Old plans dusted off for new Keswick Barracks development

A federal-state land swap as part of the AUKUS submarines deal has revived a longstanding vision to develop the prime Keswick Barracks site near the CBD with hundreds of homes, high-rise apartments, retail and event space.

Mar 17, 2023, updated Mar 17, 2023
The Keswick Barracks have long been eyed off as a prime development site near the CBD and next to the Adelaide Showgrounds train station. Photos: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

The Keswick Barracks have long been eyed off as a prime development site near the CBD and next to the Adelaide Showgrounds train station. Photos: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

The federal government announced on Wednesday that it would hand the Defence Department-owned Keswick Barracks in Adelaide’s inner-south to the state government, which will in turn give the Commonwealth control of land at Osborne needed to expand shipyards for the nuclear submarine project.

The Keswick Barracks at the tip of the south-west park lands is a sprawling site running approximately 600 metres down Anzac Highway, 500 metres along adjacent rail lines and 450 metres at its base.

The 12.8-hectare site features an array of Defence Department buildings, including a prominent, three-storey army headquarters facing the intersection of Anzac Highway and Greenhill Road. It was built in 1912-13 and state heritage listed in 1990.

An aerial view of Keswick Barracks land parcel in Adelaide’s inner south. Image: Location SA map viewer.

The state and federal heritage listed Keswick Barracks HQ. Photo: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

The barracks are also closely linked with the $16.5m Adelaide Showgrounds Train Station and are only metres from the old Le Cornu site in Forestville, which has been earmarked for a $250m masterplanned development featuring more than 300 apartments and townhouses.

Planning Minister Nick Champion told InDaily the state government recognised the opportunity the site could provide for “significant mixeduse developments, which could include both market housing and affordable housing stock”.

“The 12.8-hectare site acquired is a unique holding for the State Government – it is within 4km of Adelaide’s GPO, close to key amenities and services and supported by existing road and rail infrastructure,” Champion said.

“Any future development should acknowledge the buildings and infrastructure currently on site, along with any heritage and associated listings.

“The site would also require considerable contemplation throughout its master planning process, acknowledging the legacy of the Keswick Barracks.”

The Barracks contains an array of Defence Department buildings, which the City of Unley has previously argued are under-utilised. Photo: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

Champion said it is envisaged that the state government’s urban renewal authority, Renewal SA, will “play a key role in ensuring that open space, public realm and good design outcomes for the site occur”.

The Keswick Barracks were identified in the 2010-edition of the 30-Year Plan for Greater Adelaide as a “primary TOD (Transport Oriented Development) location”.

A government-commissioned report released two years later, titled the Inner Metro Rim Structure Plan, suggested the site should become an “urban node”.

It called on the state government to “facilitate the redevelopment of the Keswick Army Barracks site to a high density mixed use precinct with a strong residential focus (3-14 storeys)”.

Council plan from 2010 back in spotlight

The City of Unley in 2010 said that redevelopment of the Keswick Barracks could see Anzac Highway transformed into a “boulevard from City to beach with a high-end status similar to St Kilda Road in Melbourne” (pictured). Photo: VicScreen/Victorian Government

The City of Unley has been preparing for the release of the Keswick Barracks for more than a decade.

The council conducted “pre-emptive investigations” into the site in 2009/10 and subsequently developed a “Keswick Barracks and Surrounds Urban Design Framework”, which the council endorsed in 2010.

A redeveloped Keswick Barracks that respects the cultural heritage of the place and incorporates some Defence history and ongoing functions could serve as a landmark state and national demonstration project.

The plan, which outlined a broader vision to transform Anzac Highway into a boulevard akin to Melbourne’s St Kilda Road, called for “a dramatic shift in property ownership, public space design and land use” and said, “high density residential development is imperative”.

“It is generally accepted that the adaptation of Keswick Barracks to a mixed use development would be the instrumental catalyst for the achievement of a successful transit oriented development in this location,” the 2010 report said.

The report outlined a vision for a “Barracks Village”, which included reconfiguring the three-storey army headquarters into office space.

A map from the City of Unley’s 2010 plan for the Keswick Barracks and its surrounds. Image: City of Unley

It also envisaged a “parade ground green” in the centre of the precinct as a “destination” open space for the public.

“This space, that may be divided into a number of areas or unified as one large community event space, is surrounded by mixed-use retail and residential buildings,” the 2010 report said.

“Ground level of retail composed of cafes and restaurants, shops and a small supermarket with three to four levels of residential apartments above ring the space.

“This allows for higher residential buildings to be developed behind this in the future as the apartment market is established with increased public space and amenity.

