Molonglo 3 East: timeline uncertainty

Sculthorpe Avenue, close to Shillam Chase, Whitlam, ACT

Molonglo 3 East has been give an optimistic timeline for completion by 2041. The future is wildly uncertain. Projects run routinely longer than planned. This is generally true but certainly true for the ACT Government. We have good intent, but building things is complicated. Environmental approvals can add years to the process and are unpredictable. Recent information on the environmental approval process for the Deep Creek Pond in Whitlam sheds light on this.

Contents

  1. Background
  2. Deep Creek EIS
  3. Timeline for Whitlam
  4. Molonglo 3 East timeline
  5. Molonglo Valley completion 2050
Molonglo Valley official timeline 2004-2040. Molonglo 3 Suburbs 3 and 4 by 2036, as suggested in ths timeline, seems unlikely. Molonglo Valley development timeframe page 6, ACT Government Molonglo Valley Independent review of planning, development and built form (excellence in sustainable design) in the Molonglo Valley, Final Report, 23 March 2020
Molonglo Valley official timeline 2004-2040. Molonglo 3 Suburbs 3 and 4 by 2036, as suggested in this timeline, seems unlikely. Molonglo Valley development timeframe page 6, ACT Government Molonglo Valley Independent review of planning, development and built form (excellence in sustainable design) in the Molonglo Valley, Final Report, 23 March 2020

Background

The Deep Creek Pond in Whitlam is actually a fait accompli. Molonglo River Reserve Plan does not permit water to flow unfiltered into the Molonglo River. The design of suburbs to prevent this has a name WSUD. The purpose is simple, the pollutants and sediment need to be removed from the water before it is permitted to flow into the Molonglo River.

Water sensitive urban design (WSUD) – Water sensitive urban design is the planning, design or construction of the built environment to minimise water runoff and ensure any runoff causes the least amount of damage. It is also about the wise use of that water to improve our urban environment, such as the Dickson Wetlands.

City And Gateway Urban Design Framework, December 2018, 77.

Be warned, this does not mean that you will ever be permitted to swim in the Molonglo River. The Molonglo River is already too polluted to swim as most of the water in the river is from upstream collecting pollutants from the whole of Canberra and Queanbeyan. Yarralumla Creek is the worst and contributes most of the pollutants (read Molonglo River Reserve Plan).

Deep Creek Pond, EIS, Whitlam, Molonglo Valley, 2021, 1.
Deep Creek Pond, EIS, Whitlam, Molonglo Valley, 2021, 1.

The purpose of the Deep Creek Pond in Whitlam is to clean up the water the best we can. Much of the water following through Whitlam is runoff from Canberra Nature Park – a vast area that sits above William Hovell Drive. The best WSUD practice is to capture and clean water in small ponds (bioretention) to clean the runoff in small quantities. This would mean building multiple small ponds across The Pinnacle for this purpose. Canberra Nature Park does not want to do this. Their job is to preserve and not to build ponds. This results in “dirty” water flowing from Canberra Nature Park unfiltered into Whitlam.

bioretention pond in bottom corner opposite Coombs
The bioretention pond in bottom, far east corner, opposite Coombs. This suburb is ideally connected to Coombs but at this stage a bridge is not planned.

ACT Environment wants the Suburban Land Agency to clean up their dirty water in Whitlam. The amount of runoff from Deep Creek is high and massive civil works are required to protect the suburb, further increasing the cost of the suburb, reducing the buildable area and land sales (the yield). ACT Treasury wants land sold, so that the Suburban Land Agency are under pressure from them too (see Release Plan).

After long deliberation, the best option is the Whitlam Deep Creek Pond (meeting minutes) which is a large dam and not many small bioretention ponds that ACT Environment would like. There is no place to go with all the water, so that the dam was chosen as the best of all the poor options: no other choice, a done deal, fait accompli.


Molonglo 3 East has similar problems with runoff from outside the Future Urban Area.

The greater external stormwater catchment extends into the hilly area to the east of the proposed development (ed. National Arboretum), adding an additional 117 ha of stormwater runoff, with several major gullies conveying the additional stormwater. These external catchments represent approximately 16 per cent of the total runoff flowing thorough the study area, and must be considered when designing infrastructure. The site is further split into 26 existing sub-catchments that eventually discharge to the Molonglo River. …

Molonglo 3 East has similar problems with runoff from outside the Future Urban Area. For Molonglo 3 East the water flows from the west side of the National Arboretum into Coppins Creek. WSP, Outcomes Report, Phase 1, Molonglo 3 East Planning and Infrastructure Study, March 2021, 79

Deep Creek EIS

What is an EIS?

An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required for any development application (DA) in the impact track under section 123 of the Planning and Development Act 2007 (unless an EIS Exemption is granted).

An EIS details the anticipated environmental impacts of a development on the environment as well as proposing avoidance, mitigation and offset measures. An EIS is prepared by a proponent to enable decision makers to understand the environmental consequences of a proposed development.

EPSDD, Environmental Impact Statement, [accessed 4 September 2021].

The Deep Creek Dam environmental impact study appears to be a farce. Process is process, even after the dam blocks have been passed to Suburban Land Agency control (authority to develop). The blocks lie outside off the Molonglo River Reserve corridor but still require an EIS approval. One might think that what is outside the corridor is exempt from EIS but it does not work that way. Find a lizard in a paddock and work will stop to consult with ACT Environment. This process adds further uncertainty to project timelines. Within a Future Urban Area, many studies are done up front as part of the development approval process to anticipate the worst of problems (both environment and heritage) and achieve predictable project delivery.

