Howard Smith Wharves – the debate in the Council Chamber

by Dave Reeve


I posted the following piece to the ACAQ Facebook page as part of our investigation into the proposal by Brisbane City Council to grant a 99 year lease over the Howard Smith Wharves precinct to HSW Nominees Pty Ltd.

The Debate in the Council Chamber

This is the last piece in my analysis of the HSW Development Proposal, and what it means for the climbing community. The debate in the chamber is of interest in that it sheds light on the position of individual Councillors. Well it should shed light, but for the fact that Council is dominated by a large majority of the one party, and the need for debate is minimal. Such debate as there is, is pretty much a formality that leads up to the foregone conclusion of the vote.

However, we do see the independent Councillor Nicole Johnstone raise most of the issues we would raise, so we know we are not totally off-beam with our assessment, unfortunately HSW is not in her ward, and she quite rightly has local issues to attend.

The LM introduces the proposal very briefly, having spoken at length on the subject during Question Time. He affirms that “concept and delivery”, rather than “financial return”, were the deciding factors in the choice of proposal. Remember this is a political debate, never take anything spoken at its face value. Think peas and thimbles, and you have the idea.

[Lord Mayor]
……. but importantly, Madam Chairman, as part and parcel of this, we saw the setting that was made right at the very beginning of this, in terms of its assessment, was that the major scorecard was around concept plan and the capacity to deliver. They dominated over any returns to Council, Madam Chairman. This is a unique site and we needed to look at it in that context. It was a decision that the cabinet firmly made, that we wanted to make sure that the concept and that the delivery were the priorities in terms of this proposal.

Cr Dick, takes a scatter-gun approach to his role in opposition. It lacks the forensic probing that is really required, but the targets are worth noting.

[Councillor Dick]
…. Just finally, Madam Chair, on the Stores Board submission, which is the Howard Smith Wharves Revitalisation Project, as the LORD MAYOR outlined in question time and also in the E&C debate. The HSW Consortium is a partnership between Elisha Bickle and Adam Flaskas. The Howard Smith Wharves Consortium and, as the LORD MAYOR confirmed, they’ve sold the hotel development right to Asia Pacific Group. I note in the report that the Howard Smith Wharves Consortium have taken on the maintenance of locations with the parkland.

Now this is one area where we haven’t heard a lot of information about the project. Now, as people will recall and we were in the old chamber when at one council meeting the LNP decided to use its majority to take the money out of the Central Ward Park Trust Fund, remember that one?


To pay for the redevelopment of Howard Smith Wharves, to deliver the parkland which is the real reason that we’re debating this issue because the community have been promised for a very long time new parkland in that area. Forget the bodgie figures around 80 per cent that they go on about when they include the cliff face as part of the 80 per cent, all of that nonsense.


That’s right. When you can throw a frisbee against the rock wall. But, Madam Chair, we’ve received very little information about this and this is something that I know local residents and people who have been following this issue way back from years ago. We then saw the rezoning change onto that site, so residents wouldn’t get a chance to object to that, remember that change came through Council as well?


They shot that one through so we could actually see a change there. So residents would be shut out of the process. Now we’re seeing the hotel redevelopment, commercialisation of that site without any attention today by the LORD MAYOR regarding the flooding issues which I know have been raised continuously. Now it’s been emerged that the family or the parent group of that developer are also LNP donors as well, which I raised in question time today as well.
Well there may be some—


I take the interjection, Madam Chair, that Councillor ABRAHAMS is suggesting it may be a pattern. I certainly hope there is no pattern involved because we want to see the highest quality development in Brisbane across the city with no connections to donors as well, but we’ll be debating that a little later today where those questions have been seriously raised regarding other developments. So I certainly hope some of those issues will be raised in today’s debate. We’ve had very little information about what that will mean for the broader Brisbane community, about what we will be receiving there on that site.

It’s an incredible opportunity for us to get this site, to make sure we deliver for our city.

The Deputy Mayor rises to bat back most of the points raised by Cr Dick. The problem with a scatter-gun attack is the response is even more scattered. Make of it what you will.

[Deputy Mayor]
… So we will see this city really—once this development rolls out—really come to love this precinct, I’m confident of that. Now, in relation to the documents that we have here and the arrangement that is being entered into with the HSW nominees, is a good outcome for the city in a number of ways. As the LORD MAYOR said, if Council was just looking for financial returns from this, there would have been a different outcome. We wanted something, though, that was best for the city, best for the people of the city and would be that iconic precinct that I mentioned before.

It’s really disappointing to hear Labor’s contribution to this. All we hear is negativity and carping. Particularly with something so important to the city and something which I know Councillor DICK will be down there at the cafes and bars when it opens, enjoying it. We know he will be, he’ll be running along the riverfront there, he’ll be enjoying a drink at the craft brewery, no doubt about that.

