The widening of Lytton Road in East Brisbane is a Brisbane City Council project – ‘Wynnum Road Corridor Upgrade: Stage 1’, which involves widening a stretch of Lytton Road between Latrobe Street and Norman Creek as well as upgrading intersections and installing a proper off-street bike path. Importantly, council has not allocated funding for Stage 2 or further stages, so practically speaking, Stage 1 is basically the whole project.
The project will involve the demolition or relocation of almost fifty properties along the northern side of Lytton Road (many of which are very old traditional character homes), but it will also require reclaiming part of Mowbray Park to use for additional traffic lanes. This is where the State Government comes in, because Mowbray Park and the East Brisbane War Memorial within it are listed on the Queensland Heritage Register, making the park a ‘State Heritage Place’. (The project also arguably impacts on the State Heritage-listed Hanworth House, which is immediately adjacent to the road and will be detrimentally affected by increased nise and air pollution.Read more
Frustrated residents will protest outside Queensland Parliament House on Wednesday against the $115 million widening of Lytton Road in East Brisbane, which will include the destruction of character homes, reclaiming heritage-listed parkland and the removal of large fig trees.
Mowbray Park, which includes the oldest war memorial in Queensland, falls on the State Heritage Register, which means the Queensland Government’s Department of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning has to approve the Brisbane City Council project before it goes ahead.
Last year, a large number of residents submitted a petition to Brisbane City Council calling for a drop in the speed limit on Montague Road, West End. I requested a speed limit review because I felt the road is too fast and too dangerous.
Council outsourced the review process to a consultancy, but bizarrely, the consultancy only looked at crash data from between 2007 to 2011, rather than focussing on more recent crash histories. As shown in the accompanying image, they also made some terrible choices in locating their traffic counters. They placed traffic recorders up near the Jane St traffic lights and down towards Orleigh Park, but didn’t collect any data on speeds or traffic volumes in the fastest and most dangerous section of Montague Road.
Below is my (long) speech to council about why I think the speed limit should be lowered (preferably to 40km/h south of Vulture Street). It’s pretty dry, but a few traffic planning geeks might enjoy it. And here’s a link to the report produced by the consultancy that council outsourced to…
SPEECH IN COUNCIL CHAMBERS ON 28/03/2017:
I’d like to unpack a couple of major flaws in the speed limit review process, which is the basis of council’s opposition to lowering the speed limit at this time. I’ll then go on to highlight some of the key arguments weighing in favour of dropping the speed limit on Montague Road.
So council conducted this speed limit review in response to safety concerns raised by a number of local residents and business owners. My general concern is that the speed limit review process which the Queensland Government encourages councils to follow doesn’t necessarily yield sensible outcomes in inner-city suburbs, particularly in areas that have recently undergone rapid development and transformation. This is in large part because the process does not include pedestrian or cyclist counts and deprioritises the needs and concerns of pedestrians and public transport users.
The speed limit review process is inherently resistant to changes that would improve pedestrian safety and amenity. It is overly bureaucratised and heavily centralised and does not sufficiently account for local context or the need to prioritise pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users ahead of cars. If we’d followed this process in the CBD, it would have recommended against dropping speed limits to 40 km/h. But I think we can all agree that 40km/h is working pretty well in the CBD and that if the State Government’s review process contradicts that, then the review process is flawed.
It’s also kind of morbid that the review process relies so heavily on crash data as the primary indicator regarding safety. This creates a situation where no matter how dangerous a road is and no matter how many residents and local businesses complain that an area has become more dangerous, council won’t act until after multiple serious crashes have occurred.
So I’m not convinced that this speed limit review process should be relied upon by council as our only tool of analysis and decision-making regarding speeds, particularly in areas with lots of pedestrians.
However, for the purposes of discussion today, I wanted to raise specific concerns about this particular speed limit review. I hope these concerns will be conveyed to the relevant council officers and that Councillor Cooper will be good enough to take these concerns in good faith as they are intended. The outcome I’m seeking is that we hold off on responding to this petition until further research has been conducted. An alternative outcome I’d like to see is that this administration will remain open to conducting another speed limit review in the most dangerous section of Montague Road sometime in the next few months, once newer crash data becomes available.
The speed limit review report relies heavily on data from two traffic recorders, which recorded both traffic volumes and speed data over a seven day period.
But unfortunately, this data is fundamentally flawed due to the poorly thought-out locations of the traffic counters.
One traffic recorder was positioned right down at the southern end of the road near Cordeaux St, which is a lower density residential neighbourhood that receives substantially less traffic than the rest of Montague Road. This is just before the approach to Orleigh Park, where the road narrows and vehicles slow down to turn onto Orleigh Street.
