The Queensland Heritage Council has blasted a proposed 47-storey tower next to Customs House, as about 150 rallied against the development at the historic site on Saturday morning.
Council chairman Peter Coaldrake said the proposed building at 443 Queen Street, which Brisbane City Council quietly approved two days before Christmas, went against the council’s own planning guidelines.
The University of Queensland, which owned Customs House, has challenged the approval in the Planning and Environment Court.
Professor Coaldrake said there was community anxiety about the impact of 443 Queen Street on the integrity of Customs House.
“Particular concern is being expressed to the effect that the provisions of the City Centre Neighbourhood Plan may have been set aside to the disadvantage of the Customs House,” he said.
“Specifically, the Customs House precinct within the overall City Centre Neighbourhood Plan provides that the development should not detract from or diminish the cultural significance of the Customs House and should maintain an area of open space within 25 metres of the site’s southern boundary.
“That requirement seems, on our understanding, to have been disregarded.”
That community anxiety was out in force on Saturday morning, when about 150 people rallied against the development.
Brisbane Residents United spokeswoman Erin Evans addressed the crowd, bemoaning the lack of community consultation.
“Increasingly, we don’t even hear about what’s happening until the builders arrive – it is an appalling position,” she said.
“The development proposed on this site has shocked many people, and very rightly so.
“This building, this place, we have one – one Customs House and it is our responsibility to pass it on and protect it for future generations.”
An artist’s impression of Cbus Property’s 443 Queen Street development, with Customs House to the right. Photo: Supplied
Labor councillors and council candidates, along with those from the Greens, were in attendance, but none from the LNP administration were present, despite invitations for them to attend.
Labor lord mayoral candidate Rod Harding said the approval showed the council, and in particular Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, had “stopped listening” to its residents.
“This is a deplorable decision and I think, Graham Quirk, if this is the type of decision he’s going to make over our heritage buildings, it’s time to step aside,” he said.
The Cbus Property proposal for 443 Queen Street was deemed by the council to be code assessable, which meant it could be approved without the need for public consultation.
But it would have required public submissions had Cbus Property not taken advantage of a little-known mechanism – transferable development rights – to the property.
That allowed Cbus Property to transfer development rights it would have otherwise had over another property it owned, the NAB building on the corner of Creek and Queen streets, if it was not heritage listed.
Mr Harding said that planning mechanism needed to be looked at.
“That was originally a provision, a regulation, that was meant to protect buildings like (Customs House), but it’s being used for the opposite purpose,” he said.
“So clearly we’ve got to change that.”
Cr Quirk said UQ had used the same provision, through its Mayne Trust, to transfer development rights from its heritage-listed Brisbane Arcade to other properties in the city.
“You can argue the case about whether it should or shouldn’t apply to a building beside a heritage building, but the reality is over the past three decades it has protected heritage buildings,” he said.
“…This is something that has been in place and there are not too many of them left, thankfully, but there are still a few.”
Greens lord mayoral candidate Ben Pennings called for an end to political donations from developers.
“They can pretend it doesn’t impact their decisions, but we know that’s not the case,” he said.
“We know that’s not the case with the current council, we know that’s not the case with the previous council.”
Professor Coaldrake wrote to Cr Quirk this week to voice the Queensland Heritage Council’s concerns about the approval.
Cr Quirk said he was limited in what he could say about the controversy, as the matter was before the courts.
“Part of the approval was a six-storey podium and, for people walking along Queen Street, that means that there will be better views both from Customs House itself and from the frontage,” he said.
“There will be better views through to the river, better views through to the Story Bridge.
“All of those provisions have been built in to the application approval.”