In February and March 2019, we held a public meeting followed by a community design workshop to facilitate local residents to decide what improvements they wanted to the unnamed park at the southern end of Queen Bess St.
The meetings were widely advertised via printed letters to the local area, as well as via social media and email newsletters. The meetings were attended primarily by residents of Queen Bess St, Church Avenue, Arrow St and the surrounding neighbourhood. We also incorporated feedback from residents who couldn't attend the meetings in person.
We've produced a rough mud map of where additional features might be located in the park, which we will present to council's parks team to investigate, formalise and implement. Some features, such as improved lighting or installation of rubbish bins - will need further detailed discussion with the relevant teams in council. Down the track, further improvements such as flower gardens or a community garden maintained by residents can be explored once the physical equipment has been installed.
The features we will ask council to install include play/exercise equipment, new trees, a water tap and a large picnic shelter (6x3m), with 2 picnic tables that can comfortably seat 8 people each (see pink area on map) at the south-eastern end of the park - this is at the highest point of the slope. The position of the shelter should maintain a clear view towards the city.
On the eastern side between the path and the fence, the residents (including immediate neighbours) support the installation of play equipment for children, as well as monkey bars that can be used as exercise equipment for adults. This equipment is on the eastern side of the path to avoid impacting the open grassy space, but should still be set back from the property boundary.
On the northwest corner, residents supported planting a larger tree species that will eventually provide more shade, with extra seating underneath. We agreed that the positioning of additional trees should leave a large area in the middle of the park for ball games. We will also ask council to explore planting more trees or climbing vines along the motorway sound barrier, but council arborists have expressed concern that the drainage channel and the barrier foundations might make it difficult to find space for tree roots, and that the sun-exposed aspect of the wall makes it less likely that climbing plants or screening vegetation will survive the hot summers.
Residents have also requested for the metallic benches to be replaced with timber ones as the metal ones get too hot to sit on.
Below are examples of the type of play equipment that could be installed:
We had a good discussion about the merits of some kind of public art installation along the wall to the motorway. After a few years, part of this wall will hopefully be screened by trees, but some of the wall will still be visible, particularly next to the shelter where there won't be room for screening vegetation. Although there were a couple of vocal objections, the vast majority of attendees who participated in the workshop discussions were supportive of some kind of art along the wall.
There are many kinds of public murals, ranging from community projects where local residents get together to paint a single large artwork or a series of smaller pieces, to commissioned projects where one or more professional mural artists is paid to paint the wall. It's also possible to have rotating spaces where a local artist is invited to paint a new mural every six or twelves months. I'm keen to have further discussions among residents about what kind of artwork would best suit this particular park, and will obviously engage in further discussions before any decisions are made.
A few residents also asked about the feasibility of installing an electric BBQ. Unfortunately, public BBQs are very very expensive, not only because they are built to be virtually bomb-proof, but because of the need to dig long trenches to connect high-voltage mains power. After I explained the high costs involved, workshop participants agreed that it would be simpler to just bring their own BBQs or borrow a BBQ from my office when holding community events in the park.
The process going forward
We have provided all of the above information (with a bit more detail) to council's parks team, and will ask them to provide quotes for the installation of the equipment. When the quotes come back, I will then sign off on allocating funding towards this project from my local park upgrades budget. Council will then either complete the work in-house, or go out to tender for a private company to do the work. It will be a slow process, so I don't expect to see the work finished in a hurry, but I'll obviously keep you updated as the project progresses.
In response to residents' requests, we're considering establishing a community garden on the western side of the Kangaroo Point Peninsula.
The best available location is at the northern end of James Warner Park. We'd like to know what you think of this proposal, and also whether you're interested in getting involved in the garden.
While many of us would like to see council buy more land to use for a garden, that's not likely to happen anytime soon under the current LNP administration, so it would have to be established in an existing council park.
The garden will only go ahead if there is sufficient volunteer interest to ensure it is well-maintained on an ongoing basis. No trees will be removed to make room for the garden.
The northern end of James Warner Park (immediately to the south of the carpark) is considered the most suitable location, as it gets good sunlight, already has a water tap, and is close to an existing community facility (the jazz club).
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The State Government is just beginning its next round of ‘consultation’ regarding the Cross River Rail project, with a particular focus on future options for the new station in Woolloongabba, immediately to the west of the Gabba Stadium. If you haven’t heard much about the Cross River Rail project before, you can find more info at this link.
The new Gabba train station and the redevelopment of the government-owned GoPrint site is a massive opportunity to transform the central part of Woolloongabba for the better. As I’ve outlined in previous statements, there’s a strong local need for more public green space, more community facilities and more public housing. Unfortunately, there’s not much sign of that in the initial documentation and concept designs released by the government.
The government’s initial concept design:
Sadly, the State Government is even less consultative than Brisbane City Council when it comes to planning big new development projects. They tend to survey a small proportion of people to get a rough (often unbalanced) idea of what the public wants, but will generally only pay lip service to public opinion and instead defer to the priorities identified by the public service and the private sector. In the case of the Gabba station, the main question the government is interested in hearing from the public about is what should happen above ground. The more input people provide via the government’s various engagement channels (such as consultation stalls at community events, or by emailing in feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org) the better chance residents will have of influencing the final outcome.
Other stakeholders, such as the Gabba Stadium and major commercial interests, will be advancing their own agendas via detailed submissions and private meetings, so it’s important that residents and local businesses also speak up as loudly and as often as possible, not only by engaging with the proscribed consultation channels, but by directly contacting your State MP, Jackie Trad, at South.Brisbane@parliament.qld.gov.au.