“Four level apartment buildings would also line the banks of the rejuvenated Keswick Creek that runs through the south of the site.

“The existing Keswick Barracks heritage buildings are reconfigured into office space, medical research and development industry space and consulting rooms to serve expanding medical services in the precinct.”

City of Unley mayor Michael Hewitson told InDaily the council has already been approached by members of the state government for a copy of the 2010 plan.

“Now with the Keswick Barracks being released with the Le Cornu site, with all the area of Goodwood Road right through, we’ve masterplanned it, and it’s part of the vision,” he said.

“We shared it with the state government. I’m sure it was helpful in enabling the state government to see the value of having the Keswick site and doing a deal with the Osborne site.”

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The Keswick Barracks Headquarters, also known as Building 32, is one of only 10 South Australian sites on the federal heritage register and is recognised as the “first substantial Commonwealth building constructed in South Australia”.

Building 32 was also one of the first “significant barracks” to be established in Australia after the formation of the Australian Army, according to the federal heritage register, and was added to the state heritage register in 1990.

In a 2020 update to the council’s Keswick Barracks plan, City of Unley urban planner David Brown wrote the heritage recognition of the site would “logically be highly regarded”.

He said the site remained a “prime opportunity” for a “key Transport Oriented Development (TOD)” and a broad range of land uses would be commercially viable, including residential, commercial, light industry (including medical industries), small ancillary retail and community services.

“The Keswick Barracks site, relative to the distance to the centre of the City of Adelaide, the nature of the development opportunity and proximity to transport infrastructure, is equal to other sites proposed for mixed use development and possibly superior in cultural heritage resources, commercial and functional opportunities and transit-oriented-development,” Brown wrote in 2020.

“A redeveloped Keswick Barracks that respects the cultural heritage of the place and incorporates some Defence history and ongoing functions could serve as a landmark state and national demonstration project.”

Brown said “intensive development” on the land would offer “strong support” to the new Adelaide Showgrounds Train Station, which opened in 2015.

The Keswick Barracks are closely connected to a $16.5m train station that opened in 2015. Photo: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

“The campus style of the site and adaptation of significant buildings could realise a range of commercial uses plus residential opportunities and key open spaces in a village setting,” he wrote.

“Together with areas in the western portion of the Barracks, given height potential, could realise in the order of 1000-1500 dwellings (1500-2250 population) or more.

“A further 1000 dwellings (1500 population) or more is potentially possible in the surrounding areas.”

The Keswick Barracks land facing Anzac Highway is currently zoned for a maximum height of six levels, or 22-metres. It is subject to airport building heights regulation.

The area is also subject to an affordable housing overlay which sets a desired outcome for at least 15 per cent affordable housing for development with 20 or more dwellings.

The City of Unley’s 2020 Keswick Barracks framework update came in the wake of German retailer Kaufland abandoning its plans to build a supermarket on the vacant Le Cornu site in Forestville. The land was then purchased by Renewal SA to be resold to a new developer.

At the time, City of Unley CEO Peter Tsokas wrote: “The potential sale of the Le-Cornu site provides an opportunity to create a true integrated development in the Keswick/Everard Park area.”

Adelaide property developer Theo Maras also suggested the old Le Cornu site should be connected with the Keswick Barracks to create a new inner-city suburb along Anzac Highway, telling The Advertiser In March 2020 it would be ideal for an “integrated, designed community”.

But the Forestville Le Cornu site has since been snapped up by a development consortium featuring local developer Buildtec, WA residential developer Peet and the Chapley family’s Commercial Retail Group – operators of the Pasadena and Frewville Foodland stores.

The consortium in July 2022 revealed its $250m masterplan for the site, featuring a market square, 199 apartments, 106 townhouses as well as short-stay apartments for tourism.

An aerial map showing the proximity of the old Forestville Le Cornu site with the Keswick Barracks triangle. Photo: Renewal SA

An artist’s rendition of the $250m plan for the old Le Cornu site announced in July 2022. Planning Minister Nick Champion says any development of the Keswick Barracks should “carefully consider” how to integrate with the Le Cornu site project. Image: Renewal SA

The project, named Locale, is yet to come up for approval before the State Commission Assessment Panel, but Champion said construction work is set to commence in mid-2024.

“That development has already increased the potential of the city’s south western fringe – and any development at the Keswick Barracks would need to be carefully considered and integrated appropriately,” he said.

“The master planning for the Locale project is continuing following the latest round of public consultation held in November last year.

“Subject to planning and development approvals, civil works on the first stage of Locale are set to commence in mid-2024 with construction expected to start in the first half of 2025.”

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