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Government accused of ‘secret deal’ to give away part of Brisbane River

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The battle over the Waterfront Brisbane development is heating up, with neighbouring Riparian Plaza demanding answers from the Government.

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

“This project has the potential to create more than 1000 construction jobs and will transform the tired old Eagle Street precinct into one of the most attractive places in the country to visit and to do business,” Jones said earlier this year.

“When this development starts to come online in 2026, Brisbane will be an entirely new city, with Cross River Rail up and running and the $3.6 billion Queen’s Wharf shopping and dining precinct fully operational on the other side of town. We are doing the hard work now to ensure that Brisbane is the envy of cities such as Sydney and Melbourne.”

However, the scale and bulk of the proposed development has proved controversial – it is on a prime site visible from various parts of the city – and the fate of the river’s iconic paddle steamers also remains unclear.

Bloomberg Incorporation Limited, on behalf of the Harry Seidler-designed Riparian Plaza building next door, has made submissions opposing the development. Similar submissions have been made by its body corporate and, as InQueensland revealed, rich-list unit owners including Sarina Russo.

Bloomberg has also been seeking details of the State Government’s “facilitation agreement” for the development, in which a river lease would be provided to Dexus – effectively expanding its site by 43 per cent. The river is technically a state asset.

A Right to Information request by Bloomberg to the Government has turned up 317 pages – yet only two would be released in full, and another four pages in part.

“We do not understand why such an agreement to divest of a significant part of the Brisbane River to accommodate the proposed development would not be more adequately disclosed in Dexus’s DA and more widely available to potentially impacted parties and the public,” Bloomberg has told the council.

A spokesman for the Department of State Development, Tourism and Innovation said the existence of a facilitation agreement was well-known.

“The works proposed by Dexus are within the areas currently owned or subleased by Dexus,” the spokesman told InQueensland.

“Consistent with other agreements of this nature, the terms are confidential and commercial-in-confidence.”   

Bloomberg argued the development was “wholly reliant” on the agreement, which it suggested council had allowed by giving up its own lease on that section of the river.

“Indeed, every plan of the proposed development contained in the DA assumes an extended eastern boundary of Dexus’s Lot 50 which does not currently exist, but could only exist pursuant to the purported terms of the Facilitation Agreement.

“The details and status of the land characteristics of Lot 50 relating to this DA are entirely unknown, and seemingly highly fluid and uncertain. By example, there is no clarity in respect to the size, dimensions and boundary location of Lot 50, including the corresponding high-water mark, which is to be modified and used for assessment purposes under the City Plan.”

Dexus recently responded to questions from council and in the process amended some of its designs and plans.

The Government will also have a role in the approval process for the development.

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