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Seeking the Post-COVID Sunshine: Waiting for Future Momentum in Sustainable Urban and Regional Planning

By Denis Bright

Future commentators might well wonder why the arrival of the social market in affordable urban sustainability took so long to eventuate. If some apologists for the property market had their way, the paradigm swing from market ideology towards a more inclusive style of development could be deferred indefinitely.

This scene at the Maroochy Interchange on the Bruce Highway (Highway 1) in the Sunshine Coast Region is probably repeated near most mainland capital cities. Incompatible forms of land use grate on the aesthetics at this site.

Overcoming Urban and Regional Development Blackspots

The history of this land use mix would require a separate article to unscramble. All this urban sprawl has survived fifty years of systematic planning legislation in Queensland. The evolution of land use functions at the site certainly predates the Queensland Planning Act of 2016 and the amalgamation of local shire councils in 2008.

Beyond the Brisbane City Council’s more transparent protocols, some of the eleven local authorities involved in implementing the Shaping SEQ Plan persist with town and city plans that run close to the margins of acceptable development controls.


Image: Brisbane City Council-BCC


Dr Philippa England of Griffith University Law School has produced an excellent monograph on the impact of the LNP Government of Premier Campbell Newman (2012-15) in loosening controls on property development in the interests of accelerated economic growth (EPLJ 32 in 2015).

This document is readily available on open internet sites and should be looked at in its entirety by interested readers.

There are thirty-four Priority Development Areas (PDAs) across Queensland which are a legislative remnant of the Economic Development Act 2012.

PDAs can and should have a legitimate place in selectively promoting sustainable development in localities affected by major projects like Cross River Rail in Brisbane or the redevelopment of Queen’s Wharf which was an aesthetic blackspot in Brisbane’s CBD.

PDAs could have been a useful tool in the redevelopment of the Ipswich CBD over some ad hoc local planning arrangements associated with the opening of the River Heart Precincts in 2007:

Welcome to our River Heart vision. I encourage the community to take an active interest in River Heart, which will shape the City for the future.

River Heart will breathe new life and vitality into the Ipswich CBD much in the way that South Bank has revitalised South Brisbane. River Heart will be centred around our river which has been neglected as the City’s centrepiece for far too long. River Heart will draw visitors and investment to our City, which can only make the future of Ipswich even brighter.

Most importantly, the project will give our residents a special meeting place and recreational centre right on their doorstep, reducing the need to travel into Brisbane.

River Heart Vision

The River Heart Vision is about creating a vibrant city centre with a strong connection to the river – the natural heart of the City. River Heart will breathe new life and vitality into the Ipswich CBD and offer a special meeting place and recreational centre in the heart of the Ipswich CBD for residents and visitors.

Ipswich City Council is pleased to announce that the first phase in achieving the River Heart vision has been realised through the refurbishment of Ipswich City Mall, officially opened 9 December 2005. Implementation of the River Heart vision continues through the construction of River Heart Parklands, scheduled for completion December 2006.


Provided under the Department of Local Government and Planning, Sport and Recreation’s Regional Centres program and involves funding of $3.3 million from Ipswich City Council and $3 million from the State Government. Council is also looking to enhance the scope of work in the Mall by utilising the capital component of the Mall Levy over a number of years. This will add $1.6 million worth of additional works, and through the economies of scale that can be achieved with large projects, this will maximise the return on this strategic investment.

Cr Paul Pisasale
Mayor of the City of Ipswich

Federal funding on major urban and regional projects could have eased some of the problems associated with ad hoc local projects within existing and proposed PDAs.



With eight federal ministers currently involved in the delivery of financial support for urban and regional infrastructure, there is a strong supportive role for the delivery of sustainable infrastructure by the federal government. Such antics have eroded the revenue base of the federal government and widened the income divide in Australia while still generating legitimate economic growth that is not always in the spirit of sustainable planning guidelines.

There are few policy levers left to promote a commitment to sustainable urban and regional planning at all levels of government. Perhaps public sector corporatized investment funds are a possibility at national and state levels if they are opened up to safe-haven investment by local and overseas business networks without the imposition of fixed dividends as with traditional treasury loans.

National and state investment funds could indeed direct investment into sustainable investments in urban consolidation around TOD hubs that increased the supply of affordable housing in housing catchment areas that could be served by effective public transport connections.

A corporatized federal Advance Australia Investment Fund could be rigorously supervised by the RBA in co-operation with the Australian Treasury to address the shortfalls in financial commitments to sustainable planning and infrastructure initiatives to overcome a traditional dependence on the need for public sector financial allocations. States and territories could choose to operate their own investment funds provided they remained compatible with national economic priorities.