The way that he has approached this has been really disappointing, I think. It’s a pattern of behaviour that we’ve seen on a whole heap of different things. Might I add that Labor opposed free Wi-Fi in parks? Another example, there are so many examples where they get up here and they make negative comments yet it turns out to be a great thing for the city, and this is another one of those examples.

The suggestion that the 80 per cent includes the cliff face is just wrong. It’s just wrong. That was a line that David Hinchliffe was peddling years ago. So they’ve obviously dusted off the old notes from David Hinchliffe and recycled them. It is not true; the cliff face is not included in the 80 per cent. The suggestion that there’s been nothing done to deal with flooding, once again, not true. Not true.

The development has to be built in the same way that any other development needs to be built when there is a potential flooding issue. So all of the floor levels will be built with the flooding issues in mind and we will see that incorporated into the assessment process when a DA is lodged. So once again, ridiculous claim.

The claim that Central Ward Park Trust Fund funds were going towards this park project is actually not accurate. It’s not accurate. Once again, a little bit of twisting of the truth. What those funds will be used for is improving the top of the cliffs, which are not part of this project at all. So those funds have been corralled for the time when this project occurs so that we don’t have a situation where the bottom area will be great but the top area would be old and tired.So those funds are still sitting there ready to be put into work to improve the top of the cliffs which, as I said, are not part of this project.

Finally, I just wanted to say that the suggestions that have been made about the HSW Consortium and particular individuals and comments about donations are just completely inappropriate and wrong. The people that are involved in this consortium have other projects across the city. Those projects are very successful, and might I add, they have been in the past awarded tenders by the previous Labor Administration.

So it was okay for Labor to award those people a contract that involved Victoria Park Golf Course, but suddenly now they’re raising those outrageous suggestions. They know it’s not true but they just love to throw it in there. They love to throw the mud and hopefully they think some of it will stick. Well nothings going to stick here because this is a great project for the city of Brisbane and these are respected, experienced providers of great entertainment precincts in other areas and including our own Victoria Park Golf Course.

So I am confident they will do a great job, looking forward to this project rolling out to the benefit of Brisbane residents. As I said, very disappointed that Labor’s not coming on board with something that is really good for the city.

Cr Johnston rises to ask some very pertinent questions. It is good to see that we are not the only ones that see a problem with accepting a proposal in the absence of certain key information. However, no other Councillors take up the argument and her critical points are lost.

[Cr Johnston]
Now I would like to make some comments on the Howard Smith Wharves Revitalisation Project. I am really in two minds about this. Activation of the space down there would seem to be very important and it can be of great benefit to the city. The issue I have is, I’m not sure that the LORD MAYOR and this Administration have quite got the design and the scope of this right. I think given the importance of the space and the seriousness of the issue that we’re looking at here today, that is a lease for 102 years to a small Brisbane private company that there does need to be a high level of scrutiny both within Council itself and by this Council with regard to the contracts being awarded.

What I note is when I went to look at the files, there is very little information on the files. There’s a few post-market submissions and so forth but there is a lot of information missing that would help us make an informed decision as a Council today. I don’t, Madam Chairman, just trust the LORD MAYOR and trust that they have done the right thing here because time after time we see mistakes and problems with the contracts that this Council enters into.

So this is one of these areas where, trust us; it’s all okay, is not going to work. Now I note that in the Council papers before us today, the purpose of this project was—and this is paragraph 44—a developer is being procured to fund, construct, operate and maintain the finished development in return for long-term leasehold rights over the site at minimal cost to Council.

Now that’s what we’ve been asked as the core mission of the revitalisation of this space. I note that several companies came forward with varying proposals and the proposal which is described in the papers variously as the A&E submission and the HSW submission is the one that Council is proceeding with today.

I guess I question a couple of core issues around this. Firstly, I note that this Council will invest $4 million into the revitalisation of this space. That is due to occur after a minimum amount of some $13 million has been invested by the proponent. That does not seem minimal to me, $4 million is a lot of money and I am, I guess, a little confused as to how a project of this size and capacity is not self-funding and why it is that this Council is contributing $4 million when we would normally, I think, here see more commercial terms.

I guess I’m just questioning why this Council is subsidising what is going to be a major economic investment for a private company in Brisbane. I note that there is a hotel going on the site, there is a retail and restaurant precinct going on the site and there’s a small convention space going on the site. This Council is estimating that over the life of the lease, so three years for the commercial component and 99 year lease, that Council will receive $528 million in revenue from the project.

So I guess the question to me is, if it is this economically significant and viable, why is this Council investing $4 million? This is what I’m not sure about. Because I would want to see ratepayers’ funds going into projects that can’t be funded in some other way. I guess I would like a little bit more explanation of why this money is being put in by Council. I note that other proponents certainly were seeking some investment by Council into this but given the economic benefits that have clearly formed such a vital part of the assessment of this tender application, why is there a need for a $4 million subsidy from this Council?

