Springfield Springboard

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-By John Boley

The message that Bob Sharpless, managing director of Springfield Land Corporation, wants to get across is simple and to the point: despite a rather flat real estate market around southeast Queensland, “there is a lot happening here. We have a lot of construction activity and the outlook is for a lot more.”

Greater Springfield is the new city that has sprung up approximately 30km southeast of Brisbane (please see sidebar for more details). The project has been running around 20 years and Bob says it is about halfway to completion in terms of time, but only a quarter (the heavy part) finished. The remaining 75 percent will consist primarily of more housing, development of the retail, commercial, health and education precincts and further amenities within Springfield Central. “There’s still a long way to go.”

Bob says the residential sector has progressed the fastest, with nearly 23,000 people having already committed to living in this emerging city. That is already a substantial enough number to attract all the extra facilities a city needs – as a gauge of the way Springfield is becoming a self-contained place to live, Masters Home Improvement opened recently; Coles purchased land during the winter to prepare its own shopping centre; and Woolworths has just commenced its plan to build a shopping centre development at Brookwater Retail Village.

“The residential projects happen first, the population base then creating the demand for the commercial services. We have set aside a very large area of land here for a major CBD – 390 hectares, which is more than twice the land size of the Brisbane CBD for instance, so there is a lot of land set aside and we have approvals to build a significant amount of commercial development within the CBD.

“How long is that going to take? That is always the question; the answer is that it is a combination of the market, government policy and also us [Springfield Land Corporation] creating the drivers that attract the right sort of opportunities into our location.” There are certain parallels, Bob believes, between the situation in Brisbane and the way Sydney developed. “The CBD became very expensive and congested, travel times to the city lengthened, and soon there was a westward expansion to Parramatta and through Penrith to Katoomba. This is exactly what Springfield is aiming at – easing the pressure on Brisbane, “where the CBD is fairly constrained, more and more congested, with office rents rising. That’s the point where people begin to ask themselves ‘do we need to be located in the centre of Brisbane?’

“The government here [and the alternative government] both have policies of de-centralisation; they want to shift a lot of the government office workers out of the Brisbane CBD. A survey done a couple of years ago found that the Brisbane CBD is overweight with government office accommodation.” In fact around 23 per cent of the city’s CBD is occupied by government office workers compared, says Bob, to a typical six or seven per cent in the other Australian capital cities. “So now there is a government policy to move out some of these workforces and use the space created to encourage development in other areas.” There is already a commitment from the government to put 1,200 public servants’ jobs into the CBD of Ipswich and Bob reports that tenders are out at the moment for the requisite building work to make that happen.

If you are moving people’s jobs, you have to provide them with a means to get to their new work locations. “Public transport is something that is just not negotiable. You have got to have high quality public transport, and from our point of view, getting rail to Springfield will enable us to be in the front of that sort of offering.”

The Springfield rail project links the new city to the existing QR network that runs from central Brisbane and by 2013 will extend northwest to Brisbane airport (currently a drive of 40 minutes from Springfield). Bob points out that to be at its most (cost)-effective, a rail project must shift people in both directions all the time, not just a flood of commuters one way in the morning and back at night. Rail also “enables us to import people into the project, to work here even if they don’t live here, and that is very important. When we are fully developed we will have a residential population of almost 100,000 people and we want to create employment in Greater Springfield not just for those people but we also want to attract people who might not live here but might work here. So what that does is create a demand from both ways, so at peak hours you have people coming in and going out.”

For the construction industry there are two things to note, says Bob. First, “we are not a construction company ourselves, but obviously we engage them. We have design standards for all of our buildings here, so we are chasing a high design standard” – Green Star Ratings, etc – “and even if we are not doing the work ourselves we insist on them for our development partners.” One example is Orion Springfield Town Centre, “the flagship retail centre in our CBD,” owned and developed by Mirvac. Part of the deal with Mirvac was to pursue design excellence and that project has a 6 Star Green Star rating, “which I can tell you was the first shopping centre in the country to achieve that.”

A second point to note is that – partly because of its greenfield nature – “we have a local authority, the Ipswich City Council, that is very supportive of what is going on. So developments do not suffer from the sort of obstacles that you hear about in some other locations.” In fact, the timeframe for some of the approvals would amaze you, says Bob. “Things that take a year in some areas have taken a month or in some cases a week. Two reasons: first, we have done the pre-planning up front so we have a master plan with specific uses that have already been pre-determined with solutions around traffic and pedestrian movements. Second, we work closely with the local authority, which is supportive of what we are doing. We are all trying to make the project a success, which sadly is not always the case in other parts of the country.”

A few more facts: if ‘completion’ is 2030, the estimated total cost will be some $23 billion; of that, only around $3.2 billion has been spent so far. With a planned population by that time of 105,000 there is a lot still to build; approval has already been obtained for more than 1.4 million square metres of mixed use space in the CBD alone. A number of first-rate schools are already in place, with facilities for higher education such as the University of Southern Queensland – and more is in the pipeline. Springfield, one senses, has arrived.

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

July 16, 2020, 9:27 AM AEST