Your Submission in Regard to the Rezoning of the North Curtin Horse Paddocks

While the land exchange with the ACT Government appears to be final the North Curtin Horse Paddocks are of little use to the National Capital Authority with their current zoning as Broadacre – which allows only for the paddocks and other open space uses. Amendment D95 requires a specific decision to amend the National Capital Plan to rezone the North Curtin Horse Paddocks as Urban to enable development to proceed.

The agistees at North Curtin Horse Paddocks need you to object to rezoning of the North Curtin Horse Paddocks which will lead to their eviction from a facility which has been significant in the area for 40 years.

Submissions to DA95 can be:

  • emailed to draft.amendment@nca.gov.au
  • mailed to Chief Planner, National Capital Authority, GPO Box 373, Canberra ACT 2601
  • delivered to the National Capital Authority, Ground Floor Treasury Building, King Edward Terrace, Parkes ACT 2600.

until close of business on 7 July 2020.

There are several issues on which you can comment when preparing a submission on the rezoning of the North Curtin Horse Paddocks. Please feel free to cut and past to prepare your personal submission.

1 The Lack of Consultation

A. Under the Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Act 1988 the Commonwealth has the power to declare any land in the ACT to be National Land for the purposes of the Commonwealth. Under Section 68 of this Act, the NCA is only required to do what it is doing, ie consulting on an already prepared draft amendment to the National Capital Plan to rezone the land for Diplomatic use.

This legal approach is at odds with NCA’s own stated policy on consultation displayed on its own website:

The Authority of the National Capital Authority reaffirms its strong commitment to engage with the community, as part of its decision making. The Authority recognises that inclusion and engagement, particularly at the early and formative stages of projects and proposals, are vital to building and maintaining community trust.

In 2012, the then Chief Officer of the National Capital Authority observed to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories inquiry into the allocation of land to diplomatic missions in the Australian Capital Territory, in relation to North Curtin Horse Paddocks:

There are obviously community sensitivities around it. If it were to be developed for general ACT suburban use, that would be a proposal put by the ACT government and they would need to have that discussion separately with the community about the trade-off of current open space for future urban development. We would have to have the same discussion if we decided that it was suitable for diplomatic use if we wanted to proceed with that. In any part of Australia, any new green field development proposal is going to be controversial. One that deals with such a large area of open space in an older part of the city is going to be at the pointier end of that difficulty.

Nothing has changed since 2012 and the failure of the NCA to abide by its own undertaking to engage with the community is a clear sign that it had no intention of taking any notice of the communities opinion.

See RiotAct journalist Ian Bushnell’s observations on the NCA’s decision at https://the-riotact.com/yarralumla-kick-ensured-nca-kept-curtin-community-in-the-dark/376199

B. The ACT Government does have a clear written undertaking with the ACT Equestrian Association. The Memorandum of Understanding between the whole of the ACT Government and the ACT Equestrian Association (which you can see on the ACTEA website at https://www.actea.asn.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/MOU-ACT-Govt.pdf ) states clearly that

The Government will consult with ACTEA at an early stage on proposed decisions and actions that will impact upon the equestrian sector.

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More specifically, ACTEA will be engaged in government consultation processes targeting users of the Territory’s recreational areas including in relation to specific planning and development proposals that would affect existing government horse holding paddocks.

Yet, North Curtin agistees found out about the loss of their paddocks the day before the matter was reported in the Canberra Times.

It is clear that whatever responsibility the NCA did or did not have to consult with the ACT community at an early stage, the ACT Government had a clear and agreed responsibility to consult with the equestrian community in regard to their part in the land swap and did not.

2. The Need for a New Diplomatic Estate

The NCA’s only argument for the alienation of the North Curtin Horse Paddocks is the supposed need for a new diplomatic estate somewhere in the vicinity of Parliament House. Since at least half the existing diplomatic missions are housed well away from Parliament House this is not much of an argument. The current sites of embassies is indicated on the map on page 5 of the Draft Amendment. In fact there are empty blocks of land waiting for an embassy. In reply to questions about the diplomatic missions, the NCA has responded:

There are a number of countries that the NCA is engaging with, but with planning still in its infancy the NCA is not in a position to identify any countries at this time.

There are a 46 countries represented in Canberra that do not currently have a chancery or residence within the diplomatic estate. It is possible that some of these countries may approach the NCA regarding the potential to secure a site in the new estate in Curtin. This includes a number of countries currently in rented properties in O’Malley that may seek to establish a new permanent embassy. 

The NCA is very coy about discussing the number of embassies and who they might be, Their responses to direct questions are extremely vague and do not give the impression of a conga line of embassies lining up to construct a new building on any site let alone Curtin.

The NCA is not making a very strong argument for alienating 32 hectares of public land for unidentified future diplomatic embassies.

