Please note that some of the info in these newsletters (especially event listings) can go out of date quite quickly. Newsletter date: 22/03/2023
It’s an increasingly difficult time for more and more people who are struggling financially, so I hope we’re all looking out for opportunities to support our neighbours by sharing what we can.
This week, the State Government announced that it’s seriously considering introducing caps on rent increases, which is a welcome shift from Labor’s previous resistance to this idea. I’m not optimistic that it’ll actually happen though.
I’m sure the Premier will be getting plenty of emails from disgruntled landlords about this, so it might be helpful if she and the Deputy Premier also received emails from people supporting the idea of capping rent increases, and encouraging her to go a step further and actually freeze rent increases for a couple of years.
Obviously other costs such as mortgage payments and rates are also increasing at the moment, but I think if landlords want to raise rents to meet rising costs, they should be negotiating to give their tenants a share in equity of the property they are helping pay off. If landlords want tenants to help pay their mortgage, the tenants should get a share in ownership. I certainly don’t remember many landlords reducing their rents back when interest rates were falling, so I don’t think it’s fair to demand higher rents simply because mortgage payments are now increasing.
For renters who are interested in understanding what other options there might be for collectively resisting exploitation by landlords, I’m also organising a casual Wednesday evening forum in Bunyapa Park (68 Vulture St, West End) from 5:15pm on 5 April, focusing on the pros, cons and viability of organising rent strikes here in Brisbane. Feel free to invite friends via the Facebook event.
Regenerate Brisbane forum on public transport
As you’re aware, I’ve been campaigning strongly for improvements to local bus services like the 192 and the 234, and for a new ferry terminal on the western side of West End. But I’ve also been thinking more systematically about how we can improve citywide public transport connectivity so that we can reduce car dependence and the number of motorists driving into the Gabba Ward from other parts of Brisbane.
So this weekend, I’m organising a policy forum to help unpack what our citywide priorities should be for improving public transport.
Among other things, we’ll be discussing which of the following is a higher priority for new and improved public transport services…
- More high-frequency services in and out of the city centre
- Direct inter-suburban connections between existing nodes
- Creating new suburban nodes of development and employment by adding routes to areas that lack any public transport coverage
- Connecting to leisure activities and natural destinations on the outer-urban fringe (e.g. beaches, bushwalking areas, campsites)
Obviously I’d like to see improvements to all of these different areas of the public transport network, but I’m interested to unpack what residents from different parts of Brisbane think the highest priorities are.
Please join us if you’d like to share your thoughts.
Where: Mitchelton Library, 37 Heliopolis Parade, Mitchelton
When: Saturday, 25 March, 2:15 to 4:30pm.
If you’d like to come but would have trouble getting out there by public transport, please let my office know and we’ll see if we can arrange carpooling. We’re also providing free afternoon tea, so to assist us with catering, please register via this link.
Cityglider bus stop relocation
Over the past few months, we’ve been running a poll (which has now closed) on whether to relocate the Montague Rd Blue Cityglider stop near Cordeaux St about 300 metres further north to the Montague Markets precinct. The poll showed very strong support (80%) for the relocation, and we’ve now passed that feedback onto the council administration.
There’s more info about it all at this link. I remain of the view that rather than just relocating a stop, we should be adding an additional glider stop along Montague Rd, but the LNP administration has so far been quite resistant to that. We will continue to advocate that both glider stop locations are needed. If you’d like to assist our advocacy, please write to the mayor at [email protected] about this.
Raymond Park basketball lights
Proper lighting for the basketball court at Raymond Park, Kangaroo Point is finally being installed, with work expected to conclude by the end of May.
Funding for this was allocated from our local Suburban Enhancement Fund via a previous round of community voting. The council first had to spend $8000 for design and project planning, then once it had been scoped and costed, we had to allocate an additional $95 000 for installation.
I think it's valuable to stress that this decision was made by local residents themselves. If it were left up to the council to decide how to allocate this local parks budget, a comparatively small but valuable project like this might have been overlooked. But because we gave residents a vote, the community had a chance to clearly articulate what its own local infrastructure spending priorities were.
I’m sure that once the lights are switched on, the court will be getting a lot more use in the evenings.
Previous community voting process seems increasingly unviable
Each year as local councillor, I’m asked to allocate a Suburban Enhancement Fund budget of approximately $450 000 towards local park and footpath projects. We’ve used a community voting process called ‘participatory budgeting’ to do this.
Unfortunately, while we have been able to identify and deliver a lot of great projects (including the above-mentioned basketball court lights) via this process over the past 7 years, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that the particular process we’ve been using is no longer viable.
To recap, the process has involved:
- Residents making suggestions on what park and footpath upgrades they’d like to see funded
- We get cost estimates from the council and check that the relevant projects can be delivered under the Suburban Enhancement Fund rules
- Residents vote to allocate the budget to whichever projects they think are best value for money
- Where a project seems controversial, we might run an additional poll to resolve more detailed questions (e.g. even after residents voted to allocate funding to a dog off-leash area, we followed up with a second poll and further consultation about the specific preferred location)
But in recent years, we’ve been running into several related problems more and more often:
- Council’s initial cost estimates are increasingly unreliable, and we’re regularly seeing major cost blowouts on projects that residents have already voted for. (This usually means the council officers are coming back to ask me to sign off on a second allocation for more money after we’ve already decided to proceed with the project)
- Space in parks for the kinds of projects that we are allowed to spend the SEF budget on is becoming increasingly limited (and most of our major parks in the Gabba Ward now already have basic park facilities like toilet blocks, playground shade sails etc). While what we really want is more parkland, this half a million dollar budget is focussed primarily on squeezing more permanent features into existing parks.
