Golden Age of Opportunity in Canberra
The ACT Government’s urban renewal agenda and land release program, coupled with large-scale building at the Australian National University and Canberra University, promise to transform the nation’s capital. What opportunities will this bring for the Canberra community and its building industry?
Canberra continues to come of age as a modern, international city.
Northbourne Avenue is being transformed into a contemporary city gateway anchored by light rail and new urban villages. Building activity at our academic institutions gathers pace. Deteriorating public housing is being renewed, while the ACT’s newest suburbs continue to expand.
“Whether you have an established business or are wanting to start a career in the construction industry, now is a good time to be in the ACT.” says Master Builders ACT’s Deputy Executive Director Michael Hopkins.
The light rail project is on track, and the Land Development Agency has committed to “urban intensification” along Canberra’s main artery. A swathe of public housing and government-owned offices, together with the Dickson Motor Registry building and the tourist visitors’ centre, are being sold off for redevelopment as the ACT Government looks to reinvent the entrance to Canberra as a high-density zone fed by trams.
Minister for Urban Renewal Mick Gentleman says urban renewal will remain a focus of investment and attention in 2017 as “we strive to help our city continue to grow in a sustainable way”.
“Increasing density around our city centre and transport corridors will improve the vibrancy and sustainability of the city by ensuring people can live close to where they work, play and socialise,” he says.
The ACT Government plans to release more sites along Northbourne Avenue, and Minister Gentleman says “more planning work will be undertaken on options for realigning Parkes Way to facilitate the City to the Lake project”.
Local Canberra developer Art Group purchased the first parcel of ACT Government land along the 12km light rail route since the $780 million project was approved.
Art Group snapped up the 2.9-hectare estate, with a half-kilometre Northbourne Avenue frontage south from the corner of Morphett Street for $40 million in September 2016, and plans a world-class mixed-use precinct.
Brett Smith, the company’s Project Director, is currently overseeing this and another planned Northbourne Avenue development, On Forbes, comprising 203 apartments to be released to market early 2017. He says it’s an “incredibly exciting time for Canberra” and the work along Northbourne Avenue will create an appropriate gateway to the nation’s capital, while providing places that suit the needs of Canberrans in the 21st century.
“Canberra developers are keen to recognise and celebrate the heritage of the area, while also building places that people want and need. The renewal of the corridor is a long-term project, and will adapt to market changes over the next decade,” Smith adds.
Building a bright future
Urban renewal is not restricted to Canberra’s CBD. The old Canberra Brickworks site in Yarralumla is expected to be up for sale in early 2017, and is likely to provide for 380 new residential dwellings and 16 hectares of mixed use space. Together with the development of the Kingston Arts Precinct and revival of the Red Hill Precinct formerly occupied by ageing public housing flats, Canberra’s inner suburbs can expect an urban facelift.
Meanwhile, the Australian National University (ANU) has a large-scale building program underway and a swag of transformative projects in the pipeline.
“ANU is embarking on its biggest capital works program ever, with approximately $800 million of committed funding,” says Christine Allard, the University’s Director in the Facilities and Services Division.
This program of works has already commenced, and is aligned with the University’s strategic plan. Allard says ANU aims to provide “a student experience that is appropriate for the national university”.
The renewal program addresses the needs of the University community, Allard explains, but is also “a means of inviting and welcoming visitors to the campus and providing facilities and amenities” for everyone.
“Clearly this level of activity will provide significant opportunities to contractors, consultants and suppliers across the Canberra region and potentially broader,” she says.
Over in Belconnen, the University of Canberra is focused on building a “campus of the future” – one which reinforces the institution’s identity as committed to professional education and applied research.
UC Lodge – the University’s latest student accommodation project – will be delivered and operational for the start of the 2017 academic year. Located in the heart of campus, the $41 million building comprises 496 beds across 352 apartments, providing students with accommodation close to their learning spaces.
In April, the University announced a $1.7 billion joint venture partnership with CIC Australia, Peet Limited’s Canberra-based wholly-owned subsidiary, to develop up to 3,300 apartments and townhouses over a 15-20-year period.
Work on the University of Canberra Public Hospital began in early 2016 and is on schedule for completion in 2018. The 140-bed sub-acute care facility is being constructed on a 4.8-hectare block of land on the corner of Aikman Drive and Ginninderra Drive for a cost of $139 million. ACT Health is partnering with the University of Canberra to provide a research and teaching facility, which will be part of a wider Health Precinct on campus.
The project is not just a boon for the building sector, but for skills development too. Students and alumni from the Bachelor of Building and Construction Management are working on the project as part of a three-year cadetship program with Multiplex, which is in charge of constructing the hospital.
“Students are helping build the facility from the ground up, gaining valuable on-the job training while they study,” says the University’s Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Deep Saini.
“We strive to create these sorts of opportunities for students and the University of Canberra Public Hospital cadetship program is a terrific example of this. We couldn’t be more pleased with these outcomes.”
Building the Great Australian Dream
As the fabric of Canberra’s existing suburbs is restitched, Yvette Berry, ACT Minister for Housing and Suburban Development, says the government will continue its significant program of new suburban development in 2017 to further add to the supply of greenfield blocks on the market.
“In Gungahlin, the development of Throsby will reach completion ahead of schedule, civil works will continue on the first dwelling sites for the new suburb of Taylor and an estate development plan will be progressed for additional dwelling sites in Taylor and further growth around the Gungahlin Town Centre,” Berry explains.
“In Molonglo, construction of north Wright and north Coombs will start at the end of the year while planning will continue construction of the first stage of Whitlam to start in 2018.
“Works on Denman Prospect, which was sold to Capital Estate Developments, will also continue. Civil works will also start next year for the first release of land in the sustainable Ginninderry development in West Belconnen.”
While this is good news for the construction industry, recent government figures reveal that more than 80 per cent of land release in the last three years has been for units, townhouses and apartments. In comparison, fewer than half the releases between 2007 and 2011 were for medium-density housing.
“Many of our residential builders now find it challenging to deliver an affordable product in Canberra because of the restricted land supply,” says MBA’s Deputy Executive Director Michael Hopkins.
“It’s essential that the land release program meets the needs of Canberra’s demographic and is affordable. It’s no good having a host of tiny, expensive apartments in the city when families still want a free-standing house with a yard. The key is housing choice – and that means rethinking the restrictions on dual occupancies and small townhouses in established suburbs, and the housing mix in new suburbs,” Hopkins says.
Reforms to the Land Development Agency, announced by Chief Minister Andrew Barr in September, have been welcomed by the industry, and Hopkins says it is “long overdue”.
The reforms will see the LDA split into two agencies, one with responsibility for developing new suburbs, and another driving the urban renewal agenda. Asbestos Taskforce chief Andrew Kefford has been appointed to lead what the ACT Government has dubbed “land development governance”.
“We have long campaigned for reform to the LDA, and have called for government to allow more residential development by the private sector. We are encouraged by the promise of reform, but we are more excited about the number of residential projects currently underway by private developers,” Hopkins says. He points to the ongoing work at Googong and Denman Prospect, the launch of Tralee and commencement of Ginninderry, and the redevelopment of CSIRO land, as good examples.
“We are pleased to see more competition in Canberra – and particularly to see more Canberra builders and developers winning bids. All of this building will bring great opportunity, and our message to government is to ensure local businesses benefit.”