‘We will be obstructionist’: Canberra Liberals pledge to unpick contentious West Basin land swap deal


August 19, 2020 17:11:13

The Canberra Liberals have promised to abandon ACT Government plans to develop a prime parcel of land next to Lake Burley Griffin and “completely obstruct” a Commonwealth deal that would see nearby horse paddocks bulldozed to build foreign embassies.

Key points

  • Alistair Coe says he will abandon Labor plans to develop West Basin if elected
  • He said ACT Labor is ‘eroding the bush capital’ and their plans are ‘unreasonable’
  • Andrew Barr says the Federal Government set the ‘very clear rules’ around land use in the Parliamentary Triangle

Under the deal between the National Capital Authority (NCA) and the ACT Government, the Commonwealth-managed lake bed at West Basin, near New Acton, was swapped in exchange for ACT Government land in Curtin.

The land swap allows the Government to push ahead with plans to develop three hectares by the lake into a mix of residential apartments, commercial and recreational facilities as part of its “city to the lake” project.

The NCA plan to use the 30-hectares that currently make up the North Curtin Horse Paddocks for embassies from 2023.

But Canberra Liberals leader Alistair Coe announced today that they “will not go ahead with Andrew Barr’s unreasonable and poorly-thought out plan for West Basin” if elected.

“In yet another ACT Labor-Greens Government cash grab, they seem determined to build more apartments and to squeeze as many buildings into the city as they possibly can,” Mr Coe said.

“ACT Labor is eroding the bush capital.”

Instead, Mr Coe said the Opposition would ask the community to decide what is best for the precinct — although he would not rule out development altogether.

“My vision for West Basin does not include having skyscraper apartments as Andrew Barr obviously wants for that area,” he said.

“My vision for that precinct is a properly maintained green space … where people can actually enjoy the lake.”

Barr rebuffs Coe’s commitment

Chief Minister Andrew Barr quickly rebuffed the Liberals’ election commitment, and argued that rules to develop “small-scale” commercial and residential blocks in the West Basin have been set by the Federal Government.

Mr Barr said it was the NCA which held the ultimate power over the plans to build the North Curtin diplomatic estate, and denied his Government was proposing to build high-rise apartment blocks.

“The rules for this area have been set by the Federal Government and are very clear,” Mr Barr said.

“Fifty-five-metre setback from the lake edge; small-scale buildings for cafes, restaurants and the like; no higher than eight metres anywhere near the foreshore.”

Mr Barr fronted a press conference with a copy of a gazette signed by the Federal Government, highlighting that it was the Commonwealth that earmarked the land at North Curtin for a diplomatic estate.

“That’s our role … we have to set that land aside, but it’s the National Capital Authority that ultimately chooses where that land is and it’s the Federal Government that makes that decision, and they’ve made the decision,” Mr Barr said.

“They looked at a number of different sites and if this were to be undone — which would be a decision of the Federal Government, not one of the ACT Government — it does open up the question: where would the diplomatic estate be?”

Liberals promise to ‘unpick the dodgy deal’

The Canberra Liberals insisted they would “unpick the dodgy deal” to hand over the land to the NCA, and return the horse paddocks as a recreational asset.

“We will not be undertaking our part of the deal and we will be working with the federal minister Nola Merino to unpick this deal,” spokeswoman Giulia Jones said.

“We will do everything possible. We will be obstructionist. We will make sure that this property goes back to the people of the ACT.

“There’s plenty of land in Canberra for embassies and it is not the top priority of the ACT Government to make land available to the NCA.”

ACT Senator Zed Seselja had previously shown in-principle support for the West Basin development, adding that he would like to see more detail from the Government.

The Canberra Liberals also promised $15 million for maintenance of public schools, after announcing they would hold an independent inquiry into unsafe levels of lead found at Yarralumla Primary School.

The party’s commitment to stop the West Basin proposal comes after it promised to plant one million trees over the next decade and freeze residential rates if elected in October.

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First posted

August 19, 2020 16:44:45

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