Shadows in the fog: Molonglo commercial centre

Slowly, most have heard of Molonglo Valley. For the suburbs of Bonner and Forde, the ACT Government won awards – from the Molonglo Valley it’s getting headaches. The commercial centre has become a thorn in their side. What do we know about it?

Prologue

Many people will leave you sitting in the corner of the room, feeling stupid. Ryan Hemsley, from the Molonglo Valley Community Forum, is not like that. He will come across the room and tell you that you are ‘stupid’. If not in words, the body language speaks volumes. After a moment of affront, there is something distinctively refreshing about this approach. This week, in his usual manner, Ryan suggested that canberra.bike write about the Molonglo Stage 2 Concept Plan. So we are twirling our pens, sipping an espresso and browsing the Molonglo commercial centre and environs draft concept plan (ACT Government, June 2014).

Parodos

The Molonglo Valley is increasingly falling victim to the lack of any imagination in the way things have been named. Here is a brief guide.

The Molonglo Valley is the water catchment area below the Scrivener Dam with the confluence on the Murrumbidgee River, and broken into the upper and the lower Molonglo Valley. Kama, a nature reserve adjacent to Whitlam, is the border between the two. The Molonglo Valley future urban area (estate development) lies between Weston Creek Pond and Kama. The area north of William Hovell Drive is protected nature reserves and part of Canberra Nature Park.

In conclusion, the Molonglo River flows through the Molonglo River Reserve, through the Molonglo Valley future urban area, and through the upper Molonglo Valley.

Getting confused? I am.

East side, boundaries and public overlays, Molonglo River Reserve Management Plan, page 35
East side, boundaries and public overlays, Molonglo River Reserve Management Plan, page 35

In their wisdom, the ACT Government decided that one suburb should also be called Molonglo. This suburb is opposite Denman Prospect, in the stage 2 area, with John Gorton Drive on one side the Molonglo River on the other. The Molonglo group centre will be part of this suburb.

A concept plan for this group centre was proposed long ago in 2014 and is the heart of this article: Molonglo commercial centre and environs draft concept plan (ACT Government, June 2014).

Episode I

Any urban development starts with a concept plan. Concept plans once drafted change little. The Coombs Concept Plan from 2008 to 2020 is a good example.

The Molonglo commercial centre and environs draft concept plan was completed in 2014, which seems a long time ago, but those lines on the paper have left indelible marks on the planning process. From the here on, future concept plans will be echoes of the 2014 plan. We have hopes to see the new proposal for the Molonglo group centre in 2021.

From the 2014 concept plan, two shifts are visible that changed the priorities of the Molonglo Valley development:

  • John Gorton Drive Bridge is shown in the new alignment
  • light rail has been removed from the group centre

Episode II

Artist visualisations of the group centre from Molonglo commercial centre and environs draft concept plan (ACT Government, June 2014).

Episode III

Environmental significant areas from Molonglo commercial centre and environs draft concept plan (ACT Government, June 2014).

An endanger worm species is found scatter in the valley around this river bend. The shade area are valued gum trees.
Animal corridors are included in the Molonglo plan between Mount Stromlo and Mount Painter.

Episode IV

Spatial planning – transport corridors, zone and height envelopes – from Molonglo commercial centre and environs draft concept plan (ACT Government, June 2014).

Traffic corridors
The shopping centre design.
The building heights from centre to edge: 60, 25 and 15 m maximum.
Zoning classifications with the standard colours. Commercial is blue, high density residential red and community yellow.

Exodos

Canbera.bike has a cycling focus. The concept plan tells us little about cycling. The Molonglo Valley development has failed to create continuous cycle networks, and what has been built is certainly not direct. We will follow this development with great interest.

The Molonglo River Reserve Management Plan (2019) forbids cycling infrastructure in the reserve. The design of Namarag discourages cycling (2019). There are no paths to Butters Bridge. Molonglo group centre is isolated with few options. Only the John Gorton Drive provides access to the group centre. The concept plan shows that a continuous off-road cycle path along John Gorton Drive is not planned (nor does one exist at the section between Coombs and Wright currently).

When the John Gorton Drive Bridge will be completed in 2025, and the east-west corridor bridge in the late 2030s, things will improve for cycling. In the meantime, cycling in the Molonglo Valley is a disaster and best avoided. 😦

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