Controversial plans to demolish Anzac Hall and expand the Australian War Memorial have been given the green light by federal environment minister Sussan Ley.
The $498 million proposal, approved on Thursday, will expand the memorial’s exhibition space by more than 80 per cent and add galleries about the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.
Less than two decades old, the existing Anzac Hall won architect Denton Corker Marshall the prestigious Sir Zelman Cowen Award for public architecture in 2005. The hall cost $11.8 million to build.
It is the first approval of three major approvals for the project. The redevelopment still requires the green light from the government’s National Capital body prior to demolition.
Australian Institute of Architects past president Clare Cousins said Friday’s decision ignored expert heritage advice on the adverse impacts the demolition of Anzac Hall will have on the site’s heritage.
“This is a disgraceful decision that sets a dangerous precedent for the future of our nation’s heritage,” Cousins said.
Federal minister Sussan Ley said the proposal was approved under 29 “strict conditions” to minimise and mitigate the impact on the site’s heritage values.
“The memorial will be required to prepare a heritage impact assessment of the final design for my approval to ensure the site’s heritage values continue to be protected,” Ley said.
Ley approved the proposal as a controlled action under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 on the final sitting day of the parliamentary year.
The demolition of the building, first announced by the Australian government in November 2018, has been subject to wide criticism—with heritage advocates, architecture’s peak body and a war widow among the objecting submissions lodged during the public works assessment phase.
Seven boss and chairman of the Australian War Memorial Kerry Stokes defended the development earlier this year.
Speaking to Radio National breakfast in July, the businessman said the cost will be drawn out over a nine-year period.
“The development will [cost] about $50 million a year, it’s important for the revitalisation of Canberra that there will be institutional expenditure to help the Canberra economy.”
Construction work is expected to begin early in the new year. The Australian War Memorial extension is slated to open in 2027.