Yes, big developers do get special treatment – particularly in terms of safety and environmental regulations
Residents often complain to me that they feel like Brisbane City Council has one set of rules for big developers, and another set of rules for everyone else. If a local resident wants to renovate their back deck or build a granny flat, they have to jump through all sorts of hoops. Meanwhile just down the road, a big developer can embark on a massive highrise construction project that blankets the neighbourhood in dust and wakes everyone up with early morning jackhammering, and it seems like the council doesn’t bat an eyelid.
This double-standard isn’t just speculation. It’s actually baked into the system. From the initial stages of rezoning neighbourhoods for different kinds of development, to the measly and tokenistic contributions that developers make towards local infrastructure… to the application and assessment processes for new developments, to defect checks and building certification… the entire planning and development framework is designed to facilitate and support the private property industry to make as much money as it can, with a minimum of regulation and oversight.
This is particularly the case when it comes to enforcement of safety and environmental health regulations regarding construction work impacts, such as out-of-hours construction noise, dust pollution, blocked footpaths, unsafe traffic control etc.
A split system for handling complaints
Most of Brisbane City Council’s enforcement work is undertaken by the Compliance and Regulatory Services (CARS) branch. This large part of council covers a broad range of responsibilities from parking infringements to barking dog complaints. If you’re renovating your house, and the tradies are starting work too early, or the temporary site boundary fencing is sticking out over the footpath, the CARS inspectors from the Built Environment Development Team will be called out.
But a few years ago, the property industry was getting frustrated that council inspectors were enforcing the rules rather than looking the other way. It can save developers a lot of money to illegally close off a footpath for temporarily storing building materials, or to start construction at 6am rather than 6:30am, or to direct heavy vehicles through a residential side-street rather than going the long way around via main roads. So constant attention from CARS officers was a threat to profits. In response, a new parallel system was set up during Graham Quirk’s time as mayor, currently called the ‘Building and Construction Management Team’ (and previously called the ‘Suburban Construction Management Team’). The BCMT doesn’t fall under the CARS branch of council. It’s actually part of the Development Services branch.
‘Educating’ developers rather than fining them
The LNP-dominated Brisbane City Council wanted to streamline its systems and make construction as simple and profitable for private developers. So the BCMT is not intended to function as a compliance and enforcement unit like the CARS inspectors. Officers are supposed to work collaboratively with developers to offer ‘education’ and ‘guidance’ about the rules and resolve complaints from residents without issuing fines or taking other forms of enforcement action.
This means that if a particular developer cheekily starts work early one day and wakes up the whole neighbourhood, BCMT won’t issue fines. They’ll just politely remind the developer that construction noise isn’t allowed in Brisbane before 6:30am (which is already way too early anyway) and let them off the hook.
If a developer takes over a parking lane, or cuts down a street tree, or closes off a street without getting the proper permits, BCMT will give them a friendly phone call, and instead of initiating enforcement action, will most likely support the developer through a fast-track process to get a permit for the thing they were already doing illegally. It’s almost like BCMT officers are working for developers to help them skirt around regulations, rather than working for council to enforce regulations on behalf of the wider community. Imagine if parking inspectors operated that way!
"Is BCMT an enforcement/compliance team? In short, NO." This image shows powerpoint slides from a council presentation explaining that BCMT focuses on 'support' and 'guidance' to the building industry rather than compliance.
Big developers get a friendlier framework
The real kicker is that if a complaint about something like dust pollution relates to a construction project for a single dwelling house (e.g. an owner-occupier rebuild) or to a site where there is no relevant development application (such as a small business that’s doing some minor renovations), it will still be dealt with by CARS inspectors.
In contrast, the Building and Construction Management Team – ‘the nice guys’ – are exclusively responsible for commercial developments and larger residential developments with more than one dwelling.
So owner-occupier renovators get inspected by CARS officers who are more likely to issue formal Show Cause notices and escalate to fines, whereas big developers get contacted by BCMT officers who are under explicit instructions to avoid using formal enforcement processes.
One important exception is that CARS still seems to have responsibility for erosion and sediment control i.e. inspecting complaints about muddy run-off from construction sites into creeks and stormwater drains. So if you report dust pollution from a big development site, it'll be handled by BCMT, but if you report that it's mud or erosion that's at risk of washing away, it'll be handled by CARS, and thus hopefully taken more seriously.
I should also note that BCMT is only responsible for inspecting council-approved developments. So if there's a large development that has been assessed and approved under some kind of State Government framework, CARS may still have the power to get involved. But the vast majority of big developments in Brisbane are approved by council, which means BCMT effectively acts to protect the developers from regulatory enforcement.
BCMT is not even resourced to properly investigate complaints
Although the Development Services branch of council is very well-resourced, the BCMT itself is quite limited in terms of staffing capacity. Unlike the Compliance and Regulatory Services Built Environment team, the Building and Construction Management Team generally doesn’t have many – if any – staff who work outside business hours. So if a resident is complaining that a developer is leaving noisy equipment running overnight, there’s no way for the BCMT to actually go out to site to verify the complaint – they are more likely to just take the developer’s word that the resident was mistaken. Unlike CARS, BCMT officers also don’t have the necessary equipment or training to measure air pollution levels, noise pollution etc. So they can’t collect evidence to support enforcement action even if they wanted to.
All this contributes to an environment where developers and construction companies rightly feel that they can get away with pretty much anything. It fosters a culture of entitlement and impunity where developers feel they deserve special treatment because they’re god’s gift to the economy, and major party politicians tend to acquiesce to increasingly bold demands from the property industry because it’s easier than pushing for a bigger change in strategy. This is a problem for Queensland and in fact the nation as a whole, because the property industry will then pressure other councils and state jurisdictions to also relax the rules, saying “well Brisbane City Council is giving us favourable treatment, so why aren’t you?”
We now live in a bizarre world of split realities, where the on-paper regulations that are technically binding rules are rarely enforced in practice. Individual council officers exercise broad discretion as to whether to respond to complaints by simply ‘educating’ a developer, or by issuing Show Cause notices and fines. This creates fertile ground for nepotism and corruption. If the BCMT officers build close personal relationships with particular construction companies or developers, there’s a very real risk that they’ll look the other way when residents complain about breaches of safety or environmental health regulations.
Brisbane City Council has evolved into a large, complex and cost-intensive bureaucracy that gives the illusion of regulating and monitoring issues that are important to residents, when in truth, teams like the BCMT are more like public relations exercises that shield politicians, developers and construction companies from accountability.
I’ve gotten sick of responding to the same simplistic comments on social media over and over again, so I thought I’d just write a quick blog post about it.
In conversations about urban planning and development, it’s increasingly common for people to talk about density and densification like it’s an inherently good thing. I hear it from politicians, from property developers and even from some environmentalists who haven't spent enough time thinking and reading about the issue (perhaps unsurprisingly, experts with a detailed background in urban planning are usually much more resistant to these over-simplifications). Actually, whether density is ‘good’ depends a lot on how we densify, and what kinds of density we’re talking about.
If you’re looking for more commentary by expert researchers in this space, I encourage you to check out this podcast.
We’re all familiar with the valid and legitimate critiques of conventional suburban sprawl development. Building over farmland and bushland for car-centric dormitory suburbs is unsustainable and environmentally destructive. It’s an inefficient use of land and resources, and providing services like public transport, sewerage etc. to these low-density neighbourhoods can be extremely costly.
But just because the most common forms of low-density suburban sprawl are extremely problematic, doesn’t mean that all forms of higher-density development are automatically efficient, sustainable, or intrinsically ‘good.’
Rather than mindlessly parroting the property developers’ narrative that ‘any densification is a good thing’ we need to ask more nuanced questions about what kinds of density, how land is being used in practice, and how people in these neighbourhoods are meeting their basic needs. There are many contemporary styles of building and neighbourhood – e.g. the high-density residential precinct at the northern end of Kangaroo Point – that are not at all 'sustainable' or 'efficient.'
Kangaroo Point as a local example of unsustainable density
The peninsula of Kangaroo Point (as distinct from the southern half of the suburb) is one of the most densely-populated neighbourhoods in the entire state of Queensland, and is only a couple hundred metres from the CBD. Yet census data suggests that almost half its residents drive daily as their main mode of transport (even before covid scared everyone off public transport). This is due to a combination of factors including:
- poor public transport
- the over-abundance of free underground parking
- streets that are designed to prioritise cars over pedestrians, and
- the lack of mixed land uses and a scarcity of local shops and community facilities, which means many residents have to travel out of the suburb to access essential goods and services.
The shortage of public green space in certain areas (e.g. the Lambert St precinct) means that in some cases residents are even driving long distances simply to walk the dog or kick a ball around in the park. High-density residential development that's not accompanied by good public transport or local services and public facilities can in fact contribute to apartment residents leading similarly problematic car-centric lifestyles as the residents in sprawling outer-suburban low-density dormitory suburbs.
On top of this, the tall residential towers of Kangaroo Point are energy-intensive to operate and maintain, as they are heavily reliant on air-conditioning, artificial lighting and water pumps. They’re also resource-intensive in their construction, requiring huge volumes of concrete and steel (don’t even start me on how costly, disruptive and resource-intensive it can be to repair one of these buildings if something major goes wrong).
Kangaroo Point's Dockside Precinct has been a high-density neighbourhood for a couple decades, but most residents still drive and have relatively high per capita energy consumption
Even beyond direct energy demand and embodied energy, this style of living has a huge invisible footprint on the hinterland, well beyond the city’s boundaries. The food residents eat, the water they drink, the material possessions they buy, and the waste they produce – it all has an impact on land and natural resources well beyond the boundaries of Kangaroo Point. Inner-city density offers some potential efficiencies by bringing people closer together, but arguably also means residents are further away from where their food is actually produced. At least in suburbia it’s possible to grow a reasonable volume of salads and herbs in your backyard, a few metres from the kitchen where they’re consumed. But that’s much more difficult in a high-density, concrete-dominated inner-city environment. As a result, these denser neighbourhoods are less resilient and more vulnerable to shocks and disruptions - from power cuts to extreme weather events that disrupt agricultural production.
Higher-density neighbourhoods can also present added challenges in terms of public infrastructure provision. I’ve written elsewhere on my blog about how much more expensive it can be to install even something as simple as traffic lights when there are so many existing services and utilities competing for space in a constrained environment. Nowadays, even relatively simple intersection redesigns around Kangaroo Point typically cost upwards of $5 million because of the need to relocate so much existing underground infrastructure.
The other commonly-cited promise of dense urban neighbourhoods – a vibrant, cosmopolitan cross-cultural milieu with a higher intensity of innovation and creativity – has also failed to materialise in Kangaroo Point. The suburb doesn’t exactly have a thriving nightlife or an abundance of art galleries, music venues, and communal festivities (I should note that the Brisbane Jazz Club is definitely worth a visit, but even it is required to shut off all live music before 10pm as a result of persistent noise complaints from nearby apartment residents).
Just because a neighbourhood is high-density, doesn’t automatically mean it’s environmentally sustainable or culturally successful.
I could go on with many more extreme examples of bad density. Refugee camps and informal urban settlements (i.e. ‘slums’) often have very dense populations. But cramming heaps of people into a compact area doesn’t automatically mean they have access to secure housing, safe sewerage systems or reliable public transport.
Dharavi slum in Mumbai has an estimated population density of over 270 000 residents/km2
Similarly, there are many examples around the world of comparatively low-density settlement patterns where people are living sustainably, in balance with their ecosystem, producing food locally without excessive tree-clearing or land degradation.
Evaluating the difference between ‘good density’ and ‘bad density’ doesn’t just require an analysis of the building materials used or the provision of supporting public infrastructure and services. It also requires an understanding of property economics and the land value impacts of densification.
Upzoning privately owned sites for higher-density development puts upward pressure on land values across an area, and makes it significantly harder and more expensive for governments and NGOs to acquire land to deliver new public housing. This can be devastating for regions where public housing is in short supply.
Densification without any concern for equity or social justice tends, in practice, to result in low-income inner-city residents being displaced to outer-suburban areas where transport costs are higher, further away from support services and job opportunities. Unfortunately most decision-makers who have any power over urban planning decisions in cities like Brisbane seem to care little for the negative impacts of gentrification.