We don’t know exactly how much money the government is planning to spend redeveloping the land above the Gabba Station and the surrounding public realm. We think it’ll be around 100 million dollars . This will largely depend on how much political pressure residents apply. We do know that generally speaking, the State Government is pretty cash-strapped, in large part because they waste so much of their money on supporting unethical industries (e.g. coal mining, horse racing) and flawed infrastructure projects (e.g. building expensive new prisons). This means the government will be considering options to sell development rights to private developers, and won’t be able to deliver everything the community needs and wants. So residents will basically have two things to push for:
- As much public funding as possible, to ensure the whole site isn’t just sold off to private developers
- Ensuring that the elements that residents consider priorities are at the top of the list to receive whatever funding IS available
Site Development Options and Constraints
There are some crucial traffic factors influencing how the GoPrint site can be redeveloped. The underground station will make it very difficult to provide much underground carparking. And the busway station along the southern edge of the site will make it almost impossible to have cars exiting directly onto Stanley Street. The land is bounded on all sides by very busy main roads which are heavily congested. This road network simply doesn’t have capacity to handle hundreds of additional car movements that might be associated with a new development. It would be impractical to include much carparking on this site, as this would encourage more people to drive to this location, clogging already-congested roads.
Happily, this location will have some of the public transport coverage in the entire country, with both a train station and busway station. Key destinations like South Bank, Kangaroo Point cliffs, the hospital precinct and even the local primary school are all within easy walking distance, and the Woolloongabba Bikeway project running along Stanley Street will provide great cycling connectivity to major universities and high schools. So this site is the perfect candidate to be redeveloped as a car-free development. With the exception of a small amount of disability accessible parking, carshare parking, loading zones and service vehicle parking, this should be a completely car-free development. People who live or work on the site should be expected to travel by active transport or public transport, rather than driving.
The complicated traffic environment will also tend to increase construction costs and logistical challenges. Even smaller highrise development sites can have dozens of truck movements a day, so to redevelop this whole site in one hit would likely cause huge local traffic disruption, suggesting that construction should instead occur in stages.
A car-free development would suggest that certain kinds of land use options (such as luxury highrise residential) are less likely to be commercially viable for private developers. Mega-rich residents tend to want space for their own cars even when there are good public transport and carshare alternatives available.
On the flipside, building lots of public housing for low-income residents right on top of a train station and busway makes a huge amount of sense. It’s much better to provide affordable housing for low-income residents in the inner-city, close to public transport, than forcing them to the outer suburbs where land is cheaper but they have to spend much more of their income on car ownership and petrol costs.
Structural engineers have also suggested that building extremely tall buildings will be more complicated than normal, as the deep footings needed for skyscrapers might be harder to construct due to the underground station. This doesn’t mean very tall highrises are impossible, but simply that there might be additional challenges and costs.
Public Green Space
Green space is one of the biggest needs in central Woolloongabba. The immediate surrounding neighbourhood is already very under-served by public parks, and is experiencing even more rapid densification with multiple residential and commercial developments under construction. Public green space is especially important for residents in high-density housing who don’t have access to private backyards or large internal entertaining areas. Brisbane City Council’s ‘Desired Standards of Service’ for parks identifies that within an immediate local area, there should ideally be 0.8 hectares of general recreation green space per 1000 residents and 0.6 hectares of more natural vegetated green space. Woolloongabba currently falls a long way short of these targets, so even if no new residential development was included on the Gabba station site, it would still be necessary for the State Government to include a large public park to cater for all the residents in nearby apartments. Adding more residential apartments to the site will necessitate also providing more green space to cater for them.
There’s already almost 8000m2 of green space to the west of the GoPrint site around the Motorway (between Allen St and Leopard St) which would be extremely expensive and difficult to construct buildings on. Spending a bit of money to improve pedestrian access to these green pockets, shield them acoustically from the noisy roads, and vegetate them more heavily as a dense bush reserve with a network of short walking tracks might be one way to provide additional useable natural green space for current and future residents of the precinct. But whether that happens or not, it seems crucial to me that at least one quarter of the GoPrint site (approximately 1 hectare) needs to be redesigned as public parkland for the benefit of residents and workers in the area. (For comparison, the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens, which is quite close to the site of the Albert St Cross River Rail Station, is about 18 hectares) You can’t cram people into highrise apartments and office blocks without also giving them somewhere to stretch their legs or sit under a tree.
With many more residents living in highrise apartments, there’s a growing need in Woolloongabba for a range of community facilities and services – public libraries, tool libraries, bookable meeting spaces, halls and venues for parties and community concerts, crisis support services for vulnerable people, workshop spaces, and rehearsal rooms and studios for artists and musicians. So it will be important for the land above the Gabba station to include a large, general-purpose community centre which can fill many of these roles, acting as an anchor for the neighbourhood and helping the precinct flourish.
Right now, there are lots of empty shopfronts around Woolloongabba, so simply building more ground-level retail and commercial spaces in the hopes of ‘activating’ the precinct might not be the best strategy. Instead of cramming heaps of restaurants and shops onto the GoPrint site, it might make sense to have only a modest amount of ground-level commercial uses, and focus on improving connections through to the businesses on Stanley St and Logan Rd. This would free up more space for the kinds of community uses mentioned above, creating a more diverse precinct that doesn’t just feel like all the other restaurant and café destinations around Brisbane.
In recent media releases, the State Government has floated the concept of a big pedestrian overpass linking the new train station to the Gabba Stadium. I do see the logic of such a proposal. And if the government had a blank cheque for this project and was willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the above-ground embellishments, maybe it would be worthwhile. But before we get all excited about the benefits of a pedestrian overpass at this location, let’s take a step back and consider our priorities.
Councils and governments resort to pedestrian overpasses because they don’t want to slow down cars. It would be cheaper and easier to simply change pedestrian crossing signal times to give greater priority to pedestrians to cross at ground-level, but apparently cars are more important.
A pedestrian overpass of the kind shown in this artist’s impression would likely cost tens of millions of dollars, with added costs associated with the complexities of constructing it over a very busy road corridor. It has to be tall enough to allow large trucks to pass underneath, it has to be strong enough to carry high volumes of pedestrians and to resist extreme weather events, and it will probably require elevators and long ramps in order to meet accessibility standards. It’s also worth noting that the big beautiful trees currently growing next to the stadium in Woolloongabba Place Park would have to be removed to make way for the tiered seating showed in the image.
But apart from major event days, an overpass to the stadium might not get much use. Activating the proposed tiered seating and green space next to the stadium is going to be difficult with the noise and air pollution from Ipswich Rd/Main St. Very few people are going to want to hang out on those steps to watch trucks roar past.