That’s unclear to me. Particularly given the very substantial financial benefits that this Council expects to see flowing from the project. I think, Madam Chairman, that we really should have a little bit more information about this because the other concern that I have in the council papers before us today, there’s a summary, essentially, of the financial terms for the project. But on the files themselves there is very little information that you can read to actually look at the raw data, look at the material that’s been submitted.

I note in one of the few documents, which is a summary of the recommended proposal and transaction, there are a number of documents that form part of the project agreement. That includes the project agreement itself which outlines the rights and obligations of both parties. It is a construction lease; it is the base precinct lease, the building management statement, the precinct plan and all of the easements and access rights.

Now, none of those documents are actually on the file. So we can’t look at them. We’re being asked to make a blind decision today because the relevant documents that are referred to, which are the heart of this transaction, have not been publically made available to the councillors today to review. That is really problematic. I know that the LORD MAYOR will stand up and say, well it’s been recommended by the Council officers, and this is no reflection on them, but I would like to see the documentation that supports this deal and I would very much like to see some of the details around it so when I make a decision and vote in this place, I’ve done so fully informed.

That’s not possible because the files do not contain any of the essential legal agreements and they have not been made available for councillors to review in the normal way. That is really problematic. So I am very concerned about the lack of transparency around this particular process. The other concerns I have relate to access, public access. The artists’ impressions seem to provide access both along a new riverfront component and also along the pathway behind the back of the existing heritage buildings.

Now one thing is true, I do run down there as well and I vary it up a bit; sometimes I do the bridge loop, sometimes I go the other way, and I’ve tested out the new boardwalk. But what I will say is, at the moment, it is extremely wide access down there in that area behind the old heritage stores. You get hundreds of people cycling, walking, dogs, prams, runners. I am very concerned that we don’t just see a standard three-metre path for community access through that area.
Because once you add in the retail component, you will have people milling around doing a very social activity versus the through traffic at the moment and that is a concern together with the flooding.

Cr Howard rises to add absolutely nothing of value, and one can only admire the strong stomach of those subjected to such oleaginous speech. “So, Madam Chairman, you will have heard me talk previously about ensuring that Central Ward has parks as beautiful as our children.” …… surely to hear once would be enough?

The Lord Mayor then rises to make a few concluding remarks before the submission is put to the vote. Interestingly, he singles out connectivity as a major benefit of the development. One wonders how he imagines putting this connectivity node into private ownership is going to help matters.

[Lord Mayor]
Well, Madam Chairman, again, in regards to Howard Smith Wharves, I believe that in the fullness of time when it’s completed, I think it’ll be an outstanding addition to our city. Madam Chairman, to use words that have been used before, it is the missing link on the river. The connection that Howard Smith Wharves will give to the Riverwalk, to that of the CBD, I think that it will be, in the future, seen as an outstanding precinct. The whole connectivity through there, I think, Madam Chairman, will really ensure its success.


The voting was as follows:
AYES: 18 – The Right Honourable the LORD MAYOR, Councillor Graham QUIRK, DEPUTY MAYOR, Councillor Adrian SCHRINNER, and Councillors Krista ADAMS, Matthew BOURKE, Amanda COOPER, Margaret de WIT, Vicki HOWARD, Steven HUANG, Fiona KING, Geraldine KNAPP, Kim MARX, Peter MATIC, Ian McKENZIE, David McLACHLAN, Ryan MURPHY, Angela OWEN-TAYLOR, Julian SIMMONDS and Andrew WINES.

NOES: 5 – The Leader of the OPPOSITION, Councillor Milton DICK, and Councillors Helen ABRAHAMS, Peter CUMMING, Kim FLESSER, and Victoria NEWTON.

ABSTENTIONS: 1 – Councillor Nicole JOHNSTON.


The minutes for the meeting of 21st October 2014 are archived here


Howard Smith Wharves – risks arising from the project

by Dave Reeve


I posted the following piece to the ACAQ Facebook page as part of our investigation into the proposal by Brisbane City Council to grant a 99 year lease over the Howard Smith Wharves precinct to HSW Nominees Pty Ltd.

HSW – the project risks

We see from the submission tabled at the Council Meeting of the 21st October last year that the winning proposal was HSW Nominees Pty Ltd, ACN 166 209 874, trading as HSW Consortium, and that the development agreement was to be signed with this corporate entity. In earlier posts I have pointed to the fact that Council intends transferring the public space at HSW to the private control of this corporate entity, with the later committing to some sort of undertaking to keep “public space” as “public” as possible. I have already expressed grave doubts about such a proposal, and now will add more doubt by taking a look at the process involved in the development itself.

At the outset I want to make it very clear that I am not criticising Adam Flaskas and Elisha Bickle. On the contrary, I am in open admiration of anyone who can bring energy and creativity to such a project. My criticism, if any, is with Council who really need to go that extra yard and show due diligence before committing public land to the private estate.

