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Save Brisbane's historic Howard Smith Wharves

Also, see below: Appendix: Countering Campbell Newman's spin, What you can do

A question of balance

A piece of prime, heritage-listed inner city parkland in Brisbane is about to be taken away from the public forever to make room for a giant hotel underneath and beside the Story Bridge.

Is the Bligh government rushing to stop the Lord Mayor's plan? Is the National Trust angry over this assault on Queensland's heritage protection process? Is the RSL up in arms about losing an important link to our wartime history? Are the ten thousand CBD residents fighting to save one of their last, remaining pieces of parkland?

The answer, sadly, in each case is no.

The Howard Smith Wharves, the parkland around them, along with the nearby cliffs and even the iconic views to this area at the city end of the Story Bridge are all heritage listed.

They're a vital link to a time when Brisbane's bustling port was in the city centre, and to a massive 1930's depression-era building project to provide jobs, widen the river, construct a monumental bridge and bring it to life with colourful, busy wharves.

But when the Lord Mayor decided a few years ago that he wanted a hotel on the site, those supposedly protected links to our city's past became dispensable.

What the giant hotel will look like

The image that the Council did not want you to see1

The current caretakers of the park - the City Council - and the Labor Government before it, have played the old developer's trick at the Howard Smith Wharves.

They've let them lie derelict for decades and fenced off part of the area for use as an ugly carpark.

Revitalisation is now so desperately needed that the public, or some of them at least, are prepared to overlook just what a disastrous plan the Council has set in train.

Virtually every square metre of the city end of the park will be lost to the giant, 250 to 300 room hotel and it will tower up to 10-metres above and in front of the heritage-protected cliffs.

There'll be a narrow 17-metre wide 'pinch point' left for the thousands of cars, trucks and taxis servicing the hotel to share with pedestrians and cyclists.

In order to save the river views of a nearby apartment block, the hotel envelope has been shifted a few metres and one of the world war two bunkers saved from the bulldozers. But the Council is pressing on with its plan.

Throughout what was laughingly called the public consultation process, the public were never given even a hint of the size and scale of the giant hotel, nor the terrible consequences for heritage, loss of parkland and traffic.

But even kept in the dark as they were, the public involved in that process expressed their strong concerns about any attempt to over-develop the site and threaten its heritage. This was their overriding concern.

In its public utterances the Council stays on message; refusing to refer to the damning results of its own public consultation, refusing to acknowledge that the building envelope rises well above the cliffs, avoiding any reference to the heritage protection of the entire site, and - as for the traffic disaster in the making ... well we all know the city's traffic is stuffed anyway.

Instead there's a disingenuous line about the need for 'passive surveillance' of this area.

This is developer-speak for somehow making a quiet place safer at night by wacking a giant, busy hotel on the site.

Is there empirical evidence that having hundreds of well-lunched hotel guests and tipsy party-boat patrons staggering around the site, jostling for cabs will somehow make it safer for pedestrians passing though? Of course not.

The rhetoric echoing from Town Hall is breathtakingly inconsistent with its stances on other issues.

When the SouthBank Corporation sold off a chunk of parkland for the ABC's new headquarters, the Lord Mayor was rightly incensed at the "loss of parkland", and he punished them by pulling the plug on million of dollars of Council spending in the area. I applaud him for this.

When it became clear our old City Hall was crumbling, over 200-million taxpayers' dollars was no obstacle to the noble cause of saving our city's heritage.

But when it comes to the Howard Smith Wharves, what does parkland and heritage mean?

Well, specifically, it means an opportunity for builders to make money, and then for the Council to make even more money selling a long-term hotel license on this heritage-protected park.

If you ask a dozen Brisbane people how they define progress, you'll probably get a dozen different answers.

But most of us view things a little differently from the big developers who pay millions of dollars in party donations to ensure our politicians understand just how hard they're working for 'progress'.

Most of the people I speak to include in their definition of progress something about the need for balance. Balance between the future and the past. Balance between buildings and open space. Balance between the demands of the big end of town, and the unheard needs of individual families.

For the next month or so, the people of Brisbane have a chance to express their feelings about the Howard Smith Wharves and the parkland around them, and what constitutes a balanced, creative plan for their future.

With the poll-driven Bligh Government unconvinced there are enough future votes in this issue, and the City Council determined to judge and rubber stamp its own plan, it's now up to the EPA and the Heritage Council to use their teeth, if they can find them. And it's up to us.