Have a look at the large public space in front of Lang Park stadium at Milton. It too has a pedestrian overpass connecting to the train station, and is much better shielded from passing traffic, but most days of the year, it’s just a big empty lonely patch of concrete, because very few people want to visit the stadium precinct except on game days. The Gabba is a slightly different story to Milton as it has a larger local population and more local businesses, but it’s worth being a bit sceptical of these shiny-looking artist impressions.
The central part of Woolloongabba struggles due to the poor pedestrian connectivity across different sides of the Ipswich Rd-Stanley St intersection. Shops along the southern side of Stanley St struggle to attract customers, and the cul de sac of Logan Rd (the old antiques precinct) also feels a bit dead at times.
When we think about connectivity priorities to the new station on the GoPrint site, on most days of the year, there will be many more people seeking to travel in other directions for work and leisure, but comparatively few heading to/from the stadium.
From the future Gabba station, lots of people will be heading northwest to get to the Kangaroo Point cliffs and apartment blocks, north across Vulture St towards residential and commercial properties, northeast towards residences and businesses, southwest towards the Mater Hospital precinct, south across Stanley St to more high-density apartments and office blocks, and southeast to the Logan Road businesses and apartments. Comparatively few people will be heading east across Main St to and from the stadium on an average work day.
A pedestrian overpass directly to the stadium is not likely to give much of a boost to businesses along Stanley Street or help activate the wider Gabba precinct.
So it’s worth querying whether spending millions of dollars on an overpass to connect to a stadium is the best use of money. An alternative approach would be to create scramble crossings at the Ipswich Rd-Stanley St and Vulture St-Main St intersections to improve pedestrian connectivity to the train station, and on major event days, simply close Main St to through-traffic, diverting vehicles via Wellington Road.
Attendance at major sporting events is dropping consistently, and shows no sign of increasing again in the near future. Even if the Gabba Stadium is used more frequently for other big events like live music concerts, I’m not sure that the very high cost of building an overpass is the best use of money.
I’m open to being convinced otherwise on this, but I think I’d rather see the money spent on more public housing.
Selling off Development Rights to the Private Sector?
My general view is that in inner-city areas, where land values are likely to continue increasing long-term, it is short-sighted to hand government-owned land to the private sector, whether on a 99-year lease, as a permanent sale, or in exchange for a developer paying for other works (e.g. a pedestrian overpass). It’s rare for the State Government to have control over such a large inner-city site (particularly one that’s immediately above a train station), so we should not be too hasty in jumping to conclusions and bringing in private developers to build office towers and residential highrises.
Rather than selling off development rights, the government should retain ownership of all future residential and commercial properties built on the site. Well-located commercial properties on a major train station will likely generate significant rental revenue for the government over the long-term. While some residential homes will be rented out at low rents to the most vulnerable members of society, other apartments could remain under public ownership while being rented out at market rates to key workers. There’s a strong and growing need for more public housing in Brisbane’s inner south side, and it makes sense to co-locate public housing with a commercial hub where those low-income residents will have better access to job opportunities and transport services.
If the government feels it does not have enough money available to completely redevelop the whole site immediately, it would be better to stage the project, leaving some parts of the site undeveloped as open green space for a few years until money is available to build more public housing. Retaining ownership of the land and developing it gradually using public funds is preferable to selling it off to the private sector, particularly if the land can be put to other valuable short-term uses in the interim.
Broadway Hotel and Urban Realm Improvements
The Broadway Hotel site, at the intersection of Logan Rd and Wellington Rd, is the southeast gateway to central Woolloongabba. It’s also a key linkage between the massive South City Square mega-development and the Gabba stadium and future Gabba station.
The fire-damaged State Heritage-listed hotel takes up around 900m2 of the 2300m2 site. As discussed elsewhere on my website, due to the requirement to rebuild and restore the hotel, the local oversupply of commercial spaces and the shaky and uncertain inner-city apartment market, it is extremely unlikely that any profit-driven private developer would consider it commercially viable to redevelop the site anytime soon. The hotel has already been sitting vacant since 2010. If this building remains in private ownership, the most likely outcome is that it will sit empty and abandoned for several years to come. This is a poor outcome for the community and a bad look for the neighbourhood.
However, I believe there’s a strong case that as part of the redevelopment of the GoPrint site, the State Government could take a small proportion of the total budget and spend it on urban realm upgrades along key corridors that link to the station.
The Broadway Hotel site is worth somewhere between $3 to $5 million in its current state, which is a comparatively small figure in the context of the Cross River Rail project’s $5.4 billion total budget. As part of the station development, the State Government should be improving footpaths, planting street trees and making other targeted improvements to the public realm (such as better lighting, seating and public art).
The pedestrian routes that need the greatest attention are Ipswich Rd, Leopard St, Stanley and of course Logan Rd. By acquiring this site on Logan Rd, and combining it with the adjoining 800m2 triangle of council-owned land (currently used as a carpark), BCC and the State Government could create a new community centre next to a small public park, which would serve as a significant landmark and point of interest along this corridor. Developing the Broadway Hotel as a civic space halfway between Gabba Station and South City Square would help activate this whole corridor, supporting this stretch of Logan Rd to transform into a vibrant, cosmopolitan mixed neighbourhood, rather than a series of carparks and underutilised warehouses.
If you would like to see the government allocate resources towards acquiring and restoring the Broadway Hotel, please mention this in any opportunities you have to give feedback on the Cross River Rail project.
A possible short-term use of undeveloped land
If, as mentioned above, the State Government does not have the funds immediately available to develop higher-density residential or commercial buildings on some parts of the site, there are a range of options available to make use of this land in the short-term.
One common challenge of new mega-developments is the fostering of connected communities and organic local character. Too often, mega-developments in Brisbane lack soul, and feel just like all the other big shiny new development projects in cities around the world, without interesting or distinctive features. Ground-level retail tenancies often sit empty for several months, and new businesses struggle to attract tenants until there are enough new residents and workers nearby.
One strategy to create an instant community, bring life to an area, and make productive use of inner-city land until it’s redeveloped would be to temporarily designate a small proportion of the GoPrint site as a caravan park, with the intention of creating a neighbourhood of tiny houses and portable dwellings. Small sites could be leased out to long-term tenants for a fixed period of 5 years, or on a short-term basis to tourists in caravans and campervans who are travelling through the city.
