One of the reasons put forward for expansion of the Hawker Centre was the need for retail growth. As there had been no serious study of retail demand in the area, FoHV asked for such a study to be done. The consultant applied a, presumably, standard formula to income statistics and population profile in the catchment. He acknowledged the closeness of other much larger retail centres within a four-kilometre radius of Hawker, i.e. Belconnen Mall, Belconnen markets, Jamison Plaza and Kippax Fair. A small discount was employed in relation to the formula but it was not clear how this discount was estimated. The consultant also compared Hawker to Southlands at Mawson. His conclusion was that there was unmet demand at Hawker. In response to a request by FoHV, two shoppers’ surveys were then conducted, one on-site and one by phone (see a summary of Hawker shopping surveys). The results of these surveys did not seem to be considered further in the design of the draft master plan.
The PRG was presented with several reports compiled by LDA consultants. The parking consultant explained to the PRG that a recorder walked around the centre every half hour counting empty parking spaces. This meant that the parking study did not show whether or for how long spaces were used in each half hour. FoHV had hoped that the parking study would provide statistics on the behaviour of people using the car parks. For this reason, FoHV requested a shoppers survey to ascertain usage. LDA agreed and decided to also conduct another phone survey (one was conducted in August 2010). Again, FoHV were disappointed in that, rather than asking specific questions, general questions were asked that could have several responses. Once again, the importance of readily-available parking at Hawker was not shown.
The objectives of the master plan were discussed twice, once in May and again in September. They evolved from a short vision to a much more detailed statement of objectives and strategies which is still available (in a much larger file) on the EDD website. Realising the importance of the objectives, FoHV requested time to consult its supporters. This was granted and a decision was made by LDA to consult the whole local community. FoHV were particularly concerned at the inclusion of on-street parking, which was declared to be safer than the existing arrangement of mainly off-street car parks and minimal through traffic along Hawker Place.
The PRG was taken through a SWOT analysis ( Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) of Hawker. Many of the perceived failings were cosmetic rather than substantial and some stemmed from the previous planning philosophy that had guided the centre’s design or from its topography, i.e. location on a shallow gully leading to the underpass. The fact that it was located near but not on Belconnen Way, for traffic safety reasons, meant that some people had found it hard to locate the shops. Trees and shrubs around the perimeter have tended to hide the shops from view of passing motorists. The fact that the parking areas were separated from the shops meant that it was inward-looking with few “active frontages” and little “passive surveillance”. There was some follow-up discussion of the analysis but no real evaluation of the relative importance of the various strengths and weaknesses, nor the likely impact of the identified opportunities and threats in the specific Hawker situation.
Master plans are usually compiled by the ACT Planning and Land Authority (ACTPLA) which is responsible for the overall planning of Canberra, taking in a range of factors including social well-being. FoHV were, therefore, disturbed that the Hawker master plan was to be undertaken by LDA, which is responsible for the sale of Territory-owned land. Its role includes determining how a particular piece of land could be developed, with a view to ascertaining a reasonable expectation of the sale price. As part of the Economic Development Directorate, its aim is to maximise returns to the ACT Government. Its approach, therefore, is one of a real estate agent, not one of a good planner concerned about the effect of development on the citizens of Canberra. FoHV were further concerned to find that the PRG meetings were to be chaired by David Dawes, the head of the then Department of Land and Property Services (which included LDA), and facilitated by the same consultant who ran the public information session on 26 June 2010. Many of the consultants already contracted to do research for the master plan had also been involved previously with the proposed sale of Hawker car parks. These concerns were discussed at the second meeting of the PRG on 2 March 2011 where it was made clear that no changes would be made to these arrangements.
The early meetings of the Project Reference Group (PRG) for the Hawker master plan set the ground rules; in particular, it was explained that the PRG was advisory only and that ultimate responsibility for decision-making lay with the LDA. The Government’s infill policy was outlined, with the development of high-rise residential accommodation in group centres being a specified percentage of expected overall need. Because Hawker was smaller than most group centres, the amount of residential demanded would be less than the average. This was the last time residential development in the Hawker Centre was discussed until the end of the year. The focus of all subsequent discussions was on the need to expand retail – otherwise, the centre would decline, just like the local centres in the area had. No substantive justification was given for this claim, it seemed to be a matter of obvious faith.
In response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, FoHV received a large number of documents from the several agencies with responsibility for ACT planning issues. These showed that the government had been considering the sale of the Hawker car parks from at least 2000 and probably earlier, when the Territory Plan was introduced and car parks ceased to be designated as such but were zoned for commercial use. Various reports were commissioned during this decade, culminating in the Hawker Planning Study of November 2009, submitted after the first community consultation held in September 2009. FoHV have compiled a summary of the FOI documents (see A History of the Proposed Sale of the Hawker Car Parks). This summary was written after, and refers to, the development proposal presented by LDA at the information session on 26 June 2010.
A major result was achieved on 23 November 2010 when representatives of FoHV met with the then Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope. He was accompanied by David Dawes, head of the Land Development Agency (which is responsible for selling ACT-owned land). FoHV expressed a concern that the infill process at Hawker appeared rather ad hoc and that a master plan for the suburb might bring some cohesion to the process and assuage community concerns. The Chief Minister assented to this idea and proposed that the master planning be advised by a Project Reference Group comprising relevant parties, including FoHV (see Chief Minister’s Press Release 2 Dec 2010 and the Hawker video). FoHV were encouraged by this concession as it provided the opportunity for community concerns to be discussed and considered in the context of the Government’s infill policy. The only disappointment was that the master plan would cover just the Hawker Centre and not the whole suburb.
The residents’ group, now named the Friends of Hawker Village (FoHV), held a public meeting at the Belconnen Soccer Club on 14 July 201o to discuss the development proposal. Despite little publicity, over 100 people attended. Some supported the ACT Government’s plan to sell the two car parks but the overwhelming majority did not. Representatives of FoHV, in July, visited several local members of the ACT Legislative Assembly to highlight community concerns – Mary Porter (Labor), Meredith Hunter and Caroline Le Couteur (Greens) and Alistair Coe (Liberal), in that order (see Brief for MLAs). Following this, FoHV compiled and had printed a brochure explaining its purpose. This brochure was hand-delivered in September to nearly all households in the four suburbs regarded as the catchment for the Hawker Centre – Page, Scullin, Hawker and Weetangera. It also established a website and issued e-newsletters to those on its supporter list.
The stunning Christmas 2009 announcement that two of Hawker’s three car parks were to be sold was not welcomed by many in the community. To allay these concerns, a plan of what type of development might occur was revealed by the Government at a public information session on 26 June 2010. This indicated four-storeyed buildings on both carparks with a central public place for outdoor dining etc. Parking would be provided underground and on Hawker Place, with parallel parking down both sides and angle parking down the middle (see A Summary of the Plans for Hawker Shops, the Hawker Consultation Report and the Hawker QA September 2010). Much response from the community was not positive and produced two results. Firstly, several residents, who met for the first time at the information session, decided to form an action group and, secondly, two local members of the Opposition government (Vicki Dunne and Alistair Coe) arranged a public meeting to be held two weeks later.