A secretive and allegedly corrupt Gold Coast City Council is riding roughshod over citizens and the City Plan in a frenetic drive for developer dollars.
It ignores the City Plan to massively increase the urban density of the City, damages the quality of life of residents, undermines the natural environment and destroys iconic City landmarks and features.
So heard a group of around 200 Gold Coast residents at a community meeting held in Broadbeach last month (26/10/17), to hear concerns about the policies and actions of the Gold Coast City Council under the administration of developer, Mayor Tom Tate.
Organised by GECKO, the Gold Coast and Hinterland Environmental Council, with the help of local activist group Save our Spit, many of the issues raised concerned the way unsustainable and unhindered development was wrecking the City and its environment.
It ended with unanimous votes of no-confidence in the Council, and in favour of the Council being sacked by the State Government, as well as an administrator to be appointed.
PARKLANDS AND PUBLIC LAND GIVEN THE BIRD
Ecotourism and sustainable development on the Gold Coast seem to be becoming a thing of the past.
As IA reported recently, koalas are deeply at risk from land clearing and overdevelopment on the Gold Coast. Also at risk are wild birds and other native wildlife, as the Council moves to concrete over parks and public land throughout the length and breadth of the Gold Coast.
(Image via Save Black Swan Lake Facebook page)
Said Val Shooter from Save Black Swan Lake, the Turf Club had tried to fill the Lake once before:
“In 2014, without legal authority, the Turf Club tried to dump truck loads of fill on top of nesting swans but was stopped. The Turf Club chairman is general manager of an earthmoving business, Coastal Tipper Hire. So, we have no doubt which company would have got the contract to fill in the lake.”
In another example, the meeting heard from Graham Bradley that his group, Preserve Evandale Parkland, was set up to preserve the luxuriant green space around the Council chambers from Mayor Tate’s 2014 Cultural Precinct Master Plan. Bradley said his group “want the park to be a showcase for Australian natives and a world-class natural gateway to the cultural precinct.”
The 2014 Cultural Precinct Plan proposed enabling private partners to construct on the verdant parklands four high rise apartment blocks, two commercial office towers, a multi-storey car park and a hotel, among other developments.
Bradley said Mayor Tate had double-crossed the group:
In February this year … we met Mayor Tate and he assured us that no development, other than the planned art gallery building and related infrastructure would take place on this site, while he was Mayor. He encouraged us to work with the Friends of the Botanical Gardens, to come up with a plan for further enhancing and beautifying this park ...
And we have since done just that … But recently we have learnt of a disturbing development — the Gold Coast City Plan major update, released just a couple of weeks ago, makes it clear that private development of the Evandale Parklands is still very much on the agenda.
Bradley said where the plan would have radically increased the urban density of Evandale without any right of appeal:
“Two aspects of this update particularly concern us. Specifically, the council has resolved to increase the permissible housing density on Evandale by a further 50 per cent and, as a result, to alter the classification of the above ground carparks on this site, effectively meaning that no public notification is needed for them to go ahead, and no rights of appeal exist.”
Barry Robinson from Friends of Currumbin also said the use of public land by residents had been subordinated to the needs of vested interests. He used the example of the Gold Coast Oceanway — a planned walkway along the length of the Gold Coast beaches that had gone nowhere under Tom Tate.
The Gold Coast, a great place for an Oceanway
The Oceanway has been our number one project. Many years ago … the Gold Coast City Council engineers won a national prize of outdoor infrastructure for the design of the ocean way from The Spit to Coolangatta. And everyone was quite excited about it.
Small sections have been completed. Other sections are obstructed by the local Councillor, who is subjected to the vested interests — well, the vested interests of some of the important people who live along the beach front. The Oceanway is designed on public land, it's not meant to offend anyone. Some of us could go right back to Noosa and the objections to when that beautiful pathway was built along the front there. It's the same sort of thing here.
The idea of looking at a woman pushing a pram along a footpath on the beachfront, offends some people deeply. We are better than that, I am sure.
At the end of his speech, Graham Bradley produced a rather surprising quote:
Someone once said:
‘A great city needs great parks. Unless they are set aside in the city’s youth, they are hard to retrofit after development has taken place, and once established they need to be jealously protected. As the city grows, those green open spaces are more precious than ever.’
That someone was Malcolm Turnbull, and if he was here tonight I would hope that he would join with us in condemning the actions of the Gold Coast City Council.
DENSE PLANNING FOR DISASTER AND DISMAY
Another spoke of the Council helping a developer side-step the City Plan to get approval to turn the open space at Burleigh Golf Course in a suburban area at Miami into three highrises and a huge car park.
Miami resident Rachel Sestique, who opposes the development, detailed her surprise at finding a note in the minutes of the pre-lodgement meeting that a senior Council officer had contacted the developers to tell them:
" … it may be worthwhile lodging a request for the development to be assessed under the Council’s superseded planning scheme … as there have been applications with similar conflicts with the former superseded planning scheme that have gone through on appeal and have been approved. And Council feels this could assist.”
