Questions about ‘operational’ role of Redland City Council’s Development reference group

Redland City Council's closed door meetings have been the subject of ongoing community enquiries

Redland City Council’s closed door meetings have been the subject of ongoing community enquiries

It’s 10 months since Redlands2030 started to investigate the Redland City Council’s Development Industry Reference Group. We’ve uncovered a tale of regular closed door meetings between senior council planners and major developers so secret not even the names of those present were ever to be publicly released.

The conversations were just as secret until Council was forced to release meeting minutes by a Right to Information Request. It’s now clear that these Development Industry Reference Group meetings coincided with the period when Council was drafting the Redland City Plan 2015.

Rules set out in the new planning scheme will govern how $billions worth of real estate investment and building will happen in Redland City over the next ten years. So major developers were in closed rooms with senior council planners at this time, while the public was never invited to consult or contribute to this vital vision of the City’s future.

Councillor Julie Talty said, at the 3 September Council meeting about City Plan consultation, that RCC “has taken on board input over the past three years from a wide range of stakeholders.”. Really? How ‘wide’ was the range of stakeholders that were consulted?

When Cr Paul Bishop proposed in early 2014 that the community be consulted about the new City Plan, his motion was resoundingly rejected by a majority of councillors. Had they already decided that the main stakeholders Council needed to consult with were the City’s major developers?

Just operational matters?

The existence of the Development Industry Reference Group (DIRG) became widely known following its discussion at a Council meeting on 22 April and subsequent  media coverage about “secretive terms of reference”.

Part of a comment by Mayor Karen Williams on Cr Paul Bishop's Facebook page, 24 April 2015

Mayor Karen Williams commenting on Cr Paul Bishop’s Facebook page, 24 April 2015

Soon after this, Mayor Karen Williams responded to a post on Cr Paul Bishop’s Facebook page with many comments stressing the innocent ‘operational’ nature of the discussions – using words like:

“… group set up to deal with operational issues…”

“This group was COMPLETELY operational”

“…it was an operational group…”

A month later, having had plenty of time to double check her facts, the Mayor reiterated her earlier claims, saying: “It is an operational technical working reference group to seek feedback on process and performance.”

What would a reasonable person expect to find included in discussions about “operational” matters?

Perhaps drains, dust control and traffic management. Maybe the process for submitting development applications and ideas for making the process more efficient. Possibly, new building codes and standards. Fairly routine, technical stuff that would only be of interest to professionals in the building development industry.

Well that may have been inferred from the Mayor’s persistent use of the word “operational” but it seems that the DIRG may have had a different and more substantial agenda.

Please show us the minutes

Redlands2030 has been pursuing information about the activities of the Council’s covert interface with major developers since November 2014. In February, after making many enquiries and receiving no response,  Redlands2030 published an article: Industry Reference Group kept secret.

Cr Wendy Boglary raised the issue a few weeks later, at the Council’s meeting on 22 April. After some heated discussion in the Council chamber (including a period when the public was excluded), the Council resolved to publish the terms of reference and a “summary of the minutes” by 30 June.

Soon after, Council CEO Bill Lyons issued a news release refuting claims that that an industry reference group working with Council was “secret” and formed without the knowledge of councillors. He said:

As CEO, I cannot stand by and allow the professionalism and integrity of dedicated Council officers to be impugned by suggestions this reference group operated in secret. The Development Industry Reference Group is a group of development industry professionals working with Council to improve our processes.

Redlands2030 then published an article, The Council crisis we had to have, which questioned:

  • whether all councillors had really been fully informed about the DIRG’s establishment and scope (as suggested by the Mayor and CEO) ; and
  • the value of Council providing a “summary” of the minutes instead of the full documents

After Redland City Council published on its website a summary of the Group’s meetings, Redlands2030 submitted a Right to Information Request for the full DIRG minutes. The Council has now provided the DIRG minutes to Redlands2030 and made them available, in full, on the Council Website.

Most of the DIRG minutes provide a summary of matters discussed but, strangely, the minutes for the meeting held on 21 October 2013 record the usual attendees, but no discussion – not a word, just blank paper.

