Unmaking a bad plan
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.