- Senior council staff and the LNP chair of the Natural Environment, Water and Sustainability committee are becoming increasingly controlling in terms of dictating what projects we can and can’t spend money on. This has been a gradual shift over time, but whereas a few years ago I had near-unilateral power to allocate funding for new toilet blocks etc, now we are having to negotiate more with the council administration, and in some cases (such as the Highgate Hill toilet block) the LNP are just saying a flat-out ‘no’ even when community voting shows support for a project.
All these factors mean the current process isn’t working anymore, and I end up making more decisions myself rather than via community voting. When a project that residents have already voted for is rejected by the LNP, or turns out to be double the initial estimated cost, we don’t have time to restart the voting process and reallocate all the money.
So we need to come up with a new process where enough residents can have a meaningful say, but we can still get this money allocated within the timeframes set by the administration.
In Brisbane’s other 25 wards, the councillors simply make up their own mind about which projects to fund, usually based on individual resident requests or perhaps the occasional petition. This is slightly quicker, but far less democratic. I welcome feedback from community groups about how we can have an efficient, inclusive process that gives residents meaningful input into these local decisions, while working within the increasingly tight constraints imposed by the council administration.
Shafston House Development Approval
There are so many development applications across our ward that I can’t keep residents in the loop about all of them, but I know a lot of people have been particularly interested in the proposal for a new 15-storey highrise and townhouses on the Shafston House site, right next to the historic, state heritage-listed buildings.
Disappointingly but perhaps not surprisingly, on Friday, 17 March, the LNP-led council approved the development proposal (documents at this link) despite strong objections from residents and local elected representatives. This follows the Labor State Government also signing off on the development’s heritage impacts via the State Assessment Referral Agency.
I think this highlights that neither of the two major parties can be trusted to strike the right balance in terms of creating new housing, protecting heritage, and ensuring private development is supported by sufficient investment in public infrastructure.
Interestingly, for the main 15-storey highrise with its 39 luxury apartments, infrastructure charge caps imposed by the State Government mean the council is only levying a total infrastructure charge of $527,537.85 for the entire project. Each of those 39 3-bedroom apartments will probably sell for a couple of million dollars, but the council is only collecting a mere $500k to cover the costs of road, park, community facility and stormwater drainage infrastructure to accommodate this development.
When you think about how expensive it is to buy land around Kangaroo Point, you can see why the city is falling further behind in terms of meeting the need for new public parkland. Private developers simply aren’t paying their fair share towards the cost of local facilities and infrastructure. Unfortunately, I don’t think much is going to change on this front as long as the city has an LNP mayor.
Festivals restricting access to Musgrave Park
As the inner-city’s population grows while the amount of available parkland remains stagnant, more organisers of ticketed events are seeking exclusive access to public spaces like Musgrave Park. Generally I resist these events taking up too much space in parks, and explain to organisers that even if their event is non-profit, they will need to be content with a much smaller footprint if they want to charge entry and fence people out of public green space.
Paniyiri Festival (which is coming up on 20 and 21 May), is a much-loved and long-running South Brisbane institution that has used Musgrave Park for many years. However it has grown from a free entry community festival to a ticketed event with a bigger emphasis on commercial activities. This year, the organisers are proposing to fence off the entirety of Musgrave Park from Monday, 15 May until Wednesday, 24 May, to facilitate setup and packdown.
Personally, I would prefer if Paniyiri only used the higher oval of Musgrave Park and concentrated more of their festival activities on Edmonstone St, leaving the lower oval freely available to the general public.
Each year, I hear from residents raising concerns about exclusionary uses of the park for major ticketed events, and personally I feel uncomfortable about the fact that residents are expected to pay an entry fee to access their local public park. I’m also worried that the council has no plan to accommodate the rough sleepers currently living in the park who will be forced out by the festival.
If you do have feedback on what the right balance is in terms of how many ticketed, fenced events should be allowed in Musgrave Park, please email the mayor at [email protected] and CC the Gabba Ward office.
James Warner Park Dog Off-leash Area
We’re still trying to get clear answers from the council about what’s happening with the James Warner Dog Off-Leash Area in Kangaroo Point and when it will reopen. A few weeks ago, the council closed it off without warning due to concerns about contaminated land elsewhere in the park, and is now planning some work to make sure the space is definitely safe to use (dog off-leash areas are considered higher risk than other parts of a park because of the higher likelihood of soil disturbance). The council has told us that they’re expecting the space to reopen by Monday, 3 April.
Ok that’s about it for this week. I know lots of residents are moving into the neighbourhood all the time who might not be up to speed on local issues, so please encourage any new faces you meet to consider signing up for these email updates via www.jonathansri.com/updates
Check out the other community events listed below, and hopefully I’ll see you around the neighbourhood soon!