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Regional Plan under fire - bmag 27 Aug 2009

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Regional Plan under fire - bmag 27 Aug 2009

Steve Gray
We know Brisbane is a great city to live in but newcomers from out of state are bringing on a case of severe "development fatigue", reports Steve Gray.

As Australian governments seek to limit the urban sprawl they are increasingly looking to build more housing within existing suburbs.  That sounds simple, but ignores the unintended conseqeuences that "infill housing" - the insertion of additional houses into already approved subdivisions or neighbourhoods - will bring to existing residents.  One person's great Australian dream of home ownership might turn into another person's nightmare.
South East Queensland is bursting at the seams and another 2,000 people are arriving in the region each week, overstraining already stressed infrastructure.  Neglected transport works are being urgently upgraded, adding construction delays to already gridlocked roads.  Trains and buses are jam-packed.
Into this mix the Queensland government wants to add another 1.6 million people by 2031.  The increase will take the South East Queensland population to 4.4 million and will require another 750,000 dwellings.
So far so good.  But problems start to arise as the state government seeks to keep 85 percent of the available land out of the urban footprint to boost its environmental credentials.  Therefore the state government has, in its key South East Queensland Regional Plan, deemed that half of the new dwellings will be built as "infill" and redevelopment.
Large urban blocks will be subdivided, underdeveloped areas earmarked for housing within the existing urban footprint will be built on, and existing suburbs will find they are targeted for a sharp jump in population.  In many cases, the only way to go is up.
The South East Queensland Regional Plan calls for 156,000 additional homes to be built in Brisbane - 138,000 will be units, flats and infill development.  In areas that are already busy and, with limited transport options, it's a prospect that's meeting resistance among residents in the leafy enclaves of suburns such as Chelmer, Graceville, Sherwood and Corinda with a proposal to allow five-storey residential development where there is presently only one and two-storey houses and blocks of 'six-pack' flats.  The new, towering residential hubs are purposely planned to be near Corinda railway station for ease of access.
One of the organisers of Help Endangered Local Plan (HELP), Ed Conrad, said there is almost unanimous opposition to the plan which would add up to 4,000 new residents in a relatively small areas.  Conrad claims the plan would "radically change" the character of the four suburbs.
Conrad spoke out at a standing-room-only meeting of 180 residents at a local bowls club recently.  "We do not want to sacrifice character housing that will be demolished and will be replaced by five-storey unit building," he said.
"If the plan goes ahead life will change dramatically.  Village life will not be leafy streets with community spirit and small, familiar shops, but a space created in the sky for a hustling and bustling crowd of strangers."
Speakers at the HELP meeting voiced plenty of reasons against the plan, from even more traffic congestion to loss of tree-lined streets, changed wind patterns, tall buildings, overshadowing school playgrounds, congested schools, lack of parking, security concerns and loss of their present lifestyle.
Another local resident Allan Howard, said the planned units did not meet the demands of the elderly, or of the desired low-cost housing.  He said another resident had complained that while new residents would get a view over the clean, leafy suburbs, established residents in return will get a view of ugly high-rise blocks.
Howard said while transit-orientated residential development was town planning's latest fad, he is yet to be convinced it works.  "Show me where it works before you move it into my suburb", he said.
Sherwood resident Graeme Robinson accused the state government and Brisbane City Council of continually moving the goal posts when it came to development aims and rules.  "These (suburbs) are unique in Brisbane," he said.  "We've seen many character-type suburbs ruined because developers moved in and built apartment blocks, taking out "Queenslanders (houses)", Robinson said.
"Brisbane is fast becoming Australia's most unlivable city because we're going to be crammed up into small blocks."
Brisbane City Councillor Nicole Johnston said the South East Queensland Regional Plan imposed the need for infill housing on the council.  "There are very, very difficult issues that we're dealing with - the way in which the state wants council to plan for growth in our area," she said.
State Labour MP Julie Attwood said she opposed the plan and would lobby against it, particularly the provision for five-storey dwelling blocks.  However, she acknowledged that 2,000 extra people coming to Queensland each week needed housing.
Meanwhile the mutterings that ran through the Corinda Bowls Club meeting were indicative of the feelings of many in Brisbane facing growing pains.  The murmurs, dubbed "development fatigue", are likely to get louder as the city's urban areas come under increased pressure.