I don’t want this to turn into a longer essay on densification and the best forms of urban development (maybe it’s too late and this is already becoming an essay? Perhaps I'll have to write something more detailed about this topic sometime soon...), but I simply want to prompt the “all density is good!” disciples to pause for a moment, and accept that this is a nuanced issue. Sometimes densification can be good. And sometimes it’s not as desirable. The devil’s in the detail.
Further local case studies relevant to discussions of density vs height - www.jonathansri.com/densityvsheight
With the property industry redeveloping and gentrifying so much of the Kurilpa peninsula, and rents and property values climbing through the roof (even if the roof is in poor condition and leaks during heavy storms), one of the most affordable remaining styles of housing in the inner-south side are the 2-storey and 3-storey apartment blocks scattered throughout the older neighbourhoods of West End, Highgate Hill, Woolloongabba and southern Kangaroo Point.
Google Streetview image of 5 Dudley Street, Highgate HillRead more
Why Are Homes So Expensive?
Our housing system is broken. Homelessness is rising, and Australia’s property market looks increasingly unsustainable.
Here in the Gabba Ward, the majority of us are renters. Every time our lease is up for renewal, we stress about whether we’ll have to move out or cop a sharp rent increase. But precarious employment conditions and sky-high property prices mean actually buying a place is completely out of reach for most residents.
Many of those who have bought a home are burdened by massive mortgages, and live in fear of interest rate rises or losing our jobs, which in turn makes us less likely to speak up and advocate against injustice in our workplaces.
It’s not as simple as ‘increasing supply’
Some argue that we should rezone land and relax planning regulations to allow more development. They claim this improves affordability by increasing the supply of private housing, but this isn’t true in practice…
Whenever property values stop rising as fast, most developers tend to slow down construction, withhold new apartments from sale, and artificially restrict supply, so they can keep values high and maximise profits.
Many investors who are primarily interested in capital gains choose to leave homes empty rather than renting them out cheaply. Increasingly, we’re also seeing more residential houses and apartments converted into short-term accommodation and rented out to visitors rather than local residents.
On top of this, rezoning land for more private development raises its value, which in turn makes it costlier for governments to deliver genuinely affordable public housing where it’s most needed.
Positive change is possible
Sadly, I’m hearing more and more stories of young renters drowning in rejection emails from real estate agents, and long-term residents being forced out of their communities due to rapidly rising rents and house prices. The unbalanced property market means landlords are under less pressure to maintain properties. Tenants worry that if they request repairs or make complaints, their landlord will punish them by not renewing the lease.
The cost of housing is rising rapidly across Australia - not just in major cities, and not just in areas experiencing rapid population growth.
Rising prices result from an unbalanced policy landscape at all levels of government which rewards speculative property investment, and encourages the treatment of housing as a commodity, rather than a basic human right.
Federal incentives for property investors, such as capital gains tax discounts and negative gearing, are a big part of the problem, as are weak renters’ rights.
When housing is treated as a commodity, supply will never meet demand, because the demand for profit is insatiable.
The following government policy approaches have already been successfully implemented in other jurisdictions around the world, and could help cool our overheated property market and reduce homelessness, without triggering a destabilising collapse in the value of existing owner-occupied homes...
- Strengthen renters’ rights
- Introduce a vacancy tax or levy on long-term vacant homes, shops and empty land (this short write-up explains that identifying vacant homes is not as difficult as some people might assume)
- Scrap federal tax incentives for property investment
- Restrict the proliferation of short-term AirBnB-style accommodation in areas that are supposed to house long-term residents
- Build more public housing (and make it mandatory to include some in all new private developments)
A Fair Go for Renters
Strengthening renters rights is one of the cheapest, quickest, most effective policy responses to rising homelessness and housing insecurity, but our State Government has failed to meet its own deadlines for reforming out-of-date laws. Other states have recently introduced stronger protections for renters, but Queensland is lagging behind.
We need to strengthen renters’ rights with a range of changes, including:
- rules against ending a tenancy for no reason (this helps protect tenants from retribution evictions) - a valid reason for ending a tenancy would include if the landlord wants to move in themselves
- Limits against excessive rent increases - if a landlord wants to put the rent up, they should have to prove that they’ve made home improvements which justify the increase
- Basic minimum standards - in Victoria, recently-introduced legislation included rules requiring that all external doors should be lockable, that electrical wiring is safe, and that all rentals have access to working toilets and bathrooms (it’s wild that such rules don’t already exist in Queensland; sadly it’s not uncommon to find rental properties that don’t meet these standards)
While I’ve met several good-hearted landlords who try to treat their tenants fairly, there are also plenty of jerks out there who are motivated only by profit. Improving renters rights will protect renters against price-gouging and unjustified evictions. This in turn will help stop people becoming homeless, particularly if stronger protections for renters are accompanied by a vacancy levy that discourages investors from leaving homes empty.
If you agree we need stronger government action to address rising homelessness, please email Queensland’s Housing Minister at [email protected]...
Mention your support for reforming tenancy laws and introducing vacancy levies, but also for building more public housing on existing government-owned sites like the new Cross River Rail station at Woolloongabba.
Please also make sure you’re signed up via www.jonathansri.com/updates to receive info about this important issue.
Increasing Private Housing Supply vs Public Housing and More Efficient Use of Existing Stock
Property developers often argue that approving the construction of more private housing will improve affordability, but this isn't necessarily true in the Brisbane context. This short article explains why leaving housing provision up to the private sector won't work, while this article unpacks some of the growth projections for Brisbane, and questions the 'tall vs sprawl' false dichotomy that has unfortunately become accepted dogma within the property industry and many parts of government.
Rental Law Reforms
This page on the Brisbane Renters Alliance website outlines some of the main policy demands in terms of reforming tenancy legislation here in Queensland.
Note that the Brisbane Renters Alliance calls for a 'soft limit' on rental increases, suggesting that rents should only be allowed to increase by 1% per annum unless major improvements are made to a property. Other groups, such as the Queensland Greens, have called for rent limits to be capped at CPI (the Consumer Price Index) which is a measure of inflation that's currently sitting at around 1.1% per year. There are good arguments for and against connecting rent increases to CPI, but some would argue that a more consistent limit of 1% per annum offers better protection to tenants in the event that a major market shock leads to an unexpected period of rapid inflation.
The Town of Nowhere
An alliance of Queensland service providers and advocacy groups has launched a new campaign called 'The Town of Nowhere,' highlighting that over 47 000 Queenslanders are experiencing severe housing insecurity. The primary demand is for a massive increase in public housing construction. I think it's important to distinguish between genuinely affordable public housing, where rent is usually capped at 25% or 30% of a tenant's income, as opposed to public-private 'affordable housing' partnership projects where rent is capped at 75% of market rent, which is still prohibitively expensive for many people on lower incomes.
The Everybody's Home campaign is a national push by a nationwide alliance of non-government organisations pushing for a raft of changes to housing policy, including a major increase in the construction of public housing, winding back negative gearing and capital gains tax exemptions, stronger renters' rights and better homelessness/crisis support services. You can learn more about the campaign via this link.
If there are any Labor supporters out there who are still genuinely concerned about climate justice, please understand that Queensland Labor is part of the problem, and will not shift unless it loses votes and seats to more progressive alternatives like the Greens.
Right now, Labor MPs in some parts of Queensland are actively campaigning for and promising new coal mines. In contrast, so-called ‘progressive’ Labor MPs who claim to be concerned about global warming are not promising or campaigning on a platform of shutting down coal mines.
Both the party’s actions in government, and its election commitments, show there is no genuine commitment to do what’s necessary to bring down global carbon emissions.
In response to criticisms about its support for new coal mines and failure to take global warming seriously enough, QLD Labor has offered five inter-connected arguments to convince people to keep voting Labor ahead of the Greens:
1. Labor is already doing enough to address climate change.
2. We need to keep the LNP out, and voting Greens jeopardises that.
3. We need to keep the LNP out, and supporting new coal mines is the only way to do that.
4. We need to support new coal mines for now, because a just transition still requires us to keep creating new jobs in regional towns.
5. We need to keep progressive Labor MPs in the party room to ‘drag the party back to the left’
None of these arguments stacks up to close scrutiny. Let’s start with the first one...
1. IS QUEENSLAND LABOR 'DOING ENOUGH'?
No. Definitely not. Not even close.
Although there have undeniably been some positive steps towards establishing new renewable energy projects, Labor’s target of supplying 50% of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030 is woefully inadequate (particularly when you consider that the state is also doing a piss-poor job of addressing Queensland’s other major sources of carbon emissions, such as industrial-scale animal agriculture and oil-powered transport systems).
For comparison, South Australia has a target of 100% renewable energy by 2030, and the major parties’ fear of losing votes to the Greens in SA has undeniably been a key factor behind that.
But if you take nothing else away from this post, this next point is perhaps one of the most important:
By digging up and exporting coal to be burnt overseas, Queensland is contributing to extremely high carbon emissions that far exceed our own energy system’s domestic emissions.
Queensland exported around 226 million tonnes of coal last year. In contrast, Queensland’s domestic consumption of coal is only around 25 million tonnes per year.
So it’s the stuff that we sell other countries to burn which is a far bigger contributor to carbon emissions.
From the perspective of mitigating global warming, focussing too heavily on how many new solar and wind projects Queensland sets up to replace thermal coal power plants is actually a bit of a distraction.
Queensland Labor has deliberately tried to shift discussion to the new domestic renewables projects it is establishing, to distract from the fact that we are still exporting way too much coal.
For Labor to claim that it is ‘taking positive steps’ towards a renewable energy future, while continuing to support new coal mines and exporting more and more coal, is deeply misleading.
At a bare minimum, Queensland immediately needs to stop supporting new coal mines, massively increase mining royalties, and scale back production of existing coal mines.
2. "VOTING GREENS HELPS THE LNP"
This is just straight out nonsense.
There are 93 seats in the Queensland Parliament, so you need at least 47 seats to hold power.
Currently, there 48 Labor seats and 1 Green seat.
If the Greens win a few seats off Labor, the combined total of Labor and Greens seats in the parliament would still remain the same. Even if we end up with 45 Labor seats and 4 Green seats, the total still adds up to 49 seats.
Obviously if Labor loses seats to the LNP, that’s bad for Labor, but voting 1 Greens doesn’t impact that as long as you still put Labor above the LNP when you’re filling out all the numbers on your ballot paper.
Which brings us to the next argument…
3. LABOR CLAIMS IT HAS TO SUPPORT NEW COAL MINES TO KEEP OUT THE LNP
This is the argument that personally makes me really sad, because it shows how lacking in vision both the major parties have become.
I’m the first to point out that Bob Brown’s ‘Stop Adani Convoy’ before the federal election was an idiotic and unhelpful political strategy.
Sending large numbers of people up to actually blockade a mining corporation might have been a different matter. Sending southerners up on a ‘tourism jobs’ convoy to show regional towns that there’s money to be made from hospitality and tourism might also have helped.
But Bob Brown driving to Clermont to lecture coal mining communities about how ‘coal is evil’ was never going to work.
You have to explain and show that alternative futures are possible.
In recent elections, the Queensland Greens vote has grown consistently (no thanks to Bob Brown), not just in South-East Queensland but throughout the state. It has grown because we’ve articulated a broad policy platform that offers everyone a higher quality of life without relying on new coal mines as a key source of job creation.
We’ve been articulating a more diversified economic future for regional Queensland, that creates jobs through renewable energy generation, sustainable regenerative agriculture, public housing construction and maintenance, cultural and environmental tourism etc. And it is working for us as an electoral strategy.
Voters in regional Queensland aren’t stupid. They know that global demand for thermal coal will continue to decline long-term. So when Labor says its economic plan is to create more jobs in coal mining, that doesn’t actually win over many voters who would otherwise support the LNP. In fact, it frames the election debate into a question of which party will be MORE supportive of coal mining, which is weak ground for Labor.
It’s possible for Labor to win votes without supporting new coal mines. Labor parties in other states and other countries have done that. For Labor strategists to argue that Labor won’t be able to remain in power unless it supports new coal mines is perhaps the strongest evidence we need that Labor is not going to be an effective vehicle for action on climate change.
