31 January 2023
Joint Submission: South Bank Draft Master Plan
We make this submission in our capacity as the federal government, state government and local government elected representatives for Brisbane’s inner-south side, which includes the whole of the South Bank planning area. Our submission does not merely reflect our own personal views and preferences, but the feedback we have received from many different residents and community stakeholders about the future of wider South Brisbane and the South Bank precinct in particular.
We note that there’s a lot of good stuff in South Bank’s draft master plan, but also some significant gaps that mean it fails to plan properly for future challenges and opportunities, and could well go out of date within 5 to 10 years. Of course, no master plan document is ever going to be ‘perfect,’ and leaving a little bit of ambiguity and flexibility in planning documents can be a good thing in terms of facilitating future adaptation to changing circumstances.
So, acknowledging that we mustn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, we tend to approach master plans and consultations like this by asking ourselves: are the flaws or missed opportunities so significant that we would vote against formally adopting a document like this, or would we support its adoption in planning codes such as a new ‘Approved Development Plan’ for the South Bank precinct, and hope to secure further positive changes down the track?
While we certainly don’t think the new draft master plan needs to ‘go back to the drawing board’ or should be scrapped entirely, we’re afraid there are some significant deficiencies that mean we would not support or recommend adopting it in its current form.
Lack of collaborative design process
While compared to many public consultations about neighbourhood plans and proposed developments, it’s obvious that South Bank Corporation has solicited a slightly higher volume of public feedback. However overall, the master plan process has not been an empowering one for local residents.
Rather than a deliberative process where residents are invited to participate meaningfully and engage in in-depth conversations about the trade-offs and relative benefits of different options and possibilities, the South Bank planning process has kept the community - including elected representatives like ourselves - well away from the decision-making table. Through an earlier community feedback stage, we (i.e. the general public) were invited to provide general commentary on what we’d like to see, and we are now presented with a draft master plan where most of the big decisions already seem to have been made for us. This has not been a democratic, collaborative or participatory design process.
As a result, many residents do not understand the legitimate justifications for some of the positive changes proposed in the draft master plan, and have not been giving an opportunity to provide informed critique of some of the difficult trade-offs and policy decisions that the plan embodies. Democratically elected representatives for the area have not had an opportunity to participate meaningfully in early-stage discussions about what needs the plan should prioritise meeting. Most regular visitors to South Bank still haven’t even seen the draft master plan or had an opportunity to provide meaningful, informed feedback.
We think this process falls far short of best practice participatory planning, and are worried that a range of important needs might have been overlooked due to the scattergun and patchy approach to gathering feedback from the general public and specific community stakeholders.
Insufficient detail about land use and public space management
While the master plan goes into some detail about where buildings and green spaces might be located, it offers no meaningful information on how different spaces will be regulated, managed and controlled. Functionally, there is a big difference between a green space which anyone can use to hold an impromptu community concert or soccer game, and green space that is tightly curated and managed to restrict informal and semi-formal activities (apart from picnics). But this distinction is not clearly visible in the plan, making it difficult to evaluate how well South Bank will help meet the inner-city’s various public space needs.
The same is true of proposed facilities like the ‘expanded fresh food markets’ and the ‘community cultural and creative centre’ with its ‘dance studio, cultural centre, ground-level community spaces or a creative interactive centre’ next to the Queensland Conservatorium of Music building. Without knowing how such initiatives will be administered, and how readily available bookable space will be to the general public, it’s too hard for the wider community to give informed feedback as to whether these changes are preferable to either the status quo, or to other possible uses of the land.
South Bank has a well-established history of persecuting homeless and marginalised people, calling security and eventually the police on anyone who tries to sleep within the parklands after midnight. This aggressive approach to public space management discriminates against lower income residents and is at odds with the corporation’s broader narrative of being an inclusive space that’s open to all. We have heard of similarly authoritarian behaviour patterns in response to both peaceful protests and busking without a permit. In practice, South Bank’s public spaces are far more heavily controlled than most other public parks, squares and streets in Brisbane. If this approach is to continue into the future, the master plan itself should include far more information about how spaces will be managed - including strategies for supporting homeless people and managing conflicting uses of space - rather than leaving such matters to other, private documents that are not subject to public scrutiny and debate.
