Architects seek urgent review of Parliament House fence plans

The Australian Institute of Architects wants plans to build a 2.6-metre fence around Parliament House put on hold, key documents immediately released and a proper public consultation process, including expert advice, conducted around the proposal.

National President, Professor Ken Maher, has called on the Department of Parliamentary Services to immediately release the five-year Conservation Management Plan and Design Principles for the Australian Parliament House, which were due for release in 2016.

‘Parliament House is widely recognised as an icon of Australian democracy and an architectural achievement of national and international significance. Any proposal impacting on its design needs to be subject to due public processes and be managed very carefully,’ Prof Maher said.

‘Security requirements bring into conflict the two core principles of keeping people safe while at the same time allowing them access to the building and grounds. A balance must be struck, but the current proposal fails to deliver on both fronts.

‘This latest proposal to erect a 2.6-metre high perimeter fence will fundamentally change the character of the building and its symbolism as the people’s house.

‘The public has a right to know whether other methods for achieving security outcomes for parliamentarians, people working in Parliament House and visitors have been comprehensively canvassed prior to making any decision.

‘We have requested that further information be released and discussion entered into about less intrusive options to enhance the security of the building.

‘It is essential that on behalf of the Australian people, the fabric and intent of the design of Parliament House is protected now and into the future. Any change must be well considered and be consistent with the quality and durability required for a building of such status.

‘The Institute is deeply concerned about the lack of consideration of the fence’s impact on the heritage value and design of this most significant building.

‘We are also concerned that the usual National Capital Authority public consultation process will not proceed due to “security issues”. This is a matter of public interest and should be subject to the same public scrutiny as other design and development proposals within the parliamentary precinct.

‘At the same time, the Department of Parliamentary Services appears to have abandoned its own process for properly managing Parliament House.

‘In 2014, the Department of Parliamentary Services committed to preparing a five-year Conservation Management Plan and Design Principles to manage this highly significant building. An eminent expert advisory committee was commissioned to guide and finalise these documents. To date no documents have been released. The work of this committee has reportedly been put on hold and Richard Johnson’s Design Principles report rejected, which further adds to our concerns about decisions being made without the professional advice of distinguished architects.’