Electorally speaking, they would be better off copying more of the Greens platform, and talking about a broad public sector-led transition to other industries, which supports people to retrain in other fields and protects vulnerable communities from the negative impacts of economic recession.
As a side note: Own-goal ads like the one at the top of the page from Labor’s Mackay candidate show how sitting on the fence and trying to say completely different things to different parts of the electorate is not a viable long-term strategy.
In the 2017 election, Labor told central Queensland voters they would support Adani and told SEQ voters that they would oppose it. In the end, they didn’t pick up any new seats in the inner-city OR in regional Queensland.
4. "A 'JUST TRANSITION' REQUIRES CONTINUED SUPPORT OF COAL MINING"
This is where the influence of mining industry lobbyists on the Labor party becomes most obvious.
Opening up new mines and creating more jobs in coal mining DOES NOT assist regional towns to transition away from dependence on coal mining. It leads them further down a dead-end road and sets them up for failure as global demand for thermal coal decreases.
Greens politicians are not arguing that we have to shut down every single coal mine and power plant overnight. We are calling for greater public investment to create jobs in other sectors and industries, for a proper social support net in terms of guaranteed housing, free healthcare and free education, and we are arguing that the billionaires, mining corporations and big banks that have made so much money out of the resources boom should help pay for it all.
Maintaining the charade that there will be plenty of jobs in coal long-term hurts everyone, especially regional mining communities. Queensland already has enough money to fund a just transition that doesn’t leave anyone behind. We don’t need an expansion of coal mining in order to support a transition away from coal mining.
5. "KEEP THE 'GOOD' LABOR MPS IN"
This is perhaps the weakest of all the arguments Labor offers against voting Greens, because all available evidence contradicts it.
Labor has been in government for two terms in a row now. And prior to 3 years of Campbell Newman from 2012 to 2015, Labor had held government in Queensland for the better part of two decades.
Labor politicians like Grace Grace and Jackie Trad spin the line that having them in the party room helps balance the more conservative views of regional Labor MPs, and that without them, Labor would drift even further to ‘the right.’
But here’s the thing: even with those people holding ministerial positions and a great deal of influence within the party, Queensland Labor is still doing dodgy deals with multinational corporations, and supporting big new coal mining projects like the Adani and New Acland projects.
These supposedly ‘progressive’ Labor MPs have not been able to prevent new coal mines being established, and in fact have voted to support them and give them royalty deferrals. These ‘progressive’ Labor MPs haven’t even been able to introduce basic cost-neutral reforms in other key areas like strengthening renters’ rights or preventing deaths in custody.
In fact, even with these ‘progressive’ MPs in the party room, Labor has become more authoritarian and conservative, announcing massive increases in prison and police funding and tighter laws to suppress public protest, without meaningfully increasing funding for public housing, domestic violence support services etc.
If anything, the continued presence of these MPs is a net loss to ‘progressive’ advocacy in Queensland. They speak the jargon and uphold the façade of Labor as a ‘progressive’ party while voting in favour of a policy platform that embodies and entrenches neoliberalism. They use their platforms to promote Labor as a party of social justice and equity while selling off public land to private developers and granting cash-for-access meetings to big business lobbyists.
I’m not questioning their motivations. They probably think they’re doing the right thing and are helping keep out the LNP.
But to suggest that we will have a better chance of stopping new coal mines like Adani with Labor MPs like Grace Grace, than with Greens MPs who hold the balance of power and can demand real change, is utterly nonsensical.
If you still think that supporting Labor helps address global warming (it doesn’t), please at least take a moment to understand how preferential voting works, and recognise that wherever you live in Queensland, voting 1 Greens (and numbering every box) is a much more effective way to send a strong message to the major parties.
Is this the utopia we're fighting for? Submission against Aria's 'Green' Highrise Development Proposal
At first glance, Aria’s recently-proposed highrise development for 23 to 25 Glenelg St, South Brisbane looks like the kind of development that Greens councillors like me should be cheerleading for: rooftop solar panels, green walls, and trees growing out of balconies – what’s not to like?
The building’s outward appearance evokes utopian solarpunk aesthetics and points to visions of a more sustainable urban future.
However, despite including several very cool features that I wish other developers adopted, the proposal also has several significant flaws which mean that although it will appeal to some green capitalists, when considered holistically, developments like this aren’t in the broader public interest.
When you drill into the detail, you realise that although it certainly has green veneers and many of the trappings of sustainable development, the project overall still isn’t as sustainable as its marketing might suggest.
The developers are obviously trying to think outside the box while constrained by some arguably outdated planning codes. But the compromises and shortfalls of this proposal demonstrate how even with the best of intentions, it is commercially very difficult to deliver high-quality sustainable development while also making a significant profit.
This in turn highlights the naivety of expecting the private sector to lead a shift to more sustainable urban landscapes, and that if we do need more high-density inner-city housing, it needs to be delivered by governments, NGOs and housing co-operatives rather than profit-motivated private companies.
Yes, there is some good stuff
Credit where it’s due, there are several positive elements to this design, which are still worth celebrating even though they don’t outweigh the negative impacts of this development.
Not only are the developers squeezing more trees and garden beds onto balconies than most Brisbane developers, but they are also putting more thought into species selection, choosing different native plant species for each side of the tower, with shade-loving plants on the southern side, and wind-tolerant higher-altitude plants for the upper levels.
There are also a couple hundred solar panels on the roof. They won’t generate anywhere near enough energy to power such a massive building, but this is still a better approach than many Brissie developers have proposed.
The building apparently aims to meet a high ‘green star rating’ with energy-efficient fixtures and some stormwater capture and storage.
The developers have also proposed narrowing the roadway in front of their development to create wider footpaths and more room for street trees, which is positive from an active transport perspective.
Unfortunately, all of this is ultimately just greenwashing on an unsustainable project that undermines the broader public interest.
One of the commonly-cited benefits of high-density inner-city development is that proximity to transport services and destinations helps reduce car-dependence and traffic congestion. However we also know that the more free off-street carparking a developer provides to residents, the more cars people will own and the more likely they are to keep driving for trips that could be made by other transport modes.
Aria’s development site on Glenelg St is only 300-400m from multiple train stations and the high-frequency busway. It’s a 400m walk to South Bank and less than a kilometre to the CBD. So in that context, the developer’s decision to include 560+ carparks for just 382 apartments is a slap in the face to sustainable transport advocates.
Not only does the provision of so many carparks encourage private vehicle ownership and use, but it also leads to substantially greater environmental and community impacts in terms of noise disruption and the non-renewable resources used in constructing seven levels of basement carparking.
Private rather than community-focussed
In fact, in many respects this development embodies the worst aspects of the urban compaction model. Despite being extremely high density, the development does relatively little to contribute meaningfully to a vibrant streetscape or connected community. Most of the so-called ‘common’ space is located within the building, inaccessible to the wider public, thus distancing residents from the surrounding neighbourhood.
Even the rooftop common areas function largely as privately bookable spaces, so rather than fostering incidental interactions between apartment neighbours who are sharing a rooftop BBQ area, cinema or games room at the same time, these facilities will be privatised. This difference between negotiating shared use of common spaces, and taking turns privately booking a space through a system where you don’t even have to talk to other residents, is crucial in terms of what kinds of relationships neighbours are likely to forge.
Unfortunately, most residents will probably see very little of each other beyond occasional chats in the elevator on the way down to the underground carpark. Obviously a lot of people like it that way, but this approach to design and facilities management represents a high-density vertical replication of the individualism, isolation and loneliness that characterises too many car-centric sprawling dormitory suburbs.
Density without public facilities
This is quite a dense building in terms of population. 938 bedrooms on a 2780m2 site works out to a density of 3370 bedrooms per hectare, making this development even denser than West Village or the other mega-developments along Montague Rd. By building right to the boundaries and well over the prescribed height, the developer is proposing to squeeze 382 apartments onto this site. Whereas if the developer complied with the 70% site cover limit and the 12-storey height limit, the site would only yield around 90 apartments of similar size.
The developer’s ‘Economic Benefit Snapshot’ suggests the development will accommodate approximately 870 new residents (all with 938 bedrooms, the total number of residents might be even higher). Whereas according to their own methodology, if they complied with the South Brisbane Riverside Neighbourhood Plan’s acceptable height and site cover outcomes for the site, the development would only accommodate around 200 residents. This means at least 660 to 670 more residents would be housed on the site than was anticipated by council’s infrastructure planners.
Brisbane City Plan’s ‘Desired Standards of Service’ identifies that for every 1000 residents, there should be 1.4 hectares of public parkland within the immediate local area. The suburb of South Brisbane already falls well below that target, but developments like this significantly exacerbate the problem. Contrary to some of the marketing rhetoric, the project does not include any genuine new public parkland that is open to the sky.
According to Table 22.214.171.124.2 in City Plan’s Desired Standards of Service, the addition of 870 new residents to a neighbourhood should be accompanied by roughly 12 180m2 of new public parkland within the ‘Local Recreation Need Area’ plus a further 2.8 hectares (28 000m2) of parkland across the city as a whole.
Although the development includes an undercover 1400m2 space at ground level which is publicly accessible but privately owned, this will not serve the same functions as a genuine public park or square, and is nowhere near large enough to cater for the number of residents who’ll move into this building.
The same issue arises in respect of other community facilities. While the building certainly includes a range of amenities for residents, this doesn’t sufficiently offset the need to provide genuine public facilities like libraries and community halls in the local area.
Energy and resource-intensive building form
Like most modern highrises, this proposed tower will involve a lot of steel and concrete in its construction. Digging seven levels of basement carparking and strong enough foundations to anchor a 35-storey building requires a massive amount of fossil fuel-generated energy (and also causes severe disruption to the surrounding community in terms of noise and air pollution).
Steel and concrete are not sustainable materials, requiring significant energy and resource inputs in their construction, and the use of these materials represents a significant negative environmental impact far beyond that of smaller-scale medium-density buildings. Cement production alone is estimated to contribute to approximately 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions.
To describe this tower as the ‘greenest building in the world’ when it contains so much concrete and steel is utterly farcical. Medium-density workers’ cottages and flats constructed from locally-sourced timber would have a far smaller environmental impact.
Building such a tall, bulky structure that is strong enough to withstand heavy winds and storms requires phenomenally strong and energy-intensive materials. The built form of a tower like this is inherently anti-ecological.
Unsustainable apartment designs
Anytime I see a 3-bedroom apartment with 3 bathrooms, it’s a red flag that the developer is not as concerned about sustainability as they pretend to be. The amount of space (and fixtures and resources) wasted on superfluous bathrooms is one of the first elements that sustainably-minded developers do away with. Very few 3-bedroom households need three bathrooms.
If such superfluous features are removed from apartment designs, not only does this reduce the resources used in construction, but it also reduces the overall floor plate area, which means a less bulky building, more space between towers, and more room for green space at ground level.
Looking closely at the proposal, it becomes clear that many fixtures and materials aren’t going to be sourced locally, and that apartment fit-out decisions are not necessarily prioritising sustainability. Sure your marble kitchen benchtops might look flashy, but if that rock has been transported from thousands of kilometres away, it still has a very high embodied energy footprint.
No organic waste management plan
Like most high-density projects, this proposal doesn’t appear to include organic food waste management systems. Apartment residents don’t have as much space for composting food scraps compared with residents who have their own backyards. We’re now seeing many older apartment complexes around South Brisbane struggling to repurpose spaces in shared gardens and courtyards into communal composting hubs, and the demand for on-site composting is likely to rise in future. Of course, this development is built right up to the boundaries, so unlike older apartment towers, it won’t be possible to repurpose a shared ground-level garden bed for communal composting.
If the Aria project can include a comprehensive plan for planting and maintaining trees and balcony gardens, the developers should also be including an on-site composting scheme if they really are serious about how ‘green’ this project is. All those trees growing in harsh balcony conditions will require a high-volume of nutrient inputs in order to remain healthy. Instead of buying and transporting in fertilisers from the rural hinterland, a truly sustainable tower would transform food waste into compost onsite to nourish its trees.