Now, anyone is free take a look at what is on the public record with respect to HSW Nominees provided they are prepared to cross ASIC’s bureaucratic palm with silver, so, $47 and a few internet minutes later, we know that HSW Nominees Pty Ltd is a company owned by Elisha Bickle and Adam Flaskas and none others. Further we know that they own the company in equal share with a total of $1200 in capital issued, and that it has been sitting dormant since 10th October 2013.

I understand many of the climbing community will not be familiar with business practice 101, so I’ll spell out a few things that may not be obvious. Firstly, when the development is complete, the corporate entity, HSW Nominees, is the one that will be executing its right under the terms of the lease to allow/disallow public access. In practice, this means the directors of the entity, or any managers they appoint, will be the ones making the access decisions. Secondly, either or both of Elisha and or Adam are free to sell all or part of their interest in HSW Nominees, and, should they do so, the lease would stay in place for the benefit of their successors. When you consider that we are talking about a 99 year lease, you can see that such a successional event is sure to occur at some point.

Next we need to understand that a lease agreement is a commercial contract between two parties that is created in a spirit of equity. As time passes, and new actors move onto the stage, what was once equitable may become to be viewed otherwise. Thus, we can see that whilst Adam and Elisha might have a clear vision of untrammelled public access to the site, the same need not be the case for their successors, and depending upon the wording of the contract, and depending upon the will of their successors, public access could yield to commercial imperative.

I have been making the argument for some time now that access to public land should be about legislation, not land managers. If we are to put in place public policy that really is to offer value to future generations, we need to heed the structure of the stage, not those that would act upon it. We should value acts of legislation over acts of equity.

Whilst the directors of HSW Nominees will be the main actors on the stage, we need to be mindful that in the wings there will be the financiers of the project. If the play stays on the intended script, we will never see these guys emerge from the shadows. However, if at any point it looks like their investment is at risk, we will see them step forward, perhaps even to the point of causing the appointment of a new lead actor in the form of an administrator. They do this by exercising a right embedded in a charge over all the assets and undertakings of the HSW Nominees. We would see this charge registered with PPSR at the time the finance is put in place. There may be multiple financiers and multiple charges, in which case there will be an agreement which describes how one is to rank against the other in the event of default. At the present time there are no charges registered.

I should emphasise that there is nothing untoward about any of the above. This is all standard business practice aimed at ensuring the best outcome for the project. Our interest in this stuff narrows down to what it might mean for public access should the project run into trouble.

Recall that the intention is to have an equitable arrangement in place that aims at keeping the “public” space as public as possible. What happens to this if HSW Nominees goes into administration? The Administrator’s primary duty is to extract value out of the situation so as to minimise loss to all parties bar the shareholders. It is not his job to complete the project. However, we know that Council, as part of the development agreement will also hold a charge over the assets and undertakings of the company. Ideally, this should be the senior ranking charge so that Council can step in and take over the project itself should the need ever arise. This possibility is covered in the risk assessment presented in the agreement document, under “Contractor Insolvency” –

Project Agreement requires:
– A company charge in Council’s favour over all the assets and undertakings of the HSW Consortium. Initially this will be a first ranking charge. Council would cede priority to the senior financier
– A side deed with the builder allowing Council (or a party nominated by Council) to step in as principal under the building contract to complete the works
– Bank guarantee in amount of $800,000 to be provided by the developer as security
Note: In the event of developer insolvency, financiers will have sale rights. Removal of these rights would negatively impact the developer’s ability to obtain finance for the project

However, note that in the real world, there is no way a financier will step in without placing a charge that gives him the freedom to take whatever options necessary to recover his investment. Council’s charge would stand for naught. If we wish to maintain public access to the HSW parkland, then such a scenario would seem a sure way of losing it. I would like to hear from Council why they consider such a risk to be worthwhile. Even to know they have considered the possibility of what happens on default would be a comfort.

Howard Smith Wharves – development submission 21Oct14

.by Dave Reeve


I posted the following piece to the ACAQ Facebook page as part of our investigation into the proposal by Brisbane City Council to grant a 99 year lease over the Howard Smith Wharves precinct to HSW Nominees Pty Ltd.

HSW – anatomy of the deal

The submission for the latest proposed development of Howard Smith Wharves was presented for approval at the Council Meeting of 21st October 2014. We can examine both the document and a transcript of the debate that ensued.

I’ll try to explain what the submission means in simple terms, and in another post detail the objections that were raised by the opposition.

The submission document says this –

To seek Council approval to enter into a Project Agreement with HSW Nominees Pty Ltd, ACN 166 209 874 (trading as HSW Consortium), for the Howard Smith Wharves Revitalisation Project. The Project Agreement is summarised at section 7.5 and includes the granting of:
– A construction lease for a term of three years commencing after HSW Consortium has obtained development approval for its concept plan; and
– A base lease and associated precinct leases for a term of 99 years commencing after the completion of construction.


