One of the most audacious features of the proposed Belconnen Town Centre Master Plan is to transform Lathlain Street into a pedestrian friendly promenade. The Master Plan positions “the Lath” as the premier Belconnen destination, host to shops, markets, live music, street festivals, and other entertainment options as well as health, education and community services.
With wider footpaths along Lathlain St from the Belconnen Markets to Westfield, this diverse variety of services and activities will become easily accessible on foot, with a new residential population living in apartments above street level to take advantage of the nearby facilities.
In the next 10 years, I expect Lathlain St to feel more like Bourke St in Melbourne and less like a back street of Belconnen.
This transformation has only recently become possible though. With the demolition of the old police station and detention centre, and the ambulance and fire stations shortly to move to their new home in Aranda, a big section of prime real estate has been freed up for redevelopment.
I personally believe that we should aim to maintain a good mix of commerce and community. For example, the nearby Community Health Facilities and walk-in centre are already widely used. These could be supplemented with a new community services hub on Lathlain Street as part of a new home for the Belconnen Library and Belconnen Community Services.
The relocation of CIT from its leafy but isolated home in Bruce to Lathlain St would also increase enrolments through improved access. For people worried about the effects of this additional development on parking, these new developments would make the construction of additional multi-storey carparks more commercially viable, with the likely effect of a net improvement in availability of commuter parking overall.
When the Belconnen Town Centre was being constructed in the 1970s, many planning decisions were taken which can only be politely described as “insufficiently thought through”. Despite being “the largest shopping centre in Australia” when it opened in 1978, the shopping mall, isolated bus interchange, and sunken bus bypass lane hampered Belconnen’s development for decades.
The extension of Westfield to include visible shops and restaurants on Lathlain St in 2012 and construction of the new bus interchanges have done wonders for Belconnen. It now feels more like a district and less like a random assortment of buildings.
I’m excited about the possibilities of Lathlain Street for Belconnen and I hope that the final master plan retains these features. I commend the planners who came up with the idea and I look forward to what Belconnen will look like in another 10 years!