The Gold Coast appears to be in the midst of a development - and potentially an economic stimulus - boom with several high-rise, high-density residential and mixed-use developments recently approved or currently being assessed by City of Gold Coast Council.

According to a recent article in the Australian Financial Review, beachfront land on the Gold Coast four years ago attracted bids south of $5,000 per square metre. The latest beachfront deal to Hong Kong-based Forise shows about $20,000 per square metre. The same article states that in little more than 12 months since Summer 2014, $600 million in development sites have been sold to Asian-backed buyers. The article does not state the volume of land sold to non-Asian developers, nor does it state where these properties are located on the Gold Coast. City of Gold Coast Council has recently approved or is assessing:

  • The 757-room development in nine buildings by Marina Shores Pty Ltd at Biggera Waters (opposite the Harbour Town Shopping Centre on the Gold Coast Highway) – nine buildings of 10 to 13 storeys on a 27,450 square metre development site
  • The 242-apartment (523 bedrooms) and café complex (by Tourism and Travel Australia Pty Ltd) adjacent to the Broadwater Parklands within the Southport Priority Development Area (PDA) on 1957 square metres
  • A seven-level, 88-room motel and caretaker apartment complex in White Street, Southport (Southport PDA) on 708 square metres
  • A 10-storey, 34-room motel and seven-storey, 20-apartment development complex in Coolangatta (192 Marine Parade)

Southport’s Chinatown (within the Southport PDA) will be the site of two new towers including an 88-storey skyscraper that will be the tallest in the Southern Hemisphere, under a new development application lodged by Cienna Group, with Gold Coast City Council. The 4,300 square metre site has been vacant since 1989 when it was cleared for a development that did not proceed. The $900 million Jewel Development will deliver 500 apartments, 171 hotel rooms and a selective luxury retail precinct.

Property developer Sunland Group has lodged a Development Application with Council for a proposed redevelopment of Mariner’s Cove, unveiling plans for a world class residential and cultural precinct comprising two residential towers of 44 storeys, comprising 370 apartments and a boutique hotel of 69 suites. The proposal includes the city’s first privately-owned cultural precinct dedicated to the arts through an art gallery, museum and outdoor sculptural gardens. It will also feature 1,950 square metres of ground-floor retail and dining precinct, and an underground aquarium. The development has been designed in collaboration with internationally acclaimed architect and Pritker Prize winner Dame Zaha Hadid.

These developments have been approved within and outside of the Southport PDA. The previous Newman Government introduced the Economic Development Act 2012 with the objective of streamlining the development approval processes for specific areas declared by the state government, in conjunction with local governments, as a means to drive economic development within the precincts. Priority Development Areas can be found in a number of local government areas including Gold Coast, Redlands, and Townsville amongst others.

The Economic Development Act 2012 (the ED Act 2012) provides for particular parts of the state to be declared as Priority Development Areas (PDA), pursuant to Section 37 of the ED Act 2012. When a PDA is declared, the Local Government Planning Scheme no longer applies and a new planning instrument is adopted. The Minister for Economic Development Queensland (MEDQ) declared the Southport Priority

The Southport PDA is located over the existing Southport CBD and includes the former Gold Coast Hospital site, Broadwater Parklands and residential areas located directly north of Railway Street and south of Queen Street. The MEDQ has delegated the responsibility for development assessment in the Southport PDA to the City of Gold Coast Council. The Southport PDA has been established to re-invigorate the precinct as the natural Central Business District of the Gold Coast.

Within the proposed Southport PDA Development Scheme and the Development Scheme, the footnote to this provision identifies a planned average density of one bedroom per nine square metres in the CBD precinct and residential precinct of the Southport PDA. Building heights have effectively been removed or greatly enhanced to the local area plan of the underlying planning scheme adopted in 2003. These planning provisions have been used to great effect by developers to achieve approvals for much higher densities and much larger buildings than those traditionally found within the Southport precinct.

The Economic Development Act 2012 has potentially created another layer of planning approval in Queensland. Many people in the planning and development industry in Queensland have noted that the ED Act 2012 has the potential to distort the development market in communities where they are implemented.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that Department of Natural Resources land values and the expected sale price points for properties located within the Southport PDA have a larger gap than other parts of the Gold Coast where similar residential density opportunities are available which rely on Sustainable Planning Act 2009 development approval processes.

The City of Gold Coast Council has a draft Planning Scheme currently in final state interest check with the relevant Minister. For development opportunities within the Southport Precinct, the draft planning scheme defaults to the Southport PDA. While the Southport and other PDA spaces on the Gold Coast have their own development schemes, there was an opportunity to incorporate the planning provisions of the PDAs formally into the draft/new planning scheme more formally than the direct referral to the PDA as is currently the situation for Southport.

In developing the Gold Coast Planning Scheme, it may have also been possible to consider the implementation of similar provisions in other parts of the Gold Coast such as Broadbeach, Palm Beach, and Coolangatta to encourage more intensive multi-centre urban development across the city. This would have two immediately positive outcomes for the city:

  • It would provide employment and economic benefit opportunities into these areas and potentially reduce pricing and development disparities across the city for similar forms of development.
  • Creating construction opportunities across the city means that there is likely to be less commuting for construction crews and less traffic congestion leading to and within the Southport precinct.

The construction program for the Gold Coast Rapid Transit system and the concurrent closure of the Gold Coast Hospital has seriously affected the economic strength of the Southport precinct, particularly for small to medium-size enterprises (SMEs). New developments approved within the Southport PDA, given the scale of some of the proposed and/or approved developments, will again have an impact on the precincts retailers during the construction phases.

Where is the commercial, non-retail development space?

An interesting aspect of this development is the focus on residential and tourism-oriented development. While the scale of proposed development is great news for the construction industry (developers, consultants, council, infrastructure providers), there are two potential impacts that do not appear to have been considered.

Firstly, there is the possibility of over-supply of residential accommodation on the Gold Coast, though this may be offset a little if there is the demolition of some of the very old housing stock in the city.

Housing without meaningful, well-paying employment is lost opportunity for economic growth of the city and for reducing the load on transport corridors.

Perhaps more importantly is the dearth of commercial, non-retail spaces being proposed in these developments. With a strong focus within the Gold Coast Economic Development Strategy 2013-2023 on improved productivity, employment, diversification, education and skills attainment, creativity and increasing trade and export (particularly of our intellectual property and health industry knowledge) it is concerning to see the lack of commercial space proposed in conjunction with the high-density residential development proposed. More affordable, commercial spaces that SME and larger corporations require to be competitive need to be delivered in the city in conjunction with the residential and tourist development.