This contrasts with the rundown of the federal government’s potential revenue base through changes to taxation schedules and overly generous support to family focused investment through taxation write-offs and misuse of family trusts.

Federal taxation relief is invariably skewed to benefit wealthier families. State governments are forced to make pragmatic choices between conventional development goals and more sustainable outcomes.

After circulation of a glossy Draft Shaping SEQ Plan in 2016 and the release of this final document, three vital paragraphs in support of federal involvement in the funding of sustainable planning were conveniently removed from this final document.

Investment in higher density retail and housing projects has been a proven success in commercial developments such as Montague Markets and Residences as a TOD development in Brisbane’s West End on the popular Translink Bus Route 60. This could be a model for the expansion of housing supply in less advantaged outer suburban and regional localities with financial support from federal and state investment funds.


Image: West End Magazine 2020


Unexpected New Options for Sustainable Planning

A surprising breakthrough in the political log jam over the delivery of sustainable investment in infrastructure and community development has come with the initiatives taken by SEQ Mayors on their recent appeal for greater support from the federal government.

Here is the full media release from the Toowoomba Regional Council in support of this initiative (19 March 2021):

The South East Queensland (SEQ) City Deal is on the cards.

That’s the clear message Toowoomba Regional Council Mayor Paul Antonio received during a two-day trip to Canberra as part of a delegation of the Council of Mayors (SEQ).

“The SEQ Mayors used this delegation as an opportunity to stress the importance of the SEQ City Deal and this was well received by both the government and opposition,” Mayor Antonio said.

“During the trip we met with 18 representatives including the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader and there was good support for the delivery of the SEQ City Deal.

“It’s clear both sides of the government understand how critical this Deal would be in ensuring the SEQ area is well connected for future growth.”

The SEQ City Deal is a 20-year agreement between three levels of government and industry to jointly identify and deliver infrastructure and economic priorities for South East Queensland. Due for completion last year, it was stalled amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent delays to Federal and State budgets.

“Two years ago, we received a commitment for this deal and with the Olympic Games now well and truly a realistic chance of taking place in SEQ, the timing is right to seal the deal,” Mayor Antonio said.

“It was also great to feel a real buzz in Parliament House around the Olympic proposal. There was a clear sense of pride about the Games proposal and what it could mean for the south-east, Queensland and Australia.

“The representatives we met with listened to what we had to say and with their support I hope we can progress to the next stage of the City Deal as soon as possible.

“The South East corner is home to around 70% of the State’s population and around one in seven of the nation’s population lives here.

“Due to our liveability we estimate the population is going to increase by about 1.6 million in this part of Australia by 2041 and it’s vital we have the necessary infrastructure in place to accommodate this growth.

“It was also pleasing to receive positive feedback from the Federal Government in regards to our waste management proposals. They’ve suggested we could be a global leader in the environmental space and were a good example of how Councils can take a lead in this area.”

In addition to City Deals, a number of regional issues were discussed as part of the Canberra visit including the Brisbane 2032 proposal, the Resilient Rivers Initiative and the SEQ Mayors’ regional approach to waste management in South East Queensland.

The Council of Mayors (SEQ) represents 11 Councils and more than three million residents of South East Queensland. Its membership includes Brisbane, Ipswich, Gold Coast, Lockyer Valley, Logan, Moreton Bay, Redland, Scenic Rim, Somerset, Sunshine Coast and Toowoomba Councils.

No media releases were generated on the site of our Deputy Prime Minister to coincide with the visit of the SEQ Mayors to Canberra. There was nothing in the full range of media interactions from the Hon Paul Fletcher as the new Minister for Communication, Urban Infrastructure and the Arts. This minister seems coy about advertising his macro-policy initiatives and prefers to concentrate on specifics like the Kenmore Roundabout in the local LNP electorate of Ryan in Brisbane.

Perhaps the Mayors from SEQ are in the federal LNP’s naughty corner for raising issues of substance for the benefit of a grateful public. If only the mainstream media could be more interested in such issues, the cause of Australian sustainability might have been raised a notch.

Do take a glance at the mainstream medias interview with Steven Miles (Deputy Premier and Minister for Infrastructure) at the Urban Development Institute of Australia’s SEQ Growth Forum on 3 March at the Sofitel Hotel in Brisbane. Not one question of substance was directed to the minister on his actual portfolio. Questions drifted back to health issues which the Minister handled so competently during the COVID-crisis throughout 2020 prior to the reallocation of portfolios after the state election on 31 October 2020 (YouTube).

In the absence of profound media questioning on traffic congestion issues, where indeed are the solutions for a more sustainable future?


