Manuka not safe yet

History of Manuka Oval – upgrades, costs, politics, sport and heritage - a process of government seeking development of community Manuka Circle Park

Background:Plans for development outside the oval on the heritage Manuka Circle Park have been proposed and sought by the ACT Government since at least 2002. On 26 May 2009, then Sports Minister Andrew Barr, announced his grand vision of future ACT stadium development and released the international sports architects, POPULOUS Manuka Oval design concept images.

When commonwealth funding failed for Bruce Stadium, Barr vowed to upgrade the Manuka Oval to an AFL and cricket stadium to seat 20,000. These Manuka Oval images later informed the COX drawings for the current Manuka Oval Master Plan to be phased in over 10 to 20 years with government funding.

The COX Phases 2(a) and (b) and Phase 3 allowed for extensive development outside the oval in Manuka Circle Park and have never been presented or opened for public comment.

The Land Development Agency (LDA) paid COX $3.14m for the Manuka Oval Master Plan and provided the COX Report to the Melbourne based firm MacroPlan Dimasi (MPD) for its report on the project. Apparently the phases would also have been available to developers Greater Western Sydney/Grocon as COX was later employed by Grocon and the LDA/MPD team had held meetings with Greater Western Syney (GWS).

With the destruction of the Manuka Services Club on 28 April 2011, that site previously identified in plans in 2002, 2009, 2013 and 2015 was then available for the earlier proposed hotel. On 13 June 2013 the government’s Economic Development Directorate (EDD), LDA, the body that runs Manuka OvalTourism and Events (TE & S) and Purdon Associates were represented at a Manuka Oval Redevelopment – Commercial Viability Scoping Workshop.

The LDA was tasked to identify and scope all options, including the key features of each. This involved the discussion of heritage and planning issues impeding development. The ACT Government was at that time negotiating with the Canberra Services Club (CSC) for a “land swap” which involved handing back their site that LDA had already included on the 2013/14 land release program. The Services Club on 25 September 2016 decided to remain the lessee of the site.

In late 2014 at a forum of around 200 business people in Barton, both Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Juri Domaset (of DOMA constructions) announced plans for a hotel to be developed on the CSC site and adjacent heritage sites of the Manuka Circle Park west. The CSC site, block 1 section 15, Griffith, was proposed for deregistration on 13 November 2014 and was excised from the ACT Heritage Register on 9 April 2015.

The MacroPlan Dimasi (MPD) Report dated 7 November 2014 commissioned by LDA from the Manuka Oval Precinct MPD Inception meeting of 10 June 2014, advised substantial development requiring amendment to the Territory Plan in regard to all the heritage sites of the Manuka Circle Park.

The LDA at Stakeholder Consultation meetings held on 5 August 2014 (LDA initiative with GWS, AFL Melbourne, TE&S, MPD) and 18 August 2014 (AFL Commission initiative with LDA, GWS, MPD) excluded cricket, local AFL and community or trader representation. Building outside the oval on blocks 1, 10, 11 and 16 and possibly further was on the agenda.

Plans discussed with GWS, MPD and LDA proceeded along with the economic market research analysis by MPD. Specific commercial and residential development to “redevelop the prized land package” (www.MPD April 2016) was addressed in the final report released on 7 November 2014. Not only had GWS been in discussions with MPD but apparently LDA facilitated “Manuka Green” by providing GWS digital copy of those original POPULOUS MO designs.

The meeting in Melbourne held at AFL House on 18 August 2014, followed the Giants’ initial development submission in an expression of interest (EOI) around 14 August 2014 (advised by Gary Rake 28.04.16). Planning progressed with the Melbourne construction company, Grocon (like LDA a preferred client of MPD), in 2015 teaming with GWS to propose “Manuka Green”.

This greatly enhanced vision was launched to the public on 17 February 2016 following discussion with various members of the Legislative Assembly. “Manuka Green” was presented by the developers GWS/Grocon as a proposal unsolicited by government. This process introduced in 2014 (revised 2015) had been advised to GWS by EDD/LDA at the Stakeholder Consultation meeting on 5 August 2014.

The grand plan on its release at 16 February 2016 proposed an ambit claim of 1,000 apartments swallowing 1,200sqm of the Manuka Pool site, a 2 storey shopping mall and a hotel connecting to the oval infrastructure as well as a running track through Telopea Park.

The subsequent 32% downsized version of Manuka Green can be found on the home website and in the link Giants and Grocon downsize Manuka plan and vow to protect heritage 12 May 2016.Of note was that the Grocon and local AFL representatives both said the oval upgrade was only ever intended to be $20m inside the oval and $20m outside the oval for landscaping for the apartments and to move the cricket practice nets.

With recent Northbourne land sales at $3,200 and Kingston Foreshore at $5,000 per sq m the value of Barr’s land swap is looking more like largesse to benefit the developers GWS/Grocon. Estimates of possible land value especially when put on hold until after the summer Test of 2018/19 may well approach $150m. By that time most of the ACT taxpayers’ $23m provided to the Giants by Barr will have been paid out.

Even the original $100m downsized by 32%, the outcome does not approach a fair deal for ACT government, taxpayers, fans or community and traders. The boutique heritage oval will be replaced by a colosseum of apartments, shopping mall and a hotel connecting to the Bradman Stand. The ambience of the much loved boutique oval will be gone forever.

On 3 August the liberals proposed a government integrity package and on 5 August Chief Minister Barr backed down and rejected the unsolicited proposal, “Manuka Green” opting to take the development to consultation.

EDD/LDA head David Dawes said GWS consultation would be used despite the rejection. Barr is to implement a “quota” system for the consultative panel selection and promised amendments to the Territory Plan would be achieved by end 2017.

And the out of town football team are still interested with a tender that has been shepherded through an LDA development process since 2014. Business as usual with developers running government.

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Authorised by Richard Farmer on behalf of Canberra Community Voters