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Housing development that could house 30,000 people may see NSW-ACT border moved


7.30 / By Emily Baker 15 Feb 2024

The NSW-ACT border would potentially be pushed back beyond the development.(Supplied: ACT Suburban Land Agency)

As Australia's housing crisis continues, a development in the ACT is seeking to help ease the pressure with housing for up to 30,000 people — but there's one small issue.

The development stretches from the north-west of the ACT into NSW, raising questions about how services will be provided to the NSW side of the development, which is surrounded by water and accessible only via the territory.

The suggested solution? Move the border.

It’s a move being pushed by ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and would be the first substantive shift to a state border in more than 100 years.

"It's land that really should be part of the ACT, and I think common sense says this is probably the best solution," Mr Barr told 7.30.

"But border moves don't happen easily."

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr says Canberra is becoming a popular place to live. (ABC News: Craig Hansen)

Projections from NSW's Department of Planning, Infrastructure and Environment estimate about 19,000 additional homes are needed by 2041 to house the ACT's growing population.

The Ginninderry proposal includes three suburbs in the territory and one in NSW, with one ACT suburb already built and another under construction. It will eventually include about 11,500 homes.

Project director Stephen Harding said the plan was to build a "seamless development, so there is no separation at the border".

"From our perspective, someone who might be living in New South Wales should recognise no real difference to someone living in the ACT," Mr Harding said.

Ginninderry project director Stephen Harding says he is agnostic about a border move.(ABC News: Craig Hansen)

Some discussion is required before this becomes a reality.

Mr Barr said if the suburb were to remain in NSW, "it would mean a negotiation with the NSW government on everything from schooling, emergency services, council level services as well."

"It would be a very odd set of service provisions because all those New South Wales services could only access the area by coming through the ACT," Mr Barr said.

"I think logic and common sense says a border move is the neatest way to manage the issue."

WATCH (Duration: 7 minutes 19 seconds)

ACT seeks border expansion into NSW for housing development. (Emily Baker)

Australia's borders have not dramatically shifted since the establishment of the ACT in 1911 and the Jervis Bay Territory in 1915.

Macquarie University political geographer Dr Andrew Burridge said while it was a "very uncommon" occurrence, he believed moving the border makes sense.

Dr Andrew Burridge is a political geographer who's taken an interest in the Ginninderry proposal. (ABC News: Shaun Kingma) 

Canberra is continuing to grow, but it's hemmed in, in various directions by its natural resources, and so this is a sensible growth corridor," Dr Burridge said.

7.30 asked NSW Planning Minister Paul Scully for an interview, and received a statement from the Department of Planning, Housing and Infrastructure in response.

A spokesman said: "An assessment on the infrastructure servicing needs for Ginninderry is being progressed … [it] will explore whether it is serviced by the NSW Government and Yass Valley Council or the ACT Government.

"Costs of servicing Ginninderry would be one of several matters for consideration in regards to any potential border change."

Mr Barr said he was open to negotiation on freeing up Canberra's water supply to nearby NSW towns during discussions over a border move.

"As a principle, would the ACT be willing to share water? Yes," Mr Barr said.

"But obviously, we would charge for that water, it wouldn't be given for free … but these discussions are being had in good faith and with I think a shared interest to get the best outcome for the region."

'Financial risks' for ratepayers

The proposed Parkwood suburb sits within the Yass Valley Council municipality.

Chief executive Chris Berry said his council's analysis had identified "significant financial risks" should the suburb remain in NSW. The council also supports a change to the border.

An artist's rendering of Parkwood, the Ginninderry venture's planned suburb on the NSW-ACT border.(Supplied: Ginninderry)

"We agreed to the land being rezoned for this major development on the basis that it wouldn't disadvantage the rest of the ratepayers of the Yass Valley," Mr Berry said.

"We've done our own analysis and found that there are some significant financial risks, because the rate revenue that will be generated from that area would not be sufficient to be able to cater for maintaining the assets and the services to an ACT standard in that locality."

Mr Berry said clarity was needed — and soon.

Chris Berry, Yass Valley Council chief executive, has concerns for local ratepayers. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

"While council has done its homework, I don't think the state agencies have turned their attention to it at this particular point in time, but hopefully we'll get a hurry up from them in the in the next 12 months," Mr Berry said.

Moving the border would require approval from the NSW, ACT and federal parliaments.

"This is uncharted territory about how this happens, but it is within our constitution," Dr Burridge said.

"But how this actually happens is a little bit on the fly in the sense of figuring out figuring this out, so it'll be interesting to see the negotiations that take place."

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