National Capital Authority: role in Canberra

Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra. Photo by He-J E on Unsplash

The ACT is unusual as territories and states go, We have the ACT Legislative Assembly but the National Capital Authority too. A large area of the ACT is under a form of collaborative administration. Famously, the ACT Territory Plan cannot be inconsistent with the National Capital Plan (NCP). This does not make the interests of the ACT Government and NCA the same but necessitates a complex and close relationship.

Bane or benefit?

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.

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.

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 provide a reason. The answer is now clear. These areas are under the control of the National Capital Authority.

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.

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.

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

Protector of the sacrosanct

A quirk of Canberra is that while we have a territory government, the ACT Government is not responsible for all the ACT. Canberra is more like Rome, with Vatican City at its centre. Here we call it the Parliamentary Triangle, and it is ruled by the National Capital Authority (NCA).

If there is one thing to be learned from urban planning in Canberra, then it is to plan your bike paths early, otherwise, they are likely to be forgotten. As a cyclist, we should be interested in the redevelopment of the Weston Basin on Lake Burley Griffin by the National Capital Authority.

The domain of the National Capital Authority is bigger than one would think as it includes everything 200 m around the edges of the Parliamentary Triangle and Lake Burley Griffin itself. The National Capital Authority is the protector of the sacrosanct.

West Basin, Lake Burley Griffin source: OpenStreetMap, ACT, Australia
West Basin, Lake Burley Griffin source: OpenStreetMap

Weston Basin is the Weston Basin on Lake Burley Griffin is the forefront of Civic with the National Museum of Australia on one side and Commonwealth Ave Bridge on the other. It has had a chequered history with highlights such as the container village but has become increasingly tired in recent years and is due for renewal. The National Capital Authority has decided now is a good time to do something about it.

Bike path, West Basin Lake Burley Griffin Photo by spelio CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, ACT, Australia
Bike path, West Basin Lake Burley Griffin Photo by spelio CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Funding for bike paths in Canberra is difficult and getting approvals for infrastructure from the National Capital Authority can be uncertain. That said, they have been quite progressive with biking infrastructure around Lake Burley Griffin and I do not want to give them a bad rap. Once onboard, money for the National Capital Authority does not appear to be the issue. For the rest of the ACT, it most definitely is.

If you want good cycling infrastructure around Lake Burley Griffin, we need a good concept and plan early integrating it into redevelopments such as that now at West Basin. Lake Burley Griffin foreshores are a high traffic area where conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists are inevitable. The best type of infrastructure in such areas is to separate the high-speed cyclists from meandering pedestrians. Many tourists who do not know on what side of the path we walk in Australia get startled and instinctively step aside in the wrong direction. Ringing the bell usually results in panicked tourists ducking for cover smack bang into the path of the bike.

We would love to separate pedestrian and cycle paths. We are not going to get them unless we ask for them. Separated paths are currently not the norm in the ACT. The trend is to make paths wider but unmarked, resulting in traffic chaos. A lot can be learnt from the use of paint on roads. It keeps everybody in nice straight lines. It is a pity that the paths in the ACT do not have better markings.

NCA development on West Basin, Lake Burley Griffin, ACT, Australia
NCA development on West Basin, Lake Burley Griffin

Here are a few articles on the West Basin development.

Controls more than expected

Much of the recreational riding in Canberra are in areas controlled by the National Capital Authority. A series of maps showing the areas of the ACT under the control of the National Capital Authority.

Designated areas include Cooleman Ridge, Mount Arawang, McQuoids Hill, Mount Majura, Mount Ainslie, Mount Stromlo, Narrabundah Hill, Mount Taylor, National Arboretum, Molonglo Valley, The Pinnacle, Mount Painter, Bruce Ridge, and Black Mountain.

Cooleman Ridge, Mount Arawang, McQuoids Hill, NCA designated areas, Canberra
Cooleman Ridge, Mount Arawang, McQuoids Hill, NCA designated areas, Canberra
Mount Majura, Mount Ainslie, NCA designated areas, Canberra
Mount Majura, Mount Ainslie, NCA designated areas, Canberra
Mount Stromlo, Narrabundah Hill, NCA designated areas, Canberra
Mount Stromlo, Narrabundah Hill, NCA designated areas, Canberra
Mount Taylor, NCA designated areas, Canberra
Mount Taylor, NCA designated areas, Canberra
National Arboretum, Molonglo Valley, NCA designated areas, Canberra
National Arboretum, Molonglo Valley, NCA designated areas, Canberra
The Pinnacle, Mount Painter, Black Mountain, NCA designated areas, Canberra
The Pinnacle, Mount Painter, Black Mountain, NCA designated areas, Canberra

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