Queensland's Deputy Premier says construction of one of Australia's largest master planned communities, located on the Sunshine Coast, will create more than 20,000 jobs.

The $5 billion Caloundra South housing development by Stockland will see 20,000 homes built at Caloundra South over the next 30 years, housing 50,000 people adjacent to the internationally significant Pumicestone Passage Wetlands. It will create a new Sunshine Coast suburb the size of Gladstone that will be called ‘Aura.’

The Caloundra South/Aura project is projected to create more than 1,700 jobs in the first year of construction and 20,000 over the next three decades.

Caloundra South is planned as a community of interconnected villages, each with a local hub comprised of parks, community services, retail and schools, providing a diversity of housing and lifestyle options, with the Town Centre delivering a retail and recreational destination. Local service needs will be met through the creation of three district centres and six neighbourhood scale centres. The Master Plan design includes connected open space featuring two regional scale parkland destinations: Central Park and the People’s Place. Nine sports parks will facilitate the creation of an active and healthy community. No fewer than 20 educational facilities are nominated within the Master Plan.

Economic development and employment creation can be underpinned by the provision of industrial and business land (650,000 square metres/approximately 155 hectares) and retail and commercial space (approximately 180,000 square metres of gross floor area). Local enterprise is planned to maximise opportunity for residents to work and start businesses within their community.

Regional connections to the Bruce Highway, rail at Beerwah and other Sunshine Coast destinations are planned to provide improved road and transport infrastructure, with the planned duplication of the rail connection to Brisbane and future upgrades of the Bruce Highway required to support the population growth. A network of roads is configured across the site to provide additional capacity and effective on-site travel and off-site connections.

After infrastructure agreements were completed October 1, 2015, the green light was given on a project 11 years in the making. From an initial report, an infrastructure funding shortfall of $500 million-plus surfaced, and the Sunshine Coast Council, Stockland and the State Government negotiated a $268 million funding program to be covered by both the State Government and Stockland, at no cost to Coast ratepayers.

Stockland will make a total development contribution of $1.3 billion in local infrastructure over the life of the project. That commitment included a local roads network, parks and open spaces, more than 200 kilometres of cycleways as well as a water quality treatment system to protect Pumicestone Passage and more than 700 hectares of land dedicated to conservation and environmental protection. Specifically, Stockland will contribute:

  • More than $140 million to be invested in state roads and the dedication of land for future roads and public transport, including an 11-kilometre Arterial Road from Caloundra Road to the Bruce Highway and the new Bells Creek Interchange on the Bruce Highway
  • The transfer of $40 million worth of land to the Queensland Government for new schools, emergency services and healthcare facilities
  • A 460-hectare environmental protection zone, fauna crossings at the major road corridors and a contribution from Stockland towards an environmental education centre
  • A contribution of $500,000 toward Wallum Sedge Frog research, on top of the design of the specialist frog breeding ponds

Spending 11 years planning a development with a 30-year life cycle must place this development as one of the most controversial in the state – at least at the political, environmental and planning level. The extent of the environmental challenges is clearly shown through the protection agreements Stockland has entered into for the development to proceed.

Caloundra City Council first identified the site as a future urban growth area by the Caloundra City Council, with its inclusion in the South East Queensland Regional Plan 2006 (an Integrated Planning Act 1997 requirement of local governments). The plan indicated a target population of 40,000 to 50,000 people. Council envisaged a target population of between 10,000 and 20,000 people.

After the local government amalgamation processes of 2008, planning for the development became the responsibility of the Sunshine Coast Council. In October 2010, the State Government seized planning control for the area from the Sunshine Coast Council and handed it to the Urban Land Development.

The ULDA released its development scheme in October 2011. Stockland prepared a Master Plan for the area, which was submitted to the ULDA and approved in June 2012.

In February 2013, the Urban Land Development Act 2007 (ULDA Act – the act which created the ULDA) was repealed and replaced with the Economic Development Act 2012 (ED Act). From then on land areas identified for priority development were referred to as PDAs, not UDAs, and existing UDAs were transitioned under the ED Act.

Stockland also required Federal Approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act to ensure the development does not negatively impact on matters of national environmental significance. It prepared a Public Environment Report (PER) detailing the expected impacts from the development and the proposed responses to avoid or minimise these impacts. June 2013 saw Federal Government approval, with conditions.

As shown, the planning process for the development has taken many pathways over the 11-year period, which saw:

  • Three state Premiers come and go, with the Palaszczuk government issuing the final approval
  • The involvement of five Australian governments for the EPBC Act approvals
  • Development assessment under the Integrated Planning Act 1997, the Urban Land Development Act 2007, and the Economic Development Act 2012 (with reference to the Caloundra South Urban Development Area Development Scheme of October 2011)
  • The Caloundra South Interim Land Use Plan (ILUP) prepared pursuant to Section 8 of the Urban Land Development Authority Act 2007 (the ULDA Act) and applies only to land within the declared Caloundra South Urban Development Area (UDA). The ILUP prevails to the extent of an inconsistency with a planning instrument or any plan, policy or code made under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (SPA) or another Act

Further, unless the ILUP specifically applies a provision of a planning scheme, or a plan, policy or code made under SPA or another Act, the ILUP is inconsistent with the provisions of the planning scheme, plan, policy or code. In addition to assessment against the ILUP, development may require assessment against other legislation including, for example, the Plumbing and Drainage Act 2002, the Sustainable Planning Act 2009, the Water Act 2000, the Electricity Act 1994, the Vegetation Management Act 1999 and the Nature Conservation Act 1992 and many others.

The ILUP also provides the assessment provisions for development within the Caloundra South development area. These provisions are inconsistent with the format for assessments currently being presented in the Queensland Government’s Planning Bill 2015. Transition provisions are presented in the Planning Bill 2015, which does address the variations in development assessment between the two acts.

The Caloundra South/Aura development and the Maroochydore Central Business District redevelopment offer current and future residents of the Sunshine Coast and the Sunshine Coast Council new opportunities and challenges to ensure their respective visions are able to be met while maintaining the integrity and flexibility in the planning process.

The planning history of this development and the lengthy time frame to achieve approval is cause for concern. Given the size of the Caloundra South development from the outset, clear pathways to development approval should have been agreed upon by all stakeholders prior to commencement of the development application and assessment process.

There is enough strength and flexibility in current planning law to allow agreed pathways to be created prior to formal development assessment documentation being presented to regulators for developments of this size and format.

It could be argued that clearer guidance and agreements between the State Government, the Local Government Association of Queensland, Urban Development Institute of Australia, the Planning Institute of Australia and other key stakeholders on how to manage these developments will help provide certainty for developers, all levels of government, and the community on how these opportunities will be managed in the future. Explanatory notes may be required as part of the planning reform process.

It may be possible to create a planning regulation for developments of certain size, character and form that assists all stakeholders in these matters.

There may also be an argument to project specific development assessment panels or case management panels (as per major resource projects) to assist in managing developments of this mature.

But will the planning system, as proposed in the Planning ACT 2015, provide flexibility, consistency and certainty for future development in the Sunshine State, particularly in relation to managing the interface with legislation such as the Economic Development Act 2012 or in how major master-planned developments are managed in to the future?

Does the Planning Bill 2015 and the supplementary legislation provide enough clarity in how to develop the state, where disruptions in almost all areas of economic activity could see completely new forms of development being required, but not necessarily catered for?

Is there enough flexibility in the provision of the Economic Development Act 2012 and the PDA development schemes to support disruptive technologies and economic activity?