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The time is ripe for Woden's renewal

March 05, 2017

Canberrans should be aware that – despite negativity from some quarters – there is a growing optimism about Woden Town Centre’s future.

As a long time resident of Woden, the community opposition to a proposed six-storey residential development at Curtin Shops didn’t surprise me.

While MLAs rightly have no direct role in development approvals, it was pleasing to see the independent ACT Planning and Land Authority (ACTPLA) process working as it should and rejecting the proposal. The development was inconsistent with the Government’s Draft Master Plan, which proposed two storeys around Curtin Square as part of a lower scale urban village.

It occurred to me throughout the debate at Curtin, however, that the scale of the development and investment proposed at Curtin would be welcomed just down the road in Woden Town Centre.

Woden Valley

While Canberra’s economy is diversifying, we’re still reliant in many ways on the Federal Government. It’s upsetting Woden has been so hurt by Federal Government decisions, including the recent announcement of up to 250 jobs to go at the Commonwealth Department of Health. These cuts are symbolised by the Alexander and Albermarle buildings as well as the now virtually-empty Lovett Tower.

Woden cannot rely on public servants for its future, and needs further private and government investment to kick start urban renewal. One of the reasons I stood for election last October was to help in delivering this investment into rejuvenating Woden.

I’m pleased to report from my conversations in the community over the last few months that a sense of optimism about Woden’s future is returning. The ACT Government has moved an additional 1,000 public servants into Woden, which will be complete in the next couple of weeks. There have also recently been completed upgrades to the Woden Bus Interchange and Phillip Oval, as well as ACT Government support for the new Abode Hotel in Juliana House, an adaptive re-use project.

Another catalyst for renewal will be the investment in light rail stage two to Woden – contracts will be signed for this within this term of government. Light rail is already bringing renewal to Northbourne Avenue and it will do the same to Woden.

Light rail will have more people live close to public transport and services, enliven Woden’s public spaces, and provide demand for local business, which benefits the whole community. More people living in town centres is also an opportunity for quality design and development to take place, and keep the open spaces and low density in our suburbs that make them such great places to live.

It’s also encouraging to see the sale of a half-stake in Woden Plaza by Westfield to Perron Investments for $335 million in December. I’m hopeful this sale foreshadows upgrades to Woden Plaza. The last substantial upgrade was in the 90s and, despite a fondness for the Plaza by many locals, upgrades would be welcomed.

Surrounding suburbs in Woden Valley are thriving. They are sought after for home buyers, with well-planned communities, an abundance of parks, good schools, Canberra’s major hospital and a growing cafe culture.

It’s important to distinguish between development at Curtin and at Woden Town Centre. Woden has a completed Master Plan, providing clear guidance for developers and height limits consistent with a Town Centre setting. I get a strong sense from the community they want urban renewal to take place in Woden Town Centre.

That doesn’t mean just any development should happen. Urban renewal also means demanding quality design and construction, rather than just accepting monoliths. Recent developments like Hindmarsh’s Bellerive and Trilogy Apartments have seen improved architecture – of course, this is a subjective view.

While the ACT’s planning processes are generally very good, there are some limitations. The planning process fails to reach many people in our community – like young people and working families – who have a legitimate stake in consultation. Chief Minister Andrew Barr has already raised this concern publicly.

While the planning process offers the community some input into development, this can be late in the process. In this sense, consultation during the master planning process for Woden was a much more strategic, constructive discussion. These types of discussions I think yield much more value to our community in the longer term.

The master planning process should not stop at the point ACTPLA publishes the final plan. I believe delivering the Woden Town Centre’s Master Plan’s objectives should be the source of ongoing discussion between the Government, planners, developers, business and the community.

I’ve proposed to the ACT Government we host a roundtable to discuss the delivery of the Master Plan and start better communication between all stakeholders about planning, urban renewal and transport in the Woden Town Centre. (The Government has now agreed to host this Roundtable)

In involving all parts of the community, I believe this roundtable will help turn plans for Woden’s future into a renewal that benefits all Canberrans.

Please also let me know what you think Woden needs - by completing this short survey.

This article was originally published on The Riot Act.