3. The Removal of Horses

The NCA has signed an agreement with Territory Agistment to manage their 70% of the North Curtin Horse Paddocks until 2022 on the grounds that it will take them that long to pass the current amendment and to develop a landscape plan for the site. The NCA seems to assume that the land in question will then suddenly become a new suburb, littered with embassies, which is a long way from the truth. Given that every individual embassy building will be subject to development approval under NCA legislation it could be many years before the paddocks completely disappear. The NCA itself says that the area is expected to serve the needs of the diplomatic community for the next 25 years or so.

Given the likely impact of Covid-19 on world economies there appears to be little pressing need for the horses to be evicted from the paddocks to make way for embassies in 2022.

How will the paddocks, without horses,will be unmanaged? There will be no sustainable grazing or weed control. The NCA will be responsible for managing the fire fuel load on the site for perhaps quarter of a century! A fire starting in long grass can quickly turn into a conflagration and fire weather conditions are only going to deteriorate as time goes on; it seems like madness to remove an effective fire fuel management tool from an undeveloped area on the doorsteps of the suburb of Curtin.

The North Curtin Horse Paddocks are part of a much larger network of public agistment and equestrian trails linked to Equestrian Park and the Bicentennial National Trail. The intent of government horse paddocks was to provide agistment close to the suburbs in which their owners lived and integrate them into the life of the city. The NCA assumes the present agistees at Curtin will easily be able to move their horses to an equally acceptable facility.

There is a waiting list of over 300 persons for places in government paddock system. Places in private agistment facilities in the Territory are well beyond the pockets of most people who use government paddocks. Moving horses to affordable agistment could mean moving them out of the ACT or to a paddock so far from the owner’s home that tending to their feeding and rugging needs every day could become impossible. The ultimate, unimaginable outcome would be having to sell a member of the family because keeping them had become too onerous. Evicting the agistees at Curtin is the equivalent to throwing them out onto the streets and the ACT Government has had not a word to say to the agistees.

Given a stated 25 year completion time for this Diplomatic Estate there is absolutely no need for the horses to leave in 2 years. In fact there are good reasons to keep them there as long as the paddocks can be kept viable.

4. Environmental Values of the Site

Since the announcement about the resumption of the North Curtin Horse Paddocks the local community has become aware that they, like all the government horse holding paddocks, are an island of environmental value. The ACT Government’s own ACTMapi shows a 2009 distribution of Golden Sun Moth in the northern half of the paddocks near the Cotter Road and there have been sightings of the Moth much closer to Curtin in the intervening years. The Golden Sun Moth is listed as critically endangered under the Australian Government Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The golden sun moth is also listed as endangered under the Australian Capital Territory Nature Conservation Act 1980. There are required actions under legislation before any development can proceed that may impact on the Moth or its habitat.

There is common agreement that the trees in the North Curtin Horse Paddocks have created a wildlife corridor for many birds species travelling through to Red Hill regularly or seasonally. (https://the-riotact.com/ncas-embassy-ambitions-will-destroy-important-bird-corridor-says-curtin-resident/375067 ) It is significant that the vast majority of the trees forming copses and wind breaks throughout the paddocks were planted by people agisting their horses on the site since the 1980s.

Naturalist Richard Allen has reported in the Canberra Ornithologists Group’s June Newsletter that

Regular yearly counts of 100 species, 14 vulnerable, speak volumes for the diversity and value of the paddock and Yarralumla Creek corridor. These sightings though exciting are only significant in that they demonstrate that a wildlife corridor exists here. Once rezoned as urban we must consider that this valuable lowland pasture and many of the above species will be lost from the Woden Valley. It is a critical corridor linking the Molonglo with Red Hill NR and south through Woden Valley

The North Curtin Horse Paddocks are a significant part of the shrinking green space in the Woden area and provides not only a wildlife corridor but an important viewscape for the residents of Curtin. The Paddocks are used by more than horse owners and contribute to the amenity of the wider area.

The North Curtin Horse Paddocks are locally valuable to the Curtin community as a green buffer in an urban area.

Destruction or damage to the wildlife corridor clearly conflicts with many of the policy objectives and policy targets of the National Capital Authority’s Tree Management Plan.

5. Conflict With the Federal Government’s Own Policies

The Draft Amendment and its public consultation (or lack of) conflicts with multiple NCA and ACT Government plans. These include:

  • National Capital Plan matters of national significance and objectives
  • NCA Commitment to Community Engagement (August 2015)
  • National Capital Authority’s Draft Tree Management Plan
  • ACT Government Climate Strategy to a Net Zero Emissions Territory
  • Canberra’s Living Infrastructure Plan: Cooling the City

Detail on the ways in which it specifically conflicts with the objectives of these plans is provided on this website at https://www.actea.asn.au/objections-to-draft-amendment-95-on-the-basis-of-conflict-with-existing-government-policy.

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