Generous exemptions vs very little public benefit
This proposed development fails to comply with a long list of planning codes, most notably:
- It is roughly 35 storeys tall on a site zoned for 12 storeys.
- It covers close to 100% of the site area when the acceptable outcome in the neighbourhood plan is 70%.
- There are no deep-planted trees on site, even though council requires that 10% of the site area should be set aside for deep planting.
- The project is built right up to all the boundaries with minimal setbacks, leaving very little space to neighbouring properties.
Most floors within this development have 14 apartments per level. So allowing the developer to build more than 20 storeys higher than the site zoning allows them to sell at least an additional 280 apartments. The fact that they are building right up to the property boundaries, with 100% site cover rather than 70% site cover, also means the apartments are much larger.
Depending on the size, age and configuration, new high-end South Brisbane apartments currently range in price from $800 000 to $1.5 million.
So at a very conservative estimate, the planning code exemptions the developer is seeking represent free additional real estate value worth somewhere in the range of $280 to $400 million.
Failure to comply with key planning requirements leads to a range of negative impacts on the surrounding suburb, most notably the above-mentioned shortfall of public infrastructure and facilities not keeping pace with local population growth.
Over-inflated land values
When developments are approved to build much more densely than the neighbourhood plan anticipates, this puts significant upward pressure on land values. This makes it much more difficult and expensive for governments and non-profit organisations to buy land for public facilities and services. Already, Brisbane City Council struggles to afford inner-city land to deliver new public parks, libraries and other community facilities. The State Government also struggles to afford land to deliver new public housing.
By approving such dense developments – particularly for high-end ‘luxury’ apartments – and thus inflating land values, the council is reducing the opportunities to address homelessness by delivering public housing for low-income residents, or public parks for the wider community to enjoy.
Colder, windier streets
The proliferation of tall, bulky towers with inadequate setbacks reduces the penetration of sunlight to street level, and exacerbates the wind tunnel effect. The cumulative impact of multiple developments like this across South Brisbane is to create a landscape of cold, windy concrete canyons.
Some developers argue that in terms of how a person experiences a streetscape, there is no material difference between a 12-storey building and a 35-storey building. But humans don’t experience the world in only two dimensions. It’s self-evident that gazing upwards at 40-storey skyscrapers with no setbacks in the middle of the CBD is a materially different experience to gazing up at a 10 or 12-storey tower in South Brisbane.
The developer’s own ‘Qualitative Wind Assessment Report’ notes that the building will have a discernible impact on wind conditions in the local area, and explicitly recommends a quantified ‘wind tunnel study’. The report also notes that plants on upper balconies will experience significant wind loading, and that more detailed quantifiable assessment is needed to ensure the design is appropriate.
While the Qualitative Wind Assessment Report focuses on the experiences of pedestrians at ground level, it makes no mention of how this tall, bulky tower might impact wind conditions for neighbouring buildings, particularly the rooftops and balconies of shorter apartment and hotel buildings along Merivale and Glenelg Streets. As its baseline, the report takes measured conditions from the Brisbane Airport at an elevation of 10 metres, which are not relevant or useful in estimating wind impacts and conditions at the tops of 10-storey buildings, let alone this proposed 35-storey building.
Overshadowing and view corridors
In understanding how big an impact this tall, bulky tower will have on the urban landscape, it’s important to recognise that the apartment levels of this building generally have a much greater floor-to-ceiling height than other residential highrises. Most levels are 3.4m high. Some are 4.4m high. This means the visual impact of the development would be more akin to a 40-storey tower.
The developer’s own diagrams show that this tower will cast a big shadow across much of Musgrave Park, including shadowing impacts on the historic Croquet Club and Jagera Hall sites.
In arguing that the development’s overshadowing impacts on the park are not significant, the developer misleadingly suggests that Musgrave Park is already mostly shaded by large trees. While not technically correct, this also misses the point that trees need sunlight too. The large fig trees in Musgrave Park have grown and acclimatised to an environment of full sunlight. To abruptly cast them into shadow and drastically reduce the amount of direct sunlight they’re exposed to would have a negative impact on their health. So while the developers might be including many new small trees on the balconies of their tower, the overshadowing will actually harm large, established trees that are already growing in public green space and potentially reduce canopy cover in the local area.
Not only is this 35-storey building significantly taller than other developments around South Brisbane, but it’s also halfway up a hill. Such a massive tower will dramatically impact view corridors from the top of Highgate Hill towards the city, and from parts of South Bank looking to the southwest. Crucially, it will block views of the setting sun. So while the shadowing diagrams might show relatively little impact for the middle parts of the day, the impacts in the late afternoons are dramatic.
In summer, the building will cast afternoon shadows right across the public swimming areas at South Bank, blocking views of sunset. In winter, the building will cast heavy shadows over Musgrave Park swimming pool from around 7am to noon.
As the local councillor for this community, I’m confident that the proposed height and bulk of this building is completely out of step with community expectations for this site.
Significantly greater traffic impacts
With around 560 carparks, and a higher servicing burden in terms of garbage truck and maintenance vehicle trips, this development will have a far bigger impact on the traffic network than is desirable. A key goal of urban consolidation development is to reduce dependence on cars and encourage use of public and active transport, however this development provides so much more carparking than necessary and is thus encouraging car ownership and car-dependence.
In estimating traffic network impacts, the developer’s Traffic Engineering Report makes crucial errors and relies on outdated and inaccurate assumptions. The report uses a survey of traffic generation from inner-city Sydney in 2013, suggesting that the average inner-city apartment generates 0.19 car trips in the morning peak hour. However Sydney has much higher rates of public transport usage than Brisbane, and Sydney apartments tend to have fewer associated carparks. One-bedroom single-carpark Sydney apartments might only generate 0.19 peak-hour car trips per apartment, but a 3-bedroom Brisbane apartment with multiple carparks would logically be expected to generate more trips.
The 2016 Census shows that in the suburb of South Brisbane, roughly 30% of residents drove themselves to work on the day of the census. This figure doesn’t account for the recent growth in taxi and rideshare services, which some studies suggest has further increased the number of cars on the road associated with inner-city residences.
The development has around 560 carparking spaces, yet the developer’s Traffic Engineering Report is suggesting that only 73 vehicles will drive in or out of the site during the morning peak period. This seems like a widely optimistic assumption. If the developer genuinely believes that such a small proportion of residents will drive on a regular basis, why are they providing so many more resident carparking spaces than BCC’s City Plan requires?
When we consider the above negative impacts, as well as the broader flow-on socio-cultural repercussions of rapid gentrification and highly individualistic styles of apartment living, we find ourselves asking, what is the community getting in return for the developer receiving several hundred million dollars of additional real estate value?
The developer has submitted a Public Benefit Statement identifying a range of highly debatable ‘public benefits’ of approving this project:
1. Greenest residential building in the world
As explained above, this building is not as ‘green’ as it pretends to be. It certainly has a lot of plants on the balconies, but it is not a particularly sustainable form of development, and it will arguably have a negative impact on surrounding trees and green spaces (not to mention neighbouring residents). There’s no denying that the building looks interesting, and will perhaps be a local talking point for a few years, but sticking plants on balconies way up in the sky doesn’t significantly improve the urban experience for the broader public at street level. A few large deep-planted trees at street level (as required by City Plan 2014) would arguably provide a much more significant public benefit for people moving through the neighbourhood.
2. Green Spine
The developers have also created a very general master plan that proposes narrowing the Glenelg St roadway and creating a wider pedestrian boulevard connecting Musgrave Park to South Bank. This is a genuinely positive proposal that has quite a few merits, and obviously also benefits the developer by creating a nicer entrance to their building, and allowing them to get away with building closer to their property boundaries.
However this idea falls outside the scope of the development application. There’s no clear costed proposal for the developers to actually deliver and pay for this work. It’s pretty much impossible to accurately evaluate the public benefit of this proposal without knowing how much extra money the developer is proposing to put towards this element (above and beyond the meagre infrastructure charges that a developer would be required to pay as standard for any development).
Perhaps if the developer is willing to cover the full cost of this work, and the idea has the support of existing local residents and businesses, this ‘Green Spine’ represents a couple million dollars’ worth of public benefit at most.
3. New Park and Visitors Centre
The developer points to the inclusion of a new ground-level park, referencing an area of 1642m2. Excluding driveways and walkways, the true area of this space is more like 1000m2 at absolute most, and most of the 1000m2 is garden beds. This so-called ‘park’ is not a genuine public park, is not very large, and faces onto the noisy and busy Merivale St road corridor.
As expanded upon further down this document, the benefits to the general public of a small publicly accessible privately owned space of this nature are not particularly impressive. The space is not suitable for community events, ball games or other forms of active recreation, and the extent of garden beds and landscaping means the actual useable area of this space is quite limited. Its proximity to the lobby entrance and busy roads mean that in practice, it probably won’t be used as much as a public park of equivalent size, such as Bunyapa Park in West End.
While this 1000m2 space certainly represents some public benefit, it does not offer anywhere near as much benefit as an actual public park, noting again that for a resident population of this development’s size, City Plan desires an additional 12 180m2 of genuine public parkland in the local area.
No meaningful detail has been provided about the visitors centre and bike workshop in the application. It’s not clear whether these facilities would be managed commercially or what measures are in place to ensure they function as public community facilities. While it would be great if the developer was proposing to hand over the ground level visitors centre area as a community facility, either directly to BCC, or to a non-profit community group, that isn’t what the developer seems to be offering. In the absence of strict, legally binding conditions, the visitor’s centre doesn’t appear to offer any greater public benefit than any other ground-level commercial land use.
4. 5-Star Green Star Rating
It’s certainly laudable that the development will meet a 5-star greenstar rating. While as explained above, the development is not as ‘green’ as its marketing might suggest, this is a genuinely positive feature. However the inclusion of energy-efficient fixtures, rainwater harvesting and bike racks primarily benefits the residents themselves, as opposed to the wider public.
It’s also noteworthy that BCC is already offering developers a discount on infrastructure charges if their building meets higher sustainability standards.
So if the developer is arguing that greenstar-rated apartments justify building a much higher and denser tower than the neighbourhood plan anticipates (an argument I don’t accept), you would at least hope that they are not also receiving discounted infrastructure charges.
5. and 6. Superior unit design and communal recreation area
Both of these elements offer no tangible public benefit whatsoever. While it’s certainly positive that the developer is proposing well-designed apartments that include extra rooftop facilities like swimming pools and BBQ areas, the general public does not benefit from this in any way. The negative impacts experienced by the broader community (as touched on above) are in no way offset by design features and facilities that only the future tower residents will enjoy
7. Public Art and Lighting
The developer proposes to include high-quality lighting all the way up the building, so that the tower will be bright and visible from a distance even late at night. Reasonable people might disagree as to whether this is actually a good thing. Personally I would rather have a view of the stars.
While certainly eye-catching, the lighting of trees and balcony garden beds arguably also diminishes their ecological value in terms of native habitat, as many insects and birds will be deterred by the late-night lighting.
The developer offers no specific details about the public art that will be delivered at ground-level, or a dollar value figure for this element.
While it’s certainly possible that creative lighting arrangements and public art will offer some positive benefits to the wider public, they are unlikely to be significant enough to offset the many serious negative impacts of this project’s failure to comply with the relevant planning codes.
8. Buildings that Breathe
The developer also identifies that this project will comply with BCC’s ‘Buildings that Breathe’ guidelines, as do many other recently approved tower developments to a greater or lesser extent. The design elements referred to in this part of the ‘Public Benefit Statement’ largely duplicate the purported benefits described under ‘Superior Unit Design’.
Cross-ventilation, good natural light and generous balcony gardens are certainly all positive features that should be mandated in all new developments. But such elements alone do not constitute sufficient justification for allowing exemptions to height, setbacks, site cover or deep planting requirements. Further, council’s own information request notes that natural light penetration for some bedrooms is not satisfactory, and that these rooms may rely on artificial lighting even during the day.
When you consider this list in entirety, it’s undeniable that the development does offer a few minor public benefits. However, these don’t even come close to balancing out its significant negative impacts. The development is doing some things well, and some things poorly. But the applicants haven’t made a good case for being allowed to build even one storey above the acceptable height outcome, let alone 20+ additional storeys.
