The Queensland state government could take control of the controversial West Village urban renewal project in Brisbane’s West End, following sustained community campaigning over a perceived lack of amenity, sustainability and affordability provisions.
This week deputy premier and minister for planning Jackie Trad announced she was using her powers under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 to issue a proposed call-in notice for the mixed-use development.
The call-in would make Ms Trad the assessment manager for the development application, which had been approved by Brisbane City Council in May. This would allow a reassessment against state interests, which include sustainable development and liveable communities.
“I have notified all stakeholders, including the developers and the community, that I am considering a call-in for the proposed West Village development,” Ms Trad said.
“Any decision to ultimately call in this application will be made on planning merit.”
The development by Sekisui House and Payce currently proposes 1350 new residential dwellings and 18,500 square metres of retail and commercial space on what is known as the Absoe site.
What’s missing, according to community activists, is adequate open space, community facilities and affordable housing.
“Community members have expressed their concerns over the lack of open spaces, traffic impacts, the scale of the development and that the proposal should provide a superior outcome for existing and future residents,” Ms Trad said.
Greens councillor Jonathan Sri, who has been agitating for changes to the development, had formally requested Ms Trad call in the development in June, saying that Brisbane City Council had “failed to rigorously assess this development application against its own planning schemes”.
“Ultimately, the strong community backlash against this project is motivated by the concern that the current West Village plans are squandering a rare opportunity,” Mr Sri wrote. “We will never again have the chance to masterplan and develop such a large parcel of land right in the heart of West End. Brisbane should be using this unique site for more than just high-rise apartments and another shopping mall.”
Mr Sri is calling for height limits of seven towers to be reduced from 15 to eight storeys, and to 3-4 storey around the periphery; affordable housing for families; dedicated retail space for small business; a “proper” park with useable green space; and a community centre.
He has also questioned the necessity of so many apartments in a market he said was oversupplied.
“Adding 1350 privately-owned inner-city apartments to an already oversaturated market is against the state’s economic interests, as is the likely negative impact that increased traffic congestion and the addition of another large supermarket will have on many West End small businesses.”
The Property Council of Queensland, however, has raised concerns that the call-in could affect industry confidence.
“The threat of a ministerial call-in not only undermines the existing approval process, but amounts to another example of unwarranted political intervention in one of the few industries that are delivering job-creating projects in Queensland,” PCA deputy executive director Jen Williams said.
Ms Williams also said the proposal to call in the development went against the government’s commitment to urban renewal and “density done well”.
“If a masterplanned urban community cannot be delivered on an old industrial site two kilometres from the Queen Street Mall, then where will future development go?” she said.
“The government is currently undertaking a review of the South East Queensland Regional Plan, with a draft due out in October. Our conversations with the department have focused on ‘infill’, ‘the missing middle’ and ‘density done well’.
“Today’s announcement leads the property industry to question the government’s commitment to delivering on this rhetoric, given that approved development in a well-serviced location is again being brought into question.”
Relevant parties have until 18 August to provide feedback on whether the development should be called in.