A controversial $500 million plan to renovate and expand the Australian War Memorial (AWM) has been given approval for early works, despite an influx of public submissions against the project.
The redevelopment was first proposed in 2018 and has since attracted the criticism of architects and heritage advocates, who have slammed it as “wasteful” and “arrogant”.
The memorial’s director last year defended the renovation which would see the 20-year-old Anzac Hall replaced with a new gallery space and the removal of more than 100 trees.
This morning, the National Capital Authority (NCA) — tasked with granting the project’s final approval — cleared the way for early works to begin.
Public consultation generated most submissions in NCA’s history
The multi-million-dollar proposal was put to the public for consultation in April this year.
The NCA’s chief executive Sally Barnes said the public consultation process received 601 submissions — the most in the authority’s history.
“Most people who put in submissions did not support the project overall … they did raise issues, including the need for the expansion and the cost,” Ms Barnes said.
“There were questions raised about tree removal, and whether the tree removals were in line with the National Capital Plan, and of course, landscapes for us are really important.
“We’ve put some conditions in the approval that [the War Memorial] must increase the number of trees that will be on that site at the end of the works.”
After the consultation process closed, the NCA demanded further information from the War Memorial on its plan to remove and replace native trees surrounding the memorial.
In a statement today, the NCA said the AWM would remove 140 trees and retain 455.
The NCA said that the War Memorial must also plant a minimum of 250 additional native trees at the completion of the project.
“With this change noted, the NCA has concluded the proposal is not inconsistent with the National Capital Plan and the works have been approved,” the NCA said.
Those works also include excavation, the relocation of services and the demolition of Anzac Hall — one of the more controversial works in the proposal.
Approval a ‘significant milestone’, minister says
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester described today’s announcement as a “significant milestone”.
“This approval will allow for preparation of the area around the site, relocation of some services and progressing with the demolition of Anzac Hall,” Mr Chester said.
“The development has strong community support and the memorial has followed all the due processes in achieving this early works approval.”
The AWM will submit a full landscape plan detailing the species and location for the new trees next year.
Mr Chester said there would be further community consultation about the major works designs in the coming months.