Image: Brisbane Development.Com-Go Tall Not Sprawl


Denis Bright is a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to citizen’s journalism from a critical structuralist perspective. Comments from insiders with a specialist knowledge of the topics covered are particularly welcome.


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  1. Peta Terry

    I must apologise at the outset by saying that I haven’t really taken in the full import of your article. It seems to be about the need for co-ordination of all levels of govt funding to achieve substantial development proposals, rather that piecemeal projects that don’t fit into an overarching framework. Re “sustainable” funding, the massive profits accruing from rezoning land – e.g. “rural” to all types of “urban”, for increased development potential – e.g. medium density, multi storey, high rise residential with commercial components – is now privatised. The argument is that substantial capital is needed for major development projects. In reality, it’s a windfall to developers that should accrue to the community. The Qld Greens have put forward a proposal to redirect the “unearned increment” resulting from rezoning towards public investment rather than private profits. I believe that this is based on a sound & fundamental analysis of how current rezoning processes sell the community short. So for example govts say there isn’t enough money for sustainable housing for all – sufficient public housing – when there well could be if unearned profits weren’t privatised – to the detriment of our society. Govts at all levels are fond of “vanity” projects, more than “socially progressive & sustainable” projects.
    Re the pics – that building is very ordinary looking & uninspiring – how sustainable is it really? Energy-wise, passive design, harvesting stormwater, with substantial planting to reduce the (albedo) urban heat effects? It just looks like more of the same old stuff. A couple of commercial levels with several floors of residential – Oh and “winged” balconies? In Ipswich? FGS. Look at the temperatures – the weather – the climate – in Ipswich. All that concrete & a few palm trees. That is NOT sustainable urban design! We also need a complete rethink of flood, fire & coastal erosion hazards. It simply isn’t happening, as far as I can see. It’s just more of the same – built on to unsatisfactory development & planning processes. I am also horrified by the huge land-hungry road works. For development to be truly “sustainable” we need a complete rethink of urban & regional planning at every level of govt. The current federal govt has no idea. No imagination, no concept of sustainable development of any kind. And corrupt & incompetent to boot.

  2. John Smith

    Well said. Very informative, look forward to more on this topic.

  3. Maureen

    Where is the eye witness news media steering everyone in its lack of in-depth reporting on these vital planning issues.

  4. Leila

    Thanks for your research on this planning issue, Denis. Hope you will be around to see the sustainable planning momentum when it finally arrives.

  5. Tessa_M

    Transport Oriented Development should be the priority as Queensland makes its bid for the 2032 Olympics.

  6. James Robo

    With several federal ministers involved in the delivery of sustainable planning the national government is another resource to assist with our sustainability agendas for cities and the regions.

  7. Stella

    Denis, thanks for your article. Good town planning makes towns for liveable and sustainable. We need more green space and better roads and footpaths.

  8. rubio@coast

    Planning generates employment as well as offering protection to our ecosystems. Lots of the Central Coast near Sydney was well protected through planning.

  9. Lara

    Filipinos are used to motorcycle. Tools are required for entry and there is little public transport to the regions as road here are often in gridlock

  10. Olivia

    There are real lapses in planning in outer suburban areas on the fringes of our major cities.Clearing more trees should give way to higher density living as the article suggests.

  11. Avanti

    Promotes a new direction for the economy through democratic planning agendas which are hardly present around that new motorway interchange

  12. Mia

    Australia can and should be a pacesetter in regional and urban planning so that we all forge a New Dreamtime with high aesthetic standards and full accountability of all town planning processes.

  13. Paul

    Urban sprawl has added to recent flooding problems as forest ecosystems are cleared for motorways and housing estates. I am all for urban consolidation as advocated by Denis in his article.

  14. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Thanks for the comments on this important article on the environmental consequences of urban sprawl near major motorways. With the addition of bew seubdivisions on coastal wetlands and adjacent rural land, traffc congesion of the MI Motorway north of Brisbane has increased so much. Subdivisions large and small in the Moreton Bay and Sunshine Coast Local Authority areas should and are being successfully contested e.g. Silk Properties Australia Pty Ltd v Sunshine Coast Regional Council & Anor [2020] QPEC 38:

    The decision to refuse the development application isconfirmed
    The appeal is dismissed

    Such contests are not usually covered by frontline news services but they are vital contests for the protection of heritage and natural environments.

    Even significant projects slip through the news network radars such as the Caloundra South Priority Development Area which were accelarated when the LNP ruled Queensland for a signle parliamentary term (2012-15) (

  15. Lara

    Thanks Denis for this very timely and relevant article. We had this same issue in the Philippines.

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