The other traffic recorder was positioned at the very northern end of the review area, immediately before the Jane Street traffic lights. The segment of Montague Rd between Jane St and Vulture St also receives far less traffic, because the majority of vehicles travelling into and out of the peninsula currently turn onto Vulture Street, avoiding the Jane St intersection altogether.
So the independent consultancy has put these recorders in places where there are lower traffic volumes and lower speeds than the most dangerous stretch in the middle of Montague Road. It’s a little bit like measuring how fast a bunch of sprinters are running by positioning the speed gun twenty centimetres in front of the starting line.
So even though my concerns and the concerns of residents were primarily related to the middle stretch of Montague Road near Victoria Street, the consultancy has measured the vehicle speeds and traffic volumes at the far ends of the road, away from the major trouble spots.
My second related concern is that this report doesn’t include pedestrian or cyclist counts, even though pedestrian safety issues were the primary trigger for this speed limit review. The report goes into a lot of detail about the number of vehicles per hour and what speeds they were travelling at, but doesn’t make any serious attempt to explore how frequently pedestrians cross the road or where pedestrians cross most often, which should logically be the focus for this kind of review. The report’s failure to focus at all on cyclist safety and comfort is deeply concerning, and again defeats a key purpose of the speed limit review.
My third and perhaps most significant objection is that the independent consultants appear to have relied on very out-of-date crash data in assessing safety concerns. This is particularly problematic because it seems to have been the crash data, as part of the Environment Assessment component of this review, that tipped the balance in favour of retaining the current speed rather than dropping it.
The review relied upon crash data from 2007 to 2011, even though this review was conducted at the end of 2016. This is in spite of the fact that I have repeatedly emphasised to council how significantly traffic conditions and crash frequencies have changed in the last few years. Back in 2007, Montague Road was a lot safer. There were far fewer cars and far fewer pedestrians. People didn’t have to play chicken with semi-trailers every time they wanted to get to the bus stop or the local shops.
In the period from 2007 to 2011, there were fewer than 15 significant accidents along Montague Road. Nowadays, there are dozens of accidents along Montague Road every year. I’m personally aware of five accidents that have occurred along the Victoria Street stretch since the beginning of January this year, and I’m sure there are more that I haven’t heard about.
I’m extremely sceptical of claims that no relevant crash data from 2011 onwards was available, or that more recent data was not suitable to be relied upon. I know the State Government can be pretty slow to release this sort of information, but a lag of five years is pretty hard to believe. If it really was the case that more recent data was unavailable, it would have been better to exclude crash data from the review altogether, rather than relying on crash statistics that were between 5 and 10 years old.
The Montague Rd precinct has changed dramatically in recent years. This area is undergoing a process of rapid densification, with dozens of warehouses and industrial businesses replaced by high-density residential along with commercial uses that generate higher volumes of traffic – both pedestrian and vehicles – than previous land uses.
Montague Road includes a range of uses that generate high pedestrian volumes including the blue cityglider bus route, a major supermarket, and several smaller supermarkets, commercial offices, major dance schools, high-density residential, a large new childcare centre that’s currently under construction, and the very popular Davies Park Markets. It’s also a key connector to the local primary school and the riverside parklands.
The opportunity we have along Montague Road is to create a walkable neighbourhood more reminiscent of Grey Street at South Bank, with a lively and vibrant streetscape and high volumes of pedestrian and cyclist traffic.
As the West End population grows, we need to make it easier, safer and more comfortable for people to use active transport and public transport rather than relying on private vehicle transport. This will improve local amenity and commerce, and will also allow for larger numbers of commuters to travel in and out of the suburb along Montague Road.
The LNP’s South Brisbane Riverside Neighbourhood Plan reinforces this vision. It says that along Montague Road, retail development, street upgrades, landscaping and building design will establish an attractive and comfortable environment for pedestrians. So it sounds like we all share similar visions for how this road will evolve, and should be working together to achieve that vision.
A crucial and necessary step in this transformation of Montague Road is lowering the speed limit. This will reduce noise and air pollution, which will make the footpaths a more comfortable pedestrian environment, and will improve amenity for the many residents now living in apartments along the road. It will also improve the actual safety and perceived safety for cyclists who ride along this corridor.
Dropping the speed limit will make it easier and safer for vehicles to turn onto Montague Road from side-streets and driveways, and will also reduce hassles and safety concerns for Cityglider bus drivers who are pulling out of bus stops.
