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Hub with no pier: Will Brisbane's paddle-steamers be forced to leave the city?

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Brisbane City Council has found holes in plans for a $2 billion redevelopment of Eagle Street Pier. It is also under pressure to find a place for the Kookaburra Queen.

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The Dexus group has applied to build two towers of 49 storeys and 43 storeys, with a combined 120,000 square metres of office space, on the site of the 30-year-old Eagle Street Pier. The project is known as Waterfront Brisbane.

If approved by Brisbane City Council, work would commence in 2022, requiring that section of the Riverwalk to be closed for two years and the first tower completed by 2026. The second tower would not be built for some time and likely be left as public and retail space.

The Government provided land to Dexus to support the project, which State Development Minister Kate Jones has described as a form of economic stimulus during the recession.

As part of normal deliberations, the council has told Dexus that “the overall proposal is considered to be well designed, however the development requires further refinement and resolution of key aspects of the design to ensure an appropriate outcome given the prominence of the development in the city”.

At first glance, council is concerned the planned food and beverage area in publicly accessible space is too small and “overly privatised”. There is not enough room for public gatherings, proposed market and performance space would impede pedestrian traffic, the verge on Mary and Eagle Streets may be too narrow and there is not enough shade or heat mitigation.

The council has also noted that the design of the planned basement supermarket meant it was a flood risk. During construction, the project would interfere with the Riverwalk and potentially impede access to the CityCat and ferries.

While the area’s heritage has largely been erased by development, the council encouraged Dexus to consult indigenous stakeholders to better understand the significance of the site for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and to reflect that in the design of the public spaces proposed.

Eagle Street Pier’s more recent history is also under threat, with the plans failing to accommodate the paddle-steamers that have long graced that stretch of the Brisbane River.

Kookaburra Showboat Cruises has made its own submission to the development application process, asking that council require Dexus to include berths, and associated facilities, for at least three commercial tourism vessels of up to 42 metres.

“Should such infrastructure not be safeguarded and reinstated in the redevelopment, Kookaburra Showboat Cruises and the City of Brisbane, will be negatively impacted by the submission in its current format,” the submission states.

“Kookaburra Showboat Cruises vessels have been located at Eagle Street Pier for 30 years and are iconic to the city of Brisbane. Our lease with Dexus (for our two commercial pontoons) is due to expire in October 2022. There is no infrastructure in place elsewhere in Brisbane that would enable Kookaburra Showboat Cruises to relocate our commercial vessels to, once our lease expires. We urgently require and are seeking the assistance of Brisbane City Council to safeguard our presence in the Brisbane landscape.”

Kookaburra Showboat Cruises referred to a Deloitte Access Economics report, commissioned by the Palaszczuk Government last month, that showed the tourist enterprise generated $9 million per annum in visitor expenditure, likely to rise to $13 million by 2025. It was the third biggest tourist drawcard behind Lone Pine Sanctuary and the Wheel of Brisbane.

“Brisbane’s CBD cannot afford to lose its third-largest tourism provider and is, in fact, in need of more commissionable visitor experiences and attractions that leverage the delivered and committed tourism infrastructure, such as the New Parallel Runway, International Cruise Terminal, Queen’s Wharf Brisbane, Victoria Park Redevelopment,” the submission argues.

River berths and moorings are likely to become an election issue. The Labor government recently announced plans for Howard Smith Wharves to become a terminal for vessels servicing the Moreton Bay and nearby islands, angering Redland City Council where current terminals are located and attracting criticism from the Liberal National Party.

The Government also had plans for a super-yacht facility in the city, but the site chosen was in the way of the Kangaroo Point Green Bridge being progressed by the Liberal-led council.

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