On Wednesday 5th August, the ANU Sustainability Learning Community (SLC) held their annual Great Green Debate, with this year’s topic exploring a vision of sustainability in the redevelopment of Union Court.

The event’s panelists brought a varied background of affiliation to both the ANU and the subject of sustainability. This included ANUSA President Ben Gill; ANU Executive Director of Administration and Planning, Chris Grange; as well as an ANU historian; a visiting fellow; and a member of the ANU Environment Collective. The debate was moderated by Professor Peter Kanowski, a forester of the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Forestry.

In terms of the actual redevelopment, Grange revealed quite a student-centric prioritisation plan: making libraries the focus of the precinct, with a vision to turn Chifley into Union Court’s centrepiece, and new student accommodation a close second. Approximately 1500 students were turned away from on-campus accommodation last year, which he claimed indicated the necessity of new student accommodation measures.

A plan for a re-designed Union Court would also attempt to centralise all student services, which are currently scattered around 11 different locations, into the one area. In terms of providing adequate student care, he expressed that as part of the current plan, a comprehensive health centre would take a higher priority to retail services.

As the director in charge of the redevelopment project, Grange stated that whilst the ANU campus has some “really good aspects”, opportunities still exist to tackle problematic issues of sustainability. Grange mentioned the Manning Clark Centre (MCC), the primary lecture theatre hub on campus, as an example; it is just one of many buildings within the Union Court vicinity that lacks the function to adapt its energy consumption based on the actual amount being used.

However, Grange expressed that the plans were not just looking at individual buildings, but instead how “all different elements could work together in an environmental way.”

“We want to look at the wider campus and come up with a sustainable design for the precinct – one which can serve the whole campus,” he said.

Speaking on the proper context of sustainability and how it fed into education, Ben Gill not only spoke on behalf of the students as President of ANUSA, but also as a student studying science and engineering.

“ANU is one of the leaders in Australia in solar research – why isn’t solar energy embedded into the structures around campus?” Gill asked.

Panelists Prof Libby Robin, and Bart Meehan, a historian and a Fenner School Visiting Fellow, respectively, both reflected on the history of the Union Court from its inception to the present day. Meehan spoke of the “uninspiring concrete” of Union Court when it was first upgraded from a library car park, and that, “for a long time, no one came.” The last set of renovations to the Union Court area occurred in 1973 – more than 40 years ago.

Miriam Adams-Schinminger, ANU Environment Collective member and honours student at the Fenner School, raised concerns about what would happen without proper public discussion and input on the matter. She expressed concern that the Union Court precinct could become a “glorified shopping mall”, accessible and enjoyable only if you spend money.

Ben Gill, speaking to Woroni after the panel, said that as a representative to the students, although he was satisfied with the consultation process as a whole, feedback on progress was few and far between. However, he did acknowledge that although he, on ANUSA’s behalf, was fighting for students, ANU has more than just a few voices:

“One person cannot represent all students – from students with disabilities to international students, everything is going to be impactful in different ways.”

Currently, the ANU campus’ carbon footprint is the worst in Australia per square metre, and despite achievements like a reduction in Chifley Library’s energy usage by 20% in the last few years, on-campus sustainability is still an issue. However, in this regard, all panelists were convinced that Union Court redevelopment presented an exciting opportunity in tackling this issue.