It’s final. Anzac Hall will be demolished.

The National Capital Authority (NCA), which was authorised to assess and decide on the controversial matter through a public consultation process, gave the final approval for the demolition, clearing the decks for the $500 million redevelopment of the Australian War Memorial (AWM) in Canberra.

The NCA received a record 601 submissions from the community, of which only 3 supported the redevelopment in its current form, according to the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA). The AIA’s #HandsOffAnzacHall campaign to stop the demolition of the award-winning building had received significant support from the community.

Campaign spokesperson and former national president of the AIA, Clare Cousins said, “Australia’s regulatory framework has failed Australians at every step of this abomination of an ‘assessment’ process. Supposedly ‘independent’ decision-makers have been shown to be nothing more than toothless tigers dancing to the tune of their political masters.”

In addition to objections about the demolition, impact on heritage values, tree removal and project cost, many submissions from the community raised concerns about AWM’s ‘curatorial direction’.

In response, the NCA said: “...the need for the expansion and the story to be told within the expanded facility are matters for the AWM Council. The NCA notes and supports the enhancement of a national cultural institution; however, the NCA does not have a role in determining the content of exhibitions or the curatorial direction of the AWM.”

On the proposed tree removal, which would impact 140 of the 595 existing trees at the war memorial, the NCA requires AWM to plant a minimum of 250 native trees as a condition of approval for these works.

“With this change noted, the NCA has concluded the proposal is not inconsistent with the National Capital Plan and the works have been approved,” NCA chair Terry Weber said in a statement.

In their Consultative Report on the approval, the NCA noted: “...matters of cost and need have been addressed by the Australian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Works (PWC) and therefore considered by elected representatives from across Australia. The NCA notes that the PWC undertook extensive public consultation on the vision for the project, and details of the development, including the overall design and construction costs as part of its consideration of this project.”

The report further said: “The NCA has been advised that the demolition of Anzac Hall was proposed following an exhaustive consideration of development options by the AWM. These were outlined by the AWM in its submission to the PWC. The Committee determined that despite the relatively recent completion of Anzac Hall, its demolition was necessary to create an acceptable visitor experience and to achieve the flexible display space sought by the AWM.”

Cousins observed that the assessment process ignored expert advice on the significant negative heritage impacts to the AWM from demolishing Anzac Hall, as well as widespread community opposition.

“The Environment Minister, the Parliamentary Public Works Committee and now the NCA have together created an abysmal precedent that endangers every other piece of public architecture in this country,” she added.

Image: Anzac Hall (Photo: John Gollings)