13 June 2017

Development of Ex-Thuringowa council chambers is killing the brass

Image: Thuringowa Council chambers development site
Photo thanks: Colliers International
Residents frustration

Over twenty Townsville residents have registered official submissions to the Townsville City Council (TCC) objecting to the development plans to construct 132 housing units by NSW-based Eastbrook Medical Centre on part of the old Thuringowa Council chambers site at Kirwan.

The Thuringowa Brass Band Association (TBBA) has been leading the fight together with another seventy individual submissions from the public opposing to the planned 4 storey apartment block directly opposite Kirwan State High School and adjacent to Dan Gleeson Park.

The residential development poses a threat to the musical arts associations' regular weekly performance program and guest performances from visiting bands. The sound shell, in which the band plays, was gifted to the TBBA rent free by a previous Council administration during the 1988 bicentenary celebrations.

Adjacent to the planned development site is the Soundshell, RSL Cenotaph, car park, entry to the children's playground, and multiple trees that will be removed during proposed construction.

Mick Cutler, Secretary of the TBBA said: "the development will render the Soundshell useless and people using the children's playground are not even aware of the consequences to the park."
"The TBBA use the facility weekly to practice and six other community organisations use the facility on a regular basis", Mr. Cutler said.

Responses from the local councillor responsible for the Kirwan district in which the development is planned, Councillor Russ Cook provided an ambiguous and confusing response to the community's plea for assistance.

Mr. Cook is a member of both the Community Health and Environment and the Community and Cultural Development Committees at Council, both of which fall within the jurisdiction of heath and medical interests of the Eastbrook Medical Centre business and the planned high-density housing development.

Parties to the deal

Eastbrook Medical Services purchased the property from the TCC through a sale/lease expression of interest process with the option of leasing the old council chambers and administration building to tenants and develop an allied medical and health hub.

Marketing for the leasing of space in the old chamber building has already commenced with signage clearly displayed at the property today.

The TCC continues to operate their library and customer service counter at the facility as an "anchor" tenant under commercial lease arrangements with Eastbrook Medical Centres.

The sale lease-back option is an attractive point of negotiations offering immediate cash flow and can sometimes be a determining factor for parties to secure a commercial deal.

Objection challenges

Residents have expressed concerns also about the TCC and local Councillors being "purposefully ambiguous" about whether the extra 50 electronic objections lodged by objecting residents have been received by the planning assessment officer.

Photo: Thuringowa Brass Band

These additional objections could prompt a procedural adjustment to the development application to satisfy local residents and community groups, who just want a reassurance from the Council that their members will not be worse off from the development.

Councillor in Division 5, Mr. Russ Cook said "there is no guarantee" that the resident's concerns have been lodged as required under the Sustainable Planning Act due to an unverified anomaly in the submissions process.

Submissions must be lodged within a set timeframe and completed using the correct documentation, and if further unexplained delays occur, residents are concerned the technical issues could be an inconvenient justification for the development to proceed without proper public consultation.

Development process under question

Colliers International sold the property under instructions by the TCC and now the Council Planning and Development office is fielding objections regarding the initial material change of use and subsequent housing development application.

With the commercial interest of the TCC not only wanting to see the sale completed smoothly but its ongoing commercial lease interest at the premises, residents are concerned their interests to the community might be conflicted.

As their submissions are not guaranteed to be received by the TCC and their objections have been dismissed, they are feeling ignored, and allegedly thwarted by TCC and Council representatives, to serve the financial and political interests of the TCC and Councillors.

In the absence of sufficient answers to the questions by the residents and community groups, all of which have not been directly consulted, the integrity of development process is left wanting, impacting the confidence of residents have in the TCC and Councillor interests.

Deputy Mayor and Councillor Les Walker said, "The development fits well with the City Plan". Mr. Walker was contacted to answer questions from the community about the resident's concerns but did not respond.

Global financing ethics

Concerns have also been raised about the proposed business structure of Eastbrook Medical Centres and its links to "social investment" corporations in the United Kingdom, Europe, and the United States.

The collapse of the "Big Society Bank" and the "social investment" initiatives under the ex-Brittish Prime Minister, David Cameron's administration are alleged to be behind the Eastbrook Medical Centres. What could this mean them being behind the old Thuringowa Council development?

Mr. Cameron resigned as Prime Minister of Great Britain after the people voted by referendum to exit the European Union due to concerns about the cultural and social problems arising in that country.

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