Un­mak­ing a bad plan

Sunshine Coast Daily - - OUR SAY - bill.hoff­man@sc­news.com.au Bill Hoff­man

AT 1.18pm on Thurs­day a press re­lease con­tain­ing ex­ten­sive quotes from Sun­shine Coast Coun­cil CEO Michael Whit­taker hit jour­nal­ists’ in-boxes. The mis­sive an­nounced a $16.25 mil­lion val­u­a­tion for the Bris­bane Road carpark site based on the devel­op­ment ap­proval in­clud­ing re­tail, res­i­den­tial, ho­tel, re­tire­ment and what was de­scribed as “the en­cum­brance of the 704 coun­cilowned, pub­licly ac­ces­si­ble carparks”.

It then went on at length to talk up that failed devel­op­ment process in­volv­ing the Aba­cus Group.

The email was un­usual in the cir­cum­stance and mis­lead­ing in its con­tent.

It was un­usual be­cause the CEO was well aware that a mo­tion would be put that day by Cr John Con­nolly to re­scind an Oc­to­ber 11 coun­cil res­o­lu­tion to use the devel­op­ment ap­proval to draw out an­other de­vel­oper in a bid to de­liver what had be­come widely viewed in the com­mu­nity as a bad deal for ratepay­ers. An­other plan for the site was also up for de­bate.

Cr Greg Roger­son first called out the prob­lem­atic na­ture of the Aba­cus deal months ago only to cop a re­buke from the Mayor Mark Jamieson. On the eve of a vote to end the process Mr Whit­taker’s email could be viewed as ei­ther an at­tempt to di­rect the de­bate be­tween elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives still to come or per­haps jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for a deal, the de­tail of which had been closely held within the of­fice of the Mayor and the CEO. It cer­tainly was mis­lead­ing and we have Right to In­for­ma­tion doc­u­ments ob­tained by peak res­i­dents’ group OS­CAR to thank for mak­ing that per­fectly clear. Mr Whit­taker’s email was nu­mer­i­cally ac­cu­rate in his claim that “in to­tal, 942 carpark­ing spa­ces were to be pro­vided on the Bris­bane Road Carpark site un­der this Devel­op­ment Ap­proval” and that “this carpark­ing out­come ex­ceeds the 176 pub­lic carpark­ing spa­ces cur­rently avail­able on the un­de­vel­oped site”.

He ex­plained the num­ber as be­ing reached by: “In ad­di­tion to the 704 pub­licly ac­ces­si­ble carparks, the devel­op­ment ap­proval re­quired a fur­ther 238 pri­vate carpark­ing spa­ces for the res­i­den­tial and re­tire­ment liv­ing uses on the site”.

What that sum­ma­tion of pub­lic ben­e­fit failed to men­tion was the maths.

Of the to­tal 942 spa­ces the ap­proval would de­liver, 238 were for the ex­clu­sive use of the res­i­den­tial and re­tire­ment com­po­nent leav­ing 704 in the coun­cil carpark.

De­duct­ing the 176 carpark­ing spa­ces that al­ready ex­isted on the site the net gain re­duces to 528.

The RTI doc­u­ments make clear rather than a to­tal of 942 car-park­ing spa­ces that “With 700 coun­cil carparks, and fur­ther park­ing re­quired for res­i­den­tial, re­tail, ho­tel and re­tire­ment liv­ing, cur­rent es­ti­mates are that more than 1100 carparks would be re­quired on the site”.

How many more than 1100 carparks was not stip­u­lated.

Stick with me here. When you take the 942 which the deal would have pro­vided from the 1100 ac­tu­ally re­quired it leaves 158 carpark­ing spa­ces that should have been de­liv­ered by the de­vel­oper to sat­isfy new de­mand which in­stead it was agreed would be ab­sorbed by spa­ces pro­vided to meet the coun­cil’s pub­lic park­ing ob­jec­tives.

We’ve al­ready es­tab­lished the net gain of pub­lic spa­ces as be­ing down to 528 hav­ing sub­tracted from 704 the 176 that al­ready ex­isted.

Slice off the 158 to sat­isfy new com­mer­cial de­mand cre­ated by this deal of the cen­tury and you are down to just 370 ad­di­tional spa­ces to meet re­gional de­mand. And there’s no voodoo maths in that equa­tion.

The jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for this lu­di­crous short­selling of a con­sid­er­able ratepayer as­set came down to the fol­low­ing lines in a coun­cil re­port.

“This would re­duce the over­all num­ber of carparks re­quired on the site and in­crease coun­cil carpark use, which would con­se­quently in­crease carpark rev­enue,” it said.

So a bold plan meant to de­liver a low-cost park­ing so­lu­tion for the ben­e­fit of beach and shop go­ing ratepay­ers and tourists came down to max­imis­ing the use of the pub­lic carpark by in­creas­ing de­mand for it through the re­lax­ation of com­mer­cial devel­op­ment car park­ing re­quire­ments.

And the only ben­e­fit from that was seen as pay-to-park rev­enue. The Mayor is now de­scrib­ing the de­ci­sion by seven of his col­leagues to split the site, build a carpark and sell the other half for devel­op­ment as po­ten­tially lead­ing to “be­ing one of the big­gest dis­as­ters of our time”.

Thank­fully a con­sid­er­able ma­jor­ity of coun­cil­lors have reached their own con­clu­sions.

Cr Greg Roger­son will now seek to have the full true cost to ratepay­ers of the Aba­cus deal made pub­lic.

In the in­ter­ests of trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity that is the least ratepay­ers should ex­pect and soon.

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