Failure to sufficiently consider connections to neighbouring precincts and future wider changes
Piecemeal planning is a perennial frustration in cities like Brisbane, and this masterplan is no exception. It seems South Bank Corporation has felt constrained in terms of predicting or anticipating what changes might occur just beyond its planning boundaries, which creates a gap in terms of understanding South Bank’s role in the context of the wider Kurilpa Peninsula and the inner-city more generally.
For example, South Bank Corporation can’t confidently predict exactly how the riverfront will transform to the north of Victoria Bridge and around past the Go-Between Bridge along Riverside Drive towards West End. But questions about the future of the Kurilpa Riverfront - such as how much of the industrial land is developed as community facilities versus public green space versus mixed-use highrises - have a significant bearing on what needs must be met within the South Bank precinct, and what needs can be met in neighbouring areas.
If there is to be significantly more public green space delivered along the Kurilpa Riverfront, then it’s perhaps ok that this new masterplan is only slightly increasing green space and tree canopy cover, and South Bank can instead focus on delivering more cultural facilities and activated spaces. However if the Kurilpa Riverfront is to include more new residential development than parkland, then the extent of built form in South Bank will need to be gradually scaled back over coming decades.
This lack of clarity about the future of neighbouring precincts also means the South Bank masterplan is deficient in terms of how it plans its connections to those adjoining areas. Unresolved questions about the use of surplus public land around and underneath the train line, and about future connections between the river and the Gabba Cross River Rail station, mean that much of the land use planning for the edges of South Bank will have to be revisited in just a few years.
While the ‘Southern Gateway’ proposal for a publicly accessible bridge and footpath along the front of the Maritime Museum site is positive, this connection planning is still suboptimal as it fails to improve and resolve the problematically narrow footpath conflict points at the northern end of Sidon Street behind the riverfront restaurants.
Similarly, riverfront connectivity at the ‘Northern Gateway’ is suboptimal. Pedestrian and cyclist flow along the river’s edge seems likely to be severely hampered if the proposed ‘clusters of food and beverage outlets’ open directly onto the main footpath, causing more congestion of this major corridor.
Perhaps the greatest disappointment in terms of inter-precinct connectivity is at the intersection between Grey Street and Vulture Street. This intersection currently carries high volumes of cars, and even under this masterplan, Vulture Street continues to function as a major barrier to pedestrian movement from South Bank to the Children’s Hospital precinct and to the Stephens Rd side of Highgate Hill.
As shown in this rough accompanying sketch, this intersection should be narrowed and redesigned as a more traditional T-junction, reducing the priority and volume of cars flowing in and out of Grey Street, with dedicated pedestrian crossings on all three sides of the intersection, creating a safer and more legible environment for pedestrians to navigate.
The slip lane from Vulture St onto Grey St can be removed, creating more space for other modes of travel (delivery vehicles travelling from West End can instead access Grey St via Tribune Street). A right-hand turn from Grey St onto Vulture St could be added if necessary, opening up more opportunities for bus routes or shuttle loops that head southeast on Grey St before turning to head west on Vulture Street.
Realigning this intersection at the southern end of South Bank would create space for safe, separated bike lanes along the northern side of Vulture St (connecting directly to Grey St), plus approximately 2000m2 of additional public green space, ensuring that the southern entrance to South Bank feels like a green, pedestrian-friendly environment rather than a traffic sewer.
Southern Gateway proposes removing the wrong building
In 2010 and early 2011, new riverfront restaurants - ‘River Quay’ - were constructed immediately to the north of the Goodwill bridge landing and the Maritime Museum site, with no meaningful public consultation. Notably, this site was severely flooded in January 2011 while the buildings were still under construction, and was again jeopardised during the floods and severe weather of February 2022. It seems unlikely that a new restaurant would have been approved in this location if it had been proposed after the 2011 floods.
