The Mt Coot-tha zipline project — what is Brisbane Council hiding?

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The adventurous and scenic sport of ziplining (Image via Flickr)

A proposed zipline project at Mt Coot-tha, which promises to have community and economic benefits, isn't all it seems, writes Mark Hipgrave.

AS PART OF HIS 2016 re-election campaign, Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk promised a zipline (a kind of giant flying fox) for Mt Coot-tha, the much-loved forest park just west of the city.

He told residents that Brisbane needs a zipline to solidify its “global reputation as Australia's new world city”. This is presumably to better compete with other new world cities such as Auckland, Austin, Barcelona, Calgary, Cape Town, San Diego, Singapore, Tel Aviv and Vancouver — many of which, sadly for Lord Mayor Quirk, already have their own.

Maybe he hopes that a zipline will help add the “cultural depth” that Prof Greg Clark CBE, chairman and founder of Business of Cities, thinks that Brisbane lacks.

In 2017, the Brisbane City Council (BCC) called tenders for the development of a zipline project and announced in January 2018 that:

‘Following a rigorous tender process, Zipline Australia, based in West End, was awarded the successful tender for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of the zipline.’

Then, in late September, it added:

‘The development application for the Mt Coot-tha zipline project has been lodged and is now in the assessment stage.’

The proposed zipline has generated a lot of angst in the leafy suburbs around Mt Coot-tha, with an anti-zipline website and Facebook pages now well established. The local Greens state member, Michael Berkman, has also got on board the anti-zipline bus.

The release of the Development Application (DA) is where it all gets interesting.  

A close review of the documentation shows the landowner, the BCC Asset Management group, giving its consent for the DA proponent, the Brisbane City Council Natural Environment, Water and Sustainability (NEWS) Branch, to lodge the DA with the reviewing body, the BCC Development Services department.  

The BCC is, thus, on all three sides of the approval process triangle, as landowner, DA submitter and DA assessor. Very cosy! However, none of this is revealed on the BCC project website or in the community newsletters.

But wait, there’s more.

The September newsletter told residents that, amongst other things, the project will provide more than $232 million worth of economic benefits to South-East Queensland over 30 years. It will also provide local employment opportunities with 112 new full-time-equivalent jobs in South East Queensland and an Indigenous partner plan.

These look like rock solid promises, but a close review of the project Planning Report reveals the weasel words — the economic benefits will be ‘around $232M’ and the jobs created will be ‘around 112’.

Residents have also been told that ‘Zipline Australia has a proven track record of delivering high-quality zipline and ecotourism projects’.

Far from it. 

Zipline Australia admits to having no operations at all in Australia at present:

‘We will emulate [high standards] when we commence operations in Australia. We are currently advancing two attractions: Cairns Rainforest Zipline, to be hosted at the Skyrail Cairns site and Mt Coot-tha Zipline.’

BCC has also not revealed that Zipline Australia has had little involvement in the front end of the project. Not only has BCC managed the DA process, but the funding for the DA submission and all its accompanying expert reports has been provided by the BCC through a $1M upfront investment, which may not be recoverable if Zipline Australia fails to proceed with the project.

Zipline Australia is currently keeping a very low profile. You won’t find their telephone number, website, email address or street address in any of the BCC community newsletters, or website page and all enquiries regarding the project are to be directed to the BCC City Projects Office.  

Even if you do your own search, you will struggle. A Google search reveals nothing. Google Maps and Apple Maps have no listing for the timber cottage in West End that serves as the Zipline Australia corporate HQ and even the White Pages shows, well, zip.  

Zipline Australia does have a website, but you need to go deep into the personal Linkedin page of one of the directors to find it.

And it’s not much help when you get there. The website gives a contact email address, but no street address or telephone number. There are some nice artists impressions of the proposed facilities and a helpful page enabling visitors to voice their support for the project, but (perhaps not surprisingly) no opportunity to lodge an objection.

It’s not a good look for the BCC to be hiding so much from the community on such a controversial project and one might wonder why this so.  

A back-of-a-drink-coaster review of the project financials given in the DA indicates that it will struggle to be profitable (or even bankable). Perhaps the council is waiting for Zipline Australia to fail so the council can take over the project, complete what’s not finished, then sell it off.

If there is another reason, maybe the Council will tell us one day.

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