Tiny homes can be designed on trailers as off-grid dwellings, with solar panels, greywater recycling and rainwater harvesting to reduce the need for expensive mains infrastructure. These homes can either have off-grid compost toilets, or share access to a common toilet and laundry block as is common with other caravan parks in Brisbane. This kind of short-term, temporary activation of a site can bring more people into an area, offering the necessary population base to bring life to local community facilities and customers to local small businesses.
Another obvious alternative use of the land would be to leave a significant proportion of the site available as publicly accessible open green space until the State Government has the funds to develop it. In the long-term, both the State Government and BCC are looking at acquiring large industrial sites to provide more green space for residents of the inner-south side, but until that happens, providing a significantly larger temporary public park on the GoPrint site would make a lot of sense.
There are many potential temporary uses for land on the GoPrint site and I think local residents should be given more input into what happens here over the next few years. What’s important though, is that the State Government doesn’t just go for the short-sighted option of selling off development rights to the private sector. It’s better to hold on to land and develop it later for the public benefit, rather than selling it off to the private sector and losing future flexibility.
There’s so much to think about with this project, but what’s crucial is that residents speak up loudly and clearly at every opportunity. The government’s instinct will be to ignore or pay lip service to residents and local businesses, but we mustn’t allow them to do this.
As mentioned above, if you’d like to provide feedback on the redevelopment of the Gabba station and the surrounding neighbourhood, please send an email to South.Brisbane@parliament.qld.gov.au and email@example.com (and CC in my office at firstname.lastname@example.org because I’d like to know what you think too).
Council has finally released proposed plans for the partial redesign of Davies Park…
Here’s what they’re spending money on:
- Roughly $200 000 on a large new toilet block (six cubicles including 2 wheelchair accessible)
- About $400 000 fixing up drainage issues and patching the internal roadway
- About $100 000 converting the beach volleyball courts into a flat gravel area, which will be fenced off from the public and will stay within the Souths Leagues Club lease boundaries
- About $1.3 million removing and reshaping some of the mounds around the edge of the rugby field, planting new trees and opening up new useable green space (particularly the new circular lawn at the Jane St/Montague Rd end)
- I’ve also allocated $150 000 from my local park upgrades budget to partly cover costs of a small skate facility on the Montague Rd side (this is marked as the ‘multiuse games area’ on their diagram) and I’m trying to convince the council to chip in the rest.
(Most of these figures are a bit rough because the council hasn’t publicly released its exact cost estimates and hasn’t yet gone out to tender to get detailed quotes)
The council conducted a small amount of ‘consultation’ into public priorities for upgrading the park earlier this year, you can read the comments I made about the proposed plans on my Facebook page earlier this year, the draft design concept plans that were released in July 2018 can be viewed here. They received strong feedback that residents wanted more open green space and not too much concrete, which is why they have prioritised reshaping the mounds along the Montague Rd side to free up more land. Relocating the mounds is so expensive because they are full of old contaminated material (various heavy metals, old rubbish, perhaps even rusted car bodies from when Davies Park was used as a speedcar track in the 1930s).
My impression is that the forms of outreach and consultation used by the council may have tended to more heavily favour the views of older residents. From what I’ve heard in the local area, there’s strong demand from a lot of people for both a multiuse court and a small skate facility in Davies Park, but council is saying that this did not come through very strongly in their ‘official’ consultation.
Jane Street Community Garden
Happily, it looks like the council has at least heard the community's strong feedback regarding the earlier proposal to relocate Jane St Community Garden. Neither I nor the majority of local residents wanted the garden moved, and it seems like the council has backed away from that plan. I'm very pleased with this small positive outcome and I will continue to support and be guided by the wishes of the Jane St Community Garden volunteers.
In general, I’m a bit disappointed with what the council is proposing. Fixing the drainage and relocating the mounds are important first steps, and it would be possible to then put a lot more money into the park to deliver more features. But unlike other major park projects (e.g. Hanlon Park), the LNP have not clearly committed to any more funding in future years beyond the $2 million announced so far. So my big concern is that this is all they’ll do.
Crucially, they have not committed to funding/installing:
- lighting through the park
- new pathways (e.g. a circular pathway around the proposed open lawn at the eastern corner)
- a full-sized multiuse court for basketball, netball, indoor soccer etc (as was floated in their initial consultation)
- Any kind of nature play/playground area
- BBQs or picnic seating
- New stairs/ramp leading up the slope from Riverside Drive to connect to the ring road
- Partial funding for the skate park
They have also ruled out including a shower facility in the toilet block, despite my repeated requests.
As a result of outsourcing to the private sector, the work council is proposing for Davies Park is costing way more than I consider reasonable. But if indeed those are the unavoidable costs, the council is simply going to have to commit more money to this park so we can get some serious improvements.
I’m particularly perplexed by the council’s proposal to convert the volleyball courts to a flat gravel surface on the vague promise that they will install new basketball courts/multiuse courts there in the future. Unless the LNP is willing to publicly commit to funding a multicourt here in the next financial year, we can have no faith or certainty that it will happen.
As a result, all that is going to happen for certain is that the BCC is spending up to $100 000 converting the beach volleyball courts to a flat gravel surface, which will most likely be used by Souths Leagues Club for parking. Rather than improving sport and recreation facilities in Davies Park, council’s current proposals are actually reducing them.
I’ve made an offer to BCC to put more funding from my local park upgrades budget into a small skate park on the Montague Rd side of the park if they’ll chip in some of the money, but I haven’t heard back yet. (In case you’re wondering, I can’t use my park upgrades budget for work on the beach volleyball court area, because that area falls within the boundary of the Souths Rugby League Club)
If you agree that council should not be spending $100 000 converting the beach volleyball courts to a fenced gravel carpark, and would prefer to see other kinds of park upgrades, can you please send an email to email@example.com and David.McLachlan@brisbane.qld.gov.au and CC my office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell them you support planting more trees and creating more green space, but that we also need a multicourt, a skate facility and perhaps some kind of play area for smaller kids.