During peak periods, traffic along Montague Road already moves very slowly, and dropping the speed limit is unlikely to have any significant impact on travel times for private vehicles during rush hour. However it will significantly improve safety for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists throughout the day. In the last two or three years, there’s been a significant increase in crashes and near misses along this corridor. The Victoria Street intersection near the ALDI supermarket is the most notorious hotspot for collisions and near misses.
Pedestrians of all demographics cross Montague Road on a daily basis, including dozens of school children, people with impaired mobility, and people with impaired vision. Thousands of commuters cross Montague Road each day to access CityGlider bus stops, particularly at the Victoria St intersection. If council pushes ahead with the installation of more pedestrian refuge islands along Montague Road, it would make sense to drop speed limits at the same time.
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 18.104.22.168.4 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 22.214.171.124.4 should not be allowed.
PO1 in table 126.96.36.199.3.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.
A renowned and well-respected philosopher once wrote that “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum… That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”
I mean no disrespect to any particular councillor or political party, but from what I’ve seen over the past couple of weeks, it seems those words wouldn’t be out of place in the introduction to the 2016/17 Brisbane City Council budget.
We live in an era of great change. New challenges are presenting themselves and new solutions are emerging in response, but generally speaking, this budget is a rusty relic of an approach to city governance, financial management and urban planning which probably should’ve been abandoned years ago.
Obviously this budget isn’t all-round terrible. In fact, it’s strikingly mediocre. There are a few major funding allocations that make a lot of sense, and a wide range of smaller initiatives that I genuinely believe do and will continue to make this city a better place to live. My decision to vote against the various budget programs should not be misinterpreted or misrepresented as a vote against every single item and allocation within those budget programs.
Many of the funding allocations make a lot of sense.
But when I turn my mind to examples from cities around the world of the kinds of changes we could be making… of the kinds of projects we should be funding, I can’t help but feel like we’re missing out on some amazing opportunities.
When I think about the challenges of climate change, of rising homelessness, of an increasingly shaky local property market, of social isolation and wealth inequality, I can’t help but feel deeply disappointed at how little we’re doing to prepare our city for an era of economic and environmental volatility.
I could talk at length about what the drafters of this budget should have done differently, but I have very little confidence that the current administration has any significant desire to take on my suggestions or work constructively with non-LNP councillors. This view is based on the opaque and un-consultative nature of the budget drafting process I’ve just witnessed. I’m beginning to feel that the ibis out in King George Square are more interested in productive, policy-focussed conversations than some of the councillors in this chamber.
City Councils around the world are adopting participatory budgeting strategies to give ordinary ratepayers significantly greater direct input into how their money is spent. Unfortunately, here in Brisbane, we don’t even give non-LNP councillors any meaningful input, let alone residents.
As one small example, I’d like to read into the record a few excerpts from my email to the Chair of the Finance and Economic Development Committee regarding the budget. Noting of course, that Councillor Adams did run a more transparent budget estimates session than some other councillors, and I’ve thanked her for that. Excerpts of the email:
“Dear Councillor Adams,
Please find attached my budget submission for the 2016/17 financial year for the Gabba Ward. Please reply to confirm you’ve received this submission and that you are able to open and view the attachment.
I would like the opportunity to meet in person to discuss my submission in further detail, and to share other proposals for reducing council expenditure and increasing revenue which I didn’t include in my submission.”
Then in the email I went into a bit of detail about a few local priority projects, before writing:
“Please advise a time and date that would suit you to discuss my budget submission further.
Thanks for all your hard work.
Here’s the only reply I received:
“Dear Councillor Sri,
Thank you for your email of 6 May 2016.
I acknowledge receipt of your submission.
Councillor Krista Adams”
That’s it. No dialogue. No meaningful consultation. No acknowledgment of my request for a meeting. Is it any wonder then that I have so little faith that my perspective will be heard and respected in this place? That I struggle to see the point of engaging in debate when many councillors appear unwilling to see across party lines and engage in genuine cross-party dialogue? When they’ve already made up their minds? I expect some councillors in this chamber will defend the administration’s approach saying, “That’s the process for all councillors, whether you’re LNP or not.”
But my point is that we need not and should not settle for such an adversarial process.
We can do better. Every councillor in this chamber, regardless of their political alignment, has something meaningful and constructive to contribute to the budgeting process. To perpetuate a system where the talents and insights of so many councillors are ignored, on the shallow pretext that they can share their views in council debates after the budget has already been finalised and released, is undemocratic and a disservice to the people of Brisbane. I don’t say this lightly, but the lack of accountability, transparency and consultative collaboration is deeply troubling.
