25 January 2016

The University of Queensland has welcomed the Queensland Heritage Council adding its voice to protests against Brisbane City Council approval of a 47-storey tower block next to the historic Customs House.

UQ, which restored Customs House and now owns and operates the heritage-listed landmark, has lodged a legal challenge to the proposed development.

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.

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

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.

Professor Høj said the Brisbane City Council’s approval of the tower – a mere 2.6 metres from the boundary of Customs House – was a travesty that threatened the integrity of a significant and historic city landmark.

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.

“The proposed high-rise would dwarf and completely overshadow Customs House, and the impact of its disproportionate height would be exacerbated by the 2.6 metre setback from the Customs House boundary.

“It’s a stark contrast to the 25-metre setback expressly required by the BCC’s own planning scheme,” Professor Høj said.

The inadequate setback would also threaten a 100-year-old fig tree, he said.

“Through a magnificent fundraising effort, thousands of Queenslanders personally invested in the restoration of this iconic building, enabling it to be restored to something akin to its original splendour before we re-opened it in 1994.”

He said Customs House, which dated back to 1886, was a rare surviving example of grand colonial architecture and one of the few reminders that central Brisbane was once a great river port.

An initial Directions Hearing is scheduled for the Planning and Environment Court on Friday 29 January.

Media: UQ Communications, communications@uq.edu.au, 07 3365 1120, 0413 601 248