The building that fronts directly onto the river (most recently occupied by Otto Restaurant) completely cuts off public access to this part of the riverbank, forcing pedestrians who’ve been using the riverside footpath to walk behind the restaurant, away from the water’s edge. The 7-metre gap between the riverside restaurant and the restaurant building on the other side of the public pathway is further compromised by the creeping expansion of outdoor dining, and causes a problematic pinch point during busy periods. After moving through this pinch point, pedestrians and cyclists are forced past the back side of the restaurant into another conflict point where they share limited road space with delivery vehicles and taxi drop-offs. The location and design of this building thus robs the general public of access to this publicly owned riverfront land, prioritising the desires of a wealthy minority who can afford to patronise this high-end business.
The master plan’s Southern Gateway proposal does not rectify this issue, and in fact represents a significant missed opportunity to claim back more of the riverfront for public access. While we support the public riverwalk continuing around the Maritime Museum frontage, we are extremely disappointed that this same ethos has not been adopted in regards to the River Quay Shop 1 building. In this respect, the plan is failing to achieve its stated goal of ‘Enhancing the River’s Edge.’
Strangely, the master plan proposes demolition and removal of the existing large Maritime Museum building, a significant structure nestled in beside the Goodwill Bridge, in order to create a “Possible public space with tiered seating” in the shadow of the bridge and the Park Avenue apartment block, next to Sidon Street. The plan suggests the main museum building could then be relocated further within the Maritime Museum site on another area of green space, meaning there is no overall net increase in green space, even though South Bank can claim that the change is creating a slight increase to green space within its parkland sight (without counting the loss of green space within the Maritime Museum).
Not only does demolishing such a large multi-storey museum building mean the public would have to incur significant costs to replace it, but if the goal is to open up more useable public green space that takes advantage of the river, it would seem to make far more sense to demolish the riverfront restaurant instead.
Why does this plan propose to demolish a museum building that’s operated and maintained by a non-profit community organisation, while retaining a high-end luxury restaurant that’s not accessible to the majority of Brisbane residents, in a location that’s extremely prone to flooding? Plans to turn the Historic Machinery Workshop into a seafood restaurant also represents a further commercialisation of what should be a publicly accessible heritage location.
The continued presence of the Shop 1 restaurant tenancy means the public walkway behind it will always be compromised by access requirements for service and delivery vehicles. Not only is the building itself a problem - the vehicle traffic it generates will make this space less safe and comfortable for pedestrians and cyclists.
Our strong view is that the master plan should include removal of this riverfront restaurant (River Quay Shop 1), so that the site can be repurposed as riverside public green space, and the public footpath can remain free of delivery vehicles and waste bins.
We also do not believe a strong enough case has been made for demolition of the main Maritime Museum building. We believe it should be retained in its current location, and perhaps upgraded to present a more open and activated frontage to Sidon Street.
Loss of important community venue
Among other changes, the masterplan proposes to remove the South Bank Piazza building in order to open up the parkland’s Glenelg Street entrance. The piazza building is one of relatively few large venues available for hire in the inner-city, with a fixed seating capacity of 2158 plus the ability to hold hundreds more visitors via standing room and temporary seating. The building has hosted a wide range of different activities over the years, from school graduation ceremonies to major cultural events like Buddha’s Birth Day Festival to science exhibitions to live music concerts to dance Eisteddfods to sporting competitions.
While we recognise that the piazza’s existing frontage to the corner of Glenelg St/Little Stanley St is not an attractive entrance to the parkland, and we also acknowledge that the venue’s acoustics and other layout features are overdue for improvements and upgrades, we are concerned that the masterplan proposes to demolish this facility without proposing a direct replacement.
Flexible venues like the piazza are important to mid-sized community organisations and artistic groups that are seeking to produce larger events without a massive budget. The piazza has the ventilation and openness of a semi-outdoor venue, but benefits from a proper roof, which is important for event organisers in a city that is facing a future climate of more heavy rain events and more very hot days. The high-roofed space is particularly important for activities like circus acrobatics, which suffer from a general lack of suitable venue spaces in inner-Brisbane.