Background/Operational Impact:
Council wishes to revitalise the 3.43 hectare Howard Smith Wharves site and has sought development proposals. A developer is being procured to fund, construct, operate and maintain the finished development in return for long-term leasehold rights over the site, at minimal cost to Council. The project is expected to create a vibrant, welcoming and safe public space that delivers economic benefits to Brisbane in a high quality riverside parkland setting.

There is much to like, and certainly not a lot to dislike about the above. In any universe, a dream come true is always to be welcomed, and the idea that the developer should “fund, construct, operate and maintain…. at minimal cost to Council” is surely good value for the rate-payers. However, even a cursory parsing shows that the key desired outcome “to create a vibrant, welcoming and safe public space” is at odds with the developer having “long-term leasehold rights over the site”. It is indeed dreaming to think that such a long term commercial lease over a public estate does other than transfer it into the private estate.

Yet, this is the nature of the deal.

But, I hear you ask, what of other clearly successful projects that employ mixed use of parkland – Southbank is surely awesome? Indeed, Southbank sets a high bar for future projects. But wait on a minute, whilst Southbank is situated on Council’s freehold estate, [not strictly correct – see update], the commercial entities located there lease no more than the footprint of their premises, and the parklands remain public space. Most importantly, parkland development, design and upkeep bows to the public will – albeit ponderously – via the local political process. The same situation is not proposed for HSW, presumably, because Council is not prepared to pay for it.

A large section of the submitted document describes the process of firstly calling for proposals, and then the process of selecting the most appropriate candidate. These processes follow the usual strict rules for tendering within the public domain, and gives no cause for concern.

Moving onto the list of reasons for selecting the winning proposal we get an insight into the selection committee’s thinking. Note that I say selection committee because it was not Council proper, ie a meeting of duly elected Councillors, that made the selection, but a committee of unelected civil servants drawn from the State and Council apparatus. They say –

 The major reasons why the HSW Consortium achieved the highest score for their concept design are:
– The design included a covered event space which would activate the site yet not be closed off to the public when events were not being held;
– The event space was low level compared to other proposals which resulted in more of the cliffs being visible from the river;
– The hotel was smaller than other proposals and the façade design blended the hotel into the cliffs;
– HSW Consortium’s proposal to Build, Own and Operate including maintenance obligations within the park and other public areas, was viewed more favourably than proposals that sold on the development and obliged Council to maintain the park and other public areas;
– The extent of development is significantly less than proposed in the other shortlisted proposals which would be more acceptable to the community but also consistent with heritage principles; and
– The public spaces would be activated by events and were more extensive than shown on other shortlisted proposals.

The first point to jump out is the fact that Council surrendering control of public space is seen as desirable, with “proposals that sold-on the development and obliged Council to maintain the park and other public areas” less so. If this is the case, are we to assume that somewhere within Council Executive there was a desire to avoid the establishment of Council-controlled parkland [not strictly correct – see update], as per Southbank? Assuming the Executive doesn’t act outside the Lord Mayor’s direction, how is it we come to this pass after years of public consultation, consultation that made clear the desire amongst rate-payers for parkland development at this site?

The second point is the spruiking of the fact that the so-called “public space” won’t always need to be closed to the public. I guess this means that it will be open, except when it’s not… I’m glad we’ve got that one clear.

In the document there is a lot of stuff enumerating what will be built, and the scaling of monetary returns to Council. This seems all very reasonable.

Turning to the public space requirements, which need to be our area of focus, we find a number of requirements that must be met, presumably by the end of the development lease, and before the 99 year lease is granted. This includes a spend of $13.31M on improvements including at least the following –

The scope of park and public space improvements will be further refined prior to development application (DA) approval being sought, however, they will include the following elements:
(i) refurbishment of existing air-raid shelters
(ii) pedestrian and shared paths throughout the site
(iii) turfing and other soft landscaping
(iv) a kayak ramp
(v) public amenities
(vi) public space furniture such as bollards, bins, seating and cycle racks;
(vii) two lifts and one set of stairs to the top of the cliffs
(viii) public board walk structure adjacent to the river

So we don’t see rock climbing on the list, but in my opinion, that fact is neither here nor there. It doesn’t matter what is on the list if “free and fair” access to it is constrained by the leaseholder.

We note that Council, for their part, undertake to add a further $4M to the $13.31M above.

Listed as a key consideration we find the following

(c) Use of Parklands Precinct
The parkland and public space will be leased to the developer who will be responsible for maintaining these areas. The conditions of the lease have been drafted as such that these areas will be generally open and accessible for use by the public. There will be periodic events, functions and other activities carried out in the parkland and public spaces to activate the site; however Council can require proposed events to be cancelled if it considers that the proposed activities will result in the parkland and public spaces not being available to the public.

Once again we note that the “parkland and public space will be leased” which means these components will be transferred from public to the private ownership. Assuming such a process occurs, it is misleading to refer to them as public spaces. Rather they are spaces where the public will be permitted entry according to the exact wording of a draft lease document, one that was not made available at the Council Meeting where approval was sought, and, at this point in time, is not available for public inspection.

