The ACT government is considering whether it can heat water in West Basin using geothermal technology for year-round swimming as part of its avant-garde development of the curve of lake front currently home to the futsal slab and paddle boat hire.
At an industry briefing on the City to the Lake project on Wednesday, strategic adviser Ian Wood-Bradley said the geothermal idea was "early thinking" but the team wanted a "very green" project which could also include small on-site energy generation.
The possible "urban beach" is to include a swimming area in the lake but cordoned off by a barrier and treated. Asked later for detail, deputy head of the Land Development Agency Dan Stewart said the idea was to tap the temperature at depth, about 500 metres in Canberra, and pass the water through the heat source.
"There is no thought of this heating the lake, simply the pools and other facilities (including the beach) that will all be separate from the lake," he said. There had been examples of geothermal heating of water in Canberra for more than 10 years and the economics were very sound in terms of operating costs, he said.
Treasurer Andrew Barr told the gathering that City to the Lake was the most significant urban renewal project in the ACT's history and the government wanted more than run-of-the-mill development. It wanted a space cherished by the community, with cultural and social significance, bringing life to an area that most now drove past at 80km/h.
It would be a "risk free" process for the private sector because the government owned the land, had control of tax policy, and would contribute, promising planning and tax changes.
The ambitious project includes a new stadium, a swimming pool in West Basin in front of the Australian National University, with the city beach in front of that, a convention centre straddling Parkes Way, the tram running around City Hill to join in, and new apartment buildings beside the lake and on Commonwealth Avenue.
First up is the release next year of the gravel carpark on Constitution Avenue in front of the Canberra Institute of Technology. The government is looking for a developer to build townhouses and "large mixed-use buildings" there, linking to Commonwealth Park.
The team is modelling two options to lower Parkes Way - either running the road through a tunnel, or only half hiding it, with "slots" to a more pedestrian-friendly street above. Land bridges are planned for pedestrians and cyclists, and the roundabout at the intersection of Parkes Way and Coranderrk Street could be replaced with traffic lights, removing the lake filtration pond.
Project leader Tim Xirakis said he had lived in Canberra all his life but had been to West Basin only six or eight times to take the kids to the paddle boats. It was a prime location that should be open to the city, with every part "built like it's on a postcard".
The project would bring people and a vibrant atmosphere and re-centre the city around City Hill, a park on which few people had set foot.
"This is a project that's going to have some pain. It's going to have some hurt along the way. But the end result is a massive asset," he said.
The team was working with Capital Metro, with plans for the tram to travel around City Hill and connect with Commonwealth Avenue and Constitution Avenue.
Town planner Ian Wood-Bradley said the government had learned from the Kingston Foreshore, and would develop the lake front first. It was already working on a road, boardwalk, cycle paths and pavilions to bring life to the area right off. Also in the first stage, a waterfront site would be released in 2016 for apartments and commercial use.
Next came Parkes Way construction, in 2017-19. The aquatic centre would be built in this stage, which Mr Wood-Bradley said would be the first of its kind in the country, with calls for expressions of interest in the design this year. The tram could be brought into the precinct at the same time, and more land would be released in West Basin and nearby for hotels and apartments.
The stadium and convention centre were scheduled for 2019-22.
Asked about schools for the new city residents, Mr Xirakis said the team was considering sites at the CIT and the ANU.
- with Tom McIlroy