Update: John Gorton Carpark consultation report released

HomeNewsBlogUpdate: John Gorton Carpark consultation report released
John Gorton Building, photograph by Thennicke, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:John_Gorton_building,Canberra-_perspective_controlled.jpg

Earlier this year, PTCBR expressed our concerns about the proposed John Gorton Campus Carpark – a 1070 space multistory carpark with a childcare centre to be built on Block 1 Section 21 in Parkes, next to the John Gorton Building. The National Capital Authority conducted a consultation round for this proposal in May, and you can find our submission and blog post on the proposal here.

Seven months later, the NCA has released the consultation report for the John Gorton Campus Carpark development – available here.

We’re disappointed to see the car-centricity of the National Triangle further entrenched with this development, especially while public transport access in the area is patchy, pedestrian and bike infrastructure remains poor, and Light Rail Stage 2 to Woden continues to be subjected to onerous requirements that we believe are adding significant additional costs to the project. The consultation report for the John Gorton Campus Carpark Building does nothing to change or soften our views. It can kindly be described as an exercise in box-ticking – serious and complex issues are brushed off or go unaddressed, the overall negative view expressed across the submissions is barely acknowledged, and the impact of consultation on the project is evidently close to nil.

The report

Firstly, we note that the application for Works Approval here was not actually required to go out to public consultation, but the potential for “impacts on public space” prompted the consultation round (p4 & 5):

Below is the report’s summary of the submissions received. Note that two thirds of submissions received did not support the development while the remaining had mixed views.

The official overall response and conclusion is contained in the section below (p7), with more detail found in the attachments to the report.

Key issues & responses

“Attachment B” (p10) is where the issues raised in submissions are listed along with the NCA’s response. This is the most illuminating section of the document – with most submissions against the proposal, how does the NCA treat the issues raised by those who have taken the time to participate in good faith in the consultation process? Dare we say: poorly.

Issue 1 below is the one we are most invested in, and it receives the response we are most disappointed with. This is a perfunctory non-answer to the serious issue of transport options in the National Triangle. Nothing here addresses the issue at hand or displays any interest in it, let alone concern. 

The same effort is shown when addressing the closely-related issue of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions caused by transport – issue 2 below.

In stark contrast, check out the lengthy answers provided in response to concerns about the development’s impact on heritage values and potential inconsistencies with the National Capital Plan. 

In Attachment B’s four pages, about one and a quarter are devoted just to discussion of issue 4 – adherence to the National Capital Plan and the significance / use of the National Triangle. The allocation of effort speaks volumes!

In our submission to this consultation round, PTCBR registered our strong concern that no traffic modelling had been done for this project. This carpark will double the number of spaces at this location; the impact of roughly 540 more cars in the National Triangle is something the NCA should be studying closely and providing for. The answer below does not inspire confidence for a more thorough approach going forward:

Impacts on public transport service are yet again given short shift in the answer below, with scant detail provided on the relocation of a bus stop in the area. We would be very interested to know what discussions have gone on between the NCA and Transport Canberra on this issue, if any!

A symptom of bigger problems

The treatment of these various issues lays bare one of the key problems with the NCA as an enormously powerful decision-maker: it has a certain prescribed remit and set of concerns, and these often do not sit well with the needs and concerns of Canberra as a living, modern city. Decisions made about infrastructure in the National Triangle do not exist in a vacuum. They impact the entire ACT. Why, then, are such decisions able to be made by a body that has no skin in the game when it comes to actually providing, operating, and maintaining transport and infrastructure in this city?

As we noted in our blog post in May, this carpark project was given the thumbs up back in 2021. It is thus hard to imagine why a consultation round was conducted when the project is a fait accompli and when the NCA is clearly uninterested in providing serious responses to the issues raised by the general public.

From our position, it seems that the John Gorton Carpark Building has had a pretty easy time obtaining the blessings and approvals required for construction in the National Triangle. In stark contrast is Light Rail Stage 2 to Woden, a project that we believe has been subjected to unreasonable and onerous requirements from the NCA that are creating cost issues through delays and through design requirements. 

One may suggest that a carpark is a less impactful project than light rail through the National Triangle. We suggest that inducing more traffic and cementing car use in the National Triangle is a highly impactful action that merits far more scrutiny than has been applied here.

Judging by the brush-off given to community concerns in an overwhelmingly negative consultation round, we are inclined to conclude that the NCA doesn’t grasp the issues at hand here – and perhaps just doesn’t care.