Here we Joh again! Newman Gov't and the Sunshine Coast developers

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The Queensland Government is pressuring local councils to change their planning schemes for big developers, many of whom are in very close contact with LNP MPs. Alex McKean reports.

SCRC is now being subjected to pressure from the State Government to make substantial changes to that planning scheme to enable inappropriate high rise developments

The ongoing controversy about proposed highrise development at Yaroomba Beach on the Sunshine Coast has stronger links to the Newman Government than might be apparent to the casual observer.

There are strong indications that pressure has been brought to bear on the Sunshine Coast Regional Council (SCRC) by the State Government to amend a brand new planning scheme to allow highrise development. The SCRC has just announced that discussions about amendment to the planning scheme have been further postponed until early 2015.

These delays are taking place at the same time as revelations have been forthcoming about State Government involvement in the rezoning of Maroochy River Cabin Village and Caravan Park.

It appears that Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney has been the principal actor in the rezoning, which has added millions of dollars to the value of the land at the stroke of a pen. It has also been revealed that the owners of the beachfront land had attended LNP fundraisers.

This is not the first time Mr Seeney has been involved in a situation where an LNP donor appears to have received favourable treatment from the government.

Mr Seeney was instrumental in ensuring a retrospective amendment was passed that declared the activities of Karreman Quarries, a company which had donated $75,000 to the LNP, activities to be legal, and

‘… to always have been legal.’

This amendment appeared to have been triggered by Mr Seeney becoming aware an investigating body had found sufficient evidence to support a prosecution of Karreman Quarries for illegal extraction of gravel.

Another LNP figure linked to the caravan park deal is Buderim MP Steve Dickson.

It appears Mr Seeney’s intervention in the caravan park rezoning was prompted by lobbying from Mr Dickson.

It should be noted Mr Dickson was formerly a SCRC councillor and Chair of the SCRC Planning Committee.

It appears Mr Dickson is also involved in moves by Sekisui House, one of Japan’s largest construction companies, to get the SCRC planning scheme changed to enable highrise development to go ahead at Yaroomba Beach.

The lobbyist register, available at the website of the Queensland Integrity Commissioner, reveals a number of lobbying contacts between State Government figures ‒ including Mr Dickson ‒ and the company responsible for the Yaroomba development, SH Coolum Pty Ltd.

The lobbying was conducted by Andrew Stevens, a director of KHA Development Managers, which operates the lobbying vehicle, the trustee for the surveyor unit trust. Mr Stevens was the President of the Sunshine Coast chapter of the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA), the peak lobbying organisation for property developers.

The register shows Mr Stevens lobbied Mr Dickson on behalf of SH Coolum on 12 June 2013 for the purposes of 'making a decision or giving a development approval under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009’ and again on 1 November 2013, for the provision of an

‘… update on the progress of the Sekisui House development.’

Mr Stevens also lobbied Fiona Simpson, the LNP Member for Maroochydore and Queensland Speaker, on behalf of SH Coolum. On 30 May 2013, the contact was for the purposes of an ‘introduction’ and on 21 October 2013 so Mr Stevens could update Ms Simpson on the progress of the development.

It is interesting that Ms Simpson has broken ranks with Premier Newman, who described the 4-story height limit in the planning scheme as “ridiculous” and lashed the SCRC for “lagging behind” the rest of the State, specifically referencing the Sekisui proposal for Yaroomba.

It is noted there have been revelations of donations from Sekisui House to Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale, apparently to arrange meetings with the premier.

Ms Simpson has reportedly said any development at Yaroomba should be contained within its landscape and not dominate its surrounds.

Pictures taken by opponents of the development, with balloons representing the height of the proposed tower blocks, demonstrate the manner in which the development would dominate the surrounding area.

Premier Newman has apparently promised that he will not call in the development to override the Council, as Mr Seeney did with the caravan park, because of Ms Simpson’s opposition to the development. It is telling that no such promise has been extracted from Mr Seeney.

Mr Stevens has been lavish in his attentions to SCRC personnel on behalf of SH Coolum, in addition to his contacts with State-level LNP heavyweights.

On 22 May 2013, Mr Stevens performed an ‘introduction’ of SH Coolum to Mayor Mark Jamieson and Deputy Mayor Chris Thompson. On 5 June 2013, Mr Stevens gave a presentation about SH Coolum’s 'beachside revisioning project’ to the full Council.

On 14 October 2013, Mr Stevens met the SCRC CEO John Knaggs and SCRC regional strategy and planning director Warren Bunker to discuss ‘media strategies’ for the Sekisui House development.

On 11 October 2013, Mr Stevens provided Cr O’Pray an update on the development and on 23 September 2014, he met Cr O‘Pray and Cr Robinson for the purposes of an introduction on behalf of SH Coolum.\\\\

The current SCRC Planning Scheme was gazetted in May 2014, after a lengthy consultation process. The SCRC website boasts that over 3,500 individuals provided input into the planning scheme. It can be said with some confidence that the planning scheme represents the will of the Sunshine Coast community and results from a democratic process.

It is a matter of grave concern that the SCRC is now being subjected to pressure from the State Government to make substantial changes to that planning scheme to enable inappropriate high rise developments. The process involved in amending the planning scheme will throw significant cost onto the ratepayers of the Sunshine Coast, seemingly to enable amendments for the benefit of property developers.

The people of the Sunshine Coast, whose will is reflected in the planning scheme as it currently stands, are poorly served by a Council which refuses to defend that scheme against pressure from developers and the politicians to whom they have made donations.

Council should defend the planning scheme and place the State Government, should it choose to intervene, in the position to answer for that decision at the ballot box next year.

Alex McKean is a barrister and Sunshine Coast resident.

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