If this is all the work they intend to do for the 2018/19 financial year, we need to demand a clear public commitment from the Lord Mayor that they will spend more money on this park in the following financial year so we actually get some new facilities.
Thanks in large part to assertive and persistent advocacy from my office, we’ve seen some pretty big budget allocations towards improving public spaces within the ward. This year, the Gabba Ward is seeing a lot more investment in park upgrades than most other wards in the city, which tells me that the advocacy strategy I’ve been pursuing – publicly raising strong concerns about green space while working collaboratively with council officers behind the scenes – is working to some extent.
What’s clear though is that the LNP continues to under-invest in the acquisition of land for new public spaces. They are spending millions of dollars upgrading existing parks, but have obviously decided that buying new sites in the inner-city is too expensive. I think this is a mistake. While it’s great to see existing parks being upgraded, we also need to be increasing the total amount of publicly owned green space in the inner-south side. Because BCC continues to rezone land for higher-density development, land values are continuing to rise, making it harder and harder to acquire new sites. I’ll write more about this issue in future blog posts.
For now, here’s a list of key parks projects that we’ve successfully achieved funding for in the 2018/19 budget. Some of these are still a bit light-on in terms of detail. I can make educated guesses as to what the money is for based on what I’ve been advocating for over the past few months. I’ll be providing more information over the coming months once I get confirmation of the scope of the various projects.
Davies Park, West End
$1.6 million under the ‘Park Infrastructure Improvement Program’ (schedule 184.108.40.206) – this was announced late last year. There’ll be another round of public consultation in the near future about exactly what this should be spent on, and I’ll be pushing hard for the inclusion of a full-size basketball court and a skate facility if we can find the room.
$213 000 for ‘Park Access Assets Maintenance and Rehabilitation (schedule 220.127.116.11) – I assume this is to fix up the roadway and pathways through the park, which I’ve been requesting for over two years now. The internal road deteriorates quickly due to water damage, and a lot of this money will probably be chewed up on stormwater drainage and guttering.
I’ve also rolled over the $150 000 from my local park upgrades budget which was originally allocated for a West End skate park during our 2017 community voting process, but which we haven’t been able to find the space for (I will be pushing for a skate facility in the park).
All up, this means there’ll be close to $2 million spent on Davies Park over the next year or so.
Riverside Drive, West End
Although it’s not listed as a specific line item in the budget, the council confirmed that under ‘Key City Park Upgrades’ (schedule 18.104.22.168), $2 million has been allocated towards improvements along Riverside Drive in response to concerns I’ve raised about ad hoc planning and infrastructure delivery. I’m suggesting that this money to go towards closing off more of Riverside Drive to vehicles and converting bitumen back into green space, with more land planted up as native vegetation. This is a big win for West Enders, and I thank all the residents who’ve supported my office in our activism for improvements to this valuable riverside parkland.
On top of the $2 million, council has also rolled over the massive $15 million allocation for remediation of the contaminated land along Riverside Drive near Hockings St. This is obviously a major expense and a significant project which will take some time, but it also creates an opportunity to upgrade the remediated area after construction is finished.
I intend to co-organise a community design process in partnership with local groups like West End Community Association and Kurilpa Futures to produce a new masterplan for Riverside Drive and identify our top priorities for how the $2 million should be spent.
Raymond Park, Kangaroo Point
$426 000 under ‘Park Infrastructure, Gym Facilities and Landscape Upgrades’ (schedule 22.214.171.124) and a further $34 000 for ‘Enhanced Safety Lighting’.
Raymond Park is used by residents in the southern half of Kangaroo Point, but also by people from East Brisbane and the northern part of Woolloongabba. Recognising that the LNP was unlikely to fork out the money to acquire land for new public parks around the Gabba, I’ve been advocating more strongly for investment in Raymond Park to make sure we can get as much use out of this space as possible.
I think improving lighting for existing facilities like the exercise equipment and basketball hoop will allow for more night-time use, and I’ll be encouraging the council to install more innovative forms of adult play equipment to add to what’s already there. I’m conscious though that one of the park’s greatest attributes is the sense of openness it offers, and I’m cautious of crowding it with too much hard infrastructure. I’m interested to hear from residents whether you think we should push for the existing skate bowl to be expanded slightly.
Captain Burke Park, Kangaroo Point
$125 000 under ‘Upgrade Neighbourhood Parks’ (schedule 126.96.36.199). I will be suggesting that this money should go towards upgraded pathways and picnic shelter improvements. The pathway around the edge of the park is a little bit narrow for the volume of foot traffic it now carries. I welcome other suggestions for any upgrades you think this park requires.
Carl St Park, Woolloongabba
As I’ve announced previously, we’ll be spending about $300 000 this year out of the local public space upgrades budget (schedule 188.8.131.52) to improve the park at the corner of Carl St and Tottenham St, Woolloongabba, and we’re waiting on confirmation from the parks team about how much additional funding will be allocated to this project over the next couple of years. You can find info about the community design process for the park at this link.
Hanlon Park, Stones Corner
Hanlon Park runs along the south-east edge of the Gabba Ward, and is heavily used by residents of Woolloongabba/Buranda. This park is a floodway, with Norman Creek running through the middle down an old concrete drain. Excitingly, we've had some very big funding allocations to this park, with $3.8 million in 2018/19 and $5.5 million in 2019/20. This money will be used to restore the concrete drain into a more natural vegetated creek, which will improve the health of the entire waterway and provide a valuable wildlife corridor connection through to the final stretch of Norman Creek in East Brisbane.
Council will soon publish a draft concept plan for the park, seeking further community feedback. I'll keep residents in the loop about this. It will be interesting to see how we can strike the right balance between maintaining enough open space for recreational activities like kicking a ball around, while also reducing flood impacts on nearby properties and revegetating as much of the park as possible to provide habitat for native species.
Kingfisher Creek/Moorhen Flats, Woolloongabba
$327 000 under ‘Bridge and Culvert Construction’ to replace the bridge across Kingfisher Creek near Moorhen Flats.
