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The great southern land debate

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The great southern land debate

One of the region’s most-respected developers and the Mayor have locked horns over the timing of a mega-development. Words: Chris Gilmour.

The mayor of the Sunshine Coast has spoken out against a proposed mega-development on the southern Sunshine Coast, but a prominent business leader and the developer say the plan ticks all the boxes.

Stockland has revealed it has started the process of submitting Aura South for independent environmental review by the federal government as the first step in assessing the site’s environmental impacts and suitability for future development.

The site is a cleared former pine plantation landholding spanning 1231 hectares (3041 acres) to the east of the Bruce Highway.

But Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson has expressed his opposition to any development on the site, which is also known as Halls Creek, voicing concerns over environmental impacts and transportation links.

“We’ve been dealing with Stockland on this matter for some time. The Sunshine Coast Council and councils before us, particularly Caloundra, have been opposed to the development of the area known as Halls Creek,” he says.

“It’s because it has potential impacts on the Pumicestone Passage (and) the Ramsar wetlands. I also would also urge Stockland to be focused on continuing the development at Aura, where there is many, many thousands of sites for home-building still to be completed, rather than looking to land further south that is undeveloped and isn’t likely to be developed anytime soon – certainly not in time to be of any value in minimising the current housing crisis.

“It is also worth noting that directly opposite Aura is Beerwah East, which is an area of similar size that is already in the urban plan, and it’s owned by the state government. It’s owned by the citizens of Queensland. That’s where the next development should occur.

“There’s a very simple reason why it should occur there and it’s to do with the transport links. That area, Beerwah East, sits between Steve Irwin Way and the Bruce Highway, and to the south: Roys Road. The CAMCOS corridor runs right through the middle of Beerwah East, as it runs right through the middle of Aura.

“That is fundamental to the success of those developments in providing public transport, either into the new city of Maroochydore and any stops in between, or indeed south to Brisbane.

“The Halls Creek area is to the south of Aura. It doesn’t have those transport connections and we run the risk of eliminating what council believes is an important part of our Glass House/Pumicestone Inter-Urban Break.

“We don’t want that area to be brick and tile roofs into the future.”

But Stockland senior environment and community development manager Mark Stephens says any potential Aura South development will have transport links that integrate with the neighbouring Aura, and that Pumicestone Passage would be protected by a buffer zone.

“The Sunshine Coast continues to be one of Australia’s fastest-growing regions with strong demand for new residential dwellings and businesses,” he says.

“The housing affordability crisis on the Sunshine Coast will require a number of options to accommodate forecasted growth, including Aura South and Beerwah East, along with other projects.

“Aura South is located on the northern edge of the Halls Creek Potential Growth Area, which has been identified by the state government in regional planning since 2009 as having the potential to sustainably accommodate that growth.

“Aura South has significant advantages that would deliver an integrated transport network. There is immediate proximity to Aura and its infrastructure – including the future train station and cycleways – and access to local and arterial roads, including the Bruce Highway and the Bells Creek Arterial Road, currently nearing completion. Stockland recognises the importance of protecting the Pumicestone Passage. If approved, Aura South would adopt world-leading construction and water-quality protection practices – as we have at Aura – to ensure the passage will be protected. Aura South has no coastal frontage and part of the proposal is for a three-kilometre vegetation buffer, which includes rehabilitating 400 hectares of land.

“We also recognise the importance of maintaining and protecting the regional Inter-Urban Break (IUB) – as defined by the South East Queensland Regional Plan – the green buffer separating the Sunshine Coast from north Caboolture. Aura South would be completely separate from the IUB, at around 1.5-2km north of the mapped area and is not visible from the Bruce Highway.”

Cr Jamieson acknowledges the need for more housing on the Coast.

But he says Beerwah East is a better option for development.

“Because it’s there (Halls Creek), doesn’t mean it should be developed,” he says.

“Yes, we have a challenging population growth, and that looks likely to continue for some time. That is why I would be encouraging the state government to take action on the Beerwah East site, which is a bigger site – it’ll be able to accommodate many more people.

