Toondah Harbour plans ignored obvious environmental issues

Secret plans for a major redevelopment of Toondah Harbour were initiated back in 2006 when Don Seccombe was Redlands Mayor, according to Redland City Council reports obtained recently through Right to Information.

Consultants reports, considered secretively by the Council in late 2007, show plans for a 400 berths marina – and clear warnings that the developing this facility in a Ramsar site would trigger assessment under Federal environment laws.

Modest upgrades to the Toondah ferry terminal had been completed a few years earlier. On 1 May 2003 Mayor Seccombe opened a new loading ramp which enabled Islands Transport to compete with Stradbroke Ferries in providing a vehicular ferry service.

Official opening plaque at Toondah Harbour.

Planning for these ferry terminal improvements started more than a decade earlier, when Redland Shire Council engaged consultants Kinhill Cameron McNamara to do a Toondah Harbour planning study.

While this planning work was under way, from 1991 to 1993:

  • The wetlands of nearby Raby Bay were being transformed into a canal estate; and
  • The Goss Labor Government was putting in place environmental protection measures which, in 1993, resulted in declaration of the Moreton Bay Marine Park and Moreton Bay Ramsar site.

Kinhill Cameron McNamara’s Final Report to Redland City Council in 1993 proposed “the sympathetic revitalization of Toondah Harbour” in a redevelopment plan “which expresses its role and function in the local and regional context”.

Toondaah Harbour plans
Kinhill Cameron McNamara’s 1993 plan for “sympathetic revitalization” of Toondah Harbour

These consultants advised against a large scale redevelopment of Toondah Harbour, saying: “the need for extensive dredging (and spoil dumping), mangrove removal and seagrass losses to accommodate facilities such as a marina was not seen as justifiable”.

They went on to say that “grand schemes also revive visions of the earlier large-scale schemes for development of the locality including Cassim Island, which polarized the community”.

This earlier scheme’s emergence and termination are discussed by Redlandss2030 in 1980s Toondah project cabinet papers.

Toondah Harbour undergoing development in 1998 – Image: Qimagery

Fast forward to 2006

In 2006, the Council engaged Ernst & Young’s real estate advisory group to advise on options for improving Toondah Harbour’s amenity, facilities and infrastructure while “contributing economic benefit to the area”.

Ernst & Young thought the best way of doing this would be to create a regional destination including a 200 berth marina, yacht club, lagoon and 5-7 storey buildings. This was labelled Option 3A.

Various issues were identified for the Council to consider including fragmented land holdings. It was noted that the Council was not a significant landowner but two CSIRO sites were possible acquisitions.

Based on their high level discussions with developers Ernst & Young said State Government support for incorporating a marina into the project would be critical because “developers were generally unlikely to take the risk of gaining the necessary approvals or the significant holding costs during the approval period given the environmental sensitivity of a marina development in Moreton Bay Marine park”.

The Council then got Holland Project Services and International Marina Consultants to do further work, in 2007. They suggested doubling the marina size to 400 berths.

Toondah Harbour plans
Plan for a marina at Toondah Harbour included in the 2007 confidential report by Holland Project Services

Key environmental issues identified by Holland Project Services included location within the Moreton Bay Marine Park and triggering a review under the EPBC Act due to international agreements such as RAMSAR (sic). These consultants noted that:

“Moreton Bay has a very high internationally significant status as a migratory bird roost, and is one of the more significant such sites in Australia. Any development proposal will need to address adverse impacts upon important bird roost areas, and should demonstrate a commitment to outperform relevant and reasonable environmental standards”.

In November 2007, the Council considered confidential reports from consultants and officers in closed session, then resolved that its preferred planning model for the redevelopment of the Toondah Harbour precinct would be Ernst & Young’s option 3A (pictured above).

Council buys the CSIRO sites

In March 2008 Redlanders elected a new Council led by Mayor Melva Hobson.

During this four year term, the Council purchased the two CSIRO sites:

  • The waterfront site just north of the Stradbroke Flyer terminal was purchased in 2010 for $3.495 million.
  • The Middle Street site was purchased in April 2012 for $3.4 million.

Toondah Harbour plans

The Council also refined its plans for development at Toondah Harbour, engaging GHD to review the work done by Ernst & Young and Holland Project Services.

GHD’s report, if read carefully, should have reduced the Council’s enthusiasm for a major marine works development at Toondah Harbour.

In its comments on environmental issues, GHD said:

“The site for the proposed Harbour facilities lies in a very sensitive marine environment. The site lies within the Moreton Bay Marine Park, an extensive RAMSAR site that is afforded a high level of protection from harmful development or change”.

GHD found that the large (400 berth) marina option was “marginally viable” and that the other smaller scale options developed by Ernst & Young “may not be viable”. They recommended that more environmental and technical studies be done “in order to arrive at a firm development concept”.

At its meeting on 14 December 2011 the Council resolved unanimously to make the GHD report available to the State Government’s Coordinator General but also to “follow-up with the current opposition parties regarding their support for state involvement”.

Priority Development at Toondah Harbour

A few months later, the LNP under Campbell Newman won the State elections. Soon after, Karen Williams was elected Redlands mayor.

By 2013 Toondah Harbour was declared a priority development area. In 2014 Walker Group was signed up as preferred development partner. What could possibly go wrong?

Ten years and millions of dollars later, Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek announced on 9 April 2024 her proposed decision to refuse Walker Group’s Toondah Harbour plans because of their unacceptable environmental impacts.

Walker Group withdrew its plans from Federal Government assessment a few days later. But the Priority Development Aarea is still in place, and Walker Group is still the preferred development partner.

Community and environmental groups are advocating for measures which will reduce the risk of the Toondah wetlands being harmed in a petition to Queensland Parliament.

Sources of information on Toondah Harbour plans

The reports considered by Redland City Council in 2007 have been released following a Right to Information request by Redlands2030. This information 202324-43 2007 Toondah Harbour Reports can be downloaded from the Council’s 2023/24 Disclosure Log.

The GHD report on Toondah Harbour plans, considered by Redland City Council on 14 December 2011, has been published by the Council in its Archive of Council Minutes January 2007 – December 2013. The documents can be downloaded from the links below:

Redlands2030 – 9 June 2024

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