By Daniele Antonaglia.
Brisbane’s iconic Customs House and a historic fig tree on site are at risk, after the Brisbane City Council approved a 47-storey development next to the heritage listed Customs House precinct, without consulting the community.
The development, approved on the 23rd December 2015, permits Cbus Property to construct a skyscraper at 443 Queen Street that infringes council’s heritage guidelines which stipulate that only low-level developments should be approved to preserve the area’s rich culture.
The development’s approval relied upon the use of a relatively unknown transferable development rights mechanism that gave Cbus Property authorisation to develop without disclosing details or consulting the community during the project’s approval process.
Kirsten Lovejoy, Greens party candidate for central Brisbane, has questioned the Council’s priorities in approving the development in this way.
“It’s outrageous the way they approved it, they didn’t consult the community at all which is something I think is very important,” Ms Lovejoy said.
“It is clear that the council’s drive to make a profit is undermining things that are important to the community.”
The sudden approval of the development without any community consultation has also led to anger amongst residents who believe the area, in particular the precinct’s 100-year-old fig tree, should be protected.
Tracy Stanley, a member of the Protect Customs House Precinct protest group, has voiced her concern with the proximity of the new development to the precinct and the damage it could cause to the century old fig tree.
“The development is set to be built a couple of metres out from the edge of the precinct, which is way too close and breaking the heritage listing guidelines,” Mrs Stanley said.
“At this proximity the fig tree will be physically damaged through pruning as it overhangs the area of future development, also in the future the car park of the development will be the same height as the tree and it will constantly be faced with toxic fumes and chemicals.”
Other issues raised because of this development include the obstruction of Customs House views and the diminishing of the area’s historical value.
There are concerns that the height of the proposed building will overshadow Customs House which acts as a cultural and historical beacon in Brisbane’s CBD.
Dr Robert Riddel, an architect involved in the restoration of Customs House and former Queensland Heritage Council Member, believes that heritage buildings are vital to the history of an area and subsequently, that the view of Customs House from areas of Brisbane CBD must be protected.
“Heritage buildings help to tell the story of a place and its past and define its identity,” he said.
“Customs House is a landmark in the city and views of landmarks need to be protected. Anything that prevents it being seen will be detrimental.”
The cause to ban this development has gained traction and an official petition has over 2000 signatures.
The offices of Councillor Vicki Howard and Councillor Amanda Cooper along with the Council media team were contacted to voice their views on the issue, however they were unable to respond.
Note: This article was written in June 2016 and further developments may have since occurred. Interviews are original content.