There is no alternative to the Whitlam Deep Creek Pond but the deliberation goes on regardless. In the end, the pond will need to be built. The procrastination mean further delays.

Deep Creek Pond, EIS, Whitlam, Molonglo Valley, 2021, 30.
Deep Creek Pond, EIS, Whitlam, Molonglo Valley, 2021, 30.

Timeline for Whitlam

Estate development always take longer than planned. This can be found in slipping timelines. This phenomena can be seen in the staging of Whitlam.

Whitlam slippage. Deep Creek Pond EIS, Whitlam, Molonglo Valley, 2021, 38.
Whitlam slippage. Deep Creek Pond EIS, Whitlam, Molonglo Valley, 2021, 38.

The areas around the dam cannot be built until the dam is finished, as the area will be need for storage of the large volumes of materials required to build the dam and pond. Stage 3 and 4 are being held up by the dam.

Whitlam stages planned versus reality

StagePlannedStartedBlocks release
1AApr 2018promised 2018-19***
start March 2020
2Jan 2019**20202021-2022
3 boundaryFeb 2020*no
3B**Apr 2021no
3CJul 2021no
4A
4B and C**Feb 2024
Dates from Whitlam slippage. Deep Creek Pond EIS, Whitlam, Molonglo Valley, 2021, 38.
* may be held up by the completion of John Gorton Drive Bridge.
** impacted by the construction of the dam.
*** I Bushnell, ‘Work starts on $33m infrastructure to grow Molonglo’, in The RiotACT, [accessed 17 September 2021].

From this table, we can see that Whitlam Stage 2 was delayed by a year. Whitlam Stage 3B and 3C should have been started by now and have not. Further, stage 3B will be required in part for the construction of the dam. It is therefore not clear how the dam builders and suburb builders (two differ contracts) should work on the same site. The important Sculthorpe Avenue roundabout lies on the end of the dam wall. Before the dam is finished, Sculthorpe Avenue will need to be completed as part of Stage 2.

We can feel a little sorry for the Suburban Land Agency. Three years after start of construction of Whitlam the projects is already a year behind and facing a second year of delay. The construction begin of Stage 4B and C was planned for 2024. Adjusting for delays, this would now seem to have moved to 2025-2026. Presuming the construction work for Stage 4B and C completed in just a year (optimistic), would result in the release (sale) of blocks in 2027. We would have houses and residents by 2028, ten years after the construction of Whitlam started.

Conclusion: the final release of blocks is likely to be nine years after the start of construction of Whitlam (2027-2018). Remember, that Whitlam Stage 3 has not yet begun.

Molonglo 3 East timeline

Molonglo 3 East Stage 1 is as big as Whitlam, it would mean that a similar period for its construction is likely. Previously we have estimated 5 years for this work but now 9 years appears more reasonable. Molonglo 3 East Stage 1 gets its services from Whitlam on the other side of John Gorton Drive (water and electricity). Until Whitlam Stage 3 is completed (after the John Gorton Drive Bridge in 2025), the low section of Molonglo 3 East Stage 1 cannot be built.

For this reason, the delays from Whitlam can be expected to creep into the Molonglo 3 East development.

Timeline for Molonglo 3 East Stage 1

Below we are tabulating what we know to estimates the rollout of the Molonglo 3 East development – just Stage 1. The year specified is always an optimistic estimate due to numerous project interdependencies. Molonglo 3 East Stage 1 will need to be broken into two (1A and 1B) due to the late completion of John Gorton Drive Bridge which would otherwise delay the start of Stage 1.

StepyearDependencies
Concept Plan2022
Development Application2023
Start Stage 1A2024
Start Stage 1B (earliest)2025John Gorton Drive Bridge,
Whitlam Stage 3
Completion stage 12033
Estimates by canberra.bike

Molonglo Valley completion 2050

There are many problems that confront Molonglo 3 East and still need to be worked through. Stage 5 in particular is wildly uncertain. Just as with the John Gorton Drive Bridge, it would seem unlikely that it could be started until the East West Arterial is finished. In the latest Preliminary Concept Plan, the south of Stage 5 has only one access road. A second access road is required for emergency services. Local residents would not be happy when resurfacing an intersection means they locked in and cannot go to work.

The suggestions for a second road into the south section of Molonglo 3 East Stage 5 (we will call this area Stage 5B) have all be killed off by ACT Environment due to environmental concerns. However, without a second road, Stage 5B will not be built as the ACT Government has a duty of care to people that would live in that area. No solution to the problem of Stage 5B is in sight. Stage 5B has the Molonglo River Reserve on three sides and the Arterial on the fourth. Besieged in this way, it will be difficult to find a way out.

It seems quite certain, that Molonglo Valley will take much longer to finish than the 2041 official date. Twenty years is a long time and much (five election cycles) and much can happen in that time.

Figure 9.1 Phasing of development, WSP, Outcomes Report, Molonglo 3 East Planning and Infrastructure Study, March 2021, 83
Figure 9.1 Phasing of development, WSP, Outcomes Report, Molonglo 3 East Planning and Infrastructure Study, March 2021, 83

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