Sunshine Coast councillor Maria Suarez (right) has labelled a the Kelly Slater Surf Ranch a
Sunshine Coast councillor Maria Suarez (right) has labelled a the Kelly Slater Surf Ranch a "gimmick" to allow for residential housing on a floodplain. World Surf League's Andrew Stark (top left) and Consolidated Properties Group CEO Don O'Rorke (bottom left) has hit back at her claims.

Surf ranch hits back at councillor's ‘gimmick’ label

Sunshine Coast councillor Maria Suarez claims the proposed Kelly Slater Surf Ranch at Coolum West is a "gimmick" to enable housing development on hazardous, low-lying, flood-prone land which was not designated nor suitable for residential use.

The co-applicants, Queensland-based developer Consolidated Properties Group and World Surf League, have hit back at these comments with a vow they would not go ahead with the $1.2 billion mixed-use residential and tourism project if the flood risks could not be mitigated.

Consolidated Property and World Surf League submitted the proposal to the State Government more than six months ago and surfing superstar Kelly Slater told News Corp earlier in August the project was forecast to create more than 10,000 jobs and inject $2.3 billion into the Queensland economy.

Julian Wilson of Coolum surfing in Heat 4 of Round 1 at the 2019 Freshwater Pro on September 19, 2019 in Lemoore, CA, United States.
Julian Wilson of Coolum surfing in Heat 4 of Round 1 at the 2019 Freshwater Pro on September 19, 2019 in Lemoore, CA, United States.

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The State Government is yet to approve or refuse the application.

The proposal includes a residential development, school, hotel and apartments, indigenous cultural centre, "six-star" surf lodge, shops and restaurants, parkland and waterways.

Consolidated Property CEO Don O'Rorke said the Surf Ranch project is proposed to be built on no more than 25 per cent and at the northern end of a 529ha former cane farm, returning 75 per cent (375ha) to public open space.

Mr O'Rorke claimed he and WSL had met with interested parties including Sunshine Coast Council, residential and environmental groups, and had been "transparent" about their plans.

He said this included the dedication of untouched riparian wetlands, regenerated green open space and public waterways, including linking Noosa National Park to the Coolum Conservation Park and preservation of the existing tree corridor.

He said this accords with the state objectives of the Council's Blue Heart Project, despite Cr Suarez claims it did not.

Division 9 councillor Maria Suarez has criticised the location of a proposed surf ranch, hotel, tourism and residential development in Coolum. Photo: John McCutcheon / Sunshine Coast Daily
Division 9 councillor Maria Suarez has criticised the location of a proposed surf ranch, hotel, tourism and residential development in Coolum. Photo: John McCutcheon / Sunshine Coast Daily

Blue Heart is a joint initiative of council, the Queensland Government's Department of Environment and Science and Unity Water, which seeks to protect critical flood-plain, establish wetland ecosystems, enhance water quality, provide community and recreation opportunities and provide economic opportunities for landowners.

Cr Suarez said while council had no power to consider the application as it was outside of its "urban footprint", council had "repeatedly and categorically" advised the State Government while the ranch would add a new tourism offer to the region, the flood plains near Coolum was not an appropriate site.

She said the land was a natural floodwater storage area which provided protection from the impacts of flooding downstream during major flood events, and the site fell within the Blue Heart project area.

"Consolidated Properties tried and failed to develop the land west of Coolum as 'Coolum Lakes' back in 2006," Cr Suarez said.

"The flood hazard risk of this area has become increasingly susceptible to tidal inundations and under future climate conditions, much of the area is projected to be permanently inundated."

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In response to Cr Suarez comments, WSL and Kelly Slate Wave Co APAC general manager Andrew Stark said they were aware of the flooding concerns and had engaged associate professor Trevor Johnson to provide expertise advice on how flooding issues could be mitigated and managed across the site.

The man behind the push for a Surf Ranch at Coolum, Andrew Stark. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.
The man behind the push for a Surf Ranch at Coolum, Andrew Stark. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.

Mr Stark said Assoc Prof Johnson was one of Australia's pre-eminent flood specialist engineers and the applicants knew it was "on them to find a solution".

"If we can't, the project won't proceed and we wouldn't want to do it," Mr Stark said.

Cr Suarez said the residential component was inconsistent with the State Government's State Planning Policy, and the land was located outside the urban footprint of the South East Queensland Regional Plan, which dictates settlement patterns.

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But the WSL and Consolidated Property have asked the Government to declare it a Priority Development Area, which is a State Government designation reserved for parcels of land within Queensland, identified for development to deliver significant benefits to the community.

The Sunshine Coast currently has two PDAs - Caloundra South, where Stockland's staged Aura housing development is under way, ultimately creating a community the size of Gladstone.

The other is the $420 million new Maroochydore City Centre - a 53ha greenfield site set to deliver a major economic and employment centre to the Sunshine Coast.

Mr O'Rorke said they had made not secret that the project was not economically viable without the residential component.

"We have always said that residential is required to cross subsidise the wave pool development and tourism components," he said.

"By co-locating these developments, there are significant construction cost efficiencies that enable the overall commercial viability of the project."

Consolidated Properties Group CEO Don O'Rorke has pledged a surf ranch would be built in the first stage of a proposed development on former Coolum caneland. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Consolidated Properties Group CEO Don O'Rorke has pledged a surf ranch would be built in the first stage of a proposed development on former Coolum caneland. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

Mr O'Rorke said the finer points this aspect would be established after a more detailed flood study, but claimed they had been open about the level and type of intended residential development.

He said for certain the number of dwellings would not be as low as "200", and would more likely be in the vicinity of 1500 with a focus on larger, lifestyle blocks and homes and landscaping in line with the Coolum aesthetic.

He pledged the wave pool would be delivered in stage one, which would be a requirement of the PDA designation, and the housing would be rolled out as demand determined over 10 to 15 years.

"We are not Stockland mass producing housing across the country," he said.

"We are a Queensland owned company with 40 years experience in creating bespoke communities reflecting locals aspirations for their homes, community and environment.

"We are excited about creating something very special of and for Coolum."

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Tourism Minister Kate Jones - who visited the California Surf Ranch last year - have publicly welcomed the Coolum proposal.

Cr Suarez said the proposal was a matter for State Ministers as the Sunshine Coast Council has no authority to consider a development proposal on this site.

Cr Suarez stated that a tourism offering and the creation of jobs is desirable for the region, but not at the expense of the environment and community.

"Once it's done, you can't undo it. There is appropriate land for this proposal, but it's not west of Coolum Beach."

Cr Suarez said Consolidated Properties refused the opportunity to consider land to build the surf ranch at Beerwah East, which is designated for future development.
"I can't understand why they wouldn't consider an appropriate alternative location," Cr Suarez said.

"The Sunshine Coast has enough land that has been appropriately identified by the council and State Government to meet future population growth targets."

Cr Suarez said a "land swap" would have given Consolidated Properties a simpler process to get a large-scale residential development across the line.

Mr O'Rorke and Mr Stark said they had considered that option but had absolutely no interest in developing in Beerwah as it did not align with their vision or brand, and considering the development approvals needed for that location, it could be a decade before they broke ground.



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