Councillors hit out at 'faceless' bureaucrats approving Brisbane's high rises

Brisbane City Council's development approval process is run by unaccountable and unelected officials, say two councillors who sit on the city planning committee.

The comments come the same day Kangaroo Point residents protested an apartment building that would exceed the neighbourhood plan's height limit by six floors.

Councillors Jonathan Sri and Jared Cassidy say that having about 4500 planning decisions delegated to unelected council staff meant their concerns and those of neighbouring residents could be ignored.

Planning committee chair Julian Simmonds said that was not the case. "Councillors do get a say, and it is an important part of the process," he said. "I can assure residents their submissions on any application is taken into account by the assessing council officers."

Cr Sri was not so sure. "I can give my comments, but the people making the decision are free to ignore my comments if they want," he said. "I think a lot of residents would be surprised to know that [apartment blocks are] approved without most of the councillors seeing it."

Cr Cassidy had a similar experience. "As local councillors we are often asked for comment on specific developments, however in every case I have commented or objected, they have been ignored," he said.

Queensland planning legislation allows for plans to be approved without an impact assessment if they don't exceed certain limits and in most cases, the trigger is a height limit.

If a building would exceed the prescribed height or whichever limitation, the application needs to go out for public notification.

Residents are entitled to make opposing submissions, but the approving council officer is entitled to make concessions on the neighbourhood plan.

"It's performance-based planning," Cr Sri said. "There are arguments for it but the level of discretion being exercised here huge decisions with significant ramifications for the whole neighbourhood.

"We're giving unelected people a huge amount of power to hand over millions and millions of dollars of additional real estate value."

Crs Adam Allan, Vicki Howard, and Angela Owen also sit on the committee, but declined to share their thoughts on the process.

The protest the prompted the comments on Tuesday was against an apartment block in Thornton Street, Kangaroo Point which would, if approved, stand at 16 storeys tall when the limit is currently 10.

Resident Katharine Fresier had concerns about the height, the impact on a heritage building on site, and potential impacts on public spaces.

She has made a submission, but shared the concerns of Crs Sri and Cassidy that it would fall on deaf ears.

"[If the building went ahead] we'd have been ignored," Ms Fresier said. "There are a lot of people there that put a lot of effort into a sound objection. Some people employed professionals."

Cr Simmonds said that residents should not feel the need to employ professionals because the council already did that on their behalf.

"Residents already have that technical expertise on their side within council," he said. Professionals like town planners, traffic experts, arborists, and heritage experts were all already employed by council to assess applications.

Cr Simmonds said residents should have faith council employees were working in their interests.

"I don't accept residents feel disenfranchised in the system. We have professional independent town planners making the decisions in the council," he said.

Cr Cassidy said the approval process in general was slipping out of control of residents. "It's clear that the balance has well and truly tipped away from local residents now," he said.

This story Councillors hit out at 'faceless' bureaucrats approving Brisbane's high rises first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.