Gentle density. The State Government should use a cynical smirk emoji when it employs the term.
In Noosa’s case, it’s a euphemism that represents the last nail in the coffin for our commitment to the planning strategy colloquially known as the ‘population cap’.
The Noosa Shire Residents and Ratepayers Association (NSRRA) recently lodged a submission opposing the projected population increases for Noosa Shire, as described in the State Government’s revised and fast-tracked South-East Queensland Regional Plan (SEQRP).
For over twenty years, the Noosa Plan’s strategic intent has been to limit development to the sustainable ‘carrying capacity’ of our natural and built environments.
To put the updated SEQRP into context, Noosa’s 2041 population growth target will be increased by another 17%, over and above the extra 15% Noosa Council and the State themselves signed off in the Noosa Plan 2020. The new targets equate to an extra 19 100 people more than our current population of approximately 57 000.
I must say, in preparing the NSRRA submission on the SEQRP, it felt like a waste of time as the State’s expanded population targets seem a fait accompli. After rushing through public consultation, the State appears committed to a suburban development boom with their cynically labelled ‘Gentle Density’ strategy.
Put simply, ‘Gentle Density’ is just packing suburbs with apartment blocks. While this may be appropriate for capital city suburbs and large regional centres like the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, it’s a direct threat to everything the Noosa Plan once stood for.
Proliferating new low-rise (1-3 storey) and medium-rise (4-8 storey) developments within Noosa’s ‘urban footprint’ will inevitably place further pressure on infrastructure, roads, and services.
Making Noosa more congested and heavily developed threatens our status as an iconic tourism destination. This is underpinned by our reputation as a low-rise and sensitively developed region that protects its natural assets.
The State plan for Noosa fails to account for the fact that every weekend, event, and holiday period, Noosa is inundated by a flood of tourists. Recent Council data indicates Noosa now has over 30 000 beds available to the tourist market (including Airbnb’s).
Considering Noosa Heads is both the major population centre and the drawcard for tourists, it’s an unavoidable reality that our geographically constrained road network (it’s a dead end) is leading more vehicles into frequent and disruptive traffic gridlocks.
Unlike larger urban centres in the State’s population growth crosshairs, Noosa has limited capacity to upscale its public transport system as a solution to congestion.
The State’s population calculations also disregard the impacts on Noosa’s infrastructure and services from expanding resident populations at the northern end of the Sunshine Coast Council (SCC) area.
The SEQRP insists the Sunshine Coast must increase its 2041 population projections by 204 000, many of whom will settle in regions such as Eumundi, Peregian Springs, and Coolum. Residents of these areas understandably consider Noosa as their closest community of interest.
The State’s ‘one size fits all’ planning strategy also fails to recognise the effect of Short Stay Accommodation (Airbnb’s) on Noosa housing availability. It’s preposterous to contend the loss of approximately 4000 of Noosa Shire’s 26000 residential dwellings (15%) to commercial tourism use, hasn’t had an impact on our permanent rental market.
The theory that Noosa can solve its housing crisis by simply increasing supply has a fatal flaw. Noosa is a highly desirable place to live with an extremely valuable real estate market and there’s nothing in these plans to stop new development entering the market at maximum real estate values, which are already unaffordable for the local workforce.
The SEQRP also includes some concerning rural planning amendments to weaken its ‘Regulatory Provisions’ which limit tourism development, recreational facilities, convention centres and wedding venues etc. Removing the State’s ‘overriding need’ provisions for such contentious land use leaves Noosa’s rural land vulnerable to larger scale and inappropriate developments.
Aside from the SEQRP disregard for its own sustainable planning principles, the most patronising aspect of the State overruling the Noosa Plan, is how the process requires Council to undertake public consultation on the State’s ‘gentle density’ policy.
Mandating that Council must increase its population and development density after pointless public consultation is nonsensical. Requesting community feedback on predetermined outcomes makes a mockery of the process.
In any event, the State overruling local government on building heights and population growth reminds us how Council only operates at the discretion of the State Government, who are at liberty to direct or dismiss uncooperative Councils at will.