It's not just about losing another chunk of city parkland, a piece of heritage. It's about balance.

Ric Jay.

1880: Barker's Quarry provided the stone for much of the colony's
new building. This is Petrie Bight, now under threat.

Appendix: Countering Campbell Newman's spin

See also: "Spin & Straight" section at

In trying to arrive at informed judgement on these sorts of issues, a member of the broader public will invariably be assailed by apparent 'facts' which may lead him/her to believe that all the fuss is about nothing or very little. Here are some from Lord Mayor Campbell Newman and responses from Ric Jay.

Reported on Channel 7 News of 14 November 2006 (on and YouTube):

Campbell Newman: "The highest building is the boutique hotell and tha is lower than the lined of the cliffs."

Ric Jay's response: "This is one of several direct misrepresentations from Council. The hotel envelope has a RL of 32-metres, which is up to 10-metres above the cliff line, particularly at its lowest point in front of Medina apartments."

Reported on Channel 10 News of 14 November 2006 (on and YouTube):

Campbell Newman: "80% of the site will be open space".

Ric Jay's response: "Another misrepresentation. About 30% of the site is cliff face which can neither be built on, nor used by the public(except climbers). The middle of the site is too narrow for major construction. There are only two significant, flat spaces ... and the major one - near the city - is to be completely enveloped by the hotel. The only reason the other end of the site isn't to be developed is because it's not practicable. I've also forced the Council's planner to concede that he's added a chunk of parkland above the cliffs (and not in the defined area) as part of the equation used by Council to support its arguments."

(Also, from "At the Western end of the park 90-percent of the available land is earmarked for the hotel and convention centre. Pedestrians and cyclists will share a narrow access with taxis and trucks servicing the hotel. It is a planning disaster, extending busy Boundary street into the park and putting pedestrian lives at risk."

Campbell Newman: "The feedback from the community was that a boutique hotel was appropriate."

Campbell Newman (paraphrased by 10 news reporter): "The Lord Mayor says he doesn't know what else he coud have done. The consultation lasted 2 years and involved 600 people."

Ric Jay's response: "Most respondents were against over development, loss of heritage and residential development (including short-term, ie. a hotel) In fact, this -- specifically -- was one of their major concerns."

(Also, from "The public was consistently misled about the massive size of the hotel. The Council's own study shows the public are overwhelmingly against large scale commercial development."

Note: It's also important not to be fooled by claims that the original plan has been substantially revised. Revisions to the original plan are minor and don't alter the fact that a priceless asset, now belonging to the people of Brisbane, is to be taken away from them and largely ruined in order to line the pockets of developers.

What you can do

Visit to inform yourself and unravel Campbell Newman's spin.

E-mail saveourcliffs @ to join their mailing list.

E-mail Planning minister Paul Lucas (deputypremier @, Lord Mayor Campbell Newman (lordmayor @, Brisbane Central state MP Grace Grace (brisbane.central @

Send letters to the Courier Mail and demand that this time (unlike with Yungaba) they properly report the issue and hold our political leaders to account.

Send lettersto City News.

Email The Independent : editor @

Contact Brisbane ABC 612 and ask them to cover the issue. Phone their talkback line 1300 222 612.


1. In the latest council plans on a pdf document (619K) downloadable from the BCC web site, some of the western (nearer) end of the hotel has been removed, but its fundamental character remains intact and its size remains vastly larger than what local residents had previously been led to believe it would be.

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Brisbane City Council have just approved their own application for a large hotel to be developed in the the Howard Smith Wharves parkland under the Storey Bridge.

The development application, which was classed as "Impact assessable - generally inappropriate" did not comply with the town planning rules for development on parkland zones.

In particular it did not meet the Desired Environmental Outcomes for Parkland Zones.

The Lord Mayor has continued to claim that a commercial hotel must be developed in the park so Council can pay for improvements and maintenance.

It is interesting that the largest Council in Australia cannot afford to maintain its own parks, and this raises major questions over Council's financial management.

What is next for Brisbane? Poker machines in libraries?

This will be an impressive building! I hope they have the demand for it otherwise they risk losing a lot of money. It would make more sense if this was one of the San Francisco hotels for instance, San Francisco is a big city and has the power of "clientele absorption" for such a hotel. I am not so sure about Brisbane though...