Molonglo Valley Independent Review

The Street Theatre, Acton, Civic

Ms Le Couteur MLA was concerned about the quality of the Molonglo Valley development and motioned the ACT Legislative Assembly for the matter to be investigated. The review concluded in 2020.

Ducking for cover

Since then, the ACT Government has gone quiet on the Molonglo Valley. The John Gorton Drive Bridge was brought forward by Federal Government funding. The development application for Whitlam’s third stage was released early this year in the typical Whitlam style. The silence is palatable. Hopefully, the second half of 2021 will deliver new and good things on Molonglo Group Centre and Molonglo 3 East. Fingers crossed!

Frozen in motion

The Assembly Motion was an opportunity to review the progress in the Monlonglo Valley after a decade’s work. The report concludes that everything is fine and the rest easily fixed. In an election year (2020), being too blunt was clearly a liability.

The document is in three parts: the motion, the ACT Government response and the independent review.

  • 23 October 2019 – Legislative Assembly Agreed Motion (the Motion)
  • Date unknown – Act Government Statement and Response (Government Response)
  • 23 March 2020 – ACT Government Molonglo Valley Independent review (Independent Review)

Only cycling aspects are considered in this article, although the review considered all aspects of the development. The ACT Government states its ambition as:

Neighbourhoods in Molonglo are planned to encourage walking and reduce vehicle dependence, with a legible and permeable hierarchy of roads, conveniently located commercial and community facilities, a network of open spaces, an on and off-road system for pedestrians and cyclists where appropriate…

Act Government Statement And Response To The Legislative Assembly Resolution Of 23 October 2019

At this time, it is hard to see how this has been achieved.

Most disturbing is the disingenuous tone. Listing the fragments of a network does not make it a network. Paths only 1.5 m wide are also narrower than the ACT Active Travel Standards for a bike path.

Four sets of cycle lanes have been provided in Molonglo. These include:
• off-road through landscape buffer near Holder/Duffy;

• off-road along Molonglo River (north and south sides likely) – generally flat (and scenic) following trunk sewers at urban edge;

• on-road on John Gorton Drive (both sides); and

• off-road/shared along John Gorton Drive 1.5 m wide paths.

Act Government Statement And Response To The Legislative Assembly Resolution Of 23 October 2019

There is so much wrong with these claims that to refute them is worth an article in itself. The defects of the cycling infrastructure in Monlonglo Stage 1 (Coombs and Wright) are discussed in one of the first articles on canberra.bike (2019) here.

The Independent Review

Full title: ACT Government Molonglo Valley Independent Review of planning, development and built form (excellence in sustainable design) in the Molonglo Valley, 273953-PMSS-RPT-0002, Final Report, 23 March 2020

Very little of the independent review is cycling related. Here are the few sections of texts that are.

• Calls for a Molonglo Cycle Highway feasibility study – a feasibility study was conducted in 2014 but only parts of the proposed route have been delivered.

• Good off-road cycling connections – Off road options do exist however small gaps to the network exist which could be easily rectified.

• Pedestrian friendly design – the development meets the descriptive criteria of pedestrian friendly design in terms of the number and distribution of pathways, widening at intersections and priority crossings. However, there is poor wayfinding and a lack of destinations which impact on its useability resulting in low levels of activation.

ACT Government Molonglo Valley Independent Review, page 16

The claim that small gaps in Canberra cycling are easily fixed is not supported as evidenced from the last two decades when even the smallest improvements can take years for TCCS to address. The Suburban Land Agency has come to the rescue at times (Coombs), but it is only a matter of time before they will move on to Molonglo 3 East. The heart of the problem, is that cycling infrastructure is left for last and then forgotten about.

Cycling is only mentioned in one line of a very long table in the Independent Review.

Liveability

1(g) To date, good public transport services have been delivered in the Molonglo Valley as soon as new homes are occupied, and local streets have good footpaths, but the Molonglo Valley suffers from very indirect off-road cycling connections to the City and Belconnen

Is there a functional cycle network? Partially achieved

ACT Government Molonglo Valley Independent Review, page 18

Clearly the cycle network is not functional at this time, and it is not clear when it will be.

The Motion

The Legislative Assembly Agreed Motion (23 October 2019) is quoted in full here. The format is typical for the Legislative Assembly.

MS LE COUTEUR (Murrumbidgee): I move:

That this Assembly:

(1) notes that:

(a) the Labor-Greens Parliamentary Agreement for the 7th Assembly called for excellence in sustainable design in the Molonglo Valley development, including:

(i) construction of public transport infrastructure from the outset of the development;

(ii) mandatory solar passivity;

(iii) pedestrian friendly design;

(iv) inclusion of a third pipeline for non-potable water; and

(v) implementing child-friendly planning principles into the development of Wright and Coombs;

(b) the Labor-Greens Parliamentary Agreement for the 8th Assembly called for a “Molonglo Cycle Highway feasibility study”;

(c) it is nine years since the first land release in the Molonglo Valley and development is expected to continue for another 15 years;

(d) while there have been improvements over earlier development in the ACT, Molonglo Valley developments do not appear to be delivering excellence in sustainable design across all areas of environmental sustainability, social sustainability and transport;