The draft master plan simply notes at page 29, “The Piazza could be removed to open up views and access down Glenelg Street while enabling a new complementary use. The community event space function would be accommodated in key locations across the precinct.” On page 98, the document says, “A key feature of the Parkland Core is the opportunity for multifunctional outdoor spaces that cater for gatherings and events of various sizes and types. These new spaces would take over the role of the former Piazza and allow for events throughout the parkland.”
In effect, the main proposed replacement for the piazza is that event organisers are expected to hold events on the grassy lawns elsewhere in the parklands, either risking exposure to inclement weather, or bearing increased production costs of temporary staging and roofing/tenting. Noting that there are many other grassy lawns in parks across the city where it is already possible to erect tents and temporary stages, this represents a step backwards in terms of venue availability within the inner-south side.
Although the piazza’s removal is being justified in part to open up more green space, it seems that the loss of this venue would likely lead to more frequent use of other open green spaces for larger semi-outdoor events, thereby regularly excluding the wider public from some of South Banks largest lawns and picnic areas.
To knock down a building which is at the end of its life represents an irresponsible waste of resources, but in this case it also seems likely to lead to more strain being placed upon public green spaces, and higher costs for community event organisers.
The main beneficiaries of this decision would appear to be the Queensland Performing Arts Centre and the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre, which both charge significantly higher hire fees (as much as ten times higher) for covered performance spaces of comparable size and utility. By removing the South Bank piazza from the mix of larger venues for hire within the inner-south side, the master plan is reducing competition and creating a situation BCEC in particular will be able to extort much higher fees from event organisers who have few alternatives.
This would be concerning under any circumstances, but is particularly troubling considering how quickly Brisbane is growing and how much more demand there will be over coming years for flexible covered venue spaces. Any claim that there is not currently enough usage to justify the continued presence of the piazza venue is more reflective of rising hire costs than a lack of latent demand.
As such, if South Bank Corporation is proposing to demolish the piazza building, the master plan should also identify a location for a new purpose-built venue of similar size that can cater to the kinds of events that have utilised the piazza over the years. The master plan should specifically identify where in South Bank a new venue with 2000+ tiered seats will be constructed.
Poor Activation of Convention Centre frontages
One of the biggest deficiencies within the South Bank planning area is the lack of streetscape activation around the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre. Even when big, vibrant events are taking place inside the BCEC, the frontages to Glenelg Street, Melbourne Street and Merivale Street are dull and lifeless, dominated by slip roads, carpark driveways and concrete walls. This western interface between the South Bank precinct and the southwestern side of South Brisbane creates a gap in activation that discourages organic pedestrian flow between West End and South Bank, and represents a huge amount of wasted public space.
The impacts along Melbourne Street are particularly severe, as the lifeless BCEC frontage contributes to a major gap in interest and activation that stretches all the way from Merivale Street to Grey Street (with the Fox Hotel as the only partial street-front activation), severing the commercial and hospitality precinct at the western end of Melbourne Street (near West End’s Boundary Street) from the Cultural Centre precinct and South Bank.
Google Streetview of BCEC Glenelg Street and Merivale Street frontages
While we support the revitalisation of Glenelg Street as a green boulevard, with more vegetation and artwork to enliven the connection between Musgrave Park and South Bank, we are disappointed that the master plan doesn’t propose further changes to improve the interfaces between BCEC and its surrounding streets.
For other streets around South Bank such as Little Stanley Street and Grey Street, the master plan proposes various kinds of activations such as parklets, market stalls and mobile food pods. A similar approach could be adopted around the Convention Centre, filling alcoves, slip roads and other under-utilised spaces with food trucks, shipping container pop-up businesses, artist studios, interactive sculptures and perhaps even children’s play equipment.
The failure to better activate the BCEC frontages is one of the most glaring deficiencies of the South Bank master plan and merits a serious rethink.
Falls short of potential as active transport precinct
The South Bank draft master plan proposes some very positive changes to deprioritise cars along Grey Street and Little Stanley Street, such as narrowing the road corridor, and replacing street parking with bike lanes and more garden beds. These are the sorts of changes that should have been made 5 to 10 years ago and are reflective of current urban design standards. However it seems likely that a decade or two from now, cars will play even less of a role in urban transport, rendering this master plan out of date.