Overall, I believe this budget is characterised by two distinct flaws:
- An absence of any meaningful commitment to social justice.
- A general failure to prioritise projects that improve resilience and adaptability.
Australia is in the middle of a housing affordability crisis. Brisbane’s property market is on a trajectory disturbingly reminiscent of American cities before the GFC, where local government representatives like us failed to plan for and mitigate against the risks of a property market collapse that caused widespread homelessness.
In this context, it is shameful that a budget of $3 billion allocates only a couple hundred thousand dollars towards housing support and homelessness services.
I have little patience for statistics about the number of free haircuts that were provided by unpaid volunteers at Homeless Connect. If homeless Brisbanites are to get back on their feet, they need a lot more than haircuts. They need affordable housing.
Right now, hundreds, if not thousands of houses and apartments in this city are sitting empty. Brisbane City Council should be charging higher rates on empty properties so that investors have a stronger incentive to rent them out. We should be setting aside money to acquire more of these properties for use as crisis accommodation and community housing.
I have no patience whatsoever for buck-passing excuses that housing is a State issue. This is our problem too, and we shouldn’t wash our hands of it.
Brisbane City Council is far bigger and more powerful than your average city council. I’ve frequently heard council officers refer to BCC as functioning more like a small state government. Historically, Brisbane City Council played an active role in providing affordable housing, and I can find no legislative document stating that housing is exclusively the responsibility of the Queensland government and not city council.
We spend millions of dollars on road-widenings, graffiti removal and ornamental fountains, and councillors can stand here with a straight face and tell me that we don’t have the money for housing? That it’s not our responsibility? If a man falls down in front of you on the street, would you not stop to help him up?
Council policies are actively exacerbating the current housing crisis. You’re the ones rezoning land so that developers can knock down affordable boarding houses and Aboriginal hostels and replace them with unaffordable dogboxes. You’re the ones enforcing laws against large sharehouses that young people live in because they can’t afford any other option. You’re the ones encouraging an unsustainable construction boom fuelled by easy credit and speculative property investment that drives up prices and locks first homebuyers out of the market. And your only solution is to keep increasing supply until the market collapses. As though that’s worked so well in the past.
So when I say this budget lacks a meaningful commitment to social justice, I mean that councillors who support this budget are neglecting their duty as elected representatives to prioritise the needs of the most marginalised and disadvantaged members of our society. Council might be doing something, but it’s not doing anywhere near enough. The money allocated towards homeless support services is chicken feed compared to spending in other areas, and to say that we can leave housing affordability to the magic of the free market, or to other levels of government, is a dereliction of duty.
If council can borrow money to fund the metro, or a highway to the airport, you can borrow money to buy affordable housing. The long-term savings and social benefits will more than justify the cost.
This brings me back to the quote I shared at the outset. The spectrum of debate surrounding the content of this budget has been uninspiringly narrow. Councillors of all sides seem to be playing our parts in some kind of theatrical production. But no-one’s watching. We don’t even allow cameras to film the supposedly public debates in this chamber. So who are we all performing for?
When I talk about a narrowing of the parameters of debate, I’m referring in particular to the “hands in the air, there’s nothing we can do” sentiment that we have to choose between funding a pedestrian crossing in Nundah or an intersection upgrade in Inala. That we have to choose between flood mitigation in Fairfield or a park upgrade in Wynnum. The simple truth is that we don’t have to choose. In the words of that cute little girl in the burrito ads, why don’t we have both?
Minor infrastructure upgrades that improve pedestrian and cyclist safety offer far better returns on investment than major road-widening projects. Making it safer and easier for people to use active transport for short trips reduces the number of cars on the road and saves us millions of dollars in road resurfacing and upgrades over the long-term, not to mention the wider positive impacts in terms of health and fitness, air quality, carbon emission reductions, community connectedness and increased foot traffic for small businesses.
I’m told that even the RACQ said the Kingsford Smith Drive widening project didn’t represent value for money. But those local safety upgrades do.
If you really believe those big flashy major road projects are more of a priority than the local stuff that materially improves residents’ lives, I probably won’t be able to convince you. But I say again that while interest rates are low, we should be borrowing money to fund those local priority projects, because they will save us money down the track.
This is a risky budget. It is risky because it clings to the same old methods and priorities in spite of significantly changed circumstances and future challenges, including an unstable climate and a rates base that’s increasingly vulnerable to a property market collapse.
I hope next year the administration councillors will involve the rest of us in genuine, meaningful discussion so we can all work together on the budget, rather than shutting us out of the conversation and forcing us to resort to adversarial debates after the budget has already been released.