29 March 2015

Check the Facts & Make Up Your Own Mind About Plans For Boggo

I very recently linked an official statement on this page from the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society regarding the current planning situation for Boggo. As the secretary of the BRGHS, I was one of co-signatories to that statement. You can read it here.

What I'd like to do here is just expand on that statement slightly with a few of my own observations on four main points:

The current Boggo Road planning process began under Premier Anna Bligh in 2011.
1. This is not a Liberal-National Party plan

This planning process commenced in 2011 when the Labor government of Anna Bligh awarded the tender to Leighton Properties based on that company's vision for the future of Boggo. As this September 2011 media release from Bligh herself made clear;
"On completion the project will incorporate residential, retail, commercial, research and recreational facilities while still retaining and complementing the historic significance of the site."
A few days after that statement was released I had a meeting at George Street with a number of officials, including a national head of Leightons, and viewed their draft map of what the refurbished site might look like. Over three years later the current proposals look very similar to the original plans. Which is no big surprise, as Leightons would be obliged to do what they said they would do back in 2011.

After Bligh came the LNP government of Campbell Newman, which made mistakes with the interim reopening of Boggo but seemed to make no major interventions in the wider planning process. Simply put, an ALP government signed off on the mixed-use approach in 2011, but Leightons have a contract with the Queensland Government and not any single political party.

2. There is a long way to go

This planning process has a long way to go and big hurdles still lie ahead. I'm not aware of precise terminology, but the process would take several months and look something like this:
  • Preliminary review to see if the draft plan meets the basic requirements for a full review. 
  • If accepted, the Development Application is thoroughly assessed by government and heritage bodies. 
  • This stage would also include public release of the plans for a consultation period. 
Only after all this is completed can any physical work on the redevelopment begin.

As it stands, at the time of writing the government has not even signed off on the first stage here.

3. The BRGHS supports the overall 'mixed-use' approach

The Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society have discussed the possibilities for Boggo at great length with various people and organisations, and the concept of it becoming a dynamic cultural hub featuring history, innovative cultural events and quality dining facilities is very exciting. The true potential of the site has never been realised and a successful Boggo would be better funded and visited by more people than ever before.

Of course, the question then is do you need to make structural changes to allow those activities to happen inside a heritage-listed place?

Phrenology chart.
4. Structural changes? Make up your own mind

The BRGHS is well aware than any changes to heritage-listed structures are controversial. Especially demolition. Some of the basic proposed changes are objectively explained here. In addition to those proposals, the site-wide details are quite complex. What is required to ensure equal access to upper-floor spaces? How is cellblock space adapted into restaurant space? Will further perimeter access points be required? These are not hypotheticals - they are actual issues that would need to be negotiated through a heritage approval process.

These details will become apparent in any public consultation phase.

The complexity of the proposed adaptations of prison structures demand one of two responses. Firstly, you oppose EVERYTHING full stop. Secondly, you accept the need for some change but then it is a question of 'how much?' Where do you draw the line?

Those of us involved in stakeholder discussions are aware of a whole raft of proposed structural changes, both large and small. Our approach to this question is straightforward. The BRGHS has around 300 members, each one an individual with their own views. One person might support certain changes while another will not. What we will do - when the details are made public - is work to objectively inform people of exactly what is proposed and encourage them to form their own opinions. We would also advise people to participate in the public consultation process and continue to lobby decision-makers if they want to. What we hope to see is a level-headed, rational, and mature debate informed by facts and not speculation and conspiracy theories.

Big Lebowski. It's just an opinion.
As for myself, I have been involved in this thing forever and after much consideration of the known details I have my own opinions and will be making a submission during any public consultation process. I know they are not shared by some other BRGHS people, but we have been able to discuss this in a light-hearted and amicable way, much as we'd discuss a preference for a colour of car. After all, accepting that other people are allowed to form different opinions to your own on subjects like this is a basic function of a rational mind. Some of the public debate about Boggo so far seems to forget that.

So there it is. The BRGHS supports the general direction of a history/culture/dining hub for Boggo. And as for any structural changes to the old prison: Look at the plans when they come out. Engage in known facts. Make up your own minds. Give voice to your opinions.

That's what I'll be doing anyway.

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