Ok Jonno, well if you don’t like this, what would you do differently?
As a Greens councillor in a council dominated by the LNP, part of my role in the political landscape is to call for really high-standard design outcomes in order to broaden the parameters of debate, however I also need to be pragmatic about not stubbornly saying no to absolutely everything.
It’s obvious that these developers are targeting higher-end buyers, but in so doing, they are compromising sustainability outcomes and imposing negative impacts on the surrounding neighbourhood. If the developers were genuinely willing to push boundaries, they could have proposed a similar style of building with some crucial changes to minimise environmental and social impacts. For example:
- Ditch 6 of the 7 levels of underground carparking. Just have one half-level of parking for visitors, service vehicles and body corporate carshare vehicles. Instead of saying “Oh but we won’t be able to sell apartments without carparks!” actually do what other developers in other cities are doing, and champion positive change. Ditching 500 parking spaces would probably save at least $15 million to $25 million on construction costs, cut down significantly on construction time, and dramatically reduce the need for rock-breaking and other noisy excavation work that’s extremely disruptive for the surrounding community.
- Ditch redundant features like second and third bathrooms. This would save on construction resources, internal pipes and pumps, maintenance costs, and most importantly, space. Taking redundant features out of the apartments would mean more compact floor plates, allowing you to still deliver spacious apartments with good natural light and airflow, but without building right up to the property boundaries.
- Stick to the 12-storey height limit. Putting aside the usual concerns about climbing down 30 storeys’ worth of steps during a fire evacuation, there’s plenty of research to show that once buildings get up beyond 8 to 10 storeys, residents lose a sense of connection to the streetscape and surrounding community. When it takes a couple of minutes to catch an elevator down to ground level, you’re a lot less likely to duck out for short errands and spontaneous social interactions, which in turn undermines community connectedness and reinforces individualism. These longer journey times from higher-level apartments to ground level arguably also contribute to a more car-centric culture.
Actually open up some of those ‘rooftop communal facilities’ to the wider public.
In arguing for major exemptions to the relevant planning code, the developers point to the shared cinema rooms, swimming pool, garden entertainment areas, bookable meeting rooms etc as offering a public benefit. But out of the 45 000 residents who reside in the Gabba Ward, only a couple hundred residents who actually live in this tower will be able to use any of those facilities.
Across many gentrifying cities around the world, we’re seeing a broad trend where instead of developers contributing towards the cost of genuine public facilities like libraries and park upgrades, they simply provide in-house facilities exclusively for their own buyers. This increases class stratification and the divide between the more privileged residents of high-end high-density dwellings (who have lots of private communal facilities and thus no incentive to lobby for better public facilities) and the residents of lower-cost high-density housing who not only have cramped apartments without in-house shared facilities, but also don’t have enough access to public facilities.
The rooftop levels of this unusually tall tower could easily be made publicly accessible, so that everyone can enjoy the views and access these ‘communal’ facilities. Some facilities like the swimming pool might need to be paywalled for non-residents, but at least everyone could enjoy the rooftop gardens, which the developer is offering in lieu of actual deep-planted trees at ground level.
- Include onsite organic waste management and composting (see comments above) and comprehensive greywater recycling. With so many thirsty trees to water, it’s a shame that all the water used for showers, dishwashers and washing machines probably won’t be captured and recycled onsite. The developers have provided a letter saying they are ‘exploring’ greywater recycling, but no infrastructure for such a system seems to have been included in the plans. At the very least, the toilets could be flushed with greywater rather than clean drinking water. At best, the greywater could be treated onsite and used to water the plants.
Other unresolved issues
Long-term tree management
While the developer has identified some measures in place to ensure maintenance of trees and garden beds, unanswered questions remain. For example, the larger trees on the upper levels - which are a key feature of the project - cannot easily be replaced without a 40-storey crane. Given that the development is built right up to the property boundaries, any time one of the larger trees dies, the body corporate would have to close off the road and set up a massive crane on the street to hoist in a replacement. Alternatively, these larger trees simply wouldn’t be replaced.
Trees are social organisms. They communicate with each other and share resources using fungal networks in the soil. They have evolved to thrive as part of complex ecosystems, where the lifecycles and interactions between different species create nutrient-rich soil environments, retain water and help guard against outbreaks of damaging pest species. This is one of the reasons landscape architects draw a strong distinction between trees in concrete planter boxes, and deep-planted trees whose roots are connected to ‘natural ground’.
As the trees on the balconies and rooftop of this development age, and are subjected to prolonged intense weather conditions including high winds and scorching summer sun, the maintenance burden will increase. Trees in balcony planter boxes are more expensive and resource-intensive to maintain than trees planted in the soil. While the developer has obviously put some thought into these challenges, not enough information has been provided about the costs and budgeting for long-term maintenance.
It’s not sufficient for the developer to say that a more detailed garden management plan will be provided after the development is approved. Given that the green façade is a fundamental component of the building, and the developer is asking council to treat the garden beds as a fair substitute for proper deep-planted trees at ground level, the detailed management plan for trees and garden beds should be provided and assessed prior to approval, not afterwards.
What are the long-term management arrangements for the visitor centre?
The developer has suggested that the ground-level visitors centre represents a significant public benefit in terms of the potential to educate visitors about sustainability features in the building. However very little detail has been proposed about how this space will be funded and managed in a way that genuinely benefits the community, as opposed to the centre becoming a glorified sales and marketing centre. Will the centre provide independent information? Or will it simply serve up property industry propaganda that highlights the positive aspects of the building without acknowledging the development’s severe flaws (such as the overabundance of carparking)?
How much ongoing annual funding will the visitors centre receive long-term? Will it still operate in a decade or two? Or will it just become a vacant commercial shopfront in a few years after all the apartments have sold?
A well-managed, well-resourced sustainability centre could indeed provide a significant public benefit in terms of providing educational opportunities and hosting events. But the lack of detail in the developer’s proposal, and the absence of clear development approval conditions as to how the centre will be managed on an ongoing non-profit basis raise serious questions that deserve closer scrutiny.
How public is this ground-level ‘public space’?
The developer has misleadingly referred to the ground level undercover space as a ‘park for the people’ and a ‘place to perform’ but hasn’t provided many details about how potentially conflicting uses of the space will be managed. At first glance, it seems more like a privately owned plaza than a park. If residents wish to gather here to hold a protest, will they be free to do so? Or will the police be called?
What if local musicians want to put on a night-time concert as is common in other inner-city parks? How will the noise complaints be managed?
A sheltered undercover public space like this may be attractive to vulnerable people who have nowhere else to go. Will the developers’ security guards move them on? Or will they be allowed to sleep there?
For spaces like this to function effectively as genuine public spaces, access to amenities like drinking water taps and public toilets is important. The plans don’t appear to show any public toilet at ground level, but perhaps it would be possible for a toilet to be available within the visitors’ centre. If so, it would be important to include a condition requiring the toilet to be open late at night.
None of these questions I’m raising should be misinterpreted as suggesting that the publicly accessible space isn’t a good thing. It seems like a positive feature of the project. But if such a project were approved, it would be important to include strict development approval conditions specifying that the space can be used just like any other public park, 24 hours per day, otherwise it’s not really a park at all.
Overall, my view is that approving this development would be contrary to the public interest. A 12-storey building with 70% site cover on this site is arguably already too big and dense for this location (particularly considering the nearby heritage-listed sites).
A 35-storey building with 100% site cover is manifestly excessive.
As local councillor, I do not support any of the exemptions the developer is seeking to the City Plan’s acceptable outcomes. I am also quite concerned that the developer seems to have recruited large numbers of employees and contractors to provide short, ill-informed submissions in a transparent attempt to pretend that the local community supports this development, when I believe the majority of local residents who have taken the time to understand the details of the proposal are firmly opposed.
It is disappointing that the developers have failed to meaningfully address many of the concerns raised in the information request issued by council officers. In light of the failure to demonstrate compliance with key performance outcomes, I believe this development application should be rejected outright.
The Cross River Rail Project will deliver a much-needed new train station at Woolloongabba, and an upgraded train station at Boggo Road, Dutton Park.
The State Government is currently drafting Development Schemes which will dictate how the land above and around these train stations can be developed. Unfortunately, it looks like there will be very little scope for meaningful public input into the future of the Gabba and Boggo Rd stations.
So our office is supporting the community to get on the front foot and demand more control over how these sites are developed before decisions are made behind closed doors and the development schemes are released.
The Gabba Station development is not just a train station. This is a 5+ hectare site with huge potential to meet a range of community needs.
Below, you can find info about the alternative visions we’ve produced for the Gabba Station, what we think the government is currently planning for both stations, and how you can make your voice heard most effectively. Please enter your contact details at the bottom of the page to sign up for updates about the growing campaign for a better future for this site.
Alternative Visions for the Gabba Station
Our recent newsletter features two alternative visions for how the Cross River Rail Gabba Train Station site could be redeveloped. These images are not detailed proposals. Rather than purporting to be finalised concept designs, they are simply intended to show what’s possible. Some elements may not be feasible in the proposed context, or not quite what the community really needs. But we’ve produced these drawings to share a wider range of ideas and prompt deeper discussions about how both the Gabba and Boggo Road sites could be redeveloped.
So far, images and videos released by the State Government have shown very little detail about the future of the Gabba site, so I’m hoping these visions will inspire residents to produce your own visions for how this massive 5-hectare publicly owned site can best meet the community’s needs. I don’t accept the proposition that these station sites should be sold off to the private sector and simply developed as privately owned offices and high-density private apartment towers.
Both visions include space for an Aboriginal cultural centre, a 50-metre public swimming pool, a large skate park, playgrounds, sports courts, dog off-leash areas and a wide range of community facilities.
Naturally, we envisage that all buildings would be designed to be as sustainable as possible, with an emphasis on sourcing construction materials locally, and using materials like cross-laminated timber to reduce reliance on concrete and steel. All buildings would incorporate stormwater collection, greywater recycling, on-site organic waste composting, water-smart and energy-smart fixtures and appliances, and solar panels on underutilised roof and awning spaces.
Download: Gabba Station Alternative Visions (pdf)
The Mixed-Use Vision features a couple of office blocks and medium-density and higher-density apartment blocks, containing several hundred dwellings. We believe the government should retain ownership of all dwellings on the site and rent them out as public housing, with rent set at 25% of a household’s income. We envisage that these apartments could be rented not just to high-needs low-income residents, but also to middle-income and higher-income households, creating a diverse community of residents of different backgrounds and financial positions who all live in similar-style housing and have access to the same public facilities. Office space could be made freely available to government departments and non-profit organisations like Murri Watch, or rented out to the private sector as a source of revenue.
The Mixed-Use Vision shows a pedestrian overpass to the Gabba Stadium, which has also been proposed by the State Government. However unlike State Government concept designs, we envisage that such an overpass could also span Stanley Street, connecting cyclists and pedestrians to and from the Logan Road precinct and south-east active transport corridors. This serves a broader range of uses, whereas an overpass to the Gabba Stadium would be of comparatively little value on the many days of the year where large events aren’t hosted at the stadium.
The Blue-Green Vision does not include any residential apartments, but offers more space for sport and recreation, with a full-sized athletics track, as well as larger parks, community gardens and market stall spaces for artisans and farmers markets. The Blue-Green Vision also includes space for natural lagoons and densely vegetated bushland reserves, cooling the city, reducing stormwater flooding, and providing more habitat for native wildlife.
The Blue-Green Vision proposes to work with the sloping nature of the site, nestling a large underground music venue into the corner of Leopard St and the Vulture St motorway slip lane, with parkland over the music venue roof that connects to the existing corridor of native trees around the motorway. This would dramatically improve connectivity for native wildlife moving between central Woolloongabba and Maiwar (the Brisbane River).
If you have further questions about some of the other ideas and elements depicted in these alternative visions, email us at [email protected] and we can add more detail to this explanation. You might also like to share your own thoughts on social media, and post about which elements of the vision you do or don’t like.
What’s currently proposed for the Gabba Station site?
