The ACT government claims that a two-year delay in releasing land to the long-awaited Molonglo Group Center is based on what the community had asked for, has furious community representatives.
The indicative land release announced with the ACT budget shows the first release for the Molonglo Group Center to begin in 2023-2024 instead of during the current fiscal year.
A bitterly disappointed Molonglo Valley Community Forum (MVCF) says the government has broken an election promise to track down the group center, which will ultimately provide the services the growing district needs.
Interim MVCF spokesman Ryan Hemsley said the delays are incredibly frustrating for Molonglo Valley residents, who since 2012 have had to rely on neighboring facilities in Weston Creek, which are already under significant pressure.
“This will leave the residents of Molonglo without access to the local community and retail facilities for at least another decade,” he said.
ACT Minister of Planning and Land Management Mick Gentleman was asked to respond, but a government spokesman issued a statement saying that by starting land release this year or even next fiscal year would have seen individual blocks released – the opposite of what society had said it would.
“The community has said it will see less of a piecemeal land release and more holistic planning with a group center evolving in a coordinated manner,” the spokesman said.
The spokesman also said the community wanted to be consulted on the concept plan and the government only responded to this commitment by deciding to refine the finished work further.
“The delay allows the government to hear from the people already living in the Molonglo Valley what they would like to see in their group center,” the spokesman said.
Hemsley said, however, that this explanation is not compatible with the indicative land deployment program outlining multiple individual land releases between 2023-2024 and 2025-2026, rather than a significant release that would enable this holistic and coordinated outcome.
He said the draft concept plan was first drafted more than seven years ago, in June 2014, and the government had plenty of time to consult the community about it.
“EPSDD [ACT Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate] has had plenty of time to involve society in the conclusion of this document, but it has not happened, ”Hemsley said.
“More worrying is the fact that the National Capital Design Review Panel has reviewed the iteration of the concept plan in 2021 and found that it is lacking in areas that it claims were better addressed in the 2014 plan.
“It is unclear why the ACT government could not already consult the Molonglo Commercial Center on the basis of the concept plan for 2014 with a view to delivering this important community, recreation and retail hub in a more timely manner.”
Over the next five years, spaces for up to 4,000 homes will be released for development in the Molonglo Valley, the highest number in any district in Canberra.
MVCF member Monique Brewer said the ACT government continued to pour more residents into the area without providing the necessary infrastructure to service them.
“My kids have grown and gone before we see anything,” she said. “It’s really disappointing when you come and expect – and you’ve been promised – all these fabulous planning initiatives that come to nothing.”
Ms Brewer said the MVCF had asked the government for updates on the group center since its inception, but had received little information.
“The community’s expectations were quite clear and it’s really disappointing [ACT Government] not listening, ”she said.
MVCF has still not seen the updated concept plan presented to the National Capital Design Review Panel.
The Canberra Liberals said the government had lost the ball at the Molonglo Group Center and called on the ACT Legislative Assembly to designate a start date for construction.
Deputy head of the Canberra Liberals and MLA of Murrumbidgee Giulia Jones said the government needs to come clean and make its full plans for Molonglo.
“The Molonglo Valley is currently experiencing significant housing growth with an expected population of nearly 35,000 by the end of this decade and is the fastest land release region in the territory,” she said.
“The provision of critical community facilities, shops and services in the Molonglo Valley has been plagued by significant delays that forced residents to rely on neighboring facilities in Weston Creek.”
Ms Jones said the National Capital Design Review Panel had made an extraordinary critique of the government’s ability to deliver high quality results to the Molonglo Valley.
“The Minister of Planning should be very embarrassed to receive such a report,” she said.
The Liberal proposal was amended by Labor’s Marisa Paterson with the support of the Greens to remove mention of a start date for the Molonglo Group Center.