Madame Speaker I rise today to draw debate to a topic that is of great discussion within my electorate of Yerrabi – the development of the Gungahlin Town Centre.

Madame Speaker the Gungahlin Town Centre is the newest town centre in the ACT and one that has grown a lot from its humble beginnings as one supermarket, a sandwich shop, and the raiders club. Today we have clothing stores, cafes, restaurants, office spaces, supermarkets, chemists, a hotel, the best empanadas in Canberra and the list goes on.

Light Rail has come to the town centre and a cinema complex is under construction and  ACT Labor has a commitment to build a community and arts centre in consultation with the community, bringing even more life to our town centre.

Madam speaker as our town centre has grown the development and planning settings that have given rise to it have been a heavily debated topic.

Madame speaker ours is the first town centre to be developed since self-government and presents a shift away from the development traditions of the ACT’s other town centres.

One benefit we have had is the benefit of learning through past practice.  In the traditional model of town centre development used in Canberra, residential development has been minimal or even discouraged.  The outcome has been town centres that thrive during business hours but falter at other times. The model also fails to realise the benefits of living close to work. Gungahlin Town Centre, however, has from the start had a focus on mixed use development including a notable residential component with the objective of overcoming, from the start, some of the challenges faced in other town centres.

For non residential activity, the traditional approach to town centre development has seen a large federal commonwealth public service Department located within the town centre. We have seen this in Woden with the Health Department, Belconnen with Home Affairs and the Bureau of Statistics, Tuggeranong with the Department of Social Services and the city with the Tax Department, among others.

As the first town centre developed since self-government, Gungahlin has been overlooked by many successive federal governments with no large federal public service employer ever moved into the town centre.

This is disappointing given the original plan for Canberra focused on having town centres to support active communities where people would not have far to travel for everything they needed. A planning policy which has been supported by successive planning strategies both before and after self-government. 

Without that large anchor tenant our town centre has not had the same head start that other town centres benefited from and even continue to benefit from.

While we have seen some non residential development come to the town centre, most of the development has been mixed use with a strong ratio of residential to commercial. Continuring on this path and without this anchor tenant, there is a feeling in the community that the balance between the residential uses and the non-residential uses in our town centre’s mixed use development is not quite hitting the mark.

This feeling is being compounded at present as  we are increasingly seeing buildings and proposals for buildings which focus on residential with only small commercial offerings in more recently developed parts of the town centrer.

If we are to fully realise a town centre as envisioned in the original intent , as aspired to by the community, there needs to a business lead approach to the development proposals in our town centre.

A business lead approach where we know what economic activity we want to attract, where we know what companies want to locate to our town centre and we build, not retrofit, for this activity so there is no reason for it not to come to our town centre.

The current approach and mechanisms in the planning space haven’t produced the outcomes that the community aspires to. While it will be argued by many that there is no demand for commercial in Gungahlin Town Centre at present, if we build the Town centre based on current demand, without future proofing, we will build out the opportunity  in the future.  

If we do not protect the public interest, and dev continues the way it is  until all the space in the town centre is used up, we will end up with very little commercial space and almost exclusively retail and residential buildings in the town centre with no opportunity to harness future demand that arises.

Not to mention that very few mixed use developments done by private industry are reserving any space for any community facilities.

A failure to intervene now because the market isn’t providing those results, will lead to problems and poorer outcomes down the track.

The outcome we are facing is in fundamental opposition to the planning intent and given the federal government isn’t helping the situation, we need to use the levers we have to intervene.

Madam Speaker that is what this motion is about.

I would like to state for the record mixed use development has a lot of potential in what it can as a built form deliver to our community.

Madam Speaker think of it this way, under single use land planning when we set out to develop an area, we would have a mix of land uses or activities in a defined geographical area.  Consider just about any suburb in Canberra, we would have residential, we would have commercial in the form of a local shops, we would have a school, there would be recreation areas with parks and sports ovals, and perhaps even community health facilities or a community hall. This variety would be within the suburb providing for a range of opportunities and services to meet the community’s needs.

The downside to single use land planning is that all these activities are very dispersed and the critical mass to support them wouldn’t always eventuate. The dispersal of activities also creates a transport task that creates a lot of traffic that has a detrimental impact on the environment and does not support high frequency public transport.

Mixed use development is in part an answer to the experience of single use land planning and its downsides. The concept is fairly straightforward in so far as you take a lot of uses that would usually be separated and that are spread out over a large geographic area and mix them all together in a smaller geographic area. The outcome being much more of what people need closer to where they live and work.

But for mixed use to be that, it must be a genuine and balanced mix of a range of urban activities. Mixed use developments where we have three or more activities and no one activity cannibalising the others.

We do have some good examples of mixed-use precincts in the ACT. One example is New Acton where during the development, the developers made a series of considered and proactive decisions to diversify the range of activities within the precinct as well as individual buildings. The result being a dynamic urban area that supports activity all days of the week during the day and evening and for a range of interests and needs.

Unfortunately, this is something that we have struggled to fully realise in development to date in Gungahlin. In place of buildings that provide a range of uses where no one use is concentrated to the detriment of others we have seen a trend for first level commercial and then many levels of residential.

The commercial parts of the buildings have also been built for the most part without a clear tenant in mind leading to many sites with hard fit outs that need to be retrofitted with varying levels of success to support businesses that may be interested in locating in the space.

To fully realise the aspirations of our community for it’s town centre, we need to make sure we have the spaces for the businesses and jobs we seek to have located in our town centre.

Never has there been more opportunity to realise what mixed use development can achieve.

Madam Speaker, as Canberra grows it is also diversifying away from being fully reliant on the federal public service as the main employer. The APS will of course, remain the biggest employer and central to the city, but opportunities are diversifying.

Part of the strategic objectives, as spelled out in yesterday’s budget, is to leverage Canberra’s competitive advantages in the Tertiary education, space, defence, cyber security, advanced technology and manufacturing and renewable energy sectors to support economic growth.

We need to encourage these and other industries to set up in Gungahlin as well. Planning systems are a great lever to be able to do this.

We’ve also seen throughout 2020 that there are many ways to undertake office based work. Many of us have a renewed appreciation of what it means to work from home after 2020. Some people enjoy it, others don’t like it and a lot of people saw the advantages of being able to work from home some of the time. Much of the benefit has to do with the lack of commute when one is working from home.

Having truly mixed use development allows for reducing commute times while still going to the office and enjoying the social benefits that brings. It allows for better work life balance. 

The learnings from our experiences with different flexible arrangements for office based work allows exploration of different built formats in the town centre and the time is right to explore these

To fully realise the aspirations of our community, we need to also make sure we not only have spaces to live, but  spaces for the businesses and jobs we seek to have located in our town centre.

With some thought and strategy we can encourage this sort of diversification and even explore some new opportunities not imagined a year ago in the Gungahlin Town Centre, but there needs to be the appropriate planning levers in place to ensure the building stock is there now and into the future.