We need to talk about Shoreline. Again. Redlands2030 has been trying, with limited success, to get an explanation from the Council administration for an extraordinary decision taken three years ago.
We will keep seeking an answer, because the stakes are so high for the future of our city.
We need to know what happened inside the Redland City Council over a crucial fortnight in 2013. Because the way it looks from the outside, democracy went out the window when persons unknown willfully circumvented a vote by Redlands’ elected representatives.
That the vote would have, and should have, decisively impacted the city’s biggest residential proposal only makes it worse.
The full background is available in a Redlands2030 submission tabled in the Queensland Parliament in March this year. We encourage you to follow the link and read it. But the key issues are straightforward.
Council makes a decision
Redland City’s elected council, at a meeting on 27 February 2013, confirmed the removal of a planning zone in the Southern Redlands – an Investigation Area, established in 2006 to facilitate the eventual development approval of a housing estate for 10,000 people – which we now know as Shoreline.
It’s been Shoreline’s long-term ambition to cover 300 hectares of Southern Redland farmland with thousands of houses, and create a waterfront suburb they can on-sell for multi-millions.
When the councillors voted, in 2013, to remove the Investigation Area, it was a considerable setback for the Shoreline developers because it represented Council’s clear directive that there was to be no sprawling estate, no 4,000 houses, built on Shoreline’s rural land.
End of story? End of Shoreline? No way. That decision, by Redland City’s elected representatives was given to the administration’s planning staff to be implemented. Their task was to amend the city’s planning scheme and maps to reflect the clear intention of the councillors. It never happened. The whole thing was derailed – hijacked. It took just two weeks.
The decision is circumvented
The fortnight in question began on March 26th 2013 when a public notice was placed by Council, in the Bayside Bulletin, to announce that the Southern Redland Bay Investigation Area had been removed from the Redlands Planning Scheme. This gave effect to the councillors’ 27 February directive. The newspaper notice was reasonable grounds for concluding that Shoreline was now highly unlikely to get development approval.
Reasonable, but wrong. Evidence of drama behind the scenes came a fortnight later when the Bayside Bulletin carried a curt public correction from Council to say the Investigation Area was back in business, as large as life, miraculously restored to the Redlands Planning Scheme. It had all been a Big Mistake!
Who proposed the idea of ‘correcting’ the 26 March advertisement, and who approved a course of action so inconsistent with a recently passed council resolution?
Without any reference to the councillors, who’d repeatedly voted it into oblivion, the Investigation Area was back on the map. So was Shoreline! For a full six months, councillors were given no explanation by Mayor Williams, the CEO or anyone else as to why their legitimate decision had been over-ruled. They could only speculate. We can speculate too.
The Shoreline developers must have been blind-sided by the appearance of the 26 March notice. Why? They surely knew the removal of the Investigation Area was in train. A likely answer is that they’d been assured it would not be finalised before Shoreline’s development application was safely lodged, and put to the vote. That was still a couple of years away.
Who, inside Council, had enough contempt for due process, and enough authority, to give such assurance? And how could an open Council decision, amending the Redland Planning Scheme, be hijacked and stalled?
In fact the only senior council figures who were kept out of the loop were the elected representatives of the ratepayers of Redland City. And even as they waited for some explanation, yet another operation was underway that evidenced the same culture of concealment, the same disregard for honest and open administration.
Development Industry Reference Group
Without the knowledge of most councillors, monthly meetings were being hosted at Council’s Bloomfield Street HQ, between senior Council planners and selected development industry representatives. Meetings of the Development Industry Reference Group were not to be publicly announced, their terms of reference and the names of those taking part were also not for publication. The minutes of the meetings were likewise off limits, even to elected councillors.
How could any savvy administrator, or half-wise politician, condone anything that so endangered public trust? What are we meant to think when planners who are charged with implementing a council directive, like removing the Investigation Area, are spending hours in a ‘locked room’ with the very developers who have so much to lose if and when that happens?