Notice how this is a reversal of the usual order of things for carrying out private functions or group activities in a public park. The default position is the park is open for “free and fair” access by individuals, but may be used from time to time for private functions via a permitting system. Is it true then, that Council considers the price tag of $17M too high to develop the site for “free and fair” access? Really? Yet they are prepared to spend $4M to see it end up in private hands.

Another key consideration from the list we have –

(d) Conditions precedent to the Project Agreement
The Project Agreement contains a number of conditions precedent which must be satisfied to enable the Project Agreement to continue. These conditions precedent are as follows:
(i) DA approval – The proponent is obliged to lodge a DA within eight months and then has a further 18 months to obtain DA approval.
(ii) The parties agreeing on the terms of the four separate leases for the retail, park, hotel and car park precincts. These separate leases must be created within two weeks of the signing of the Project Agreement but will be based on agreed principles stated in the Consolidated Form of Lease that is included in the Project Agreement.

Note that HSW Consortium have 18 months to get DA approval (development application approval) from when the DA is first lodged. I’m guessing that they intend to lodge sometime in early June, that is, following the current public consultation phase.

Note that there will be four leases executed, one for each of the four components of the development, and that these leases extend an underlying base lease for the site. In some ways this might simplify matters, given our concerns centre on the public space component. However, without sighting the actual lease, we have no way of judging the impact on public access. One has to ask why wasn’t the Project Agreement tabled at the Council Meeting, and why isn’t it available for public inspection? After all, from the timing below, it would appear to have been executed

Execution of Project Agreement
70. The Project Agreement has been prepared, including the conditions precent summarised above. HSW Consortium is expected to sign the Project Agreement to formalise its offer to Council on 10 October 2014. The Project Agreement will then be ready for execution by Council, should this post market submission be approved.

Up to this point, I have concentrated on what this deal means for public access if all goes according to plan. However, in the real world, things rarely go according to plan, and we need to consider the nature of the fall-out should the development run into financial difficulty. Some of this is covered in the proposal document, and I’ll explain what all this means in a subsequent post.



I looked into the land ownership structure at Southbank in a bit more detail, and found that some serious thought had gone into the issue. Most strikingly, the structure used to guarantee its open and public nature makes the proposals for Howard Smith Wharves look amateurish.

Council vested land into the South Bank Corporation, a child of the South Bank Corporation Act 1989, thereby handing control of the precinct to the State. The membership of the board of this corporation, and the way in which South Bank is to be managed are all laid out in the legislation.

The question of whether or not the legislative framework is a good one is unimportant compared with the simple fact it exists. If it exists, then there is a well established process by which the will of the people can be exerted. In short, a public corporation exists to serve the public good whilst a proprietary company, by very definition, exists to serve its private owners. To believe that a proprietary company, HSW Nominees, is a suitable vehicle for the management of “public parkland” is naïve in the extreme.

Howard Smith Wharves – from Council’s point of view

by Dave Reeve


I posted the following piece to the ACAQ Facebook page as part of our investigation into the proposal by Brisbane City Council to grant a 99 year lease over the Howard Smith Wharves precinct to HSW Nominees Pty Ltd.

HSW – a View from the Council Chamber

Thus far we have seen that Council does in fact own most of the HSW precinct in fee simple, and at first blush, the corporate individual which is Council has a perfect right to do what it likes with it, including assigning it to another corporate individual by means of a 99 year lease. I’m sure there will be a multiplicity of subsequent blushes by the time we are through, and I need to do more digging around to inform myself if I’m not to add mine to the collective embarrassment. However, here is something to chew on.

At the Council Meeting of the 21st October 2014, the approval of Council was sought to enter into a project agreement with HSW Nominees Pty Ltd for the Howard Smith Wharves Revitalisation Project. However, before that item came up for discussion, the ground was prepared during Question Time by Cr Knapp asking the Lord Mayor a Dorothy Dixer, thereby permitting him to spruik the HSW project. Bear in mind that here we have a politician selling to his fellow pollies, so this viewpoint is worthy of careful note.