Ms Sestique asked:
“Is it the council officers' job to help developers get developments across the line, that won't pass the 2016 town plan?”
Lois Levy from GECKO noted afterwards:
“ … a previous Council under the 2003 planning scheme had a policy, which was then incorporated into the planning scheme, that golf courses were not to be considered land banks for developers. And the entire Council at the time, supported that and has continued right through — until we got this Council.”
In a similar vein, resident Don Gordon spoke about how the massive new Komune development in Coolangatta.
I live in Lindor Apartments, 136 Marine Parade, Coolangatta. I represent those residents. There are eight in our building. Our building has nine storeys and 16 car parks.
Council has approved a 27-storey hotel, on a 1,740 square metre block, next door to our apartments. The town plan for this area of Coolangatta is ten storeys. They have approved 194 units on this small site, with parking for only 155 cars. The building has no setbacks from Marine Parade, Boundary, or Hills Streets. The building is within one metre of our eastern boundary. It has a three-storey podium level.
The amenity of our home has been destroyed by this bad Council decision. How would you like to have a 27-storey hotel built within one metre of your boundary, with approval to amplify music from 7am to 12 midnight?
“ … currently we see developments in Bilinga and Coolangatta, like Komune, which exceed density and/or height or both. And contravene other provisions of the city plan, such that density trumps all. The long-term impact on the amenity, urban quality and the landscaping of the city are absolutely compromised.”
Follent said the Council’s unrestrained drive to push high-density living simply increases land speculation, without increasing jobs — the Mayor’s explanation for all his plans:
“The loss of plot ratio in the city plan could have constrained the bulk of high density developments, means that a speculative market has been fuelled by developers, never intending to build. But rather to add value to land for approval for future development, and then to sell on the land with that approval. That is actually far more profitable an activity, than the risky world of building buildings. But it offers no jobs.”
"Planning affects people. When it goes wrong, it can have the most terrifying effect on residents’ well-being, mental and physical — and these are the things we forget. It has an effect on their lifestyles, their amenity, it can impede property values and consequently affect family futures. It had an impact on traffic safety and the natural environment, and the creatures that live there. It can cause a feeling of hopelessness and despair, and I've seen it working in the town planning area in our town. I suspect that many of you are feeling the effects of bad planning decisions of the City Councillors right now."
Disabled local resident Monique Robinson gave a definite example of the effects poor planning can have on individuals:
I live in Labrador. It has been brought to my notice, in our area, we are in light of the Commonwealth Games coming by; our street, the street that I live in, is going to have a two-hour parking limit.
Now, I live in a complex of 26 units and so we won’t be able to allow to have a permit. So, then I wonder where are my support workers going to park? Where are the few residents in there that have vehicles, where are they going to park? Where are the hospital people going to park? Already we have a problem here and it just doesn't make sense.
Councillor Peter Young had the following to say about the Gold Coast’s alarmingly increased density of living under the current Council:
“We've seen in the last 12 months or so, quite a number of significantly large buildings which are achieving densities five times what is set down in the town plan. Five times. And up to 47 stories … They are adding, or potentially loading onto the infrastructure in that local area, massive impacts, such as congestion on the roads, or lack of abundant or appropriate open space.”
KEEPING RESIDENTS IN THE DARK
Many speakers spoke about the Council’s lack of transparency and public consultation.
Bernard Rowley from the Main Beach Association, for instance, spoke about the secrecy of the new tram:
“The Mayor's public consultation on light rail, through the Main Beach to the Spit, was only advised to Councillors the day before commencement. So, not even the Councillors knew it was on.”
Rowley said the Council was working hand in glove with developers to hoodwink the public:
“The building height study report of the Council, contains recommendations on new building heights on the Gold Coast. The suggested heights on The Spit were on page 222 of the redacted part of the report ... This was displayed on the Four Corners program. The Mayor said that he had not seen the page before and suggested it was produced by Sunland. It's a Council document, [but] a developer, in fact, he says produced the page. Unbelievable.”
Also highlighting the close links between developers and the Council, at the expense of relations with residents and their representatives, was former Gold Coast Councillor Alan Rickard, now vice-president of Save our Broadwater.
In a contribution read out by Lois Levy, Rickard said it was all about donations:
We are here tonight because there are real community concerns about the close relations between our present Council and the real estate development industry, as a result of development contributions to election campaigns. Some say the donations are not necessarily to gain favours, however, I note that when Save Our Broadwater requested meetings with the Mayor and Deputy Mayor to discuss the Spit Management Plan, we were told 'No'.
Also, yet some in the development industry say so-and-so is a good Councillor, as I only have to pick up the phone and they will be there. Why does a hard-nose developer contribute money to the campaign for someone they may not yet have met? Let’s not kid ourselves.
Echoing Rickard's concerns, Val Shooter said the Council was “so secretive about anything connected with the Black Swan Lake, we are highly suspicious of it”.
