On the evening of 24 May, in response to mounting public concern over the NCA’s Draft Amendment 53, more than three hundred people attended a very successful meeting to discuss the future of the Albert Hall and its precinct. Among the speakers were the Convenor of the Friends of the Albert Hall, Dr Lenore Coltheart, the co-ordinator of the meeting, Di Johnstone, WBGS Committee member, Rosemarie Willett, Head of the ACT Heritage Unit, Dr Michael Pearson, ACT Senators Garry Humphries and Kate Lundy, ACT Planning Minister, Andrew Barr, and NCA Chief Executive, Annabelle Pegrum.
The main focus of the Meeting was on two separate, but related, issues:
1. The conservation and use of the Albert Hall; and
2. The proposals in the NCA’s Draft Amendment 53 to the National Capital Plan for the redevelopment of the Albert Hall’s ‘precinct’ stretching from the Hall to the Lake shore both to the west and to the north, as far as the southern approach to the Commonwealth Bridge.
With respect to the Hall itself, which is currently managed by the ACT Government, the meeting overwhelmingly rejected (in Resolutions 4 and 6) the latter’s premature attempt to privatise the Hall by calling for tenders for its management and upkeep before agreement had been reached about its use and the future of its precinct. The grounds for these resolutions were (a) that a private manager would not be able to fund the outlays of $1 million plus needed to restore and refurbish the Hall and (b) that such a manager would naturally lease the Hall to high rental commercial clients to the exclusion of the many less affluent cultural groups which had hitherto hired the Hall. The meeting was informed that, in an effort to resolve the problem of the financial responsibility for the Hall, the ACT Government had just announced that it intended to suggest to the Commonwealth Government that the building should be nominated for National Heritage listing.
With regard to DA53, dealing mainly with the Albert Hall precinct, there was a collision between the meeting and the NCA, reflected in the near unanimous resolutions 1 and 2 that DA53 should be withdrawn and that fresh planning and consultation processes should be instituted via a joint body set up by the Federal and ACT Government with ‘equal community representation’. This was at odds with an NCA proposal on the eve of the meeting that, because of changes which had already been made to DA53 (most notably the scrapping of a proposed ‘landmark’ eight storey building adjacent to Commonwealth Bridge), the amendment would be ‘re-released’ after further consultations and workshops ‘in the near future’. The determination of the meeting to restart the planning process from scratch was inspired by the view of the overwhelming majority:
(i) that the NCA’s commercially-slanted proposals would hamper the restoration of the Albert Hall precinct as a community cultural centre;
(ii) that DA 53 flouted the principles laid down by Walter Burley Griffin for the plan of the symbolic central areas of the National Capital’ (Resolution 5);
(iii) that the closure of the clover -leaf road system at the southern end of Commonwealth Bridge, upon which DA 53 was premissed, would cause unacceptable peak-hour traffic congestion in the Parliamentary Triangle and Commonwealth Avenue; and
(iv) that the NCA was currently only prepared to consult about the details of DA53, as opposed to its underlying merits or demerits.
Dr Bruce Kent, 28 May 2007
ACT Government Media Release 24 May 2007