But there is another big plus which this Council will debate a little later today, and it is that of what I have referred to as the missing link in Brisbane’s river horizon—this is the Howard Smith Wharves. This Council is being asked to support what will be the development of that 3.42 hectare site. Some 80 per cent of the site under the proposal will remain as parkland and public open space, but indeed, the other 20 per cent will consist of 10 per cent of existing heritage-listed buildings, and 10 per cent of new development.
In relation to that new component, it will consist of what is a 150-room, five-star boutique hotel, three storeys in height in part, six storeys in height in other parts. But it is of a scale and level which we believe fits in with the landscape, with the cliff face. The other exciting component of this development is that it will engage with two lifts to go to the top of the cliffs—one at the hotel end, and one at the other end of the site.
The other component of the new development that is proposed is a 1,500 square metre exhibition space, and this space is proposed for markets, it could be festivals, it could be pop-up retail, it could be weddings; there is a whole range of opportunities that might pertain to that particular space.
One thing I should have mentioned in relation to the five-star hotel is that it is intended to be developed and operated by Asian Pacific Group, so that is just the hotel component. They are a part of the Deague group, and that is their plan. But the overall operation and proposal is recommended to HSW Consortium as the preferred operator; that is a consortium which is led by Adam Flaskas and Elisha Bickle. They are local people who live at New Farm.
It is not their intention to simply develop and move on. It is their intention to develop and operate the site. They have skin in the game. They are locals, and they want this to be another additional offering, another part of the story of Brisbane—Australia’s New World City. So it is that this particular site I think will be a fabulous new addition.
Apart from the aspects that I have mentioned, the older buildings that are there, the heritage-listed buildings, will consist of restaurants. There will be potential for other retail markets within that particular site. The proposal also includes a marina, and the operators have the option to take this up. If, however, they decide not to, then Council will have at some point an opportunity to go in and to reassign an opportunity around that. We believe it is a great site for a marina development and would be a good addition to the river-scape.
The development itself does not provide the biggest return to Council. We always, when we went into this site, said what we wanted was an outcome which this city could be very proud of, an outcome which was sensitive to the cliff face, sensitive to the Story Bridge. We have already done a lot of stabilisation of the cliff. There is still a section to be done, and that is behind the proposed hotel. That will be part and parcel of the responsibility of the successful consortium, if determined by today’s Council.

I think it is pretty clear from the above that the LM is envisaging something that is primarily a commercial precinct. Sure the mantra of 80% free space pops up on cue, but to my mind this is a Pavlovic reflex resulting from the public maulings that have ensued over the last decade, whenever any attempt has been made to offer up something other than a park.

If your heart is set on the vision of a commercial precinct with genuine revenue generating capacity, my guess is that 80% free space is a constraint rather than an asset. It certainly isn’t a reserve for “recreation” and “park” as is say KP, and it is duplicitous to pretend otherwise.

And, once the deal is done, we will have nothing but the weasel words of a single lease document standing between parkland for public recreation and “parkland” as a device to ring the cash registers of a private commercial operation. In my opinion it is simply untruthful to pretend that putting public parkland into the private domain can ever achieve the adherence to “community purpose” that is offered under the Land Act for state reserves.

I hasten to add that I’m not anti-development, and if it wasn’t for the fact that HSW is home to one of the two climbing cliffs in the CBD, I would support this development. Natural climbing resources are rare, and, given the CBD location, valuable. The multi-million dollar recreational value of the cliff has totally escaped scrutiny.

Howard Smith Wharves – land ownership

by Dave Reeve


I posted the following piece to the ACAQ Facebook page as part of our investigation into the proposal by Brisbane City Council to grant a 99 year lease over the Howard Smith Wharves precinct to HSW Nominees Pty Ltd.

HSW… who owns the land?

OK, so here comes part two…. by what authority can Council put the unique HSW cliffs into private hands?

BOREDOM ALERT… this stuff sucks, but it is important, and at the risk of being way less than 100% correct, I’ll try to make things as simple as possible.

Before we can get off first base, we need to know who owns the land on which the wharves are situated. To do this we need to identify the relevant land parcels, and then look up the land registry to identify the registered owner of each parcel. I have now done this, and the information is presented in the map below.

HSW Registered Owners

In this map the broad red line represents the Neighbourhood Plan Precinct, NPP-005, for the City Centre Neighbourhood Plan 2014. It is worth noting here that this precinct was originally in the New farm and Teneriffe Hill Neighbourhood Plan at a point when considerable community pushback was encountered for the HSW development proposals of the time.

The four land parcels shaded mauve are the land parcels we believe are proposed for transfer to HSW Nominees via 99 year lease. There may be a couple of other small ones as well, but there is currently no information in the public domain that describes exactly what is being offered. I’ll cover this point in a later post. For now, I’m simply noting the titles for the four parcels that most likely will be leased.

From exchanges minuted in the Council Chamber, I believe that the small parcels across the top of the cliff will remain under Council management.

A quick explanation of the practical implications of land tenure might be helpful. In Queensland, there is a diminishing pool of unallocated state land from which land parcels for either private ownership or community purposes are from time to time excised. A land parcel is transferred to an individual, or corporate individual, under a Deed of Grant by the Governor in Council. Note that this is a State mechanism, and the authorising body, the Governor in Council, consist of a committee of the State Governor plus the State Cabinet. The Deed of Grant confers rights on the owner of the land parcel.