The State Government has provided no clear detail about its plans for the Gabba Station development. As this is public land, the government should be focussed on delivering public housing, community facilities and public green space. However, based on what has already happened to other components of the Cross River Rail project – such as the Albert St station in the CBD – and the commentary so far in government publications, we are concerned that the government is planning to sell off development rights to the private sector to crowd the entire site with highrises.
Priority Development Area Designation
In Woolloongabba, the government has designated a massive area of 21 hectares as a Cross River Rail Priority Development Area, incorporating the Gabba Stadium, the former GoPrint site and other parcels of state-owned land around the motorway. A ‘Priority Development Area’ (PDA) designation is the same mechanism which was used for the Queen’s Wharf Mega-Casino and for the Toondah Harbour development proposal in the Redlands. It allows the State Government to ignore existing height limits and other requirements in the City Plan, and takes away all legal objection rights that residents or other stakeholders might otherwise have.
The new Woolloongabba Priority Development Area
Crucially, under the PDA framework, the State Government is not obliged to contribute towards the cost of local infrastructure beyond the boundaries of the declared site. This means that private developers who partner with the government can introduce much higher population densities than anticipated under the neighbourhood plan, but are under no obligation to help pay for new pedestrian crossings, bike lanes, libraries etc. to support the growing population.
PDA designations have been widely criticised for undemocratically cutting out local residents from having any input into future development plans. They are a mechanism to fast-track development and privatise public assets.
As part of the PDA process, the government will have to release a ‘Development Scheme’ outlining the parameters of how the site can be developed. This document essentially serves as a mini-Neighbourhood Plan, outlining development height limits, site coverage requirements etc. The government says the Development Scheme for the Woolloongabba PDA will be introduced in 2021, after the state election. This means residents won’t know what’s proposed when they go to vote in October this year, and may not know what the various parties and candidates support and stand for.
What’s likely in the new Development Scheme?
In guessing at what the government might do, we can look at the Interim Land Use Plan released by the government in April 2020 when the PDA was declared. The ILUP sets out some development parameters for ‘Precinct 1,’ of the PDA, which is the area closest to the Gabba Stadium, and includes Woolloongabba Place Park. We can also look at the previous (now out-of-date) development scheme for the site from 2011.
On page 28 of the old development scheme, the State Government allows buildings of up to 30 storeys.
Following the plan in the old development scheme, the new Interim Land Use Plan allows buildings of up to 20 storeys within Precinct 1. ‘Precinct 1’ is adjacent to heritage buildings and furthest from the train station entrance itself, so ordinarily you might expect that buildings within this part of the PDA would be shorter and less dense than building closer to the centre of the site.
So this suggests a high likelihood that in the new development scheme, the government will propose multiple highrise towers on the main GoPrint site which are 30 storeys or even taller.
This is clearly reinforced in the illustrative visualisations released by the State Government in March 2020, which also show 12 very tall highrise towers on the site.
While there has been no mention from the government whatsoever of public housing on the Gabba Station, the Cross River Rail website makes it very clear that ‘commercial, retail and residential development’ is anticipated.
So it seems clear that unless there is very strong community pushback and a clear public demand for a different way forward, this entire site will be developed and sold off as privately owned highrise towers, with very little public green space or community facilities, and no public housing.
Why are you opposed to high-density development? It’s a train station after all
In urban planning circles, there is now strong support for concentrating higher-density development around public transport nodes like train stations. When residents have close access to public transport, they are less likely to rely on private cars, which has a wide range of positive flow-on benefits. So-called ‘transport oriented developments’ are certainly preferable to the outer-suburban sprawl developments that have been so disastrously common around south-east Queensland.
However, it’s important to strike the right balance. Residents of high-density development also need access to public green space and community facilities, particularly because they have so little private space of their own. If we are to reduce car-dependence, we need to reduce the need for apartment residents to drive regularly to outer-suburban parks, sports fields and other public facilities that might not be located along a train line.
In evaluating the best way to develop the Gabba and Boggo Rd train station sites, it’s important to consider the broader neighbourhood and citywide contexts, and all the other needs that the redevelopment of public land should strive to meet.
Around the Gabba, all privately owned sites to the north of Vulture St and to the south of Stanley St have already been zoned for high-density development of up to 20 storeys. Further development is proposed to the south-east along Logan Rd, to the west in South Brisbane, and to the north in Kangaroo Point. And yet, the provision of public green space and community facilities like public pools, libraries, halls, and creative spaces is not keeping pace with private development.
As shown by the orange and dark red areas on this BCC City Plan Zoning Map, much of the land surrounding the Gabba is already zoned for high-density development, while very little is zoned green for public parkland...
There is already a chronic shortage of public parkland in particular, and acquiring private land to create new parks would be prohibitively expensive. As more sites develop, the pressure on existing green spaces will increase further. The Desired Standards of Service in Brisbane City Council’s City Plan identify that for every 1000 residents, there should be 1.4 hectares of public parkland in the immediate local area. Woolloongabba already falls far short of this target.
If the Gabba station is developed with a large amount of high-density housing, this would place further strain on public parks and facilities, whereas if it is developed with more parkland and public facilities, this will provide a net benefit to residents of existing and future high-density developments surrounding the train station site.
At a time when inner-city land is in such short supply, selling off public assets for private development is a short-sighted strategy.
Considered in their broader context, it might make sense for the publicly owned Gabba and Boggo Rd station sites to be delivered with a higher proportion of public green space, thus supporting and encouraging high-density living on the private development sites around the edge of each station.
Residents of high-density development around other inner-city train stations also need access to green space. So by providing new parks and facilities at the Gabba and Boggo Rd stations, we can create opportunities for residents around stations like Albert St and South Brisbane to hop on a train and easily access sports fields close to home, rather than having to travel further afield. This in turn increases the attractiveness of high-density inner-city living, and helps our city resist the pressure for more and more outer-suburban sprawl.
What about the Boggo Road Precinct?
The Boggo Road precinct, which includes the State Heritage-listed gaol and the Ecosciences building, is a crucial node of the inner-south side, adjoining Dutton Park State School, the new Dutton Park High School, the PA Hospital, UQ St Lucia (via the Green Bridge) and serving as a major interchange for busways and train lines.
Most of this precinct is State Government-owned land, however there is currently no up-to-date, publicly available holistic vision for how the Boggo Rd precinct should evolve.
The Cross River Rail station development should of course consider the surrounding context, and be planned alongside proposals for the revitalisation of the gaol, future expansions to Dutton Park State School etc. The lack of a holistic plan for the entire precinct is deeply concerning.
BCC’s Dutton Park-Fairfield Neighbourhood Plan articulates some general aspirations, but this neighbourhood plan does not include anywhere near enough public green space or community facilities, lacks detail about the Boggo Road precinct itself, is likely to be overridden by State Government planning mechanisms, and is already out of date (e.g. it does not include consideration of the new Dutton Park high school etc.).
BCC has also recently produced a draft ‘Boggo Road Precinct Renewal Strategy’ which has no legal effect or associated funding, and is largely silent as to how all this State-owned land should be developed and activated, focussing instead on connections to and through the precinct.
At this stage, the only detail that’s been publicly released by the State Government is a 2-minute video overview of the project. The government has emphasised that this video is not a finalised concept plan. The video appears to show large new buildings to the north and east of the Ecosciences precinct, but doesn’t specify what these buildings will be used for, and is silent as to whether they’ll remain in public ownership or will be sold off to the private sector.
Screenshot from the State Government's video of the Boggo Rd CRR precinct showing proposed large buildings in white
The government has also confirmed that the long-awaited footbridge linking Boggo Rd to the PA hospital will be delivered as part of this project, creating a new east-west pedestrian and cycling link between Dutton Park and Ipswich Rd. But there’s no detail whatsoever about how much public green space will be delivered.
To facilitate construction of the upgraded station, the State Government has resumed Outlook Park (which had an area of 1500m2), promising to offset its loss with a new public park of equal quality and size. In November 2017, our State MP Jackie Trad also announced that the 3700m2 triangle of state-owned land between Boggo Rd and the existing Boggo Rd Busway Station would either be used for the new high school or for green space. So if the State Government does the right thing and sticks to previous public statements, the Boggo Road Station redevelopment should include well over 5000m2 of public green space, in addition to concreted public squares and plazas.
Previous government commitments suggest there should be at least 5000m2 of new parkland within the Boggo Rd precinct
I believe the redevelopment of the Boggo Rd Station site must be planned holistically as part of redevelopment proposals for the gaol itself, and other surrounding sites. Neither Brisbane City Council nor the State Government have provided enough clarity about future plans for this area, or given residents any meaningful say as to how all this publicly owned land should or shouldn’t be utilised.
While the area of the Boggo Road Station development site itself is not as large as the Gabba Station, it’s important to understand that the government also owns significant parcels of land around the PA Hospital and train lines. When you consider the possibility of building over parts of the train line in future, and incorporating the storage sheds and carparks along the train line and busway into the Boggo Rd precinct, we’re talking about a total area of 160 000m2 of state-owned land. This is clearly a huge opportunity that local residents should have input into, rather than leaving all the decisions up to politicians and private developers.
Once COVID-19 restrictions ease, we aim to organise further public meetings and events regarding the Boggo Rd site, so that we can push for outcomes that meet the community’s needs and pressure the State Government to stick to its previous commitments regarding the provision of public parkland.
How can we get better outcomes?
Back in the 1980s, property developers were actively lobbying for high-density highrise development along the South Brisbane riverfront between Grey St and the water’s edge. Developers deployed sustainability and affordability arguments for concentrating denser housing near the CBD in order to justify privatising public land and cramming in taller towers along the river.
Fortunately, building upon the momentum of Expo 88, a broad-based community campaign applied enough pressure for a different vision for this precinct to crystallise. Instead of cramming in as many apartments as possible, political leaders agreed to preserve much of South Bank for public parkland and community facilities. Today, South Bank is a destination that locals and visitors travel great distances to enjoy.
To prevent the privatisation and over-development of the Gabba and Boggo Rd Cross River Rail train station sites, and push for positive development outcomes that are in the wider public interest, we will need a similar kind of community campaign that applies pressure on politicians and government departments through a range of channels.
The first step is to raise awareness and broaden the parameters of debate, so that thousands of residents across Brissie’s inner-south side are excited about the alternative possibilities for these sites and are directly contacting MPs to ask them what they support, particularly in the lead-up to the 2020 October state election.
If you want to get involved with this community campaign, please enter your details and sign up for updates.
It would also help if you can write to key government decision-makers as soon as possible to ask them specific questions and share what you think is important.
Please email the following people:
- Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk - [email protected]
- State MP for South Brisbane, Jackie Trad - [email protected]
In your emails, tell them a bit about who you are and why you care about these sites, and ask them the following questions:
Roughly how many apartments do you think there should be on each site?
How many hectares of new public green space do you think each site include?
What maximum building height limits are appropriate for both the Gabba and Boggo Rd sites?
Do you support selling off private development rights, or will you fight to retain full public ownership of both sites?
Please also email:
- Minister for Housing and Public Works, Mick De Brenni - [email protected] - ask him how much public housing will be delivered on the Gabba Station site
- Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner - [email protected] - ask him where he intends to deliver new public parkland in Woolloongabba and Dutton Park to cater for new high-density development
Other steps you can take:
- Talk to friends and family and post up on social media about what kind of development you’d like to see on these two train station sites
- Contact other elected State MPs and other state election candidates to ask them whether they support including more green space and public facilities above and around these train stations, or whether they support the State Government’s current plans to sell off the sites for private highrise development
- Get together with a group of friends or a community group you’re involved in, produce your own alternative vision for either the Boggo Rd or Gabba train station sites, and share it with our office and the wider community
Please sign up for updates and encourage your friends to do so too!Sign up
Let’s compare these two buildings shall we?
The tower on Scott St, Kangaroo Point in the first picture is over 15 storeys tall, and yet contains only 14 dwellings. They are large, high-end apartments that sell for well over $4.5 million each. The footprint of the tower is about 600m2.
The apartment block on Baines St, Kangaroo Point in the second image also has a footprint of 600m2, is 4 storeys tall, and includes 15 dwellings. It also has a restaurant/café at ground-level to help activate and enliven the streetscape, whereas the Scott St tower design doesn’t do much to connect with the street and surrounding neighbourhood.