What the minutes reveal

Chatham House Rules were first used by the Institute of international Affairs in London (Photo Tony Smith)

Chatham House Rules were developed by the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Photo by Colin Smith)

The DIRG meeting minutes (other than for 21 October 2013) clearly indicate that the Group’s closed door meetings strayed far beyond ‘safe’ operational issues. Prominent Redlands developers and senior Council planning staff were regularly discussing key planning assumptions, issues and policies over many months while Council was preparing its draft City Plan 2015.  And all this time, the public was in ignorance of the meetings and locked out of the City Plan drafting process.

One of the DIRG’s first decisions was to adopt Chatham House rules to guarantee discretion to meeting participants. It’s inconceivable that such discretion would be required to discuss ‘operational’ matters, or ‘process’ improvements.

Over many months, the developer representatives attending DIRG meetings enjoyed privileged access to senior Council staff who were preparing the new Redland City Plan. They received regular updates on key assumptions, issues and policies. Meanwhile, the public was excluded from having any input to the draft City Plan. A few examples of matters discussed at DIRG meetings are mentioned below.

  • The minutes for 20 March 2013 show that one well known Redlands developer discussed: “Opportunity for growth by extending the boundaries of the Urban Footprint, as opposed to remote locations separated from existing urban footprint.”
  • In October 2013 the Group discussed “allowing greater number of units on blocks 1 per 200m2”
  • In May 2014 DIRG members were invited to provide “preliminary feedback” and comments on confidential presentations about a Land Supply study and Economic Development Strategy which dealt with key assumptions underpinning the new City Plan. We don’t know what feedback the DIRG members may have given to the Council’s planning staff, and we don’t know to what extent this feedback may have resulted in changes to the documents that were subsequently made publicly available.

Other matters discussed at various DIRG meetings included: infrastructure charges (a key issue affecting developer’s profits), the SEQ regional plan, changes to planning legislation, the Priority Development Areas for Toondah Harbour and Weinam Creek, the Cleveland CBD revitalisation scheme and the Redlands tourism investment scheme. All very interesting topics for a bunch of major developers to chat about with senior Council planning staff but not really operational matters or process improvements.

You be the judge

The Mayor said many times that the Development Industry Reference Group was a forum for discussion of “operational” matters.

Now, the full DIRG minutes are available. Anyone interested learning more about Redland City Council’s interface with major developers can read the minutes and form their own view about the matters discussed.

Were they “COMPLETELY operational”, as Mayor Karen Williams has asserted?

Or do the minutes indicate a pattern of regular discussions which ranged well beyond what a reasonable person might describe as “operational”?

City Plan 2015 public consultation starts 14 September

Community group protesting against development in the Redlands

Community group protesting against development in the Redlands

On 14 September, the Council will finally begin consultation with the Redlands community about the draft City Plan 2015 for a period of 11 weeks. It is important that the community make the most of this relatively brief opportunity to find out what has been included in the draft Plan over the past three years.

Redlands2030 will be reviewing the draft City Plan and publishing articles about issues which may be of concern to the community.

Redlands2030

 

Please note: Offensive or off-topic comments will be deleted. If offended by any published comment please email thereporter@redlands2030.net

10 thoughts on “Questions about ‘operational’ role of Redland City Council’s Development reference group

  1. After watching a council meeting that can only be described as a shambles, run even worse than a local kindy meeting, not accepting logical questions, border line conflict of interest queries, and on a $2.3billion project the Council only makes a profit of $5 million over 11 years! the rates profits make more but to have a project that doesnt know how it is going to treat its effluent, in the highest mosquito plagued spot in the Redlands (hope the Council has its lawyers ready for court cases in the future for the illnesses caused by this disease vector), planting 300,000 koala food trees whilst admirable but the koalas wont wait for the 15 years for them to grow, the road problems still kill the development. the internal roads might be wonderful, but the 2 lane state main road with cars from 10,000 residents travelling down the tunnel of 6ft high sound barrier fences 3klms either side of the estate wont be fun at school to peak hours. and no more money from the SEA Regional Plan until after 2025.

  2. a Planning Scheme that has had no public consultation will fall over as soon as the public sees it. The hand fed consultant that prepared the plan will have delivered what the Mayor and the development putsch tell them to. Pity there are no strategic land use planners involved in this plan – they all got redundancies or left in disgust.