Councillor Peter Young indicated the group was right to be suspicious:
“The spin doctoring goes to the extent where, I have seen a photograph here tonight of curlews, which are quite a special bird. There was a photograph of curlews in the draft City report … about the environment. There was a certain sensitivity about having a picture of those birds, because they are so special, so it was deleted.”
Lois Levy said Gecko was also very concerned about the secrecy of the Tate Council:
“We are very concerned about the secrecy of meetings that happen and decisions are made, and then just rubber stamped when the public meetings on. The hidden reports, going back to 2012, when right to information was the only way you could get hold of them. And, we have got at least five reports that have huge amounts redacted out of them so that you can't read the important bits about risk — financial risk and physical risk. I don't think that's acceptable …”
Speaking to IA after the event, Save our Spit vice president Darren Crawford said the lack of transparency was one of the most concerning aspects of the Gold Coast Council under Mayor Tom Tate:
"You can ring up the Council and you won't get an answer for days on the most basic of questions. We are constantly seeing reports that the rate payers have paid for, that are being hidden from public, redacted versions being put out in public. We are seeing secretive meetings taking place, we have a town plan that is less than 12 months old ‒ that is already up for review ‒ to slip unlimited height density in on The Spit. That shouldn't be happening."
You can read a transcript of IA's interview with Darren Crawford from Save our Spit HERE or listen to the interview via above podcast.
BUILDING A SUSTAINABLE GOLD COAST
Most speakers said they were not against development, but just that it needed to be economically and environmentally sustainable and not destroy the livability of their City.
Darren Crawford from the group Save our Spit helped organise the event and gave the closing address. Save our Spit has been pivotal in opposing Tom Tate’s dream of a giant dirty cruise ship terminal on the Gold Coast.
He spoke for many at this highly charged event, when he said:
“ … all I seek ‒ and most of you seek ‒ is sustainable development … Economic development, economic sustainable development, environmentally sustainable development. And of course, socially sustainable development. Which is what we've all spoken about here ... ”
Speaking to IA, Crawford reiterated that this movement was not against growth:
“We are not against development. We are not against jobs. We are not against growth. We as a city, and as a state need to see development that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.”
As Lynn Ogden said:
“ … it isn't rocket science that good development provides just as many jobs as bad development."
Crawford took a veiled swipe at 58-year-old Tom Tate, calling for generational change:
"And if it's not, we have some of the best minds in this country that are now entering into this age where they should be taking over. Me included. And we were all taught about sustainability. And it's these guys that are in their 50s and 60s that don't know about it and don't care, and are operating under the old ways. We need to get them out and we need to get fresh ideas in, that are going to stop building these coal-fired power stations, that are going to invest in renewables and are going to stop building things like that." [Points to graphic of six high rises.]
Indefatiguable environmental campaigner Lois Levy summed up the concerns of the meeting while slamming the administration of Gold Coast developer Mayor Tom Tate:
I am very concerned about Mayor Tate's administration. It seems to be increasingly secretive, there doesn't seem to be any concern at all, as far as I can tell, for the natural environment. He appears to think that our public open space is there as a land bank for development — and the cruise terminal on Phillip Park is a classic example of that, as in indeed, in the past few years, where we have fought so hard to protect The Spit and Wavebreak Island.
We've got problems now with Queen's Park, Bishop Park, Black Swan Lake, all of these things, which indicate to me that he really has no idea and doesn't care about our public open space and our green spaces, that are essential to the health of the people of this city.
I don't think he cares one iota about the environment. And, really, he won't even speak to groups like us, so that indicates to me that he is really not interested, at all.
Lois Levy’s last word was a plea for people who want to save the Gold Coast to join with her to oppose a Council captured by vested interests:
“I'd just like to say to all of those people who are listening, please come and join us. The more people who speak out and demand of their Councillors that they represent them, and not vested interests, the better chance we've got of having the City that we deserve and the future that we deserve.”
COMMONWEALTH GAMES CHAOS COMING?
At the end of a sometimes emotional address, which was met by a standing ovation from the assembled crowd, Councillor Peter Young appeared to encourage activists to use next year’s Commonwealth Games to draw attention to their cause:
I've fought hard to secure the Commonwealth Games. I think it's a fantastic opportunity for our City and so, it concerns me to even be suggesting this to you. But, as was mentioned before, we've got a blue koala as our mascot. And we are seeing a decimation, a slaughter of our koalas and other wildlife. So, wouldn't it be the worst thing out for the Commonwealth Games to be associated with the slaughter of those animals? Or the destruction of Black Swan Lake? Or the diminution of a whole bunch of other beautiful, valuable, treasured places in the City?
Let's use these opportunities for our good, so that in the years to come we can look back at this time and say: Man, we were down and out. Gee, look at all the troubles that we had across the city. But, we overcame. We stayed committed and we kept the pressure on, and we won.
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You can read a transcript of IA's interview with Lois Levy HERE or listen to the podcast below:
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