The ACT Heritage Council is concerned that heritage nominations over buildings on either side of Northbourne Avenue will be effectively annulled once planning laws are passed by the ACT Assembly next week.
The new laws will give the government the right to declare special precincts and major projects to which the Heritage Act and the Tree Protection Act will not apply. People opposed to developments in those zones will also lose appeal rights.
The Northbourne Avenue corridor looks set to be declared a special precinct to allow the Capital Metro rail link from Gungahlin to the city to be fast-tracked. The Heritage Council now wants to know how far the boundaries of the special precinct will extend into buildings either side of Northbourne Avenue, since heritage nominations in the precinct that are under way but not completed will no longer be able to go ahead.
These include preliminary nominations over the Northbourne Flats public housing, the Northbourne housing precinct (from Lyneham on one side and Dickson on the other down to Wakefield Avenue), Churchill House, now called Open Systems House, the NRMA building and Havelock House, Heritage Council deputy chairman Dianne Firth said. All are under consideration for heritage protection, a process that could be ended on the spot by a special precinct declaration.
Public housing is in the spotlight not only for the heritage nominations but to make way for commercial development in Northbourne Avenue with the new rail line. The government plans asset sales to raise money for projects like Capital Metro and to take advantage of a federal government offer of a 15 per cent bonus for asset sales. A government spokesman said redevelopment of public housing would be staged over time. There were eight public housing complexes in the Northbourne Avenue precinct, with 472 occupied units, he said. "The government will work closely with existing tenants of these properties to ensure they are advised once a decision has been made, are given appropriate notice and assisted throughout the relocation," he said.
He confirmed the planned sale of buildings and land in the Northbourne corridor included Macarthur House, the Motor Registry and the Visitor Information Centre.
Dr Firth said the Heritage Council was briefed on Thursday about the new planning laws. While not everyone liked the look of some of the Northbourne buildings, they were all significant sites and needed preservation in some way - through redevelopment or upgrading for new uses. "Depending how the government wants to engage with the private-public arrangement for Capital Metro, these blocks may be seen as opportunities to just sell off for future development and there are no checks and balances on how we retain exceptional examples of this period of Canberra's history," she said.
A spokesman for Environment Minister Simon Corbell said no special precinct had been drawn up to cover Northbourne Avenue yet and no decisions made about the boundaries of a special precinct.
Any special precinct would need to go out for public consultation and to the Assembly for approval, the spokesman said.
"Light rail is under consideration as a project of importance once the legislation is passed, but no special precinct has been drawn up to cover Northbourne Avenue yet and as such no decisions have been made about boundaries.''