JEWEL: Experts gagged from explaining 'no demand' conclusion
THE Brisbane-based experts who determined there was no demand for a restaurant or retail business at the Jewel site have been gagged from explaining how they reached their conclusion.
Foresight Partners, based at Mount Gravatt and with no office presence in the Bundaberg region, provided a report to Planning Minister Cameron Dick which helped form his decision on the controversial project's future after it was called in late last year.
Mr Dick this week approved the project at six storeys, however the original commercial elements, which included a rooftop bar, have been scrapped.
The minister has consistently spruiked he would handle the application in a transparent manner, however, his office on Thursday denied a NewsMail request to speak to Foresight Partners or to the Minister.
The Minister's office also failed to address questions about how the specialist business in urban economics and market analysis arrived at its conclusion, which surprised many in the region's business community.
"My obligations and responsibility as Planning Minister is to ensure planning processes and decisions in our state are transparent," Mr Dick said on December 21 when he announced he was calling in the project, which had at that stage effectively been approved by Bundaberg Regional Council at nine storeys by a deemed approval process.
Foresight Partners determined there was no demand for retail at the ocean-front site and deemed it would likely impact other nearby businesses.
Calls to the analysts on Thursday were referred to the government, with representatives saying any comment had to be authorised through the minister.
On Wednesday, the minister's office, which had been remarkably open and forthright on all other elements of the decision, released an extract of the company's report.
"The distance from the town centre core leaves a big gap along the Esplanade from the edge of the retail-commercial area to the site, even though it is only at the other end of the block (about 150 metres)," the report said.
"There is nothing to draw people outside the town core, and to do so would be to the detriment to the town centre area's vitality as the distance gap is too great to function as a single centre of activity, as space in between is, from a retail perspective, dead space.
"Even moving a short distance away from the town core greatly diminishes this traffic and prospects for successful trading. This is also affected by seasonality, given the market mix of visitors and locals."
It said unless the developer, Sheng Wei, secured "destination retailers or commercial businesses ... the prospects for successful trading are, in our opinion, weak".
"It is not a retail location that could expect to command viable market rents.
"It is difficult to see how the retail/commercial space proposed could be essential to the development, and there does not appear to be any strong market demand for additional retail or commercial space outside the town centre area."
In his decision notice this week, Mr Dick said Foresight was brought in for its specialist advice and he agreed there was no "demonstrated market demand for retail or commercial uses in Bargara outside of the current local centre...".
On Thursday his office was reluctant to go into detail about how Foresight came to this position.
A spokesperson from the planning department said the Foresight report provided advice in relation only to the Jewel development on its proposed site and could not "be used to draw broader conclusions around the viability of businesses in the Bargara region".
"The report was not used to assess and provide advice on broader economic, social or environmental matters that might affect Bargara," the spokesperson said.
"In regards to Bargara Jewel, the report done by Foresight was one of a number of inputs that informed the Minister's decision. Other considerations included comments received from local residents and businesses, other technical reports prepared by experts and advice provided by departmental officers."
Foresight's conclusion, unsurprisingly, was at odds with the developer's initial development application where it was argued the commercial elements would be a catalyst for the Esplanade to become more activated overall, "something that has been stymied by previous developments due the privatisation of ground floor levels".
At that stage the developer argued, Jewel should:
Involve a number of commercial facilities that will support, but not compete with, the Bargara Town Centre;
Will contribute immensely to the activation of the southern fringe of the Bargara Town Centre;
Play an important role in the development of key pedestrian linkages; and
Provide employment opportunities within Bargara.
A statement from Mr Dick late Thursday said he made his decision in accordance with the requirements of the Planning Act. "The information relevant to my decision is available on my departmental website," Mr Dick said.
"Ultimately, this decision was made in the public interest, to protect the local turtle population by managing light emissions and the height of new developments."