Page 2048 - Week 07 - Thursday, 4 June 2015

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The more concerning feature of the new leasing structure is that land at the University of Canberra will not be subject to the lease variation charge. This means that the cost of developing on the UC site will be cheaper than on other sites around the ACT, some just a few hundred metres away from the Belconnen town centre. This, we argue, is unfair. If the government insists on imposing the lease variation charge at all, it should be in place everywhere and consistently. Why should it be cheaper for development to take place on the University of Canberra site but be more expensive just a few hundred metres away where there are private developers?

Although we are not debating the territory plan variation here today, I think it is important to mention the amendments that it will make to the University of Canberra site. The variation will make some significant changes. The variation will allow residential development on the University of Canberra site. This residential development will not just be for future students, and it will not necessarily be developed by the university. Instead it will allow for approximately 3,300 new dwellings to be built over about 15 years—or we are told it will take about 15 years. This is a large number of dwellings. At about 250 or so units per year, that is enough to heavily distort the residential market around the Belconnen town centre.

The variation will also allow office accommodation to be built on the site. The initial limit of the office accommodation will be 2,000 square metres but the limit is not fixed. It may be increased if the government determine that it will not have a negative impact on the town centre. However, how are the government meant to assess this impact when they clearly do have a conflict of interest? Given how willing the government seem to be to give in to the university’s demands, I do not think they will be saying no if the University of Canberra asks for the limits to be lifted.

The variation will clarify the building heights on the site. The limit will be 16 metres but this can be increased to 30 or even 45 metres if other criteria are met. So I find it very hard to believe that if the University of Canberra requests that it be increased to 30 or 45 metres this government will not be obliging.

The variation will also allow for additional shops on the University of Canberra site. The university has indicated that it wants to build a supermarket on the campus. The territory plan variation will allow for a supermarket of up to 1,000 square metres. It is important to note that the suburb of Lawson also is designated to include a supermarket which I believe has a maximum GFA of 700 square metres. So on one side of Ginninderra Drive they will allow for 1,000 square metres but on the other side, the private side, they will allow for just 700 square metres. Whilst I understand that the supermarket site in Lawson has yet to be released, I think it is inevitable that a university supermarket of 1,000 square metres will have a significant impact on the viability of any supermarket at the Lawson development.

Unfortunately, it appears that this bill has simply been drafted because the University of Canberra wants to “exploit” its land. The government has not provided any convincing arguments about the benefits to the community as a result of this bill. Instead it just says that the University of Canberra has asked for it and given some motherhood statements about innovation. Unfortunately, this is not good enough. The government is supposed to be the independent decision maker in planning decisions. But the government cannot be independent when it comes to this issue.

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