The Scott St tower apartments are all 4-bedrooms and the Baines St apartments are a mix of 1, 2 and 3 bedrooms. In practice, both of these buildings currently accommodate a similar number of people (there are actually more empty bedrooms in the Scott St tower).
I have concerns about the design of both of these developments, and I’m not necessarily saying one is all-round better than the other, or that either of them are an especially desirable model for future development. We certainly need more larger apartments in the inner-city to accommodate families, and I assume the much more spacious Scott St apartments will be nicer to live in than the somewhat cramped Baines St ones (and they better be, considering the huge price tag).
But it’s worth noting that the Baines St apartments will have used far fewer resources in their construction and thus have a lower environmental footprint and embodied energy. In terms of ongoing maintenance and operation, it’s also a fair assumption that the Scott St apartments will use more energy to heat and cool, and that a lot more energy is used in pumping water etc. up to higher levels.
The Baines St apartments are clearly a heck of a lot cheaper, and do not have the same dramatic visual impact on the skyline and surrounding neighbourhood. (And it probably won’t take residents 10 minutes of climbing to get down to street-level if there’s an emergency and the elevator loses power)
Often, when highrise developers argue for exemptions to the neighbourhood plan and demand the right to build bigger taller buildings that overshadow neighbouring properties and block out the sky, they use two main arguments:
1. Highrise development improves affordability
2. Highrise development is more sustainable because you accommodate more people in a compact area.
But as this comparison shows, just because one building is a lot taller than another, doesn’t mean it necessarily improves affordability, or is more sustainable.
In fact, the Scott St tower arguably exemplifies some of the less desirable impacts of new development in Brisbane... The apartments are not very affordable, and have enclosed and commodified a lot of public airspace. Rather than allowing more low-income workers to live close to the CBD, this kind of development puts upward pressure on property values and forces poorer people out of the neighbourhood.
Obviously I don't have anything against the residents who live in either of these buildings, or against the companies that built them. My concerns are primarily related to design and built form.
Basically what I’m getting at is that our conversations about dwelling density, sustainability and built form in Australian cities are way too simplistic, and need to pay much closer attention to the relative size of bedrooms and living spaces (among other things) when evaluating what kind of building heights and densities we support.
On Wednesday, 22 April I was sworn in again as a city councillor for the new 4-year term.
The first meeting of council came with some disappointing news: the LNP denied my request to remain on the City Planning Committee, which I’ve served on for the past four years. I’ve consistently used my position on that committee to advocate for better quality development and deeper conversations about how our city changes and evolves. I presume they decided that having Brisbane’s only Greens Councillor as one of the six members of that committee was inconvenient.
Whatever their reasoning, I hope that the new Chair of the City Planning Committee, Councillor Krista Adams, understands and cares about the kinds of concerns I’ve articulated above.
Unfortunately, a lot of councillors don’t spend much time thinking about this sort of stuff when they’re deciding whether to support or oppose a particular development project. They get suckered in by property market spin, and when a smooth-talking developer comes to them and says “Hey I know this project is way taller than the height limit, but you should approve it because it’s an affordable and sustainable alternative to suburban sprawl” they swallow it uncritically.
The COVID-19 shutdown has probably put the brakes on the construction boom temporarily, but developers are already lobbying for looser regulations and less ‘red tape’ so that they can get approval for new projects that are driven by the pursuit of profit rather than sustainability or equity.
As we emerge from the shutdown, let’s hope the residents and elected representatives of this city engage in a deeper, more meaningful conversation about sustainable development and what kind of city we want Brissie to become, rather than just giving developers whatever they want...
I’ve spent the past four years listening to the community to better understand what kinds of improvements local residents and small businesses want to see happen around the suburbs of South Brisbane, Highgate Hill, West End, Woolloongabba, Dutton Park and Kangaroo Point.
My vision for the Gabba Ward is continually evolving in response to community feedback, so please let me know what you think of it by emailing [email protected].
It’s difficult to comprehensively list all the changes I’d like to see happen in our neighbourhood, particularly the community projects and social and cultural transformations that should happen alongside the delivery of physical infrastructure and government services. Alongside the so-called 'hard infrastructure,' I believe there should be far more council funding and support for community services, sporting groups, and the arts.
The priorities featured below tend to focus on the projects that I think Brisbane City Council and the State Government can realistically deliver in the next few years, but with an appreciation of the need to also plan ahead for long-term challenges.
Rather than vague statements, I've done my best to clearly outline my current position on a range of local issues so residents know exactly where I stand. It won’t be possible to deliver all of this in just a few years, but this is what we’re working towards... If there’s anything you’d like clarified, please get in touch.
Rethinking Development in the Inner-City
We support heavy restrictions on for-profit development within the low-lying flood-prone parts of the Gabba Ward. We support well-designed mixed-used, medium-density development that’s accompanied by adequate infrastructure and services. We support more trees and green space being delivered within new developments. Currently, developers are only required to allocate 10% of site area for deep planting. The LNP publicly committed over a year ago to increase the requirement to 15% but haven’t yet implemented this. We believe all new high-density developments should set aside a minimum 20% of the site area for deep-planted trees.
Streets for People – Reimagining Transport in Brisbane
Our citywide philosophy for reimagining transport in Brisbane can be found at this link. Broadly speaking, we want more pedestrian crossings, wider, shadier footpaths, lower speed limits on residential streets (with more traffic calming where necessary) and separated bike lanes on main transport corridors. Check out the link, and view more details about specific transport commitments below.
Free Off-Peak Public Transport for Everyone
To reduce congestion and improve accessibility and connectivity, we’re calling for free off-peak public transport. We can make buses and CityCats free during weekdays and weeknights in the off-peak period, as well as free all weekend. More details available at this link.
Free Cross-River Ferries and Kangaroo Point CityCat
In addition to calling for all bus, CityCat and ferry services to become free for everyone during off-peak periods, we support making all existing cross-river ferry services free, 24/7. We also support reviewing the CityCat timetable and network to introduce a CityCat service to the Holman Street ferry terminal at Kangaroo Point.
Two New CityGlider Routes
We are calling for two new CityGlider routes, one running east-west from West End to Bulimba, and the other running north-south from Annerley to Fortitude Valley (through Kangaroo Point and Woolloongabba). More details at this link.
Full Bus Network Review
We are calling for a full network review of Brisbane bus routes, with a strong focus on increasing the frequency and reliability of services running through the inner-south side, particularly the 192, 196, 198 and 234 bus routes.
We’re calling for new footbridges from West End to Toowong and Kangaroo Point to the CBD. Other parties have expressed cautious support for these projects, but have not committed to allocating funding for them. We believe these bridges should carry pedestrians, cyclists and escooters, but not buses.
We are also open to supporting the proposal for a footbridge between West End and UQ St Lucia, but believe further detailed research, transport modelling and a cost benefit analysis should be conducted (in addition to more robust community consultation) before any project funding is allocated. A detailed write-up about my position on the footbridges is available at this link.
As part of the Kangaroo Point footbridge project, we believe council needs to deliver a wheelchair accessible Story Bridge underpass. The current underpass between Thornton St and Deakin St has multiple sets of steps and so is not wheelchair accessible. Depending on detailed design and engineering investigations, it may be more cost-effective and less disruptive to create a second, new underpass connecting from slightly further north along Deakin St directly to Scott St.
New ‘Kurilpa West’ Citycat Terminal
Recent and anticipated population growth for the western side of the Kurilpa Peninsula (particularly along Montague Rd) means that new high-capacity public transport services will be needed to move people in and out of West End.
We support a new CityCat terminal being delivered along Riverside Drive. The South Brisbane Riverside Neighbourhood Plan identifies Victoria St as a possible location for a new terminal, however it may be more appropriate to locate the terminal slightly further north near Beesley St to facilitate better access to and from Davies Park.
I do not believe that proposals for a new footbridge and CityCat terminal are mutually exclusive. The two projects meet different transport needs and are complementary. Both will be necessary in order to help inner-city residents transition away from car-dependency.
Convert Flood-Prone Industrial Sites to Public Parkland in 4101
We support acquiring the large blocks of land along the northern end of Montague Rd which are currently used for industrial purposes, and converting these into public parkland and sporting facilities. Sites including Hanson Concrete, Parmalat and I-O Glass are all highly vulnerable to flooding, and are not appropriate for high-density residential or commercial development.
To cater for the green space needs of West End’s rapidly growing population, and to mitigate the negative impacts of flooding, these sites should be restored as public parkland.
This large new riverside park could include dog off-leash areas, a full-size skate park and BMX track, a sports field, a large children’s playground, vegetated nature reserves and outdoor event spaces.
Completing the Kangaroo Point Riverwalk
Completing the missing links of the riverside footpath between Dockside and Mowbray Park is essential to reduce traffic congestion and improve connectivity for the Kangaroo Point Peninsula. There are only a few missing links between existing pathways that have already been completed, and we believe council should allocate the funding to build these sections immediately, rather than waiting years for private developers to do it. The riverwalk should be designed with extra-wide footpaths and clearly delineated separation between pedestrians, slower-moving cyclists, and faster-moving bikes and escooter riders. You can read more about the riverwalk via this link at the section titled ‘Completing the Riverwalk’.
Restore Boggo Road Gaol as a Visual and Performing Arts Hub
Boggo Road Gaol is ideally located along the busway and train lines, and in close proximity to UQ St Lucia, Dutton Park State School and the future Dutton Park State High. This historic site should not be privatised and sold off to developers, but should be restored as a publicly funded music and arts hub, with workshop spaces, studios, rehearsal rooms, exhibition spaces and theatres. Boggo Road could become the south-side sister of the New Farm Powerhouse, celebrating history while providing affordable spaces for artists, innovators and hackers. A heritage museum component and a strong emphasis on history tours and storytelling would allow this precinct to serve as a hub for local history groups and knowledge-keeping.
Separated Bike Lanes along Vulture Street
Vulture St is a key east-west connector across the Gabba Ward, but riding between West End and Woolloongabba is currently quite dangerous. Existing narrow footpaths can no longer safely accommodate rising numbers of cyclists and escooter riders, so it is imperative that council creates safe, separated bike lanes running along Vulture St from Montague Rd, West End to Christie St, South Brisbane. This would provide a direct connection to the Goodwill Bridge and to the new Woolloongabba Bikeway along Stanley Street.
Safer separated bike lanes are also needed along other main roads such as Montague Rd and Gladstone Rd, however we currently consider Vulture St to be the highest priority.
Convert roadway into parkland at southern end of Boundary St
Regardless of whether a new footbridge is delivered between St Lucia and West End, we have an amazing opportunity to create more useable public green space at the southern end of Boundary St by combining under-utilised roadway with the neighbouring block of State-owned land at the corner of Dudley Street. Boundary St could end at the intersection with Glenfield St, and the roadway could be ripped up to create a riverside public park with an area of over 3300m2.
Aboriginal Cultural Centre in Musgrave Park
Local Aboriginal community groups have been advocating for decades to establish a purpose-built cultural centre in Musgrave Park. This project should be designed, led and controlled by First Nations peoples, with funding from all levels of government. Council should play a supporting role in delivering this project, facilitating conversations and providing access to resources and support staff to empower Aboriginal community leaders to deliver this project.
Redevelop Kurilpa Hall and Library as a Multipurpose Community Facility
We support converting the carpark of Kurilpa Library and the adjoining Kurilpa Hall site into a multistorey multipurpose community hub that caters for the community’s changing needs. We believe a redevelopment of this site should respect the heritage and integrity of the historic Kurilpa Library building. A redeveloped community facility would include space for the Australian Pensioners and Superannuants League organisation that currently manages the existing Kurilpa Hall, as well as a wide range of other community groups and projects.
An expanded library would include dedicated meeting rooms, fully accessible toilets and a wider range of resources. Depending on further community consultation, it could be possible to design a dedicated theatre space or concert hall within the facility, but such elements would require careful design and extensive sound-proofing to avoid negative impacts on neighbours. We are calling for multiple rounds of detailed community consultation and an inclusive participatory design process before any changes are made to the existing facility.