We share concerns articulated in the submission by the CBD Bicycle User Group regarding Grey Street that “The “flex zone servicing and parking” proposed in the Draft Master Plan is unclear about the allocation of space between genuine short term parking needs and continuing to provide unnecessary and harmful longer term on-street parking.” Our view is that even short-term on-street parking is unnecessary on Grey Street. No-one should be driving to Grey Street to pick up takeaway food or to stop into a local shop. As much as possible, delivery services should be provided via cargo bicycles and electric tricycles rather than cars and trucks.
Of greatest concern is that the draft plan seeks to maintain general motorist access to the large underground carpark under South Bank parklands via both Tribune Street and Glenelg Street. This means that cars will continue to flow through the Tribune-Grey and Glenelg-Grey intersections at all times of the day and night, undermining the active transport-focussed design of Grey Street and requiring a lot of public space to remain as roadway for cars. The need to maintain these junctions as four-way intersections for cars undermines and compromises the traffic flow of pedestrians, cyclists, shuttle buses and service vehicles along Grey Street.
This carpark contains approximately 800 spaces, meaning it can only ever cater for a very small proportion of the visitors who are travelling to and from South Bank, however catering for that small proportion of motorists is leading to major sacrifices in terms of how space is used and how much money has to be spent maintaining roads and managing safe interactions with pedestrians.
Rather than compromising design and traffic flow outcomes to maintain vehicle access to this public carpark, the underground space should instead be repurposed.
Some of the carpark space could still remain accessible at certain times of day as parking for service vehicles that are connected to events and businesses within South Bank, but not to general motorists. It’s possible that some limited pre-booked disability parking could also be maintained via the Tribune Street access.
However the rest of the underground carpark space should be repurposed for a wide range of other activities and uses, from rehearsal rooms and artist studios, to event equipment storage, to underground music venues and bars, to rainwater storage and greywater recycling.
South Bank Parklands should be evolving as a precinct accessed by public and active transport. But the continued provision of so much carparking at the centre of the precinct undermines this goal, both by making it harder and more dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists to move through the area, but also by encouraging people to continue driving, which in turn undermines advocacy for public transport improvements. The presence of so many cars using Glenelg Street and Tribune Street is a particularly significant accessibility barrier for disabled people with impaired mobility who also do not drive.
Happily, alternatives are available. The BCEC carpark connects pedestrians directly to Grey Street and Russell Street, so visitors who park there are only a short walk from the river. The council’s recent introduction of a free shuttle bus travelling along Grey Street and south-west to West End, and the possibility of improvements to this service in the future, means that even people with very impaired mobility will not have to walk far from the BCEC carpark to access different parts of the South Bank precinct. For visitors with impaired mobility, further connectivity to different parts of South Bank can be provided via smaller buggies and purpose-built emobility devices, rather than by private cars.
If the South Bank master plan is to be seriously considered as a future-oriented and visionary document, the underground carpark at the core of South Bank should be closed. This space can be better put towards a wide range of other uses. Similar opportunities should be explored regarding the QPAC underground carpark.
For similar reasons, we believe further consideration should be given to closing Grey Street to general traffic flow through the Melbourne Street intersection, perhaps retaining a slip lane purely for slow-moving council bus or minibus routes that might service Grey Street. A cul de sac vehicle turnaround area could be installed in front of the South Brisbane train station and QPAC driveway entrances to maintain vehicle access to those buildings.
Closing the Grey St-Melbourne St intersection to cars would greatly improve the flow of buses and metro vehicles along Melbourne Street, and would prevent Grey Street being used as a motorist through-corridor from the Children’s Hospital precinct to the William Jolly Bridge, encouraging cars to instead use the Merivale and Cordelia Street corridors. This would in turn free up more road space between the South Bank train station and QPAC for conversion into public green space, introducing more tree canopy cover into what is currently a very hot, concrete-and-bitumen-dominated streetscape.
Other changes to Grey Street - such as removing street parking and narrowing vehicle lanes - will certainly help reinforce the priority of pedestrians and cyclists. But the most effective way to formalise Grey Street as a green boulevard that supports active transport is to close it to through-traffic altogether.
