ANU Commercial Services have notified the Environment Centre that after 18 years of rent-free occupancy, the ANU will not renew its lease, which ends on the 31st of December this year. The Environment Centre, which runs the Recyclery and Acton Community Garden, currently sits on the edge of ANU campus, near the National Museum of Australia.
The Canberra Environment Centre is a not-for-profit organisation that runs a number of community programs focusing on sustainability, and which have become an important network for Canberrans and members of the ANU. Deputy Director, Fiona Veikkanen (she/her), told Woroni that many ANU students and staff use the Environment Centre’s services. The Recyclery, which repairs second-hand bikes, is well known on campus as a cheap, sustainable place to get a bike.
However, the Environment Centre helps ANU students in other ways. Veikkanen cited an ANU student who had run a workshop program through the centre, and who then went on to win a national grant and prize for their work. The ANU program Thrive – a community garden – is run through the Environment Centre as well.
Despite the community role that the Environment Centre plays, ANU Commercial Services decided to remove the Environment Centre, with very little consultation or attempts at compromise.
An ANU spokesperson claimed that the University has been working closely with the Environment Centre and has extended its lease several times this year. The spokesperson also stated that the “ANU has been working closely with the Centre to find them a viable alternative.” However, Veikkanen rejects this, saying she has seen no such cooperation on the ANU’s behalf.
Veikkanen highlighted how ANU Commercial Services has been uncooperative throughout the process. The rent-free lease is normally renewed every three years. However, the University notified the Environment Centre of termination on the 29th of July, giving them only months notice.
Veikkanan claims that she has provided multiple other venues on ANU land where the Environment Centre could operate from, but the University rejected these as not “mutually beneficial.”
The Environment Centre, along with the Food Co-op, and Conservation Council ACT, used to operate near the current UniLodge buildings. In acquiring this land from the ACT Government, the ANU agreed to house all three organisations on its land. That agreement ended in 2014.
Veikkanen believes that this presents a political issue, with the ANU evicting a community organisation that it housed in exchange for ACT Government land. This issue would only compound, Veikkanen believes, if the ANU leases the land to a corporate entity.
However, an ANU spokesperson argued that “This was never an arrangement that was meant to continue in perpetuity.” The spokesperson added that there was pressure from the National Capital Authority because there is a requirement “that non-permanent or transportable buildings, such as the one currently occupied by the Centre need to be removed from the ANU campus in the near future.”
The removal of the Environment Centre may add to students’ concerns over a commercial and inaccessible campus. There are no community organisations in the Kambri precinct except for PARSA Cycles, whose future is uncertain.
Both the Food Co-op and the Environment Centre sit on the peripheries of the ANU campus. And, earlier this year it was revealed that Kambri food prices are well above what was promised in the original re-development proposals.
In a move which possibly signals the ANU is bowing to public pressure, the ANU has stated that they are seeking an “appropriate, alternative commercial space” for the Environment Centre. The University is promising to offer this space at “below current market value.”
The Environment Centre’s online petition has already achieved its original goal of 1,000 signatories. Because they have found ANU Commercial Services unhelpful, the organisation is now appealing to Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt to step in.
Whether this small but vital pillar of the ANU community will remain, is still undecided.
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