“It’ll be on a rail corridor, which links Maroochydore and Brisbane. It will create opportunities for higher density right along that corridor if that’s considered necessary. That is where the future development should go, and that is already in the regional plan.

“To provide Stockland, who bought that land on speculation, with the view that they would want to develop it at some stage, as I said, council is opposed to that and we continue to be opposed to it. We urge any other residents on the Sunshine Coast who are opposed to take the opportunity to make a submission to the EPBC (Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act), the Commonwealth government, telling them that they don’t believe that land should be developed, that it should be retained as part of the Glass House/Pumicestone Inter-Urban Break.”

Sunshine Coast News asked Mr Stephens about his opinion on the Beerwah East site but he remained focused on the Aura South proposal.

“One of the key strengths of the Aura South site is that it is well connected, elevated, requires no clearing of trees, has few environmental constraints and would protect the Pumicestone Passage,” he says.

“Stockland recognises and supports the role that Beerwah East plays in accommodating growth, but is not placed to comment on the status of key issues.”

Cr Jamieson says that at this stage, the council does not need to take any action against the Aura South proposal.

“We made our position clear to Stockland and I have no doubt they’ll be lobbying the state government and bureaucrats in the state government,” he says.

“They’ll be lobbying the federal government. We’ll probably see state members, both in the government and in the Opposition, come out and complain about it – not that, you know, they’ve managed to find any solutions themselves to the housing crisis. Council has been actively engaged all along with Stockland and the state government around developments at Aura and around the importance of developing Beerwah East. And I make the point again: that belongs to the people of Queensland, not to Stockland. That’s where the development should be.”

In response to claims the Coast will need about 70,000 more dwellings in the future, Cr Jamieson reiterated his desire for Stockland to focus on developing its current Aura project.

“You can make a case for any number of dwellings,” he says. “I mean, Beerwah East is a similar size to Caloundra South, or Aura. That will cater for 20,000-odd homes, without any shadow of a doubt. The continuing development that already exists in Aura, there’s a large tract of land that’s still there for further development. That’s what Stockland should be focused on.”

But Sunshine Coast Business Council chair Sandy Zubrinich has expressed her support for the Aura South proposal.

“Stockland’s application for the environmental assessment of the Aura South site is a proactive step to prepare for our region’s future, particularly given we are in the midst of an extended housing crisis as our population is predicted to reach more than 500,000 in the next 18 years,” she says. “We are at a tipping point that requires pragmatic, decisive regional leadership to ensure we are prepared for this growth and the estimated 70,000 additional houses needed by 2041.

“Right now, all options should be considered and we should be welcoming investors to the table who can help us facilitate sustainable, responsible growth to protect our enviable quality of life.

“Master-planned communities like Aura have provided the most affordable, quality housing products for people on modest incomes and for essential key workers who are the backbone of the Sunshine Coast economy.

“The Aura South site appears to tick all the boxes when it comes to a development site, given its limited environmental integrity. When we’re desperately looking for land, this parcel seems like an obvious choice for consideration, and we commend Stockland for starting this process.

“There are limited sites of this scale in the region and while Beerwah East has long been touted as a solution, my understanding is that there is currently still a 90-plus-year forestry lease on the property, so it would be good to understand what impact the premature termination of this lease would have on local industry and related jobs. It may be part of the long-term planning but it’s certainly not a stand-alone solution, potentially accounting for less than 30 per cent of the dwellings needed to deal with our growth and future employment opportunities.”

Cr Jamieson emphasised his concerns about any potential Aura South development getting closer to the IUB, despite Stockland saying it would remain about 1.5km north of the 16km green buffer separating the urban areas of Caboolture and the Sunshine Coast.

“It’ll be up to the state government in terms of what they think is the best action, but I’d be encouraging them to develop the land they own at Beerwah East,” he says. “That’s the logical next place, and put the train line in at the
same time, and deliver what will be a really outstanding development with beautiful public transport, linking Brisbane
to Maroochydore.”

To have your say, go to epbcpublicportal.awe.gov.au and scroll down to the Aura South item.

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