I’ve told council that this is not necessarily the number one highest priority project in the ward, but I still see value in doing it as the current bridge is very narrow. A new wider bridge should help reduce any conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists and open up access to this valuable inner-city bushland reserve.
There are also a number of smaller budget allocations such as minor improvements to the Orleigh Park dog park in West End ($17 000), and vegetation management and regeneration around Norman Creek near Deshon St in Woolloongabba ($14 000).
In general, parks funding in this year’s budget seems to be concentrated around areas that have experienced rapid high-density development over the past few years. With more development creeping through Woolloongabba, I will be pushing for more money to be spent in the 4102 postcode in future years. The main challenge in the central part of Woolloongabba is that there aren’t many existing parks to upgrade, so we need to pressure council to cough up larger sums of money to actually acquire new park sites, particularly around the Annerley Rd/Gabba Hill precinct. We also need the State Government to ensure that large public green spaces are included as part of the Cross River Rail station redevelopments at Boggo Road and Gabba Central.
You can read the budget papers for yourself via this link.
If you have any feedback on any of the above-mentioned projects, or green space needs in the Gabba Ward more generally, I encourage you to email the Lord Mayor at email@example.com and CC in my office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can check out other previous updates about local issues via this link.
6 June, 2018
If you've been wondering what happened to the proposal for a basketball hoop to be installed down along Riverside Drive in West End, here's the text of an email I sent out yesterday to residents who were marked in my database as wanting to be kept updated about this project...
I’m writing to you because you previously expressed an interest in the proposed basketball shooter’s box along Riverside Drive in West End. Long story short: I’ve asked the council officers to explore squeezing the court into another location further along Riverside Drive near Victoria Street, and we're waiting to see if that's possible.
Listening to residents
I’m sorry I haven’t been able to update you on this sooner, but as you can imagine, with seven suburbs and 50 000 residents to represent, my time is split between a lot of different issues.
I won’t give you a long rundown of all the consultation we’ve engaged in, but suffice to say the local community is very much split on this proposal.
Recently I hosted an online poll to get a better sense of what everyone thought (you probably already filled out the poll, but you can still find it online at this link). The results to date are that 186 respondents (53%) support the proposed location, 160 respondents (46%) oppose the location, and 5 respondents (1%) said they needed more information.
The bulk of opposition was clustered immediately beside the proposed hoop location from residents of Waters Edge and future residents of Breeze apartments, however there were also a lot of residents in this immediate vicinity who were supportive of the site choice.
I haven’t had time (and won’t have time) to do a detailed demographic analysis, but of the respondents whose names are on the electoral roll within the Gabba Ward, only 9 respondents were under 30. So contrary to concerns that an online pole would be biased against older residents, it turns out that younger residents were significantly under-represented in the survey.
Based on the survey and the other forms of consultation I’ve conducted previously, it’s obvious to me that the majority of the community is generally supportive of a basketball shooter’s box being installed along Riverside Drive, but that residents of the new apartments strongly object to it being immediately outside their homes.
New proposed location
With all this in mind, I’ve asked council workers to look again at another site along Riverside Drive, immediately to the north of the BBQ and picnic table node, between the river and 117 Victoria Street (see accompanying image showing approximate site of concrete slab and fencing). This location will require reducing the width of the bitumen roadway along this stretch by up to 1 metre, but the bikeway/footpath planners within council have no concerns about this, as the roadway has ample width.
The concrete slab will be approximately 6.7m by 9.2m, with a 2-metre high fence on three sides (and a buffer of a couple metres between the edge of the concrete and the fence). I’m satisfied that the fence will prevent balls bouncing into the river or onto the footpaths.
We did seriously consider alternative locations such as down at Orleigh Park, but the topography was more difficult, and we wanted the facility as close as possible to the high-density apartment precinct. I’m hopeful that the hoop’s proximity to the picnic node at the end of Victoria St will help activate this space as a hub and a local destination in its own right, rather than just being a thoroughfare between Orleigh and Davies Parks.
Other related issues
As you might be aware, I remain frustrated that no funding has been allocated towards a proper democratic masterplanning process for Riverside Drive. I encourage you to sign the petition for a new masterplan if you haven’t already done so.
I also warmly encourage you to sign up to receive regular updates about local issues if you’re not currently on my mailing list.
I hope to send out another update once the council have confirmed that the hoop installation can go ahead at the alternative location, and I will also continue to push for a full-sized basketball court to be included in the redesign of Davies Park.
I want to emphasise to the residents who objected to the original location that although it looks like we might be able to avoid installing a basketball hoop there, it’s quite likely that this stretch of Riverside Drive will see other proposals to intensify use in the future (including night-time uses). Anyone who lives beside a riverside public space in the inner-city would be naïve to assume that such spaces will remain empty and quiet long-term. Hopefully we can get the Lord Mayor to commit to a detailed masterplanning process so that everyone can have a say in how these spaces evolve.
Finally, I want to invite you to a community meeting at 4pm on Sunday, 24 June at the GPS and Old Boys Rowing Club on Hill End Terrace. The rowing club is seeking to expand their shed significantly, and would like to share their plans with the community. There’s a Facebook event at this link.
As usual, if you have any questions or concerns, feel free to send me an email at email@example.com.
5 June, 2018
Great news! After a strong pushback from the local community, Brisbane City Council and the State Government have backed down on plans to clear the vegetated under-storey from the bushland reserve in Mowbray Park. This is a small but significant win. It seems commonsense has prevailed and the political establishment has responded to residents' concerns about the need to protect this important piece of native habitat.
This was confirmed in a 'June 2018' project update from Brisbane City Council, which stated that the State Assessment Referral Agency had approved an amendment to the development approval conditions to remove the requirement for the vegetated understorey to be removed and converted to turf.
I feel confident that this change only came about after my office and local residents started applying pressure on both the State Government and Brisbane City Council, and I'd like to wholeheartedly thank the residents who took the time to call or email both the Lord Mayor and Deputy Premier Jackie Trad.
20 April, 2018
For those who missed it, part of the State Government's approval of the widening of Lytton Road included a lot of detail about how the park should be redesigned and maintained. Buried in the details of the development approval conditions is clause 2(a)(viii), which requires that the established stand of vegetated bushland be destroyed, with the undergrowth removed and converted to grassy lawn. The larger trees in this part of the park would remain, but the value of this space as native habitat would be substantially reduced.
