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The planning intentions of Canberra’s ACT City Renewal Authority for land reclamation and boardwalk development at Lake Burley Griffin’s West Basin are unsympathetic to the Griffin vision and are the first stage of proposed massive apartment developments.

In May 2020 the Walter Burley Griffin Society made submissions on this development works proposal highlighting the failings of the proposal and requesting further public consultation on unresolved issues of scale and accessibility that need to be revealed and discussed.

In 1992 the National Capital Planning Authority (NCA) and the ACT Planning Authority jointly issued a Draft Discussion Document on Acton Peninsula & West Basin – Where the City Meets the Lake and conducted wide public consultations on ideas for urban development of the precinct. In 2007, arising from their Griffin Legacy project, the National Capital Authority secured Amendment 61 to the National Capital Plan to enable intensive mixed-use urban development of West Basin.

The ACT City Renewal Authority (CRA) plans for West Basin are not settled but  include multiple land uses, 5,000 residents, 2,000 dwellings and 5,400 jobs by 2046 (2,600 residents and 4,000 jobs by 2031).  West Basin remains a Designated Area of National Significance and thus subject to NCA Works Approval.

The NCA issued a Draft Structure Plan in May 2017 for development of the adjoining Acton Peninsula Precinct, to the south, for ‘culture, education and recreation’. The neighbour on the westerly side of West Basin, the ANU, issued in August 2019 their ANU Campus Master Plan 2030.  To the north on elevated Territory Land is the high density, high rise and successful New Acton Precinct.

In March 2020 it was announced that the ACT Government had obtained ownership of 2.8 ha of West Basin to be reclaimed from Lake Burley Griffin in exchange for 32 ha of highly valuable land in the suburb of Curtin for a diplomatic estate. Shortly after, the City Renewal Authority (CRA) applied for NCA Works Approval for Stage 2 (Stage 1 is a completed picnic ground at the eastern end): reclaim the lake waters, build a 500m by 8m wide Boardwalk and preliminary land clearing; applications for stormwater and infrastructure were foreshadowed.

Public comments closed 22 May 2020. Former President of the Society Professor James Weirick and the Canberra Chapter have since 2006 made submissions criticising the nature of this development with reference to Griffin’s design vision and principles. The National Capital Plan still enshrines many elements of Griffin’s 1918 Plan. The Society’s submissions made in May 2020, and a growing chorus of community opposition, argue that the Works Application fails to meet the National Capital Plan statutory criteria.

The ANU and Acton Peninsula Plans are less advanced but raise particular concerns about Griffin’s Water Axis and the balance of building and landscape designs.

The CRA proponents typically enlist Griffin’s intentions as supporting the West Basin development. Griffin did not ever propose urban development on the West Basin waterfront.  He placed great emphasis on urban open space and extensive parklands in this location. He was committed to continuous public access to the foreshore and planned outdoors recreation, landscape vistas and settings, a hospital on the southern foreshore, an amphitheatre, cultural institutions, public structures and amenities evolving with the functional and symbolic purposes of the national capital.

Griffin intended the geometry of his Water Axis and crossing with the Land Axis to guide the consistent alignment of public buildings in the Central National Area, including the university campus, complementing and defining the landscape.

What is needed
Canberra and the Griffin vision deserves much better than what is being proposed by the ACT’s City Renewal Authority.

More inspiration about the great potential of this wonderful site, a central element in Griffin’s vision and Plan for Canberra is necessary. The planning intentions announced under City to the Lake for mixed land uses in West Basin do not appear to be on a scale balanced with the natural and design environments. Above all, the works application fails to offer a unique and special place for the Acton Waterfront Redevelopment.

You can make a representation about this to David Smith MP, the ACT representative of the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories

23 June 2020

Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra. Arrow indicates location of West Basin.