The National Capital Authority: bane or benefit?

National Carilion, Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra. Photo by Daniel Morton on Unsplash

Controversial development proposals on Lake Burley Griffin have again shone a light on the ACT Territory Government and the National Capital Authority (NCA) relationship. ABC News has done a great job explaining this relationship. At canberra.bike we ask how this will change cycling.

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Large parts of central Canberra are “designated areas” — bits of the national capital regarded as crucial to its character (and too important to be left for the locals to run).

These include Parliament and its surrounds, the Australian National University, the military precincts, parts of Civic and many nature parks.

From a planning point of view, nothing happens on this land without the NCA’s approval — not even the removal of a dead tree.

National Capital Authority and Canberra: Why ACT residents don’t control how their city is developed, Markus Mannheim, ABC News, 17/5/2020

That is why many Canberra nature parks are never likely to be developed, which is good for recreational cycling as the National Capital Authority permits cycling in these areas.

Urambi Hills Nature Reserve, Kambah, Canberra. Photo by Linda Xu on Unsplash
Urambi Hills Nature Reserve, Kambah, Canberra. Photo by Linda Xu on Unsplash

In 2019 the ACT Environment directorate did a magnificent review of the Canberra Nature Parks, of which there are many. Where you are permitted to ride has been integrated into OpenStreetMap from this document. Several large areas where missing, such as the Narrabundah Hill Reserve. At the time, the directorate could not give me an answer why. The answer is now clear. These areas are under the control of the National Capital Authority.

Nest III, Dairy Farmers Hill, National Arboretum, Canberra
Nest III, Dairy Farmers Hill, National Arboretum, Canberra

The National Capital Authority complicates urban planning in the ACT as most cities expand through “urban renewal” or “infill”. This type of development contrasts with “greenfield” estate development. In Canberra, the new estates are always away from the centre, which makes it challenging to provide good transport connections. The areas closer to the city are on the other hand under the control of the National Capital Authority. The ACT Government does not have a free hand in these areas.

Canberra balloons, Photo by Rosie Steggles on Unsplash
Canberra balloons, Photo by Rosie Steggles on Unsplash

The influence of the National Capital Authority is that of an anchor. It protects the character of Canberra. But how will we find space for the growing population if not through urban renewal? Urban planning principles argue that we want the population as close to the centre as possible to make the city liveable, workable, and affordable. This would, however, significantly change Canberra’s character.

Photo by Joy Studio

Jon Stanhope… is more circumspect — even appreciative of the authority. “It was more a frustration than an impairment, having to deal with the NCA,” he recalls. “I have no strong memories of die-in-the-ditch issues.”

The main problem, he says, was the NCA’s “poor capacity, because its funding was always so limited, to maintain the national estate”.

“But it provides a very valuable safeguard, protecting the intrinsically important values of Canberra … against any cavalier, reckless government that would perhaps be inclined to walk away from aspects of the grand vision that is the national capital.”

National Capital Authority and Canberra: Why ACT residents don’t control how their city is developed, Markus Mannheim, ABC News, 17/5/2020

We appear to have a long ride before us. The recreational cycling in Canberra seems to be assured – those areas will remain, if not largely for the reason of neglect.

ACT, Australia
Cooleman Ridge, Canberra Nature Park

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