Here's a link to the approved plans, which includes the diagrams and associated conditions.
Clause 2(a)(viii) states "the understorey plants, bollards and excess mulch within the central revegetation area must be removed and replaced with turf."
Not only are we losing many of the large fig trees along the southern boundary of the park - we're also at risk of losing this rare and beautiful patch of forest. This vegetated area is home to a range of native fauna including the bush-stone curlew. It's crucial that this valuable native habitat is preserved.
I've written to the both the State Government and the council to express my strong opposition to the loss of native habitat and I'm optimistic that they will reconsider the current plans.
Below is the content of an email I sent on Monday, 9 April asking the Lord Mayor to conduct detailed community consultation in the development of a new masterplan for the Riverside Drive Parklands along the West End and South Brisbane riverfront. This is not the first time I have raised the issue with council, but to date we have not received a clear response as to when masterplanning will occur. If you also believe we need a masterplan for Riverside Drive, I encourage you to email the Lord Mayor at firstname.lastname@example.org.Read more
Different residents often have different, conflicting views on how particular public spaces should be used.
These disagreements can be tricky to resolve in inner-city areas, where the ratio of public space per resident is far lower, and different land uses – residential, commercial, open space, etc – are closer together. Ideally, each neighbourhood will have a good balance of:
- quiet, well-vegetated green spaces that provide wildlife habitat and allow residents to connect with nature
- Lower-intensity open recreation spaces for holding a picnic, kicking a ball around or flying a kite
- active recreation spaces with infrastructure like playgrounds and sports facilities
- community gardens that bring people together and support urban food production
- intensively used squares and urban commons that are designed for meetings and events.
With greater public investment both in genuine consultation and in well-designed infrastructure, it’s possible to find creative solutions to meet a wider range of needs. Unfortunately, both the Brisbane City Council and the Queensland State Government have underspent significantly on the provision of public space and the infrastructure that goes into it. This general scarcity means that public spaces are being used more intensively, particularly in close proximity to residential homes.
Who is impacted?
As a local councillor, I believe residents should have more control over how our neighbourhoods change and evolve. The residents who live closest to public spaces often experience the greatest negative impacts when the use of those spaces intensifies, and it’s important that their needs aren’t ignored or marginalised.
However, immediate neighbours aren’t the only ones who should get a say in how a space is used, and although their needs and preferences might differ from other public space users who live slightly further away, that doesn’t mean that they should have veto power over everything that happens on a piece of publicly owned land.
There are many benefits in living closer to public parks and squares – for one thing, the view from your window probably isn’t obscured by another building only a few metres away. The trade-off is that you also have to put up with a bit more noise and a little less privacy. This can be a difficult adjustment for new residents who are accustomed to quieter suburban lifestyles, but it comes with the territory.
Wealth inequality is another important element in this conversation. Public spaces are owned by all of us, and while everyone’s money (in the form of rates, taxes etc) is used to buy and maintain public spaces, it is often the most wealthy members of our society who get to live closest to high quality parks and squares. While poorer residents are crammed into smaller apartments and flats with no private open space and barely enough room to entertain visitors, wealthier residents get the benefit of larger homes - usually with private courtyards or sprawling backyards - as well as closer proximity to publicly owned open space. Often, public spaces are used more heavily by lower-income residents who live slightly further away from them.
This raises interesting questions about who should get a say in the design and use of public spaces. If we left such decisions exclusively up to immediate neighbours, many parks would probably remain as bare, empty lawns without toilet blocks, barbeques, lighting, shade shelters or the many other features that make spaces more useable. Such an outcome would not necessarily be in the broader public interest.
Ideally, everyone who cares about and uses a public space (whether they’re an immediate neighbour or a less frequent visitor) should get some level of input into how such spaces change, but there’s no definitive answer as to how much weighting should be given to different users and interest groups.
Finding balance in an unbalanced landscape
Historically, Brisbane City Councillors have tended to heavily favour the views of immediate neighbours when it comes to designing public spaces. As a result, a small minority of vocal objectors can often prevent upgrades and outweigh the less coordinated requests of other park users.
I generally tend to lean a bit more the other way, and try to respond to the needs of lower-income public space users who might not have the confidence to start a petition or call the Lord Mayor’s office, but who are often heavily impacted by how such spaces are managed and developed.
An added difficulty here is that a poorly run consultation process that is not sufficiently inclusive or democratic can end up amplifying a vocal minority, and may actually be worse than no formal consultation at all. Basing decisions on a single survey or a single public forum creates the risk of a decision being hijacked by the people who have the most time and energy to participate in that consultation process, to the exclusion of demographics that don’t have the time to engage. The best approach is to put in the time and money to engage residents through a wide range of consultation avenues that are accessible to different demographics, and encourage residents to talk directly to each other as well as to the council, but unfortunately BCC doesn’t usually do this.
Parks as community meeting places
In our current society, one of the most important roles of public parks and squares is their function as a gathering place where people of different demographics and subcultures can meet and interact. Today, Brisbane’s dog off-leash areas are among the most vibrant community hubs in the city, offering neighbours a chance to get to know each other and share local news. Basketball courts and playgrounds can serve similar functions.
In a city where most of us lead busy, individualistic lives and don’t have the time or energy to get to know our neighbours, public spaces can play a transformative role in creating more opportunities for chance encounters and strengthening community relationships. This is one of the most important differences between private gardens and public parks, and is a key consideration when deciding how a particular public park could be improved.
Where are we headed?
In a city like Brisbane, where the provision of public space is not keeping up with population growth, most inner-city public spaces will not be able to remain as quiet, empty green lawns, free of both people and native vegetation. Most public spaces – particularly along the river – are likely to see increasingly intensive uses, especially in the evenings and at night. Public parks are not private lawns, and it is naïve to assume they will always function as such.
Importantly though, councils need to spend the time and resources to facilitate community conversations about how different public spaces change and evolve. Properly funding consultation and participatory design processes can help residents find common ground and strike a better balance between competing needs. Without forward planning and open conversations, disagreements and disappointments are inevitable.
