Planning Minister Mick Gentleman has approved the demolition of a swath of Northbourne Avenue's public housing, paving the way for the biggest transformation of Canberra's gateway road in 50 years.
Mr Gentleman's decision to exercise his "call-in" powers effectively rules out appeals against the long-planned demolitions, quashing the prospect of work being held up in court disputes and allowing the government to clear and sell the valuable land.
Sales along Northbourne will raise money for the city to Gungahlin tram line and help the government drive higher-density living along the corridor, potentially boosting passenger numbers.
The demolition approval covers sites in both Lyneham and Dickson including the Karuah Garden Flats on Dooring Street; the Owen Flats; the Dickson Towers on the corner of Northbourne and Morphett Street; the Karuah Maisonettes and the Lyneham and De Burgh Flats.
The run-down Northbourne Flats at Turner and Braddon, adjacent to Haig Park, are not included in the heritage precinct and are also to be demolished.
Call-in powers can be used by the government to respond to a major policy issue, on developments that will have a substantial effect on the Territory Plan or those providing "a substantial public benefit".
The Northbourne housing precinct, built in the 1960s by renowned architect Sydney Ancher for the former National Capital Development Commission, has been caught up in a dispute over heritage protection. The units are considered important examples of post-war international modernist architecture.
After initially planning to bulldoze all but one building, the government struck a deal with the Heritage Council to preserve 17 as heritage assets. A new house museum will be built in one of the Northbourne Towers and other buildings incorporated into new developments.
The Heritage Council only finalised its protection of the 17 buildings on Thursday, with the decision notified this week. The heritage issue is not fully settled, as the National Trust insists the entire precinct should be preserved and is considering plans to appeal after it has reviewed the heritage approval.
It is unclear whether Mr Gentleman's use of call-in powers will impact that appeal but the move does effectively rule out ACT Administrative and Civil Appeals Tribunal challenges against the demolition. Work could start as soon as works approvals are granted.
When Mr Gentleman called-in the application, the government's planning directorate had started its draft notice of decision, after submissions closed on October 28. There were seven submissions.
If Mr Gentleman had not taken the application out of the hands of officials, a decision would have been able to be appealed to the ACAT and further to the Supreme Court. Now, the call-in can only be appealed to the Supreme Court and even then only on questions of process, not on the merits of the decision.
The Assembly cannot halt the demolitions, with Mr Gentleman required to table his decision in the Assembly when it sits in February but not required to seek its approval.
"The use of a call-in in this instance will ensure the timely and unimpeded commencement of the demolition process along this important corridor, whilst preserving the most important heritage and environmental values," Mr Gentleman said.
"I have ensured the application has been independently and thoroughly assessed by the planning and land authority. While I have made the final decision, I have done so after being well informed by the heritage council considering the planning and land authority's expert and independent advice as I am required to do under law.
"Conditions have also been imposed on the decision, ensuring several trees will be maintained as per the advice from the conservator of fauna and flora."
Chief Minister Andrew Barr had pledged to use "every avenue" available to proceed with full demolition of the run-down housing and land sales.The government fought to block the National Trust's legal standing to appeal the demolition over an error in dates listed in the public notification of the council's protection decision.
The government is working public housing tenants and community service agencies on relocation plans.
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