The National Capital Authority (NCA) continued its focus on high quality design, landscaping and environmental and heritage management in the nationally significant areas of Canberra. It is more important than ever that over the long term we develop and maintain a capital that all Australians can be proud of.
As the nation’s capital, Canberra hosts a wide range of functions that are unique. These functions include the Seat of Government, and many of the nation’s government, judicial, cultural scientific, educational and military institutions.
Like many other national capitals, many foreign governments seek to establish their diplomatic missions and residences here. This year saw a major milestone achieved when land was secured to support the growth of the diplomatic community and the establishment of their official missions for at least the next 25 years. The NCA acquired 31.8 hectares of land in Curtin from the ACT Government in exchange for 2.86 hectares of Lake Burley Griffin that will be used for part of the City to Lake development in West Basin.
In 2019-20 the NCA prioritised the safety of the community and our staff and business continuity as it dealt with a unique set of circumstances, including the tail end of the drought, bushfires and a significant hailstorm, as well as COVID-19. We fast tracked our business systems to digital platforms and implemented our business continuity strategies to keep planning and works approvals and land management actions operating as efficiently as possible.
During the COVID-19 pandemic the NCA was able to support the majority of our contractors remain at work and together we managed and enhanced key assets including the Scrivener Dam, the walls of Lake Burley Griffin, the National Carillon and the high mast lights along the main routes to Parliament House.
In relation to our performance measures I am pleased to report the NCA successfully:
Operated within agreed budget parameters and within government policies and procedures with no major safety issues recorded in relation to staff or visitors
Processed works approvals within 15 days for 96 per cent of applications, receiving all works applications through our electronic portal system
Completed our capital works program and responded to reported maintenance issues within agreed timeframes over 90 per cent of the time
Achieved outstanding- rates of visitor satisfaction (99 per cent) at the National Capital Exhibition and other attractions run by the NCA.
On the planning front a number of amendments were made to the National Capital Plan. These included Amendment 92 that changed land use for uncommitted land adjacent to the Australian National University to facilitate additional student accommodation; Amendment 93 – City and Gateway Urban Design Provisions - Technical Changes; and Amendment 94 – to allow the National Arboretum to establish small scale, sustainable visitor accommodation as proposed in the original masterplan for the site. was released for public consultation in May 2020. The proposed amendment provides the planning framework to allow certainty to the international and Australian community regarding the availability and location of land for the establishment of new embassies in Curtin.
The Board also approved the NCA’s first Tree Management Policy. The policy is a strategic approach to the retention and renewal of the landscapes we manage. It sets ambitious targets that aim to increase the tree canopy coverage in national areas from the current 33 per cent to 40 per cent over the next ten years, increase the age diversity of trees, and use a range of different species to ensure our key landscapes are more resilient.
During the year the Australian Parliament supported the establishment of additional works in the Parliamentary Zone: the National Gallery of Australia foreshore redevelopment to improve public safety and improve the visual and pedestrian link of the sculpture garden to Lake Burley Griffin; a sculpture of Sir John Gorton in front of the building named after him; and a landscaped commemoration of the 100 year anniversary of the National Party that includes a sculpture of Sir John McEwen between the National Australian Archives Building and Old Parliament House. All these works should be completed in the coming year.
The NCA continues to plan and support significant events and activities to promote the National Capital and to encourage Australians and overseas visitors to experience Canberra. This year saw a record number of visitors (500,000) come to Floriade, an ACT Government event held in Commonwealth Park, the return of the iconic and loved paddle boats to Lake Burley Griffin and the introduction of a new attraction, Aqua Park, to waters at Black Mountain Peninsula.
Whist the pandemic has meant public events were restricted from March, I have great faith that the NCA is proactively planning for COVID-compliant events in an evolving operational environment. One such example this year was the lighting of the National Carillon to mark and celebrate National Reconciliation Week in May and early June 2020. It was held outdoors without large crowds in one place but was visually stunning and recognisable from many vantage points in Canberra. It was broadcasted around Australia for all to see and hopefully it generated conversations about reconciliation. I encourage you to read the full case study on this successful new event in this report.
In the 2019-20 budget the NCA received $3.3 m to prepare a detailed business case to improve the safety and longevity of Commonwealth Avenue Bridge that could include strengthening works, additional safety works and improvements to pedestrian and cycling access. The detailed business case was completed and will be reviewed by Government as part of a future budget process.
Many thanks to Assistant Minister Nola Marino and her staff and the Secretary of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, Simon Atkinson and his staff for their on-going support of the work of the NCA.
I must thank my fellow Board Members, Mr Dennis Richardson AC, Mr Glenn Keys AO and Ms Chris Faulks and Ms Sally Barnes. Chris and Glenn finished their terms as Board members this year. It has been a pleasure serving with both of them over the last five years. We welcomed Ms Jenny Smithson to the Authority on 11 June 2020 for a period of five years. Jenny is a qualified and experienced Town Planner and has served as a Commissioner of the New South Wales Land and Environment Court. Jenny’s appointment continues the diversification of skills represented on the NCA’s Board.
On behalf of the Board I would like to thank the dedicated staff at the NCA. It is a small and talented team who continue to deliver outstanding projects and programs. COVID-19 has certainly given us some interesting and challenging times. The Board noted on many occasions how well you have handled the situation - you were calm, methodical and most importantly you continued to deliver on important asset renewal and high priority projects, with public safety and support top of mind at all times. The calibre of the individuals within the NCA and the partnerships they have with other organisations, national institutions and community groups gives me confidence that the NCA will continue to shape a capital that is well planned, managed and promoted as a premier National Capital. My thanks also go to the many volunteers whose contribution to our outcomes is enormous and highly valued by the Board and NCA staff alike.
And lastly, congratulations to the team at the National Capital Exhibition who deliver walking tours of Reconciliation Place and Anzac Parade for school groups and other visitors to the capital. This year they won the ACT Tourism Visitor Education award – a very fitting role for the NCA and a reflection of the quality of work we do.