Navigating all this is definitely one of the hardest parts of my role as a councillor, and takes up a lot of my time and that of my two ward office staff. There are more than 50 000 residents in the Gabba Ward. Sadly, we don’t have enough staff or funding to send out hundreds or sometimes thousands of notification letters to neighbouring residents every time changes are made to a public park. Similarly, a lot of residents don’t have the time to get involved in proactive consultation processes or even to read the newsletters that council does send out, and end up only hearing about upgrades at the last minute, when it’s too late to object. There’s no easy answer to this, but a crucial piece of the puzzle is decentralising decision-making power to the neighbourhood level rather than so many decisions being made centrally in city hall.
Perhaps the most important takeaway is that there are many different uses for public spaces, and reasonable people can disagree on how each park and public square should change over time. So in discussing how spaces are designed and managed, we need to consider not only our own immediate needs, but also those of other residents from different demographics who might use public space in different ways.
Many residents would like all our parks to remain as quiet green refuges with only low-impact uses, but many others want these spaces upgraded with more infrastructure and facilities. We need to have more community discussions about these tricky questions, and resist the temptation to take a one-size-fits-all, no-compromise approach.
Open Letter to Minister Steven Miles re: Destruction of Mangroves as part of the Queens Wharf Mega-Casino Development
Dear Minister Miles,
I write to you in your capacity as Minister for the Environment and Heritage Protection to request that you publicly oppose plans to fill in part of the Brisbane River and destroy many of the mangroves growing along the Queens Wharf riverfront in Brisbane’s CBD.
I understand that while you personally are not the final decision-maker in approving the designs for the Queens Wharf mega-casino, the mangroves cannot be removed without your approval as Environment Minister. You will also no doubt be consulted regarding whether you support aspects of the development which involve filling in and building out over parts of the river, and your recommendation for or against this will carry significant weight.
The plans for the Queens Wharf Brisbane Priority Development Area suggest that the casino developer will remove many of the mangroves and other established trees growing along the riverbank between the Goodwill Bridge and the Victoria Bridge, leaving only a few large individual mangrove trees to serve as a hollow reminder of the ecosystem that used to exist here. This application should not be approved.
The development application talks about a ‘mangrove walk’ and makes general statements about preserving mangroves where possible, but when you drill down into the detail of the Foreshore Environmental Management Plan and other associated documents, it becomes quite clear that the vast majority of the mangroves will either be removed or will suffer severe negative impacts from construction work. It seems the development approval would not include any strict conditions requiring the protection of the mangrove forest in its entirety.
These mangroves provide a wide range of crucial ecosystem services. They clean the air and the water. They prevent sediment and rubbish from flowing into the river and ultimately out into Moreton Bay. They are a breeding habitat for a wide range of aquatic species, as well as a hunting ground and refuge for native mammals, reptiles and birds. Their value is reflected in Brisbane City Council’s Biodiversity Overlay, which maps these mangroves as an area of ‘High Ecological Significance’ and the area of bikeway between the trees and the Riverside Expressway as a ‘Biodiversity Interface Area’ - a buffer zone in which high-impact development should be restricted.
This stretch of vegetation - including the larger pine trees on the river below the 1 William Street government building - is a crucial wildlife corridor for a long list of species that travel up and down the Brisbane River. The large water birds which sometimes hunt and rest here are a particular delight to tourists and locals (I’m not just talking about the ibis, but also the herons, egrets, cormorants, owls and tawny frogmouths that pass through this spot).
Mangroves help prevent flood damage by slowing floodwaters and stabilising the riverbank to stop erosion. These mangroves also screen the Riverside Expressway. I’m not sure how much they do to reduce the noise and air pollution, but they definitely improve the view when you’re looking across from South Bank.
Even if you don’t find these arguments persuasive, you must surely acknowledge that the presence of mangroves in the middle of the CBD is part of what makes Brisbane special. There are thousands of cities around the world with casinos and highrises and luxury riverfront restaurants, but relatively few can boast the abundance and diversity of inner-city flora and fauna that most Brisbanites too often take for granted.
Brisbane’s character and identity rests in part on the presence of intact vegetated corridors stretching through the suburbs and right into the heart of the city. It is this feature which attracts and enthrals international tourists and sets us apart. Very few tourists travel to Queensland to see bright lights and big buildings. They are drawn to our state’s many natural wonders, from the Great Barrier Reef to the lush National Parks in the Gold Coast hinterland. The heart of our capital city should also respect and reflect this identity.
When you stroll along the river’s edge early in the morning, or late at night, the stretch of mangroves along the CBD riverfront is a rare and beautiful thing. Other big cities around the world are currently incurring great expense to re-establish wildlife corridors along their rivers, whereas we already have them.
These trees are an important part of the river ecosystem and of the city more generally. They have not been well looked after in recent years. Rubbish has been dumped there. Trees have been hacked away unnecessarily. Pollutants from the expressway and nearby construction sites have been allowed to flow into the river unchecked. But this doesn’t mean these trees are not worth preserving.
Although I am opposed to the Queens Wharf mega-casino, I am not opposed in general to the redevelopment of this site. It will be great to see more of the CBD riverfront opened up to the public for recreation and sightseeing. But whatever uses the site is ultimately put to, it should still be possible to preserve this wildlife corridor. A flourishing mangrove ecosystem in inner-Brisbane could be a tourist attraction in its own right. But one or two lonely remnant trees will not serve as viable habitat and will not be able to regenerate themselves over time.
I’m conscious that letters such as this are sometimes filed away as miscellaneous correspondence because they don’t technically comply with the government-prescribed format for submitting feedback. I’ve found it extremely difficult to access the processes and available avenues for public submissions into the Queens Wharf development, and if I as an elected city councillor find it confusing I can only imagine that many other residents are also being excluded from meaningful input. I request that this letter be incorporated as a public submission regarding the main development application and any other subsequent applications relating to the removal of the mangroves.
I know that you personally have strong environmental values, and that you won’t want to see this mangrove forest destroyed. The question is what you will be able to do about it. Please take a public stand in opposing the removal of these trees. You have the power to stop this.
Councillor for the Gabba Ward