High-rises potentially on the horizon for the Queensland coastal town of Bargara

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A “controversial” move that could have allowed six-storey high-rises to be built along a previously protected stretch of Queensland coastline has been struck back, but changes to the skyline may be inevitable.

The debate over the height of buildings in Bargara, 350 kilometers north of Brisbane, has reignited with the Bundaberg Regional Council narrowly voting down proposed changes to its planning scheme that would have changed the way development applications were assessed.

But now the final decision may be in the hands of the state government as it seeks to resolve a long-running hangover from merging conflicting town plans following council amalgamations in 2008.

Under the former Burnett Shire Council, buildings could not exceed five storeys. But when it became part of the Bundaberg Regional Council, along with three other shires, it became part of a complex process to combine the existing town plans.

It later saw a controversial development proposal that sparked the state government’s intervention, which the proposed changes sought to address.

The previous Bundaberg Planning Scheme 2015 limited development to five storeys in Bargara.(Supplied: Bundaberg Regional Council)

Five councilors voted in favor and six opposed the changes at Tuesday’s general meeting, including Councilor Greg Barnes, the representative for the coastal suburb.

He has argued that the quiet beach community that tourists love and travel to visit would be at risk if the changes were passed.

“We know how controversial it’s going to be,” Councilor Barnes said.

“There’s been people coming up for 20 or 30 years from Victoria and the reason they come is because of the character of the town, it hasn’t been spoiled.”

The council’s group head of development Michael Ellery said the changes would have put developers under more scrutiny, not less.

“The scheme appeared to make controls around building heights much stricter,” he said.

Ellery said any application taller than five storeys would have been required to carry out impact assessments regarding the local turtle population and would be open to public submissions.

High-rises back in the limelight

Bargara is located near Australia’s largest turtle tower, Mon Repos, and has a number of planning regulations designed to protect both hatchlings and nesting turtles from urban impacts.

In 2018, the Queensland Government called off the proposed nine-storey jewel development on the Esplanade at Bargara after the council took the unusual approach of letting it go ahead for deemed approval.

The approval was later reduced to a six-storey development, but construction never commenced.

Jewel development
The approved six-storey jewel development on Bargara Esplanade has never commenced construction.(Supplied: Bundaberg Regional Council)

The then Minister of State for Planning Cameron Dick also enforced a Temporary Local Planning Instrument (TLPI). It limits building heights in the high-density residential zone at Bargara to five and six stories.

Karen Tulk has lived in Bargara for more than 30 years and believes that building development should be limited to only three floors.

“There are many, many coastal areas across Australia that have sensible building height restrictions and Bargara must be one of them,” she said.

“My concern is that if they allow it to go to five and six stories, it could even go higher than that, and once those changes are made, there’s just no going back.

“The Esplanade is just a very, very narrow street with no prospect of rising at any point. So it would have affected traffic.”

The debate continues

Ellery said the changes were to replace the state government’s TLPI. It expires in May next year.

Bargara Beach
The state government’s TLPI in Bargara will expire in 2023.(ABC Wide Bay: Johanna Marie)

“The planning minister advised that he expected us to change our plan to reflect what he had done,” Ellery said.

“If the council decides not to go ahead with the change, then the current situation is that the Ministers’ TLPI will remain in place until May next year and it will continue to regulate building heights in the dense residential zone.”

He said if the council did not change its planning scheme, the matter could go to the minister to make the changes on the council’s behalf.

“The minister made it very clear that he expected the council to make the rest of the changes within the lifetime of the TLPI,” Ellery said.

“Officers will go back to the council to see how they would like to proceed.”

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