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Rumble over plans for $300m Brisbane Olympics 'white elephant'



A detailed assessment into a proposed whitewater centre on the Redlands Coast is now underway, with the Queensland government spending almost $900,000 for private contractors to complete a project validation report.

The whitewater centre is one of 16 venues that will need to be constructed or upgraded as part of a multi-billion-dollar deal between the state and federal governments ahead of the Brisbane Olympics.

But Redland City Council is hoping to use the proposed centre as the cornerstone for a much larger heritage attraction along Tingalpa Creek at Birkdale, which would cost up to $300 million.

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The Council voted to adopt a master plan for the Birkdale Community Precinct in March, with the view to attract significant investment to complete the parkland.

Four councillors voted against the motion, including Councillor Paul Bishop who said ratepayers want to know how much it will cost them to build and operate.

"Every decision on that parcel of land needs to be very well thought through," he said.

"My community have been quite clear that they want to know more about the site, they also want to understand what are the costs associated with what is actually going to be delivered."

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The 62-hectare site is owned by Council.

It includes 40 hectares of conservation land and is surrounded by core koala habitat.

It is rich in local Aboriginal culture and also home to a heritage-listed former World War II radio receiving station.

The masterplan includes the whitewater centre, a large swimming lagoon, cultural centre, a restaurant and a wildlife reserve.

Redland Council general manager Chris Isles said it would be focused on conservation.

"We really see the ability to deliver more than 30 hectares of actual parkland as well as preserving more than 30 hectares of the conservation area and bushland," he said.

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"We think a venue like this will be a tremendous legacy for our city, not only just the Olympic legacy but our ability then provides significant value in terms of community impact."

Mayor Karen Williams visited whitewater and swiftwater venues in the US earlier this year, while attending a Council of Mayors tour to North America.

She was unavailable for comment for this piece.

Three contracts have been signed by the State Government worth $869,000 to complete Project Validation Reports into both the Redland Whitewater Centre and an upgraded Wyaralong Rowing Centre in the Scenic Rim.

The decision to proceed with each project will need final approval by both the state and federal governments.

Community Alliance for Responsible Planning spokeswoman Lavinia Wood said the Redland Whitewater Centre should be scrapped in favour of using the existing Penrith Whitewater Stadium in New South Wales.

"We want to protect the natural values of the land, it is very precious land," she said.

"We want what effectively should become the Redlands Wild Koala Refuge and cultural heritage precinct."

"The International Olympic Committee policy was intended to stop white elephant facilities that are crushing host cities.

"Of the last six (Olympic) whitewater stadiums which were built, three were abandoned – effectively concrete swamps – and three have been running in the red.

Penrith City Council is in the process of transferring the operation of its Whitewater Stadium to the New South Wales government after decades of financial concerns.

It will undergo a $3.1 million upgrade ahead of hosting the 2025 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships.

Redland Councillor Wendy Boglary said she wants to see the final submissions from the public before endorsing the Birkdale master plan.

"Everywhere I go, people are saying 'This is not what we wanted'," she said.

"If it can be scaled down to a size where it doesn't have an environmental impact as great and it will be viable going forward, we could have something there."

"Councils and governments are here not only to make the decisions but to be accountable and to listen to our community and in my opinion I think we do need to do a little bit more listening with this project."

Public consultation on the Birkdale Community Precinct closes on 22 May 2023.

For comparison, a 25 metre pool on Russell Island run by Redland Council costs about $114,000 a year in operational expenses.

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