City ‘skeleton’ plan scraps protection of local areas


Conservationists have criticised the Gold Coast City Council for removing local area checks and balances following the recent release of the draft City Plan 2015.


There are fears the new planning scheme will put the unique local character at risk, slashing protection of local areas, leaving a ‘skeleton’ of a plan. Local areas will no longer boast special design rules to protect their distinctive character. Conservationists say local area plans are necessary to deliver sustainable development, protect landscape and wildlife corridors, allow for businesses to set up and grow, and to support infrastructure such as roads and transport.


The document, guiding the way new development occurs on the Gold Coast for the next decade, went to public consultation Tuesday 17 June.  Council has settled on the line “Building our city, enhancing our lifestyle” and public comments are due 29 July.


The plan has been canvassed by Mayor Tom Tate as a means to have the city open for business by freeing up red tape. There are no local area plans within the new document, only zones to organise areas for preferred or acceptable land uses. Residential density and height restrictions are considered, but some have raised concerns about areas losing their distinctive character without scrupulous design rules for the city’s diverse surroundings.


There’s no doubt the Gold Coast needs to invest in its future, but many are worried by the plan’s projected 320,000 extra residents by 2035. Local conservationists say the ‘one size fits all’ approach won’t protect the local character of areas of particular importance such a Burleigh, The Spit and Currumbin Hill. The document omits 30 existing local area plans, with Mudgeeraba being the only plan included for Australia’s second most populous local government area.


Former town planner and spokesperson for Gecko – Gold Coast & Hinterland Environment Council, Brian Feeney is heavily involved in researching the new planning scheme, and wants the integrity of local area plans retained.  He says the plans have been fine-tuned over time in response to local concerns, including the development of Currumbin’s headland.


Mr Feeney says area plans help identify locations where regeneration needs to happen as well as the protection of wildlife corridors. He says local variations need to be taken into account as they offer a level of detail necessary given the size of the city.


“It’s impossible to have rules that are appropriate in every local area because a building of eight stories might be quite okay in one location, but completely out of character in another,” Mr Feeney said.


“They also make it easier for people to take safe pedestrian routes that are not in conflict with traffic,” he said.


Mr Feeney is sceptical of the council’s public consultation, and says it would take a substantial number of submissions to reinstate local area plans.


“The opportunity for people outside that group to have an input was filtered by the local council. Traditionally these public consultations, that are required under legislation, were about correcting any small-scale errors that have been made, so it’s quite unlikely there will be big changes to come out of this public consultation,” he said.


“The advisory group set up by the mayor had very narrow representation, mostly from people from the development industry, planners and architects – so it was very much an insiders advisory group.”


Councillor for Division 12, Greg Betts says the issue of community engagement is something he has not personally heard. Cr Betts is Chairman of the sub-committee charged with delivery of the draft, who also holds a master’s degree in town planning.


“Council has been very open about the development of the plan and all the committee meetings have been held in open session. There has been an ongoing openness to the media about the development of the plan and we have kept all updates live on our website for all to see,” Cr Betts said.


“This is in stark contrast to our local government neighbours in Logan City and Redland who did not release any information about their plans until the official public notification period,” he said.


He says the ‘skeleton plan’ terminology is almost accurate given the time constraints, but says it’s probably being put across in a negative light.


“We call it a base plan, because we know that there’s a lot more to be done – we can make exceptions, without having to maintain the full local area plans constructed. Rather than doing a full local area plan we’ve put a precinct (plan) over the top of the zones. We can make exceptions, without having to maintain the full local area plans constructed, to address those concerns,” he said.


“If anyone is concerned about a change that’s been made they should certainly bring that forward in a submission. We’re expecting those sorts of issues along with a range of other issues to be raised by the public.”


Local conservationists are standing by their dissatisfaction, recognising the need for local planning across the Gold Coast’s large area. The investment by the former council and local communities to nurture special design guidelines that balance economic, environmental and social objectives is still at risk of being lost. In contrast to the Gold Coast, Brisbane’s 61 local area plans have been outlined in their new city plan.


Local resident and conservationist Sheila Davis says there is not enough ‘meat’ in the new City Plan 2015 and explains the wording is significantly weaker.


“There will be less opportunity to reject development because the State Government has gutted the Nature Conservation Act and the Vegetation Management Act,” Ms Davis said.


“The local area plans were essential, they were consulted upon, and now that community consultation has gone out the window, they’ll say the constraint maps are still going to be there, but they won’t be if a developer challenges them,” she said.


“The new city plan is like the emperor’s new clothes – there’s nothing really there that will protect our communities and our environment.”


Division 14 Councillor Chris Robbins says the planning scheme has been designed to open the city up for business.


“There’s a focus on cutting through red tape and simplifying planning application processes, making it cheaper and more efficient for developers,” Ms Robbins said.


“We’re expecting to get quite a few thousand submissions as people go and have a look at the plan and see what the impacts are on their own properties,” she said.


Central Chamber of Commerce Vice President Boyd Sargeant says the Council needs to be commended for its planning scheme which supports key infrastructure.


“I think the best aspect of the Gold Coast is that it’s a growing city. New people are bringing along new ideas and it’s impacting on how dynamic the city is,” Mr Sargeant said.


“The Gold Coast is characterised by its iconic high rises, which build upon the existing character of the area,” he said.


Shani Ishigaki


Have your say and lodge a submission by 29 July at

Photo: The new Gold Coast Draft City Plan has been coined a “skeleton plan” because it doesn’t differentiate between unique areas. Under the proposed plan the character of Burleigh (foreground) won’t be distinguished from Surfers Paradise (background) as it is now. Photo by Mic Smith

Rally, Friday 11 July 2014
Gecko – Gold Coast & Hinterland Environment Council is hosting a rally at 9.00am this Friday 11 July to raise awareness about the implications of the skeleton plan.

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