National Heritage listing an unnecessary burden

A living city isn’t one that is dipped in amber and preserved. A living city changes to accommodate the evolving needs of its citizens.

Local experts have recently called for Canberra to be placed on the national Heritage List in recognition of its significance as a symbol of federation and an exemplar of 20th century planning.

Walter Burley Griffin’s vision for Canberra, laid out more than a century ago, was one of the great city plans of an idealist age – and we can be proud to be living in the Griffin legacy.

Today, however, the vast majority of Canberra’s residents have very different life expectations to those imagined by Griffin. 

Family sizes have contracted and disposable incomes have expanded. Residents are living longer and people – both young and old – want the choice to live close to work, services, entertainment and public transport options. 

People are highly educated and widely travelled, and can compare the places they visit to the place they call home. Canberrans want a vibrant café culture, galleries tucked into hidden laneways, restaurants overlooking the lake, libraries and museums just a walk away – and all of these things require development.

And its development that would be at risk if whole sale heritage listing were to occur.  ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has acknowledged that the regulatory burden would have a “negative impact on jobs and the economy in the ACT by hitting business confidence and investment”.

A heritage listing would not provide any additional protection of heritage values above and beyond those enshrined in existing legislation and statutory planning documents. It would, however, impose additional and costly approval requirements on development, and duplicate existing approval processes. 

And a heritage listing may bring out the worst on Canberra’s NIMBYism, providing an additional avenue through which vexatious or frivolous objections to development could be made. This would further increase the costs and reduce the viability of development.

At a time when the ACT Government is trying to reduce bureaucracy and accelerate investment in our city, a heritage listing would impede development, and compromise our ability to create a vibrant, modern and liveable national capital.

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia