Every so often, our office receives an enquiry about what happened to the proposed CityCat terminal that was supposed to be installed at the end of Victoria Street in West End. And every time, we have to explain that it has slipped off the LNP’s priority list and that the council isn’t investing enough money in local public transport infrastructure.
I'm continuing to support and advocate for the installation of a new CityCat terminal to cater for the rapidly growing neighbourhoods to the west of Montague Rd. I believe the ideal location for a Citycat terminal should be determined based on a holistic masterplanning process of Riverside Drive, which takes into account future development, as well as other projects currently in the pipeline such as the West End-Toowong footbridge.
With the Toowong footbridge proposed to land in the vicinity of Forbes St and Ferry Rd, it might make sense for the CityCat terminal to be located at (or just to the north of) Beesley St, as opposed to at the end of Victoria St. If the CityCat terminal is a little closer to Davies Park, it can play a greater role in helping reduce congestion associated with events in the park (such as the Saturday morning markets).
A Victoria Street CityCat Terminal was identified as a crucial piece of public transport infrastructure in the South Brisbane Riverside Neighbourhood Plan, which came into effect back in April 2011 (note that this was after the 2011 floods). This is the same neighbourhood plan that up-zoned much of the West End Peninsula for high-density development and accelerated the flurry of apartment construction down along Montague Road.
Residents who bought apartments after this plan was introduced in 2011 were told by developers and real estate agents that the ferry terminal was coming soon. But it’s now 2017, and the nearest CityCat terminals to Victoria Street are on the other side of the river.
You can still see the ferry terminal listed in section 22.214.171.124.2 subsection 10(b) of the current City Plan. Unfortunately it’s no longer listed in the related ‘Priority Infrastructure Plan’. Building a new CityCat terminal right in the middle of the new high-density neighbourhood along Montague Road was supposed to help cater for the growing population. In fact, it was part of the justification for the upzoning – “Sure, we’re going to cram a lot more people into West End, but don’t worry about traffic congestion because we’ll be providing a new CityCat stop.”
At the Public and Active Transport Committee meeting on 6 August, 2019, the committee considered yet another petition calling for the delivery of a ferry terminal for the western side of West End. The LNP's response was to say "there are no immediate plans to implement an additional high-capacity service in the West End area. However, Council Network Planners will continue to monitor all new developments at or near Kurilpa Point and will continue to liaise with their counterparts at TransLink."
Disappointingly, the committee - comprised of 4 LNP Councillors, 1 Greens Councillor and 1 Labor Councillor - voted 4-2 to take no substantial action in response to the petition.
At the council meeting on 11 September, 2018, I again used an opportunity in question time to push the Lord Mayor on this issue. Here's the transcript of that exchange...
Councillor Sri: Thanks, Madam Chair. My question is to the Lord Mayor. The approximate distance between the Orleigh Park and the South Bank CityCat terminals is five kilometres. On the north bank, the average spacing of terminals is only around 1.5 kilometres. In 2011, after the January floods, the South Brisbane riverside neighbourhood plan introduced or proposed to introduce a CityCat terminal for the western half of West End to cater for the rapid projected population growth for that part of the Kurilpa Peninsula.
Since that time we’ve had thousands of additional residents moving into that area, and now Montague Road is extremely congested and the Blue CityGlider is over capacity. There’s no more capacity on the Montague Road corridor itself to carry that growing population. So my question to you is: does this Administration have any plans to deliver a CityCat terminal for that western Montague Road side of West End, and if not, what is the main reason? Is it simply cost, or is it that an additional stop there is seen as inefficient from a network perspective?
Lord Mayor: Well, Madam Chairman, I thank Councillor Sri for the question. I think it’s a very reasonable question to ask. It is true that we have in that area the CityGlider service. It is a high frequency service. I remember when we first introduced the CityGlider, we thought that it would carry about 600,000 passengers the first year. It carried something like 1.5 million people.
So, Madam Chairman, now over 2 million, the Deputy Mayor informs me. In terms of Montague Road itself, Madam Chairman, I believe that the Glider still has a good capability to carry passengers, and we believe also that the Metro will assist in terms of the freeing up of capacity of road space, and will I think make it easier for those CityGliders to continue to operate.
In terms of the issue of the CityCats, Madam Chairman, we do have a long term plan for putting in an additional CityCat facility in West End. It is a matter of timing. It is a matter of Cat availability and it’s a matter of also the timeliness on the river. So the river transport is a very good form of public transport, a very scenic form of public transport. It is probably not the most time efficient form of public transport. So, Madam Chairman, one of the reasons that we are introducing SpeedyCats as a priority at the moment is the fact that there is a need to, I think, create faster services that will be more attractive to a time poor community.
So, Madam Chairman, it is weighing up the various needs that are on the river. We have, of course, a new CityCat that we’re out for design for, and all of these things will help. But I just say to you, Councillor Sri—
Councillor Sri: Point of order, Madam Chair.
Chairman: Point of order, Councillor Sri.
Councillor Sri: Just on relevance. The substance of the question is whether the reason the terminal hasn’t been delivered is primarily about cost or primarily about route efficiency.
Chairman: Thank you, Councillor Sri, and the Lord Mayor does have five minutes to provide that answer. Lord Mayor.
Lord Mayor: Thanks very much, Madam Chairman. It is primarily about—well, it’s a bit of both, to be frank, but its route efficiency is one thing that is certainly a factor on our mind. It’s one of the reasons why we are focusing at the moment on SpeedyCats because we want to try and look at creating with the stops that we have—every time we add a new CityCat stop in, it slows the service down more. That makes it less attractive from a time point of view.
So what we are intent on doing is to make public transport as fast as we can in terms of particularly the river transport, which is a slow form of transport. We want to speed that up, make it more attractive for people, and that is one of the reasons, as I say, we are introducing as a priority SpeedyCats. It is not to say we don’t think that another CityCat terminal here is important. We do, in the same way as we think a pedestrian bridge from Kangaroo Point to Edward Street is important. There is a case of the financial resources. We’ve just finished having a question about staff numbers and so forth, Madam Chairman, and getting value for money; we are intent on driving value to be able to do these sorts of very things. We think it is important.
You might recall that the number of CityCats out on the water has grown enormously in the last decade, and we want to continue to bring new vessels and, over time, new services as well. But we’ve got to do it smarter. We can’t just keep adding more and more stops along the route. People will stop using it because of the fact that it will just get too slow. That is the dilemma. I think it is a very genuine question. It’s a reasonable question in every respect, and it is one which is certainly exercising our mind, both in terms of the timing and resourcing. So, I thank Councillor Sri for that question.
So, reading between the lines of the Lord Mayor's response, the LNP still don't see the new CityCat terminal as a priority. It seems to me that they intend to wait until after the 'Brisbane Metro' project is completed, which is expected to change the broader bus network and the journey times of West End services like the Blue CityGlider. My personal view is that we need to improve public transport frequency and reliability in West End now rather than waiting another five or more years.
Illegal demolitions of character homes are troubling, but they are potentially also a distraction from deeper systemic issues that contribute to unsustainable gentrification and the legal destruction of local heritage homes.
Many of you will have heard about the illegal demolition of a character home at 8-10 Stafford Street, East Brisbane. It was purchased for $913 000 between December 2015 and January 2016. From my recollection as someone who has doorknocked that area several times, a couple of families were happily living in that property until at least late 2015, so it was clearly still habitable. You can see the details of the demolished property on this real estate advertisement. Council’s senior historian has said the main part of the home was built before 1904. While some of the more recent modifications were arguably pretty ugly, it certainly wasn’t a derelict wreck that was about to fall down.
Basically, it seems someone bought the old house, turfed out the tenants once their lease expired, got a private certifier to authorise partial demolition of the newer veranda extensions and the semi-detached granny flat, then illegally demolished the entire building without council approval. Here’s a news story about it from last year where the chair of City Planning, Councillor Julian Simmonds, said “We will throw the book at anyone who tries to flout laws around character and heritage, this is completely unacceptable.” (I might add that if any of the parties involved in this matter see any inaccuracies in this write-up, or feel there’s more information I should be aware of, they are very welcome to contact me and I’ll make corrections accordingly.)
Council decided to prosecute. The new owner, Nomad Investment Fund Pty Ltd, pleaded guilty, and received a fine of… wait for it… $7000. That’s it. $7k. Not much of a penalty in the grand scheme of things is it?
Recently, the State Government made a lot of noise about how it’s doubling the maximum penalties for violations like this. But whether the maximum fine is $200 000 or $500 000 doesn’t really mean much if judges are only handing out penalties in the realm of $7000 for illegally demolishing an entire five-bedroom property. I’m told that the highest penalties that magistrates have so far handed down for illegal demolitions are in the realm of $12 000, which can actually work out cheaper than going through the proper process to apply for demolition approval (and you might not even be successful).
The old property straddled two lots – 8 and 10 Stafford Street, which can be sold off individually without the need to apply for a subdivision. The owner has now advertised one of the lots for sale for around $750 000. When you factor in stamp duty and other transaction costs, his total outlays to buy and demolish the property were probably less than $1 million, so even if 10 Stafford St only sells for $700 000, he will end up with the vacant block of land at 8 Stafford St (which is also presumably worth upwards of $700k) for a total cost of somewhere between $250 000 and $300 00, which is a pretty good deal.
As this is a magistrates court matter, the judge doesn’t have to publish their reasons online. I’ve been requesting more information from council, and so far I’ve managed to get hold of the prosecution report, which you can view here.
The prosecution report makes interesting reading. The defendant entered an early guilty plea, and said he was heavily indebted for a number of reasons, which probably influenced the judge to be a bit more lenient.
The private certifiers who ticked off on the demolition of the veranda and granny flat said that the defendant initially sought approval to demolish both dwellings and clear the block. They said that once it became apparent that the main home was pre-1946 and therefore protected, the defendant told them he wanted to restore the pre-1946 dwelling and only demolish the granny flat and the newer additions to the balcony.
Basically the defendant is arguing that they only intended to remove the veranda extensions and the granny flat, but that once work started, they decided the rest of the property was structurally unsound and that the safest thing to do was to immediately knock down the whole thing. (They also cleared a big tree in the backyard while they were at it) According to neighbours, part of the demolition was carried out with an excavator, which is a pretty blunt instrument to be using if you’re only removing extensions and trying not to damage the original character home.
So maybe the defendant was naïve and careless, or maybe he was stupidly reckless, or maybe he knew exactly what he was doing and was deliberately playing the system. I’m trying not to cast judgment, but if it really was the case (as the judge seemed to accept) that there was no malicious intent, you have to wonder how someone could stuff up this badly.
That’s basically as much as I know at this stage. But what strikes me is that this story doesn’t quite fit the simpler, more convenient narrative that this was a big developer whose goal was to demolish the old home, put up a bunch of units and make a huge profit. Nomad Investment Fund isn’t a massive company. It has just one director who self-represented in court. The company was probably set up to dodge tax rather than to run development projects. If your primary goal was profit, you would retain ownership of both lots and develop a three-story block of units (which the zoning allows) rather than selling one off.
Perhaps there’s more to this story than might appear to be the case at first glance.
At least this will result in a more sustainable level of density, right?
Some planners might make the argument that while the loss of the old home is sad, the end result will probably be that two new townhouses are built on 8 and 10 Stafford Street, which is a more sustainable level of density for a suburb like East Brisbane than a big old house. That might be the case, but it’s important to note that the former property also included two self-contained dwellings – the main house and the granny flat – plus extra space under the house and ample off-street parking.
As suburbs like East Brisbane gentrify, what we’re increasingly seeing is that new townhouses often end up being occupied by only two or three people. Oftentimes, a big old sharehouse can have a higher density of occupants than two newer townhouses on the same sized lot. This obviously connects to a whole range of broader issues including the McMansion phenomenon and how much residential floor space per person we believe is reasonable for individuals and households to enjoy a high quality of life. Another common outcome of this kind of development is that inefficient ratios of bathrooms to bedrooms or kitchens to bedrooms can result in significant increases in the cost of housing when analysed on a per-bedroom basis. Hopefully I’ll be able to unpack this issue further in a future article.
Owners need support to preserve character and heritage
We also need to recognise that maintaining traditional/character homes without making ‘out-of-character’ changes can often be a significant financial burden and imposition upon owners. Hundred-year-old homes made primarily from wood do not last forever. We need strong protections and clear regulations to preserve the character of older streets and suburbs, but we also need enough flexibility to ensure that owners can afford to maintain and improve their properties without jumping through excessive regulatory hoops and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on renovations in order to remain compliant. Otherwise, we inadvertently create a situation where owners have financial incentives to leave old properties to rot and fall apart, or to demolish them illegally.
What about all the legal demolitions?
This whole saga risks distracting from a more common problem, which is that big developers frequently receive approval to legally demolish affordable homes and character homes that ought to be protected. For a range of reasons, our current system incentivises unsustainable development projects, and makes affordable, medium-density developments that respect the character of our neighbourhoods less financially viable.
We should not have a system where private building certifiers can sign off on demolitions and building projects without council and community oversight. We should not have a system that allows self-assessable or code assessable demolition – every proposed demolition should include a public notification period and opportunity for community submissions.
We also need to push back against recent changes by the State Government which will allow councils to outsource the role of development assessment to private development certifiers. This risks creating a situation where developers can simply hire friendly and supportive development certifiers to tick off apartment development approvals without sufficient council or community involvement.
Brisbane City Council is currently proposing to demolish dozens of old, character homes along Lytton Road in East Brisbane as part of a dud road-widening project. The loss of these homes will largely go unremarked and unlamented by the mainstream media. Throughout the city, we’re seeing historically significant, structurally sound, habitable homes knocked down or relocated to make way for new developments (some of them good, some of them bad, all of which have a significant and irreversible impact on the character of the city). We’re seeing skylines and clifftops irrevocably transformed by massive highrises. Characterful streets and heritage-listed properties are being overshadowed by towers whose design and construction is motivated primarily by profit.
The city is changing rapidly. In some cases for the better, but often in ways that don’t meet the needs or expectations of ordinary residents. And most of these changes are technically legal. Developers and big investors have rewritten the rulebooks again and again to suit their own purposes. It’s gotten to the point now where only a few big developers actually have the knowledge and resources to comply with planning codes and regulations, which gives rise to a new kind of monopolisation of the property market. Our city is being reshaped to serve the interests of profit, and in the process, much of its historic character is simply collateral damage.
So, long story short, while the unauthorised demolition of 8-10 Stafford St, East Brisbane is extremely concerning, and we should perhaps be asking why magistrates have been so lenient, and why they consistently hand down such low fines for illegal demolitions, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the greater and more significant threats to character and heritage are legal and authorised under our current planning and development approvals framework. We must fight to change the rules themselves. The whole damn system is broken
Submission regarding the review of Queensland property law and proposed changes to body corporate laws
Dear Review Team,
I write regarding the ‘Review of Property Law in Queensland’ conducted by QUT’s Commercial and Property Law Research Centre.
I write to raise my strong concerns about the review process – particularly the lack of meaningful promotion and publicity which this consultation process has received – and to object specifically to proposed changes which (as I understand them) would make it easier for owners of strata titled properties to be forced to sell against their wishes.
The proposed changes which are the subject of this review are complex and significant. Some of the changes would have major ramifications for the property rights of individual owner-occupiers and on the lives of tenants. As a city councillor representing well over 30 000 inner-city residents, I’m concerned that the vast majority of my constituents (many of whom own strata titled property and/or live in properties that will be affected by these changes) have no idea that the changes have been proposed, or what they mean. The consultation process for this review has not been sufficiently promoted beyond what we might call the ‘property industry circle’, and descriptions of the proposed changes are often technical, jargon-heavy and legalistic, meaning that many ordinary residents who would be affected cannot understand them, and do not feel sufficiently informed to make comment one way or the other.
While I do not doubt or dispute the need for reforms to property law in Queensland, I consider this review process deeply flawed and lacking in legitimacy due to its failure to meaningfully engage the general public and offer accessible pathways to give feedback. It seems that the scope of the review is in many senses quite narrow. The parameters of debate and possible reform appear to have been pre-defined. Much has been left off the table, thereby precluding a range of possible reforms that would materially benefit ordinary citizens.
I’m also confused as to why the government chose to outsource this consultation and review process to the Commercial and Property Law Research Centre of QUT, rather than conducting the review itself. I would like to receive more information as to why this decision to outsource the review was made. I would also like more information about where the Commercial and Property Law Research Centre gets its funding, and what checks and balances are in place to ensure its independence from the property industry as a whole. I am concerned that the Research Centre may not be sufficiently independent and objective to be providing advice to government decision-makers.
In a context where the majority of Queenslanders are unaware that this review is underway, the voices of those stakeholders and individuals who do engage with this process are likely to be accorded undue weight and persuasiveness. My concern is that many of these changes may primarily benefit the big end of town – large property developers, investment funds, big banks etc. – while disadvantaging ordinary owner-occupiers and renters, and that the voices of property industry heavy hitters will be over-represented in this process.
I also object in particular to proposed changes which will make it easier for the majority of owners within an apartment complex to force the minority to sell their homes against their wishes, as they do not strike the right balance. I am familiar with the property industry’s concerns about ‘hold-out’ owners – those few owners who might refuse to sell to a developer, thereby preventing the rest of the owners of an apartment complex from selling off the whole building as a package. However it is incorrect to characterise hold-outs as restricting the property rights of their neighbours – the laws as they stand do not prevent a person from selling their strata titled property. The practical effect of the proposed changes would be to prioritise the interests of property investors who wish to buy and sell their apartments for a profit, and to deprioritise the interests of owner-occupiers who buy an apartment in order to make it their home and live there long-term. It is not right or just that a big developer or investor could buy up three quarters of the properties in a strata title scheme, and then force the remaining residents to sell their homes.
If there is a strong public interest in compulsorily acquiring and knocking down medium-density strata titled properties in order to build new dwellings, this process should only be carried out by a democratically accountable government, and not by profit-driven private developers and investors. I understand the arguments that a single hold-out should not be able to prevent a derelict property from being demolished and redeveloped, but the proposed changes are very broad in their application, and would likely also end up being used to acquire, knock down and redevelop properties which are structurally sound.
These issues are clearly complex and debatable, ultimately depending upon a person’s values and core ideologies. The nature and scale of these changes is such that the general public should be widely and meaningfully involved in the discussion. This conversation should not be restricted to politicians, profit-driven developers, industry ‘experts’ and a few citizens who happen to cotton on to what’s happening and make submissions in time. From what I’ve seen of this process so far, I do not believe it can accurately be described as ‘public consultation’. Although members of the public are technically entitled to make submissions, if they do not understand the proposed changes and are not aware that their views are being sought, the fact that the process is technically open to the public is irrelevant.
I look forward to a written response to the concerns I’ve raised.
Residents who are frustrated about unsustainable development and Brisbane’s housing affordability crisis will gather in Queen’s Park this Saturday and Sunday for a 24-hour creative occupation.
The Queen’s Wharf Casino is the largest development project in Brisbane’s history, but consultation has been virtually non-existent, and residents are frustrated that more than 13 hectares of publicly owned land will be sold off to multinational developers for less than market value.
The main rally will kick off at 10:30am, and will be followed at 11:30am by a mock wedding between a developer and a corrupt politician.
Organisers have scheduled a community picnic for lunch, a massive dinner banquet, and a series of workshops, forums, participatory art projects, poetry readings and musical acts throughout the afternoon and evening, with late night film screenings and an all-ages dance party.
Speakers at the main rally include Mel Gregson, who was involved in Melbourne’s successful community campaign against the East-West Link toll road, and Dr Charles Livingstone, an expert in poker machines and problem gambling from Monash University.
This is the first time a protest against unsustainable development in Brisbane has involved an overnight occupation on the site of a major project.
Councillor for the Gabba Ward Jonathan Sri is particularly concerned by proposals to dig up part of Queens Park and convert it to an underground shopping mall entrance.
“I want to see the Queens Wharf site developed to include public housing, educational facilities, riverside public parklands and community facilities,” Councillor Sri said.
“We don’t want Brisbane’s defining landmark to be a mega-casino.”
“Contrary to the developers’ propaganda, most of the casino’s revenue will come from poker machines and local problem gamblers – international high rollers will only be a small proportion of the casino’s business.”
“I expect this will be the first of many protests against the casino as more residents become aware of how economically unsustainable and socially destructive this project is,” he said.
Public spaces - especially inner-city parks - are incredibly valuable to the communities that own them. They are not owned and controlled by corporate entities who have the power to evict or exclude people from these premises at will. They offer people an alternative to (and a refuge from) commercialised spaces where active consumption is a precondition to feeling welcome. They provide spaces for people to meet, share ideas, and engage in collective artistic, sporting, and political projects without incurring a cost.
Today I’m attending Platform 1225, a conference about addressing youth homelessness organised by the Queensland Youth Housing Coalition. The organisers have done well. There are a lot of cool people at the conference and a lot of inspiring ideas floating around, but no-one seems to be talking about a key core issue, which is that the treatment of housing as a commodity is driving up property values and exacerbating the housing affordability crisis.
When housing is seen as a target for speculative investment, this inflates rents, increases mortgage stress and also makes it more expensive to deliver new ‘bricks and mortar’ affordable housing projects. Unchecked profiteering exacerbates locational disadvantage, pricing people out to the outer burbs.
It seems like Queensland’s entire housing support sector has become accustomed to begging for scraps – $500 000 here, a couple million there – to patch the cracks in a broken system. Even the most ‘innovative’ and ‘out there’ proposed solutions to increase the supply of affordable housing revolve around businesses investment and market-based responses. Too many people are asking “How can we incentivise the private sector to invest in affordable housing?” when we should be recognising that the treatment of housing as a target for profit-driven investment is part of the problem, and should instead be asking “How can we stop housing being treated as a commodity?”Read more
School over-crowding is one of the big planning issues in Brisbane’s inner-south side. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation floating around which makes it harder to focus on and push for policy reforms that will actually improve the situation. This post isn’t intended to be a detailed analysis or policy proposal. But I thought it would be constructive to articulate a few key facts and highlight what I think some of the main issues are, in order to stimulate further conversation and provide a framework for more nuanced critical analysis down the track. I should preface this by emphasising that I’m just a humble local councillor. I don’t have any direct responsibility for education policy or school resourcing. However, as a city councillor, I see it as my responsibility to help ensure there is sufficient infrastructure and resources to cater for the residents of my ward, and right now I’m concerned that Brisbane City Council is encouraging and facilitating extremely rapid densification even though local educational institutions are already well over capacity.
The Current Situation
As of the start of 2017, Brisbane State High School has around 3200 students enrolled. This year, approximately 58% of the new cohort of Year 7 students were ‘locals’ from within the State High catchment. The other 42% were students from outside the catchment who were enrolled via one of the three ‘selective entry’ streams – academic, cultural and sporting. You can find a bit more info about these categories via the BSHS website.
The main constraint on school capacity isn’t necessarily the classrooms themselves. In part, it’s the services and facilities (i.e. libraries, computer labs, sports fields/green space), but in particular it’s shortfalls in funding for the specialist staff roles. For example, I’m told most public high schools get funding for one year level coordinator for each grade, however, BSHS has around 500 students in each year level, and they still only get one year level coordinator for each cohort.
State and federal government funding arrangements mean that Brisbane State High School only ends up getting around $9500 per student per year, which compares unfavourably to other public schools. (Don’t even start me on high-end private schools, which receive a lot of government funding that would be better off going to public schools.)
A school of 3000+ students also has other impacts on students that are perhaps less straightforward to measure. What are the effects on a student’s sense of identity when their school community is so large that they begin to feel swallowed up by it? Do some students feel greater pressure to compete with one another and learn to prioritise and value traits like selfishness over generosity? How much extra work do school staff have to put in to ensure that students continue to be treated as unique human beings rather than being reduced to ID numbers and rankings in academic results tables?
Several students have told me that the sheer physical size of the BSHS campus is itself also a problem. Many kids have to travel fairly significant distances between classes from one period to the next, often lugging a backpack full of textbooks with them. There are anecdotes that the mass movement of students during period changeovers can even cause bottlenecks at choke points like the footbridge over Cordelia Street.
I’m sure some of these concerns are exaggerated, and obviously there are also significant advantages to such a large and diverse student body, but staff, students and parents generally seem to agree that the school is already big enough. Even if substantial funding was directed towards redesigning the entire campus to make more vertical classrooms practical, this won’t address concerns about ongoing funding models for staff and resources, or about preserving the school’s sense of community.
More Growth on the Horizon
State High’s biggest year level cohort is 575 students. However the smallest cohort – those who are in year 10 in 2017 – is about 460 students (this smaller cohort is a legacy of the transition a couple of years ago where Year 7 became part of high school). So if nothing else changes in terms of school enrolments, at the end of 2019 around 460 Year 12s will graduate, but at least 550 Year 7s will start at BSHS in 2020, pushing the school’s student population up past 3300.
Of course, that doesn’t even begin to account for what happens as more apartments are constructed and more people move into the inner-city. Right now, a lot of inner-city apartments are sitting vacant, but that could change quickly down the track. Brisbane City Council and the State Government are proposing to squeeze tens of thousands of additional residents into suburbs like West End and South Brisbane over the coming decades. Where will all those students study?
I’m reliably informed that the State Government commissioned KPMG to conduct a study into enrolment and capacity issues, and that a report titled ‘Future Sustainability of Enrolments at State High’ was produced in July 2016. To the best of my knowledge, this report still hasn’t been made public, and I haven’t seen it.
The other factor inflating the school’s capacity is that because of Brisbane State High’s reputation and prestige, many families are pretending to live within the catchment in order to get their children enrolled there. Rather than going through the very competitive selective entry pathways, these families use a range of tactics in order to be treated as locals. Some of these tactics have included:
– households of five or six people pretending to live in a one-bedroom apartment
– temporarily renting a property within the catchment, then breaking lease and moving out as soon as the student’s enrolment has been confirmed
– students from other suburbs pretending they live with extended family members within the catchment
– students moving out and paying high rents to live alone in the South Bank student accommodation towers, coming home to their family in the suburbs on weekends
Staff members I’ve spoken to estimate that there are somewhere between 300 and 900 students who don’t actually live within the catchment, but pretend to do so. Without those students, the school would be able to stay below maximum capacity for the next few years at least.
It’s hard to generalise about the demographic circumstances of these not-quite-genuine-local families. There are probably some poorer families who used to be locals and have a long history of connection to the inner-south side, but have been recently priced out of the inner-city. But anecdotally, many of them seem to be wealthier upper-middleclass families who really want their kids to go to a GPS school. They see themselves as having a choice between paying $25 000 a year to send them to Boys Grammar or Girls Grammar, or spending that money on an investment property down at Montague Road and using the 4101 address to get their kid into BSHS.
I’m told the school has to dedicate a lot of staff resources (apparently as many as four full-time staff) towards checking whether new in-catchment enrolments are genuine, but obviously it doesn’t get any extra funding for this work from the State Government. It’s now common for some parents to fraudulently sign statutory declarations saying they live within the catchment, which means the school then has a very high burden of proof threshold to demonstrate the contrary. The school is now turning away students who’ve only lived in the area for six months before seeking to enrol, which means households who move into the area for a legitimate reason other than to get their kids into BSHS are also getting caught up. Even long-term local families now have to provide more paperwork and jump through more hoops in order to get their kids enrolled. The administrative burden on the school will only increase as our population grows and more students – from both within and outside the catchment – seek to enroll.
My perspective at the moment
This is a complex issue, and I think it would be intellectually dishonest to point the finger at a single decision-maker or a single level of government for the mess we’re in. I’m still seeking more information about alternative options to address capacity issues. But I think both Brisbane City Council and the State Government should put the breaks on upzoning land and approving new development projects within the BSHS catchment until capacity concerns are addressed.
Overcrowding at BSHS is ultimately a result of broader structural issues in Queensland’s education system. Many parents clearly feel their child will get a better education and have better opportunities if they go to State High compared to other high schools. Parents from other parts of Brisbane will continue to find increasingly innovative ways to trick the system and get their kids into BSHS as long as they perceive that it offers a better education than their local high school.
In a city like Brisbane, every child should have the opportunity to attend a good-quality government-funded high school within walking distance (or a short bus ride) of their home. This means that if the school’s overcrowding gets to a point where it’s turning away kids who genuinely live within the catchment area, BSHS should start taking fewer non-catchment students through its selective entry pathways. But the school would not be over capacity right now if not for the fact that hundreds of parents are pretending to live within the catchment in order to get their kids into State High.
From an urban planning perspective, it’s pretty inefficient and undesirable to have kids from the suburbs commuting into the inner-city to attend school. It doesn’t matter whether those kids are attending a private school, or have gotten into a public school like BSHS through a selective entry pathway, or have gotten into BSHS by pretending to live within the catchment. Moving so many students in and out of the city every day when they could be studying locally is a significant and unnecessary burden on the city’s transport networks.
Our long-term goal should be for every child to be able to get a good education without leaving their own neighbourhood. At a time when reducing fossil fuel emissions from private vehicle transport is so urgent, continuing to take around 50% of students via selective entry pathways from outside the catchment is at best only defensible if those students are travelling by public or active transport. The money that governments and councils spend on road maintenance to allow more people to drive into the inner-city would be better spent on improving the quality of local suburban schools.
The term ‘locational disadvantage’ describes the fact that – in general – students growing up today in the outer burbs experience greater hardship and have fewer opportunities than students in the inner-ring. The strongest argument in favour of supporting children from the suburbs to continue to access inner-city schools is that in a city of increasing locational disadvantage, encouraging poor kids to enroll at BSHS offers a pathway towards upwards social mobility. But this approach prioritises the interests of a small minority of students at the expense of the many. And the selective entry pathways are not means-tested. What happens to the kids who are left behind in ‘low-status’ schools when all the high-achieving students take up scholarships to private schools or get into somewhere like Brisbane State High? Would it be more socially just if BSHS’s selective entry pathway prioritised the poorest and most disadvantaged children, rather than the high achievers?
Perhaps we need to ask ourselves whether BSHS’s target balance of taking 50% of students from within the catchment and 50% from outside the catchment needs to be adjusted. If the argument for taking so many students from outside the catchment is partly based on equity and addressing locational disadvantage, maybe the selective entry pathways should be means-tested and only available to students from poorer families. What percentage split would be more sustainable in the long-term? What percentage split maximises equity and opportunities for all public school students across Brisbane? Should BSHS have to wind back its selective entry pathways altogether?
There are lots of options and questions that need thinking through, but right now it seems to me that the school has no more room to grow. Under these circumstances, it is reckless of the Brisbane City Council and State Government to continue approving developments that exceed the density of the relevant neighbourhood plans. It is short-sighted of the State Government to support new neighbourhood plans (such as the Dutton Park-Fairfield Neighbourhood Plan) that allow for significantly increased populations within the BSHS catchment area until funding and land for a new inner-city public high school is identified and set aside. We need to keep talking about the impacts of development and infrastructure spending shortfalls, and demand that current and aspiring State MPs clearly state their position on these issues in the lead-up to the next state election.
Thanks for the opportunity to comment on the Dutton Park-Fairfield Neighbourhood Plan. I’d like to thank and congratulate the council officers who’ve put so much time into drafting this plan. Sadly though, I expect much of their good work will be ignored or rendered irrelevant as Brisbane City Council has a strong track record of allowing big developers to ignore key requirements of the neighbourhood plan.
Insufficient infrastructure for current population
Currently there is insufficient infrastructure within the plan area to support the existing local population. In particular, there are significant shortfalls in the availability of community facilities, the amount of useable public green space per capita, in local public transport services, safe bicycle facilities, tree canopy coverage, and perhaps most importantly, educational facilities. Much of this plan area falls within the catchment for Brisbane State High School. Brisbane State High already has 3200 enrolled students even though the functional capacity of the school is only around 3000.
In this context, where the local public high school is already well over capacity, and there is nowhere near enough green space – particularly at the northern end of the plan area – it is irresponsible and extremely disappointing that this neighbourhood plan is not accompanied by a local government infrastructure plan. If it is the case that changes in Queensland Government policy and process have delayed the development and delivery of an infrastructure plan, the neighbourhood plan should also be delayed until that time.
Without providing infrastructure to handle increased population density, we risk exacerbating existing problems such as traffic congestion and school overcrowding. Under these circumstances, I am afraid I cannot support any zoning changes which will lead to significantly increased population density. I strongly oppose upzoning of the Stanley Street and Annerley Road sub-precincts unless the rezoning is accompanied by local infrastructure spending.
If we had a guarantee that necessary infrastructure had been identified and that funding for it had been allocated, I would be happy to support increased density, particularly within the northern sub-precincts of the plan area, however no such infrastructure plan exists. At the very least, council should prioritise increasing the frequency of bus routes along Annerley Road and installing additional CityCycle stations along this corridor to better serve local residents who move about the suburb via active transport.
I strongly feel that this neighbourhood planning process should be delayed until it is accompanied by a meaningful and substantive local government infrastructure plan.
Height limits for Health Sub-Precinct and Stanley St and Annerley Rd Sub-Precincts
The current height limits proposed for the northern precincts of the plan area are not in keeping with the character of the area and will create an environment which is not human-scale or pleasant for pedestrians. Even if added infrastructure was being provided to support the greater density (which I note is not the case), allowing buildings of up to 15 and 20 storeys will make the precinct feel closed-in, cold and unwelcoming.
The height limits contemplated in the draft plan will excessively shadow the street and risk creating a wind tunnel effect along the pedestrian arcade behind Stanley Street, and down Annerley Road. A precinct which is not human-scale will completely undermine the neighbourhood plan’s stated goal of creating a walkable precinct with bustling streets and activated laneways.
I’ve talked to many residents who are unhappy about the proposed maximum heights for these sub-precincts. I also note that there is ample literature from architecture and design experts demonstrating that when residential buildings go higher than the 5 to 8-storey range, residents lose a sense of emotional connection to the streetscape, and the capacity for forming geographic community networks is significantly undermined. The work of architects like Lloyd Alter is particularly instructive – for a brief introductory read I recommend this article: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/apr/16/cities-need-goldilocks-housing-density-not-too-high-low-just-right.
Taller buildings are also far more resource-intensive to build and maintain and have far higher impacts on the surrounding neighbourhood. Many of these costs are externalised and borne by ratepayers and the natural environment.
With this in mind, I would suggest that a maximum height of 12 to 14 storeys for the Health sub-precinct (NPP-001a) and an absolute maximum of 8 storeys for the Stanley Street and Annerley Road sub-precincts (NPP-001b) would be far more appropriate. Table 126.96.36.199.4 should be amended to reflect this, so that developers can’t build above 8 storeys even where the site area is larger than 1200m2.
I also note that in other parts of Brisbane, developers have consistently been allowed to build far higher than the neighbourhood plan’s maximum building heights, even where the area is covered by a relatively new neighbourhood plan. These exceptions to the neighbourhood plan make a mockery of the work of council’s planning team in drafting the plan. Allowing ‘performance outcome’ variations to height limits results in suburbs where infrastructure doesn’t keep pace with population growth, and leaves developers and landowners feeling frustrated that some developers are arbitrarily given special treatment while others are forced to comply strictly with the plan.
Given the existing infrastructure shortages, the lack of an infrastructure plan, and the special character of this precinct, performance outcomes that allow developers to exceed the maximum heights in Table 188.8.131.52.4 should not be allowed.
PO1 in table 184.108.40.206.3.A must be removed, or at the very least amended so that the only circumstances in which a developer is permitted to build higher is if they provide a significant component of affordable community housing or public housing as part of the development. Unless a component of community housing or public housing is provided as part of a development, or the developer is willing to gift a significant proportion of private land to council ownership for a public park, it is difficult to conceive of a development application which could provide enough of a public benefit to justify exceeding the already generous height limits for sites within the neighbourhood plan.
There are better ways to increase density
I understand that Brisbane City Council has a broad strategic goal of increasing density in the inner-city, but this can be achieved without excessively tall towers. Density can be increased by:
- Requiring more three and four-bedroom apartments within the precinct and fewer one-bedroom apartments
- Requiring developers to provide shared laundry facilities for each floor
- Encouraging developers to reduce the size of bathrooms and bedrooms while slightly increasing the size of lounge rooms, common spaces and balconies
- Encouraging developers to make better use of ground-floor lobby space so that these parts of an apartment tower can double as community meeting venues or permanent workspaces for non-profit community groups
- Reforming DA requirements and regulatory barriers that make it harder to convert older free-standing dwellings into sharehouses, boarding houses and student accommodation
- Making it easier for vacant properties which are zoned for commercial or industrial purposes to be readapted for residential accommodation
Green space and Community facilities
As noted above, and as previously acknowledged by officers within Brisbane City Council at the neighbourhood plan information sessions, there is currently insufficient public green space within the northern part of the plan area. On a per capita basis, residents of Gabba Hill have virtually no public green space within easy walking distance of their homes. South Bank is a citywide destination parkland, and does not play the same role as a local park (it’s also on the far side of some very busy intersections). While there is more public green space further down Annerley Road at Dutton Park, the busy roads, natural barriers like the train line, and the hostile pedestrian environment mean that even though those parks aren’t such a long way away as the crow flies, they still aren’t within an easy walk for residents in the northern end of the neighbourhood plan area.
It is crucial that council allocates funding to acquire sites for use as parks within the northern end of the neighbourhood plan area. If council persists in its intention to upzone the Stanley St and Annerley Rd sub-precinct for high-density residential, the many new apartment residents will have a particularly strong need for public green space given the fact that they don’t have their own private backyards.
The northern end of the neighbourhood plan is also poorly served by community facilities. There are no council libraries or community centres within the Dutton Park-Fairfield Neighbourhood Plan area north of the train line. In fact, there appear to be no council-owned halls or meeting spaces that are available for community use whatsoever. Existing community facilities further south – such as the Murri Watch shed – are also in poor condition and in need of major renovations if they are to be of use to the wider community.
This lack of community centres and meeting spaces around Gabba Hill and South Brisbane means residents have fewer opportunities to get to know their neighbours and connect with their local community. It also means residents have to drive further to access services and facilities, increasing traffic congestion in a precinct where, ideally, most residents would be using public and active transport for the vast majority of their trips.
Council should negotiate to acquire the Bethany Gospel Hall site at the corner of Annerley Road and Catherine Street for use as a public park and possibly a community centre or hall. Accordingly, the site should be rezoned for public parkland or community use. Kerb build-outs on Catherine Street could be used to convert adjacent street parking into additional green space to add to this new park. The hall could perhaps be relocated into the northeast corner of the existing lot, freeing up more of the site to provide a larger patch of useable green space.
Council should also acquire part of the carpark out the front of Diana Plaza for use as a public park. Alternatively, the acceptable outcomes for development of this site should specifically require that a privately owned publicly accessible park be included along part of the Annerley Road frontage of this site.
The draft neighbourhood plan should be amended to specifically mention a strategic goal of converting selected street parking bays around the northern end of the plan area into public green space, to allow for the creation of pocket parks. Some roads within the plan area are sufficiently wide that significant amounts of useable green space could be created by converting part of the road reserve into green space using kerb buildouts. Locations for this kind of transformation could include:
– northern end of Fleurs St near the existing community garden
– Catherine St near Annerley Road
– Gloucester St between Stephens Rd and Annerley Road
– Many intersections along Park Road West
– Park Rd near the intersection of Merton Rd (a key pedestrian route to the train station)
– Lockhart St or Ross St near the intersection of Merton Rd
– northern end of Merton Rd between Stanley St and Hawthorne St
– Petersen St, near Fleurs St intersection and at the cul de sac at the eastern end
– Colin St (very substantial road-width – potential to create a lot of extra green space)
Council must also identify at least one other building (ideally two) within the northern part of the plan area to acquire for use as council-owned community facilities.
The existing small public space at the intersection of Vulture and Graham Streets should also be rezoned as public parkland to bring its zoning into accordance with its existing and intended future use.
Short-term rezoning impacts on small businesses haven’t been adequately considered
My understanding is that rezoning properties around Stanley Street and the northern end of Annerley Road for higher density will potentially increase their property value. This will likely lead to increases in rates that property owners have to pay, which in turn will lead to landlords expecting higher rents from small business tenants.
My concern is that a range of factors, including heritage protections, the BCC’s reluctance to drop speed limits, and the lack of investment in the public realm (specifically, a shortage of green space and useable public spaces) will mean that development of this precinct over the next five to ten years will be patchy and ad hoc. Because of the high costs of ensuring that heritage-listed buildings comply with modern regulations and are appropriate for tenant businesses, some landlords will choose to leave their commercial properties sitting empty rather than keeping the rent down.
This risks creating a situation where many of the street-level shops sit vacant long-term. In turn, this will reduce foot traffic and undermine any opportunity to create a vibrant walkable precinct, making it harder for the remaining businesses to survive.
Council should consult further with existing small businesses (not just property owners) along Annerley Rd prior to passing this neighbourhood plan to understand the likely impacts of rezoning upon their rents and future viability of their businesses, and mitigate these risks through temporary rent controls, rates reductions or other incentives. Without urgent investment to improve the public realm and attract more pedestrians to the area, upzoning the Stanley St and Annerley Rd precinct may inadvertently drive more local operators out of business.
Heritage and character protection
The most significant negative impact upon the heritage values and character of the area is the excessive height and built form proposed for key sites along Annerley Road and Stanley Street. I am particularly concerned about overshadowing and the close proximity of new residential towers to the Princess Theatre. The proposed public arcade/laneway should be extended to wrap around the rear of the theatre. Setbacks should also be increased to provide a proper buffer zone.
I feel I must again emphasise that 20 storeys is far too tall for the Mater Hospital site, and that development throughout this northern end of the neighbourhood plan area should generally be capped at 8 storeys to preserve the character and amenity of the area, and preserve a human-scale, pedestrian-friendly environment.
Lack of faith in the overall process
There is much more to be said about the need for this plan to include specific requirements regarding built form outcomes and sustainable building design features. All new developments should have to achieve a much higher standard in terms of sustainable construction materials, rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling, onsite composting, airflow and cross-ventilation. Sadly though, I have no faith that council would impose any such restrictions on developers against their will, even where such requirements would yield significantly better outcomes in terms of sustainability.
Overall, I’m extremely disappointed in how little meaningful input I as the elected councillor for the Gabba Ward have had into the drafting of this neighbourhood plan. I feel I have been ‘consulted’ and ‘listened to’ on many occasions but that my comments and concerns will be largely ignored. It is deeply troubling that this neighbourhood planning process has proceeded without a proper infrastructure plan to accompany it.
If I had more faith in the process, I would have spent much more time on a more detailed submission regarding this draft plan, but my experiences as a councillor to date and the fact that big developers are consistently allowed to ignore the neighbourhood plan anyway leads me to the conclusion that my time is better spent on projects that actually help the community.
December 5, 2016
Now, perhaps more than ever before, the short-term financial interests of multinational corporations are dictating how our city evolves and develops. We’ve seen this with the private construction boom – which is not improving housing affordability for people on low incomes, we’ve seen this with the prioritisation of state-subsidised mega-projects like stadiums and coal mines while local infrastructure projects go unfunded, and we’ve seen this with various asset sell-offs and governmental attempts at privatisation by stealth.
And now, we’re seeing this with the Queen’s Wharf mega-casino.
I submit to you that we as citizens of Brisbane can and should be organising a massive citywide campaign against this project, not only because we think this particular site should be developed differently, but because the public input into this development and so many other developments throughout the city has been a tokenistic and undemocratic sham.
If we don’t draw a line in the sand, if we don’t offer at least some form of resistance, this will keep happening. Every square metre of Brisbane will be privatised, commodified and reshaped for corporate profit. That might sound like hyperbole, but let’s consider for a moment what’s happening here...
Without any meaningful public consultation, and without substantive discussion or debate prior to the last state election, the Queensland government is handing over 13+ hectares of public, riverfront land and a further 13 hectares of the Brisbane river on a 99-year lease for private apartments, luxury hotel rooms and a casino. I say again: we’re talking about public land.
I spend a lot of my time as a councillor arguing that we need more public housing and community housing in the inner-city, that we need more useable green space, and the most common response I get from representatives of the state government is that they don’t own any more land to develop on. And now they’re practically giving away 10% of the CBD for a mega-casino. If we let them get away with this unchallenged, what’s next?
The most common response I hear from people when I talk about this issue is a sense of powerlessness. That it’s too big, that it’s too hard, that it’s already been approved. That is how they want us to feel. These companies deliberately talk about their projects like they’re already a done deal, like they’ve already been built, because they know that we will offer less resistance. They want us to feel like it’s too late.
When our elected representatives fail to act in the long-term interests of our city, it falls to us as citizens – as members of what we used to call civil society – to hold them to account.
I put it to you that the negative social and economic impacts of gambling, and the potential value of this land that’s being handed over, far exceeds whatever compensation the state government might have to pay in order to back out of its preliminary agreements.
Down in Victoria, a powerful community campaign saw the government back away from the massive East-West link, which would’ve seen an unjustified tollway mega-project rammed through dozens of neighbourhood communities.
At the start of that community campaign, people said it was futile. That it was too big. That the deals had already been done. But by the end of the campaign, they had senior politicians tripping over themselves to do a complete 180. They won. And their victory offers some useful insights into how we can resist this project here in Brisbane. Even if we can’t stop it altogether, we can certainly push for fewer poker machines, better design outcomes, more riverside parkland and maybe even a component of affordable housing.
So I’d like to propose something of a strategic roadmap to victory. Much of this is encapsulated in the brochure that we’ve handed out called ‘How Can We Stop the Queen’s Wharf Mega-Casino?'
It’s useful to begin our analysis by asking, what does success look like? To put it simply, success looks like the state government reversing its position. Now there are several factors working in our favour. The first is that there’s a state election coming up, most probably within the next twelve months. The second is that we suspect that some Labor MPs and the majority of Labor Party members are already opposed to this project. The third is that not so long ago, Queensland saw a large campaign against asset sales, and the government will be nervous about a repeat of that. So all we need to do is find the right weak points, and apply pressure through multiple channels.
As I’ve said in the brochure, this project has so many flaws and concerning elements that will be relevant to a wide range of demographics, community groups and stakeholders… The heritage impacts, the massive apartment towers, the privatisation of public land, the likely loss of remnant mangrove species, the significant social harms of problem gambling. And of course, that deeper question: what kind of city do we want Brisbane to become? Do we want our defining landmark – the thing that we are known for internationally - to be a massive casino resort?
But the first challenge is that most Brisbanites don’t even know the details of this development. So we need to use a range of strategies to get the word out. A residents’ group called the Right to the City has already started organising a few forums about the casino in suburbs like West End. And they’re happy to help co-organise more. So I’m hoping that some of you here tonight will put your hand up to help organise smaller versions of tonight’s forum in your own communities and social circles - in church halls, meeting rooms and sports clubs right throughout Brisbane. Because people need to know what’s going on.
If you’re up for that, we can provide a lot of support and guidance in terms of organising speakers, setting up the PA system, helping you promote it etc. So if you’d like to co-organise one of these information sessions, sign up down the front of the cathedral.
As more people become aware of this development, we can organise letter-writing campaigns to ministers and MPs. We can go doorknocking and we can talk to people at supermarkets and street corners.
But as was demonstrated with the East-West link project down in Victoria, we also need direct action and civil disobedience to delay this project, to make the multinational investors nervous, and to draw more attention to our key concerns about this mega-development.
I’m willing to get arrested to stop this going ahead, and I know a lot of other people are too.
There are a lot of us who work in industries that might be involved in different parts of this project, and I encourage you to consider organising strikes and other forms of collective action within your workplace. We’re talking about an industry that uses gambling addiction to suck wealth from poor and marginalised people. An exploitative, unethical industry. So I encourage all of you to reflect on whether it is right to work on a project that will cause so much harm, or whether you should make the courageous, difficult choice to say ‘no’.
We must reject misleading and exaggerated job creation figures, and recognise that the state government could create plenty of construction jobs by building public housing. That there are plenty of tourism dollars in creating another riverside parkland to mirror South Bank. That it is more sustainable to create a diversified economy revolving around the arts, music, science and technology rather than spending all our chips at the casino.
We need to share a positive alternative vision. We do want this site to develop. But we know it can be done better.
Ultimately though, I think this campaign will come down to votes. We need to target senior inner-city Labor MPs who are worried about losing their seats, so that they will then put internal pressure on their party to back away from this project.
This is, in some senses, a test of our democracy. This project is so outrageous that it should never have seen the light of day. The fact that it’s got this far tells me that we as Brisbanites need to start standing up for ourselves.
This isn’t just about this one development. This is about who profits from the evolution and transformation of our city. Should the wealth flow only to the big end of town, or should we all share in it? Should the big decisions be made behind closed doors, or should we all get a say?
So please, if you haven’t already done so, sign up to keep in the loop about the campaign. Put your hand up to help organise an information session in your own community. Start talking about what forms of direct action are most strategically effective. Talk to your friends and colleagues about why they should boycott contracts related to this project. And get political. I genuinely believe that we can win this one. But even more than that, on principle alone, we can’t let them get away with this without a fight.