  3. You may wish to ask also why Council’s own planning team responsible for the preparation of the new planning scheme was dismissed after 2 years of prepartory work on it. Planners who knew the area intimately, were behind greater public participation and were preparing innovative approaches to planning. These people were replaced by a consultant on $2,500 a day ( yes you read that right) for the past 2 years who effectively was only answerable to the Mayor. Recommendations from Council planning staff on the new scheme have been effectively ignored resulting in a scheme which will degrade the Redlands.
    The influence of a few senior councillors, a secretive developer group and a “hired gun” consultant does not inspire confidence in the new planning scheme. I am sure that as analysis of this scheme progresses in the display period the community (and probably some councillors) will be surprised at what has been hidden in it.

    • Dilbert, don’t know who you are and it doesn’t matter because you might get a warning letter, albeit unauthorised, from council or have your place of employment contacted, but THANKS!
      You have revealed just why the current “stuff ” masquerading as new City Plan is so disconnected from the preliminary work that expressed community wishes for the future of Redlands.
      Will placing herself under the “protection” of the CCC save the Mayor ?
      Look forward to further elaboration.

  4. If some one has nothing to hide then why envoke rules that hide the names of meeting attendees and why shut out the public. Any level of government is voted into office to represent the public not dictate to the people nor disregard their opinions.

  5. Starting to get the feeling that the Redlands is run by a dictatorship and not governed by a democracy. Governments regardless of their level must at all times be 100% transparent. Meetings closed to the rate paying residents, attendees names not being recorded, reduction of time allocated to public discussion at meeting and the list goes on, can only lead to one line of thought regarding this council and the manner in which they conduct business on OUR behalf. Is this really how the people of Redlands City wish to be represented in the world?

  6. Thank you. The Freedom of information shows what can only be perceived as undue influence on the drafting of the new City Plan by major local developers having consultation with senior planning officers at the time the new plan was being put together. Chatham House Rule applied. Information now public shows the meetings were not just operational matters as claimed for this industry reference group.
    As a member of the Community Reference Group that resulted in the Community 2030 Plan that was to direct the vision for the new City Plan I am very aware that at no stage was the community group asked to contribute, update, comment on the way the new plan was going. We were always given to understand there would be further consultation.
    While the same community plan may now be looking a bit old, the vision was quite clear and still applies. It was most current at the time meetings between developers and senior council officers were meeting and the Plan was being drafted. The Community Reference group was never consulted again even after the lauded process of the 2010 Plan.
    This morning I have written to the Deputy Premier to ask that the process of the Redland new City Plan be suspended.. There is little chance that any community consultation can now change or affect the new City Plan the concrete of which has almost set.
    I am confident the Deputy Premier and other Ministers would be concerned that the future direction of our city must be an all rounded one, not one that favours one group only. While it could be said ratepayers can change their council at the next local election, that is too late for the current “new City Plan” that runs up until 2041.

  7. So this expose breaks right when the new City Plan is about to go on show!
    How could any ratepayer have confidence in the new City Plan?
    Chatham House Rule?
    That says a lot.
    No matter what the reported spin from both Mayor and CEO says, this is not representation of community wishes.
    No wonder the Redlands 2030 Community Plan grew dust under the current Council. The jargon is creeping through but not the substance.
    Perhaps Redlands2030 you can add some balance to your bombshell by doing a search for information on the
    Redland City Council Koala Reference Group or the Redland City Council Social Futures Group or even the Redland City Council Food Security Group. Wouldn’t this last one be a beauty: we could get back to growing food not houses.
    It seems those persons that tried to run a petition calling for an investigation of Mayor etc might have touched a raw nerve.
    I’m off to the dictionary to look up “corruption”, “secrecy”, “representation”, but maybe just plain “crooked” will do.

  8. Well done Redlands2030! Great job in shining a spotlight on the secret meetings about our City! I am not surprised by what is in the minutes nor that a whole meeting last October has no minutes at all! What I am surprised about is that currently the Mayor is trying to stop residents from speaking out about their concerns! Legitimate concerns about a variety of issues. When concurrently they continue with their rhetoric that consultation is ongoing! I am fairly gobsmacked and just over it!

  9. Thank you so much Redlands2030 for putting out this extremely important post for the people of The Redlands to read. Please residents of Redlands take the opportunity that Redlands2030 is offering us. Some serious thinking is needed here. Are you willing to trust this Council with our future?

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