Crip­pling coun­cil charges bring busi­ness to a ...

Townsville Bulletin - - Front Page - Busi­ness edi­tor Tony Rag­gatt tony. rag­gatt@ townsville­bul­letin. com. au

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.’’

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