Molonglo Valley: opportunities lost in estate development

Estate development is a long and complicated process. Active travel can be lost in the process, buried under other priorities. We need to get it right. Should active travel infrastructure fall short, it will be expensive to fix. A generation would grow up being chauffeured around rather than riding to school or friends. This is a real culture change barrier.


  1. Introduction
  2. Greenfield developments
  3. Land release schedule
  4. Statutory versus strategy
  5. Concept Plan
  6. Active travel endorsement
  7. Lost opportunity


New estates could showcase what Canberra could be.

Estate development is a golden goose for the ACT Government. The ACT Government has limited funds and receives very little funding from the Federal Government for infrastructure.

Greenfield developments

Greenfield developments, such as the Molonglo Valley, are large “rural” areas that are transformed into sprawling suburbs. The developments are ambitious and in the ACT include the development of whole districts made up of a town centre and many suburbs such as Gungahlin and the Molonglo Valley. The development of suburbs within these larger projects are called estate developments.

Land release schedule

When and what type of blocks are sold is determined by the ACT Government in the land release schedule. The multi-stage release of blocks for sale in new suburbs allows the revenue from block sales in one stage to fund the next stage of the development. With such a tight schedule, active travel can be left behind.

Statutory versus strategy

The active travel and climate change strategies are good, but they are not statutory. If it is not a statutory requirement and not in the Territory Plan, it is not likely to be built well. Many aspects of the planning process are statutory. When time, money, and resources are limited, these are given priority, at the cost of others that are not. There is also a lot more legal leverage for statutory process in an environment where so much of the work is done by private companies.

Concept Plan

The Concept Plan is an important statutory document that is used for whole greenfield development, right down to the individual estate. What is found on the Concept Plan will be built. The opposite is true as well, and that is exactly why cycle highways and corridors need to be included in this plan, so that they are reserved and preserved.

The development process tends to focus on Local Community Routes within the estate area. The fat lines around the boundary of the estate are where the project ends. Local Community Routes do not help the commuter to ride to work.

The routes across the city, Main Community Routes, need to be designed as one continuous network, suited for direct, safe, and high-speed travel. It would be best to use the planning mechanism to plan, reserve and preserve cycle corridors across the whole of the development. The inclusion of the Main Community Routes in the Concept Plan and Territory Plan is currently not assured.

Active travel endorsement

Engineering is about compromise, and compromise is about setting and offsetting priorities. The plans need to be monitored and checked to ensure that active travel has not fallen between the cracks. The planning process that allows such control is called “endorsement”.

The Active Travel Office should endorse the Concept Plans and even the “indicative plans” in phase 1 and 2 of the planning and infrastructure studies. A planning and infrastructure study makes recommendations for the Concept Plan which is also a statutory document and part of the Territory Plan. This is standard practice for light rail and environmental matters.

Lost opportunity

New estates, built on the greenfield, are an ideal opportunity to show and future proof the way cycling should be done in Canberra. The Molonglo Valley is an example where the active travel infrastructure is falling short. Many opportunities have been lost here for active travel.

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