The Mayor knew. The CEO knew. What were they thinking?
Protests from councillors and the public finally broke the meeting-room door down. The minutes revealed an administration bending over backwards to accommodate its ‘customers’ – no, not the ratepayers, the developers.
While the Shoreline consortium and their industry colleagues were meeting covertly with the council’s planning staff, the administration laboured to produce an explanation for halting the removal of the Investigation Area, in defiance of the elected council. It took them six months. It was hardly worth the wait.
Officers finally report back to Council
On October 9th 2013 the Community & Customer Services department advised councillors in a report to the Coordination Committee (refer item 8.1.6) that their decision to remove the Investigation Area had been put aside, not so much on the back burner, as off the stove completely. Why? Because “there is no timing obligation placed on Council to make such changes.” This is as bizarre as it sounds. It’s like a batsman being clean bowled, but deciding to stay at the crease as the rules of cricket do not attach a ‘timing obligation’ to his departure.
Another straw they clutched at to thwart the Council’s will, was delaying any decision until the next review of the SEQ Regional Plan. For the record, three years on, initial consultation for this review has barely begun. It’s earliest release will be mid-2017.
The effect of indefinitely delaying the implementation of the Council’s decision, binding on the administration, to remove the Investigation Area greatly advantaged only one stakeholder – the Shoreline consortium, that now saw a clear path to approval of their development application in the Southern Redlands. And so it came to pass, when it was granted on November 18th 2015, in the dying days of Mayor Williams’ first term.
The CEO’s explanation
To this day, the Investigation Area remains over the Shoreline build site. We asked the Redlands City CEO, Bill Lyon, to tell us what happened over that crucial fortnight that stopped a clear council decision from being implemented… indefinitely. He offered the following explanation…
… officers at the time concluded that the minor amendment was unworkable and would lead to potential implementation issues for development assessment officers. This was because the investigation zone mapping was not proposed to be amended as part of the minor amendment package at the time. It was anticipated that this would occur as part of a future amendment package.
This would have lead to a situation where land was mapped in the investigation zone with no supporting code or strategic provisions. In these circumstances, officers deferred implementation of that matter as the only sensible course of action. At the advice of Council officers this matter was subsequently reconsidered to clear up the inconsistency. Following a recommendation by Council officers Councillors resolved on 9 October 2013 that the investigation zone provisions would remain in the scheme pending the planning scheme and regional plan reviews that were being undertaken. I note that even if the minor amendment had taken effect, this would have had no bearing upon the ability of the applicant for the Shoreline application to lodge the application to be assessed on its merits.
A better explanation is required
We’re being asked to believe that Council’s professional planners, after three years working on this rezoning, produced an outcome that was suddenly found to be ‘unworkable’ without any ‘supporting code or strategic provisions’. This rendered the planners so helpless they were now unable to remove from the map something they’d so easily added to it, back in 2006.
That ‘councillors resolved’ to accept this reversal of their previous directive, hardly describes the protests put up by the councillors who voted in the October meeting against Mayor Williams’ pro-development bloc in the chamber.
And CEO Lyon’s assertion that the Shoreline development application was just as likely to succeed if the Investigation status had been stripped from the build site, is refuted by all the expert opinion Redlands2030 has consulted.
We call upon the current councillors to demand an explanation from the Council administration that sets out in clear, non-specialist terms, why the Investigation Area was unable to be removed from the Redlands Planning Scheme.
The city deserves to know, too, where the buck stops. Who were the links in the chain of command whereby a council decision was side-lined without immediate reference to the elected representatives who made it?
We also ask that a motion be tabled in Council to once again direct the administration to amend the Planning Scheme and the maps to give effect to the wisdom of the original decision by Council – that there is no good reason to create a suburb of 4,000 homes and 10,000 residents – on farmland linked to the city’s distant infrastructure by a two lane road.
Redlands2030 – 27 May 2016