Crippling council charges bring business to a ...
EXORBITANT council infrastructure charges are threatening Townsville’s economic prosperity as developers and business owners look elsewhere because they can’t aff ord to invest in North Queensland. Prominent developers and businesspeople say council’s high infrastructure charges are “ crippling the economy” and some development had come to a stop because “ it’s just too hard to deal with this council”. The council has been caught out trying to charge a new business more than 50 times the level of other councils as a contribution towards infrastructure such as roads and water. The proponent then had to wait fi ve months for the application to be processed.
A GROWING web of planning regulation and exorbitant infrastructure charges are killing development i n Townsville, business leaders have claimed.
While business identities are reluctant to speak out for fear of being singled out for retribution in any dealings with Townsville City Council, the Townsville Chamber of Commerce confirmed it was concerned about reports of impediments being placed on business.
‘‘ It’s crippling the economy,’’ one prominent businessman who did not want to be identified told the
yesterday. ‘‘ A lot of development has come to a stop because it’s just too hard to deal with this council.’’
The latest complaint with the council’s planning department comes from the owners of a commercial building in Thuringowa Central.
The owners want to lease the building to a franchise operator of a new national gymnasium group called Snap Fitness. While the use is consistent with the zoning – p r e v i o u s l y r e t a i l o p e r a t o r s Retravision and Loot leased the space – planning laws require a material change of use application, triggering a full assessment by the council’s planning department.
Snap Fitness franchisee Rick Curtis lodged the application about five months ago and has only just got the decision, having gone ahead and employed staff and arranged to install thousands of dollars worth of equipment.
He said yesterday he was gered’’ to receive a bill from the council for $ 240,912 as a contribution for infrastructure charges the council collects on behalf of its own infrastructure costs and that of the State Government for the building of arterial roads.
‘‘ We expected a user-pays system . . . but to get this number, we were just staggered,’’ Mr Curtis said.
‘‘ Originally we thought it was a mistake.
‘‘ To have that sort of infrastructure charge put on you at the end of a development application process is prohibitive.
‘‘ I don’t think any small business in Queensland can wear those charges . . . especially in the current climate.’’
One of the building’s part-owners, Townsville valuer Geoff Eales, took the issue up with the planning department.
A new revised figure of $ 141,625 was provided.
Engineer Pat Brady – a Townsville development industry leader who has negotiated with the coun- cil on the introduction of infrastructure charges – was called in to provide his assessment of the correct charge.
According to his calculations, the charge should be $ 30,496, minus the Main Roads contribution.
Mr Curtis declined to say what the business was prepared to pay but hoped a resolution could be found.
Hundreds of people had already signed up to become members of the gymnasium in Townsville under i t s l ow-cost, non-contract 24-hour operation model.
He said Snap Fitness operated other franchise outlets around Aust r a l i a a nd t he i nf r a s t r uct ur e charges sought by other councils generally ranged from nil to $ 5000.
He was also concerned the coun- cil’s planning department did not reveal its bill until the end of the four-and-a-half month application process.
‘‘ They need to be providing the client with t he i nfrastructure charge earlier in the process,’’ he said. ‘‘ Surely they can provide this figure after a month and start the dialogue.’’
Townsville Chamber of Commerce president John Carey said if what he had heard about the Snap Fitness experience with the council was correct, it was a major impedi- ment to new businesses setting up in Townsville.
‘‘ I have heard about that particular instance but I don’t know what the infrastructure charges are for,’’ he said.
‘‘ I think there needs to be a little bit of common sense here.
‘‘ To suggest that a new venture can support that kind of imposition is clearly not going to work.’’
Ray White Commercial agent Graeme Russell said the experience of Snap Fitness with the council’s planning department was not an isolated incident.
‘‘ There’s a serious issue here when you have a tenant hanging by a thread,’’ he said.
‘‘ The council really do need to sharpen up their time frames and their charges.
‘‘ We have been facing very daunting economic times and people have to react to that by improving service. You can’t put barriers up when times are tough. You’ve got to expedite these matters.’’