When such a parcel is described as being held in “fee simple” this is the strongest form of land ownership, one that provides a title that can be inherited by successors, and be bought and sold at the whim of the owner. Thus, when we see that Council holds most of the HSW estate in “fee simple”, this means that the various land parcels were excised some years ago and have most likely passed through the hands of several owners before being bought by Council. Notice that apart from the requirement to register the change of ownership, the State apparatus having excised the land parcel no longer has a continuing interest in its fate. Of course, when Council, rather than a private individual wishes to acquire it, then the State apparatus will raise its hoary head via The City of Brisbane Act, and perhaps other legislation, to enumerate what acts a Council may or may not do. However, this is a matter apart from the actual process of acquisition of the land parcel. This issue of Council owning land in “fee simple” worries me, mainly because I don’t see how adequate checks and balances can be exercised, and is something I’ll raise again later.

Coming back to the mechanism for allocation of unallocated state land, the Minister responsible for overseeing the execution of the Land Act may, from time to time, dedicate unallocated state land for one or more community purposes. Typical purposes are “park” or “recreation” and often both of these categories. This process gives rise to the tenure of a state reserve and we see such a land parcel at the far eastern cliff top of the HSW precinct. An example of a reserve for the community purpose of “park and recreation” well known to the climbing community is the KP Parklands. An important characteristic of state reserves is the fact they remain under the control of the state, and although local councils acting as trustees often manage them, the rules governing their management are primarily derived from state legislation. This legislation addresses many of the trans-generational pitfalls of public land ownership and management. If the HSW precinct was on state reserve rather than held in fee simple by Council, we wouldn’t be looking at the possible loss of the HSW cliffs to private control.

Howard Smith Wharves Development

posted by Dave Reeve


I’m going to assume that readers know something of the long history of climbing at the Howard Smith Wharves within the Brisbane CBD, and also something of the on-off nature of the plans for development of the site. Wikipedia has a good summary of this often fraught process. In an attempt to establish recreational climbing on this, the second, of the only two climbing crags within the CBD, ACAQ has spent countless hours of volunteers’ time only to have high hopes dashed as the behemoth of State and Council shifts from one foot to the other in an apparent fit of indigestion.

It was sheer good luck that it came to our notice that a new development proposal was entering the public consultation phase. I feel that the call for comments was very poorly circulated given the public interest that proposals for the development of this site have engendered in the past.

We have chosen to engage the climbing community via our Facebook Group, and as we dig into the nature of the proposed development, I have been posting up short informative pieces that explain the legislative framework which underpins the access issue confronting us. This issue is one example of a general class of issue that has been perplexing me for some time, and I thought it might be useful to have the FB posts up on this blog for future reference.

Consultation Notice

FB post following meeting with the developers on the 9th May 2015

Thanks to all the folks that made it down to HSW today to say their piece at the public consultation. The consultation will show that a random sample of the public is composed 90% of climbers…. awesome. Thank you.

The quick story is that, if no serious objections are raised during the current public consultation phase, the HSW Consortium will take a 99 year lease(s) on the entire HSW precinct effectively transferring it from public to private hands.

There are many twists to this story, with probably many more to come. I’ll be posting stuff up as I get to grips with what is happening here. For now, I’ll repost my summary of what I found out at today’s meeting from the event page……

Yep… I found it a pretty interesting session. I’ve now got a rough idea of what is happening here, and how it is likely to impact climbing access to the cliffs.

Whilst I applaud the vision and vibrancy of the development plan proposed by the HSW Consortium, being a grumpy old guy, I tend to look beyond the first flush of enthusiasm for those unintended consequences that can emerge unbidden some years down the track.

Progress in the public space is ever a balance between self-interest and the public interest, and the cleanest view of such a balance is to evaluate what things look like for the next generation…. self interest being mortal, the public interest, trans-generational.

Bearing the foregoing in mind, I found it somewhat disturbing that neither the principal, nor his project manager, were able to offer any clues as to the legal mechanism that was going to guarantee the park land established under the project would remain open for free and fair access at a point say 40 years into the proposed 99 year lease. Now, it maybe that Council is tying their hands to ensure that public access remains, and these guys just haven’t figured it out yet …. a sort of naivety not normally found amongst property developers and their financiers. Or maybe, it’s that the type of public access that is to the forefront of their minds is the same sort of public access offered by a shopping mall… open during trading hours only?

If the cliffs we wish to climb are inside an estate that is to all intents and purposes privately owned, then how does this differ from the access issues we face climbing on the private estate. I wonder if the penny has dropped yet, that the public liability for cliff-based activities ultimately falls on the holding body, HSW Nominees Pty Ltd? When it does, what’s the bets the shutters come down?

I’m digging into the matter, and will post up details of the who is who in the business, what was said in the Council chamber when the matter was debated, and any details of the leases(s) that I can uncover. Boring stuff, but remember, we work under a system of laws, not people. Laws persist across generations, whilst people, especially those that shine brightly, disappear in an alarmingly short number of years. Fifty years ago, I climbed at KP and HSW. In fifty years time I’d like to ensure our kids and grandkids are still climbing at these unique crags. An attempt to effectively sell one of them out of public ownership deserves our close attention and scrutiny.