WORDS: Steve Hunt, Media Hunt PHOTOGRAPHY Supplied

Council’s rejection of Town Plan-compliant developments could erode the Gold Coast’s appeal as a place worth investing in.

TWO years out from the next Gold Coast City Council elections, some strange things are going on when it comes to considering development applications.

The most notable has been the pushback on projects that are, to coin an industry term, code assessable. In layman’s terms, this means projects that comply with the current Town Plan. Approval is and should be a formality.

To give some context, very few ‘code assessable’ projects lodged with council are refused – at least, not up until the past 12 months.

Industry sources tell me there should be great concern among ratepayers at the number of compliant projects being rejected by council that have been supported by the council’s own town planners – even though there is every likelihood these projects will win their challenges in the Planning and Environment Court.

Many have quite justifiably exercised their right to appeal the council’s decision in the Planning and Environment Court and the majority will win. Industry sources tell me the majority of these challenges will be successful for the applicant and not the council.

The cost of each challenge is estimated at between $500,000 and $1.2 million. That means an unnecessary cost to the ratepayers of this city of up to $30 million.

Before I go any further, here are a couple of disclaimers. The first is I consult for many in the development industry – not just on the Gold Coast, but Australia-wide. On the Coast, the development industry is one of the city’s biggest economic pillars and contributes billions of dollars to the local economy.

If the development industry economy that provides tens of thousands of jobs didn’t exist, many of us wouldn’t be able to live here, including the NIMBYs (not in my backyarders, who hate the idea of progress).

The second is that I am a long-term ratepayer and resident. I have been on the Gold Coast since the 1980s and my wife was born at the old Southport Hospital. My kids go to school here. As a ratepayer, I’m quite entitled to ask why council has suddenly changed its tune to target compliant applications and waste so much money on court battles they are not likely to win.

The NIMBYs should thank me for raising this issue because this is a needless waste of their money – money that could be spent on council’s primary role – service delivery. The Gold Coast City Council does that extremely well.

Sadly, the age-old curse of self-interest in politics appears to be the inspiration behind these sudden changes in attitude toward compliant applications. Without digging too deep, it’s pretty clear a lot of these decisions are politically motivated. Ratepayers should ask their local councillors why they are wasting so much money and what’s the point of having a Town Plan in the first place.

Let’s not forget that we have a rental crisis of the type we have never seen on the Gold Coast, with a vacancy rate of less than 0.4 per cent.

The fringe minority, the self-appointed community representatives with no industry experience, should realise that this city, and its Town Plan, is based on the fact many newcomers want to live here. Latest data from Colliers Gold Coast suggests 145,000 newcomers will arrive on the Gold Coast in the next decade.

With the full-house sign almost up, where are we going to put them unless developers with compliant applications can fill that need?

Here’s another factor at the core of this issue. The global pandemic has created a boom on the Gold Coast that has benefited practically every household here – from jobs to property price growth. On the flip side, there aren’t enough places to rent. We need more buildings.

This boom has created a calibre of investment from interstate and international players of the calibre that we have never seen before. If they get knocked back, that’s going to have serious ramifications for further investment on the Gold Coast. It’s akin to killing the golden goose.

The mayor’s office has a very good understanding of the importance of investment confidence, but it seems some councillors are more interested in being re-elected and are happy to waste ratepayers’ money in unwinnable Planning and Environment Court squabbles under the guise that they are looking after minorities in their communities.

“If you’re knocking back applications, which are code assessable, then that’s doing pretty significant damage to our reputation as an investment destination,” one industry source says. “I think the recent issue in rejecting code assessable applications has been a political response to perceived and real community pressure. And there is probably a misunderstanding of the real issues of supply and demand – the need for more accommodation for the city.”

I am also reliably informed that under the State Planning Act, there should be a bias toward approving compliant applications.

“Code assessable is not carte blanche approval but the council better have some really good reasons to knock them back,” another town planning source says.

Finally, before I get the hate mail, let me say I, like most people, am opposed to irresponsible and unsustainable development.

That’s what the Town Plan is for – it is not for political gain.