Composting and Sustainable Waste Management
The Greens are calling for free green bins for every household, in order to divert organic waste from general landfill. We are also calling for the green bin service to be adapted so it can accept food waste too. Organic waste can be composted and reused for gardens. The gases from composting organic matter can be captured as a source of energy.
We also support establishing more community composting hubs particularly within the inner-city, and are calling for more council funding and support to train apartment block residents how to manage community composting hubs on their own apartment block sites, while also establishing more hubs in public parks alongside community gardens.
We are calling for a vacancy levy on all homes, shops and vacant lots that are left empty for more than six months without a valid reason. A vacancy levy would reduce homelessness, place downward pressure on residential and commercial rents, and help bring life back to struggling shopping precincts. More details about this policy can be found at this link.
Default 40km/h Speed Limit
We support a default speed limit of 40km/h on all streets in the Gabba Ward, with the exception of some sections of Ipswich Rd, Main St, and Shaftson Avenue. I believe that even busy roads like Dornoch Terrace, Montague Rd, Gladstone Rd, River Terrace, Cordelia St, Merivale St, Vulture St and Stanley St should all eventually be reduced to a limit of 40km/h, but that this transition should happen gradually alongside other changes to road design and transport services.
New Pedestrian Crossings
The Greens have called for council to create 250 new pedestrian crossings around the city each year. We have recently secured funding for new traffic lights at the intersection of Victoria St and Montague Rd (near the West End Aldi) and work will be starting soon.
Traffic lights will also be installed along Gladstone Rd near TJ Doyle Memorial Drive to connect the new Dutton Park State High School to the Dutton Park green space.
Looking ahead, we believe that within the Gabba Ward, the highest priority locations for new crossings are:
- Boundary St near Brighton Rd
- Dornoch Terrace-Hampstead Rd intersection – possibly lights, depending on detailed investigation)
- Gloucester St-Stephens Rd intersection
- Leopard St, Kangaroo Point – zebra crossing near Lockerbie St
- Montague Rd – traffic lights near Donkin St
- Montague Rd – traffic lights at/near Ferry Rd
- Multiple locations along Dornoch Terrace - unsignalised zebra crossings
- River Terrace, Kangaroo Point – traffic lights near Bell St, and a new zebra crossing north of Paton St
- Vulture St near Exeter St, West End
- Vulture St near Thomas St and Bunyapa Park
- Wellington Rd – traffic lights near Mowbray Terrace and Toohey St
Safety Upgrades for Existing Pedestrian Crossings
Many pedestrian crossings throughout our city need major safety improvements. We believe the highest priorities for safety upgrades to existing crossing points are:
- Converting the intersection of Hardgrave Rd and Vulture St into a four-way scramble crossing (like the Boundary St-Vulture St intersection)
- Redesigning the zebra crossing on Gladstone Rd near Park Rd West as traffic lights
- Zebra crossing on Park Rd near Merton Rd
- Intersection of Dornoch Terrace, Hardgrave Rd and Ganges St
- Zebra crossing on Hawthorne St near Gibbon St
- Orleigh St near the West End ferry terminal
- Zebra crossing on Montague near Brereton St
If the community is opposed to installing traffic signals, often the best way to improve pedestrian safety at a zebra crossing is to lower speed limits and narrow the road width on the approaches to the crossing by building out the footpaths and/or installing separated bike lanes.
New Public Parks at Gabba Station and Boggo Road
Woolloongabba is under-served by public parkland, but inner-city land is extremely expensive. In the short-term, the most cost-effective and practical pathway to creating new public green space catering for rapid population growth in the 4102 postcode is to ensure that large public parks are included on the publicly owned sites which are being redeveloped for train stations as part of the Cross River Rail project.
Rather than selling off the land above the train station for private highrise development, the State Government should retain ownership and control over these sites and deliver large new green spaces and community facilities. You can read a more detailed vision for the redevelopment of the Gabba Cross River Rail station site at this link.
New Public Park for Highgate Hill/South Brisbane
We support covering over the exposed train line immediately to the north of Gloucester St to create a new public park with an area of 1.1 hectares. This would provide much-needed additional recreational green space for residents living between Annerley Road and Gladstone Rd while also providing additional wildlife habitat and reducing noise pollution and air pollution from the train line. More details at this link.
New Park for Kangaroo Point Peninsula
A new park should be created for the northern end of Kangaroo Point in the vicinity of Lambert St to cater for the rapid population growth in this vicinity. A new riverside park could include a dog off-leash area and other recreational facilities, and could connect to the completed riverwalk leading north to Dockside.
Finding land for this park would involve acquiring privately owned land that would otherwise be redeveloped as highrise, while also narrowing the bitumen roadway and reclaiming road reserve as green space.
Hampstead Common and Implementing the West End Green Space Strategy
The West End Green Space Strategy identifies a long list of opportunities to create additional green spaces throughout the Kurilpa Peninsula, predominantly by converting existing road reserve back into shaded boulevards and pocket parks. We support this strategy, including narrowing Hampstead Road and extending the existing community orchard along the footpaths leading down from the top of Highgate Hill.
Although some of these projects sound costly, they are essential if we are to preserve a high quality of life for current and future Gabba Ward residents. We can afford to deliver all of this if we make property developers pay their share, generate additional revenue from a vacancy levy, stop outsourcing core council services to private contractors who add in fat profit margins, and reduce spending on ineffective and sustainable road-widening projects.
Repurpose Space Under the Story Bridge for Community Purposes
There's a lot of under-utilised space beneath the Story Bridge at Kangaroo Point that can be converted for other uses. Some of this space which is currently used for council carparking could double-up as space for weekend farmers' markets and artisan markets. Some space could also be used for community concerts and movie nights, exercise equipment and perhaps even sporting facilities like cricket nets or basketball hoops. Obviously any redesign of this space should be subject to detailed community consultation, and should remain mindful of the need for off-street parking in the area. I believe council should put funding into a detailed community planning process to give residents and local small businesses control and decision-making power over the long-term future of this space.
Close Grey St to Through-Traffic and Create a New Public Park in South Brisbane
As part of the Brisbane Metro project, BCC and the State Government will be working together to redevelop the Cultural Centre Station and the adjoining Melbourne St-Grey St intersection. I'm calling for serious consideration of the possibility of closing off Grey St to through-traffic, so we can create 5000m2 of additional public green space between QPAC and the South Brisbane train station. This would have a range of positive flow-on impacts, including:
- improved traffic flow at the Peel St-Grey St and Grey St-Vulture St intersections
- giving higher-speed commuter cyclists a safer alternative to riding along the South Bank riverfront
- helping Grey St flourish as a low-speed active transport-focussed environment
You can find out a lot more detail about this proposal at this link.
As mentioned above, our vision for the Gabba Ward is based upon the feedback we receive from residents. If you disagree with some of it, let us know! If there are other projects or ideas that you think should be included in this vision, please write to us! This is an ever-evolving list that will change in response to the needs and priorities of local residents.
At the end of the day, it's not just up to me to articulate what I think should be the future of our community. All of us should get a say and all of us should meaningful control over how our city changes and evolves.
For several years now, we've been concerned about the growing proportion of residential homes - both apartments and free-standing houses - being converted into short-term accommodation.
Increasingly in Queensland, we’re seeing more and more buildings that have been assessed and approved by council as normal residential homes, and were not designed as hotels/short-term accommodation, which are now being rented out by investors through platforms like Airbnb, or by hotel booking companies. In many cases, these companies manage a selection of apartments within a building like hotel rooms, but don't actually own the building and don't pay much attention to the needs and views of the long-term residents who also live in the building (or in surrounding properties).
This conversion of residential homes into short-term accommodation is particularly prevalent in areas with lots of tourist attractions, such as the Sunshine and Gold Coasts, but it's also increasingly common in inner-city neighbourhoods such as around South Bank, and in proximity to major transport hubs. This phenomenon can have a range of negative impacts in terms of safety, sense of community, insurance premiums and body corporate fees.
In Queensland, there are different rules for how apartments (or houses) should be designed if they are being used as short-term accommodation as opposed to long-term residential. For example, you need more emergency signage and clearer fire exit routes for short-term accommodation uses, because short-term tenants won’t know the building as well. Short-term accommodation land uses should also be closer to public transport services and shops, rather than tucked away on residential streets that aren't easily accessible for people carrying a lot of baggage.
A building that has been designed as standard residential accommodation shouldn’t really be used for short-term rentals. For neighbouring apartment residents, higher-intensity hotel-style usage tends to create more wear and tear on common property like elevators, pools etc, and those maintenance costs are borne by the body corporate (and ultimately the residents). We’re also seeing situations where apartments in places like South Bank and Kangaroo Point are rented out for disruptive parties every single night of the week, without any consultation with neighbours.
Conversion impacts Housing affordability
This also creates a broader economic problem, because apartments which were originally approved to house local residents are instead rented out to visitors and tourists, which means local families find it harder to afford a home in the inner-city. So even though the supply of apartments increases, that doesn’t improve affordability for locals, because more of those apartments are Airbnb-style short-term accommodation.
(A flow-on social impact is that we can’t create the well-connected high-density local communities and break down social isolation, because such a large proportion of homes are just short-term visitors.)
The underlying problem here is that in our economic system, homes are being treated as a commodity to make a profit from, rather than protecting housing as a basic human right. Investors who rent out entire homes as hotel rooms don’t always care about the impact on neighbours – they just want to make money.
If some homes in a building or street are being rented out short-term for thousands of dollars per week, this also puts upward pressure on both land values and rents for other homes in the surrounding area.
But when residents complain to council, and say “Hey, this building was approved as residential but now it’s being rented out as short-term accommodation” it seems Brisbane City Council isn’t taking appropriate action. In some cases, council takes no action at all. In other cases, BCC investigates and then says “Well even though this building wasn’t designed as short-term accommodation, it was built on land where you are technically allowed to build short-term accommodation, so we’re going to look the other way.” Basically, council knows that some unit owners, developers and property managers are breaking council regulations, but isn’t doing anything about it.
Crucially, a body corporate's building insurance cover can be voided if the usage of a building hasn’t been complying with council rules.
So for example, if a body corporate hasn’t been keeping an area free of flammable debris, and that leads to fire damage, the insurance company might refuse to pay out. Similarly, if a residential building is being illegally rented out as short-term accommodation, and the guests accidentally leave a tap on that leads to other apartments being flooded, the insurance company could have strong legal grounds for refusing to pay out.
So all this adds up to a pretty big issue, where building insurance cover for hundreds of buildings around the state is under question.
With an Olympics planned for 2032, there's a high risk that more and more inner-city homes will be converted into short-term accommodation. This pattern has been observed in most other cities that have hosted the Olympics, and evidence suggests that once these homes are converted into short-stay, many do not revert to residential homes after the event is open.
The action that council needs to take is two-pronged:
- BCC needs to stop issuing development approvals that allow a building to be used for short-term accommodation unless the building has been properly designed to safely accommodate high numbers of short-term visitors.
- BCC needs to fully investigate complaints of unapproved short-term uses, and take enforcement action where investors are running hotel operations in buildings that don’t have any approval as short-term accommodation.
For areas that will be most attractive to short-term visitors in the lead-up to the Olympics, localised regulations may be needed to prevent the wholesale conversion of residential homes into short-term accommodation.
We need to have a broader community conversation about how much of our neighbourhoods we are happy to see turn into short-term hotel-style accommodation...
Do we want entire suburbs like Woolloongabba, South Brisbane and Kangaroo Point to be majority short-term visitors where no-one knows one another? Or do we want to strike a better balance where we have enough options for tourists and visitors, but there are still enough longer-term residents to maintain a stronger sense of local community?
Noosa Shire Council has recently decided to introduce very strict regulations on AirBnB properties, and it will be interesting to see how these work in practice. Personally I'd like to see a similar approach here in Brisbane.
I don’t have strong concerns about residents who rent out a spare room via Airbnb to subsidise their rent, or about people who temporarily sublease their home while they go on holiday for a few weeks or months.
But that’s very different to a situation where no-one on a low income can afford to live in inner-city suburbs, because all the new investor-owned apartments have been rented out on Airbnb on an ongoing basis.