Week One: Controversial Cbus Tower Court Hearing Begins


Monday marked the first day of the court battle between Cbus Property and The University of Queensland, where the Brisbane City Council was wrong to approve Cbus' controversial $375 million high-rise building at 443 Queen Street in the CBD without it triggering a major planning review, the court heard according to The Australian Financial Review. 

The proposed high-rise adjoins Heritage listed Customs House of which The University of Queensland is proprietor. In court it was claimed Brisbane City Council's key error was to rush through the development application just before Christmas 2015.

Among concerns, the court is also looking into how Cbus was allowed to transfer approval to develop next to a heritage site from the historic National Australia Bank building in the CBD to Customs House.

University of Queensland's lawyer Roger Traves, QC, said the decision by the Brisbane City Council's planning officer to approve the transferable site area from the NAB building to the Cbus project more than doubled the size of the gross floor area, from 20,000 square metres to 44,000 square metres.

"The Brisbane City Council failed to give genuine and proper consideration to this," Mr Traves said to The AFR. 

"We want this approval. UQ says it's legally tainted, we say it's not," Mr Gore said, according to The AFR. 

"There is no height limit to the site."

The case in the Planning and Environment Court is being closely monitored by some of Brisbane's leading firms including BHP Billiton, PwC and Allens lawyers, because Cbus Property's proposed 47-storey apartment building at 443 Queen Street would block highly sought-after river views from some offices, according to The Australian Financial Review. 

Law firm Allens is battling Cbus property as the new building will block the law firms' river views from their new office.

Allens partner Geoff Rankin sent a two-page letter to the chief executive of the Brisbane City Council questioning whether the development application was valid, according to The AFR. 

Mr Rankin said that Cbus Property's development application was not code assessable, which is a form of planning enabling a quicker development approval process.

The tower stands 2.6 metres from the boundary of Customs House.

UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj said the development would completely overshadow Customs House and appeared to ride roughshod over the City Centre Neighbourhood Plan.

He said the University was not opposed to development, but believed it should preserve the historically and aesthetically significant setting of Customs House as a key requirement of BCC’s City Centre Neighbourhood Plan.

UQ is basing its legal challenge on the provisions of the City Plan 2014, which states that developments at the site at 443 Queen Street require a 25-metre setback to protect Customs House’s heritage value.

“We are acting to protect the historic Customs House building for all Queenslanders, now and in the future,” Professor Høj said.

Also in a letter to Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, Queensland Heritage Council Chair Professor Peter Coaldrake said that the 47-storey tower would compromise the dignity of Customs House, describing the tower as “out of scale and too close to Customs House”.

“Particular concern is being expressed to the effect that the provisions of the City Centre Neighbourhood Plan may have been set aside to the disadvantage of the Customs House,” he said.

Customs House dates back to 1849 when it was built to collect customs duty. The University of Queensland launched court action against Brisbane City Council in January 2016 over its approval of the 47-storey apartment tower.

Cbus Property – the property arm of industry superannuation fund Cbus, which represents the building and construction industry – is also nearing completion of the state government's new $650 million executive building at 1 William Street.

Summary of The Neighbourhood Plan Code Application
(1) This code applies to assessing a material change of use, reconfiguring a lot, operational work or building work in the City Centre neighbourhood plan area if:
(a) self-assessable or assessable development where this code is an applicable code identified in the assessment criteria column of a table of assessment for a neighbourhood plan (

section 5.9); or

(b) impact assessable development. Brisbane City Centre Neighbourhood Plan Code (Source: Brisbane City Council)

(5) Customs House precinct (City Centre neighbourhood plan/NPP-002) overall outcomes are:
(a) The most important building in the precinct is Customs House, representing a remnant of Brisbane's historic relationship with the river and Queen Street.

(b) Views of Customs House are preserved and reinstated from both the river and from Queen Street, despite more recent buildings restricting those views.

(c) Other places that contribute to the streetscape on the western side of Queen Street include the former ‘Queensland Country Life’ building facade at 424–426 Queen Street and the RACQ building at 470 Queen Street.

(d) Given the extent of historic streetscape along this section of Queen Street, an opportunity exists to complete the streetscape at podium level by filling in the recess at 444 Queen Street.

(e) The Petrie Bight retaining wall including the iron balustrade is a significant part of the former maritime use of the site; it must not be further hidden, reduced or breached.

(f) The potential to improve views to the river and Story Bridge also exists in the precinct.

(g) The setting of Customs House is highly significant.

(h) Redevelopment adjacent to Customs House must not prejudice the picturesque quality of this setting.

(i) Any further development of Customs House or sites adjoining or in close proximity must improve views associated with Customs House and views between Queen Street, the river and the Story Bridge.

Customs House Precinct Terms: 

Customs House terms. Source: BCC[/caption]

UQ Condemned in Court For 'Mass Email' 

The University of Queensland was condemned in court by a District Court judge in March who accused it of trying to influence judiciary with an “inappropriate” mass email about a CBD development, which was sent from the email addresses of Vice Chancellor, President Professor Peter Høj and Acting Chancellor Dr Jane Wilson, according to The Courier-Mail.

Planning and Environment Court Judge Michael Rackemann "rejected" written apologies from The University of Queensland that he said failed to explain why an email condemning a proposal before the court was “accidentally” sent to Supreme and District Court judges.
UQ graduate Judge Rackemann said he received a “call to arms” email from UQ condemning the plans, which was sent to at least 20 other District and Supreme Court judges and ­associates as an open letter to alumni.

About Cbus
Cbus Property is a unique property investor and developer with the company’s core business a reflection of Cbus’ philosophical commitment to investing in the Property and Construction Industry, which employs its members.

Current Brisbane projects include 1 William Street, an office tower, comprising of a 43 level A Grade commercial building with premium services, providing approximately 75,000sqm (NLA), including 1,100sqm of retail and 318 car spaces. It is the new home of the Queensland Government and public service.

About The University of Queensland

The University of Queensland (UQ) is one of Australia’s leading research and teaching institutions. UQ strives for excellence through the creation, preservation, transfer and application of knowledge. For more than a century, UQ has educated and worked with outstanding people to deliver knowledge leadership for a better world.

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