Potentially increasing flood vulnerability
The master plan proposes a range of uses and activations that are below the Brisbane River’s 1% annual exceedance probability flood level. In particular, the proposal for food and beverage businesses fronting directly onto the riverside footpath below the Cultural Forecourt would introduce new commercial activities - with all their equipment and infrastructure - into a location that’s not only vulnerable to inundation, but to quite fast-moving water.
With climate change leading to rising sea levels and a higher probability of very heavy rain events, the risk of flooding along the South Bank riverfront is increasing in terms of both severity and frequency. As such, any plan to introduce new facilities and commercial activities along the riverfront needs to clearly articulate how such spaces will be designed to be flood-resilient, and who will be responsible for relocating equipment to higher ground at short notice in the event of a flood. This is important not only in terms of the business operators themselves, but to ensure more debris and waste isn’t washed into the river, causing a hazard to the environment to other residents.
It is not satisfactory to rely on general, vague statements that such spaces will be designed “so they can easily be hosed out.” These spaces are so close to sea level and so vulnerable to flooding that developing these areas would introduce significant additional risk to human life and safety.
Our general position is that no new commercial development (or built infrastructure to facilitate commercial activities) should be allowed within Brisbane River Flood Planning Areas 1, 2a or 2b of City Plan 2014, which means we do not support the suggestion on page 107 of the master plan that “food and beverage outlets could be tucked under a series of promontories and within coves, to activate the river edge and make the most of the city-facing aspect.”
We do not support proposals for a private water taxi stop in the ‘Northern Gateway’ riverfront near the Victoria Bridge. Increased private vessel traffic has a significant material impact on the travel times of public ferries and citycats, and water taxis that repeatedly duck back and forth between different riverfront locations should not be encouraged along this busy inner-city stretch of the river.
We understand the logic behind extending Little Tribune Street as a shared zone through to the Park Avenue apartments, so that general vehicle access along Little Dock Street through to Sidon Street can be closed off. However we recommend that consideration should be given to designing this as a gated driveway with swipe card or key code access, rather than being open to all general motor vehicle traffic, otherwise Little Tribune Street will be overused as a turnaround and drop-off point for taxis and other motor vehicles. In line with our previous suggestion to close off general public access to South Bank’s underground carpark, it may be appropriate for all of Tribune Street northeast of Grey Street to be redesigned as a gated driveway rather than an open shared road.
We strongly support inclusion of a small public skate park at 125 Grey Street, next to the South Brisbane train station. There is very strong demand for a new skate park within the suburb of South Brisbane, and this site’s close proximity to the train station and bus station, plus the fact that it may not be feasible to plant many deep-rooted trees there due to underground infrastructure and future bus station development plans, mean it is the best available option for a new skate park. If space can be found, we would also support the inclusion of a dog off-leash area somewhere within the South Bank planning area, to cater for the many local residents living within or very close to the South Bank precinct who own dogs.
Limited drafting time means that submissions on master plan consultations like this inevitably focus on negative aspects and areas for improvement. So we wish to emphasise that there is much to be celebrated and commended in the draft master plan. The general goals of creating more tree canopy cover, more water play features, and the shift towards deprioritising cars along Grey Street and removing cars from Little Dock Street are all positive.
However, when considering how special South Bank is to the city and indeed to Australia more generally, and how important it is that the new master plan meets long-term challenges, we cannot support adoption of this draft master plan in its current form. The draft plan increases building and commercial activity footprints within areas that are highly vulnerable to flooding, it is not forward-thinking enough in supporting the shift away from private motor vehicle transport, it decreases the availability of large hireable venue spaces within South Brisbane, it fails to rectify key active travel choke points and conflict points, it does not reclaim enough riverfront space from private buildings, it does not adequately activate the frontages of the Convention Centre building, and it only marginally improves connections to surrounding precincts further back from the river.
We think major changes are required to this draft plan before it is adopted.
Max Chandler-Mather MP
Member for Griffith
Amy MacMahon MP
Member for South Brisbane
Councillor for the Gabba Ward