(e) environmental sustainability gaps include lack of room for canopy trees, blocks and dwellings not being correctly oriented for passive solar heating/cooling, and major terraforming and removal of almost all vegetation during suburb construction;

(f) housing diversity is better than many previous Canberra suburbs, however Molonglo Valley residents lack key community amenities required for social sustainability, including local shops and low-cost land for community groups such as scouts and guides, religious and multicultural groups;

(g) to date, good public transport services have been delivered in the Molonglo Valley as soon as new homes are occupied, and local streets have good footpaths, but the Molonglo Valley suffers from very indirect off-road cycling connections to the City and Belconnen; and

(h) despite the new suburb of Whitlam being two kilometres from the nearest schools and shops, planning for Whitlam will see residents move in at least two years before schools and shops are built, however there is no commitment to providing a bus service to Whitlam to connect early residents to services; and

(2) calls on the ACT Government to:

(a) commission an independent review of planning and development for the Molonglo Valley that examines:

(i) whether Molonglo development is achieving excellence in sustainable design;

(ii) the matters raised in part (1); and

(iii) what actions are required to deliver excellence in sustainable design, including on environmental, social and transport sustainability;

(b) provide the final report of the review to the Assembly by 31 May 2020; and

(c) use this report to inform and improve future development in the ACT.

The Legislative Assembly Resolution Of 23 October 2019

The Government Response

Full title: Act Government Statement And Response To The Legislative Assembly Resolution Of 23 October 2019 – Independent Review Of Planning And Development For The Molonglo Valley

The ACT Government replied to parts of the Motion as the ACT Government was responsible for the planning of Monlonglo Stages 1. Denman Prospect is a private development. The plans for the other section of Stage 2, the suburb of Molonglo, have not yet been released. The response relates, therefore, to Stage 1.

1a) iii. Pedestrian friendly design

Government Response: ACHIEVED in planning and PARTIALLY ACHIEVED in delivery & future planning

The principles of pedestrian friendly design are incorporated into the Planning and Design Framework (PDF) for Molonglo Valley Stage 2 and Stage 3. The vision and principles of the Stage 2 PDF were agreed in April 2012 and the Stage 3 PDF was finalised in February 2019. Pedestrian friendly design principles are also included in the Coombs and Wright Concept Plan, which came into effect prior to Stage 1 of the development. The development controls in the concept plan intend to:

• provide safe, compact, walkable residential precincts with convenient pedestrian and cycle access to recreational, retail/commercial and community facilities;

• provide a legible and permeable road network that integrates safe and adequate pedestrian and cycle access to the precinct and connectivity to surrounding suburbs, facilities and features such as Stromlo Forest Park, Molonglo River corridor and Duffy Primary School and the urban open space network; and

• provide for a street and pedestrian movement network with a legible hierarchy and function that integrates safe and adequate pedestrian cycle access and connectivity.

The Coombs and Wright Concept Plan also contains specific provisions under Rule 45 and Criteria 45 regarding an off-road network of cycleways and pedestrian paths to link key community and urban open space destinations in the neighbourhood.

The broader integrated pedestrian and open space framework is set out in the Molonglo Structure Plan in the Territory Plan. Neighbourhoods in Molonglo are planned to encourage walking and reduce vehicle dependence, with a legible and permeable hierarchy of roads, conveniently located commercial and community facilities, a network of open spaces, an on and off-road system for pedestrians and cyclists where appropriate, and provision for accessible public transport.

Molonglo also benefits from major parks with excellent recreation amenities such as Stromlo Forest Park, Molonglo River corridor, Canberra International Arboretum and Weston Creek pond, all of which are open to the public and connected by pedestrian paths.

1g) To date, good public transport services have been delivered in the Molonglo Valley as soon as new homes are occupied, and local streets have good footpaths, but the Molonglo Valley suffers from very indirect off-road cycling connections to the City and Belconnen

Government Response: PARTIALLY ACHIEVED

Four sets of cycle lanes have been provided in Molonglo. These include:

• off-road through landscape buffer near Holder/Duffy;

• off-road along Molonglo River (north and south sides likely) – generally flat (and scenic) following trunk sewers at urban edge;

• on-road on John Gorton Drive (both sides); and

• off-road/shared along John Gorton Drive 1.5m wide paths.

ACTPLA noted in 2010 that the provision of four sets of cycle lanes in Molonglo is more per population than anywhere else in the ACT.

There are currently two off-road options for cycling into the City. One pathway is south of the Molonglo river and the other is north of the Molonglo river. Both routes take approximately 50 minutes.

The 2014 Molonglo Valley to City Trunk Cycleway Feasibility Study identified the Lake Corridor as the preferred alignment to link Molonglo Valley and the City. The Lake Corridor option provides an improved accessible and connected, enjoyable and safe route for users between Molonglo Valley, Belconnen, Woden, Weston Creek and the City for commuters and recreational users. Preliminary sketch plans have been prepared for Stage 1 (City end) of the cycle highway.

Act Government Statement And Response To The Legislative Assembly Resolution Of 23 October 2019 – Independent Review Of Planning And Development For The Molonglo Valley

All in all a very disappointing response and neglects the strategic position of the Molonglo Valley as a transit area from Belconnen to the south.


The files for the Independent Review are found on the ACT Government website here.

First, the Independent Review document.

Second, the ACT Government Response.

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