process of building the light rail before planning rules had been set for the corridor was not "optimal".
"I know there has been many discussions around the sequencing and timing of the gateway work and light rail," Ms Fitzharris said.
"In a perfect world the gateway work would have come first, and light rail would have been developed [after]. That has happened in not the most optimal sequence but we are certainly looking at working with industry and the National Capital Authority around sequencing that a little bit better and we have an opportunity to do that now [for stage two]".
The government released detailed costings for a Civic-Gungahlin light rail line in April 2012, before eventually starting construction work on the project in June 2016.
A discussion paper on what would become the City and Gateway framework was released in January 2016, following stakeholder workshops and preliminary government analysis. Consultation on draft guidelines was undertaken in May 2018.
The government and National Capital Authority announced the final version of the strategy in December 2018, which included a reduction in the proposed 18 metre height limit for part of the Downer section of the corridor.
The authority then started public consultation on the strategy's planning and design rules. The industry groups fear development along the light rail could be contrained if the proposed rules are rubber stamped.
The Canberra Times asked Ms Fitzharris' office why the City and Gateway framework had not been finalised before the light rail. In response, an ACT government spokeswoman said planning for the gateway strategy started as far back as 2011, and informed the decision to build the light rail.
The spokeswoman said that it did not wait to complete the plan before starting construction because "public and private investment in places and infrastructure cannot cease while extensive consultation is undertaken".
At Tuesday's event, Ms Fitzharris said the government was focused on working with Woden businesses and landowners to plan for a future transformation of the district's heart on the back of stage two of the light rail.
"We see Woden as a key town centre for renewal over the next 10 years, you can see that happening now," Ms Fitzharris said. "There will be development opportunity right along that corridor at very different times.
Ms Fitzharris hoped Canberra would soon be recognised as global leader in transport-focused urban development, having historically looked to other cities, such as Vancouver and Portland, for inspiration.
The property council forum also heard from Canberra Airport's Richard Snow, as well as Jo Andreas from CLARA, the private consortium behind an ambitious plan to create satellite cities linked by high-speed rail between Melbourne and Sydney.
Adrian Piani, engineering firm AECOM's ACT regional manager, told the forum that the property sector had a key role in convincing the community of the merits of high-density housing, particular in inner-city suburbs such as Downer.
The Downer community strongly opposed plans to allow building of up to 18 metres on a stretch of the Federal Highway, fearing developments of that scale could dramatically alter the character of their suburb.
"Density is a good thing, and it can give us so much benefit in Canberra," Mr Piani said. "I reflect on what happened to Braddon. I don't hear anyone complaining about Braddon. When I grew up it was a suburb of houses and now its medium-density.
"I'm interested in the conversation in Downer, because surely Downer's future is something similar [to Braddon]. I expect density on the corridor, and I hope community can make the links between the benefits."
Downers Community Association co-convenor Miles Boak said the revised plan had only made "very small concessions" to the community, stressing residents remained concerned it would still allow developments which would increase traffic and create "heat islands" across the suburb.
"Surely the vision for the entrance to Canberra has to be something better than a corridor of high
density apartments," Mr Boak said.
"There is zero community confidence that the Canberra development industry could deliver innovative and creative outcomes of international design excellence proposed."
Mr Boak said the association was developing its own masterplan for Downer amid concerns the character of the inner-north suburb could be threatened by the ACT government's wider planning strategy.
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