What would you say the driving vision is behind Springfield?
If I had to encapsulate it in a couple of words, it’s to build a city… this region was socially and economically depressed, where if people wanted to work they would have to go back to Brisbane CBD… that’s not a sustainable way of achieving work-life balance or creating strong communities. Without economic activity in your own city, you’re not supporting everyone.
There was no support for youth. Youth would graduate at year ten and leave. There was no major retail destination so the City was exporting retail dollars. There was no university in the city so they were exporting education opportunities. We saw all of this as things that the region needed to grow and develop, and to be economically sustainable. We saw an opportunity to do something different as no one else wanted to do it. Even the local planning minister will tell me these days he went back to his office and said, “Who would want to live there?” But he also said, “Well, if they want to do it, just give them the approvals to get on with it.”
Were the government fairly cooperative?
It was hard for them to imagine what’s here today. It’s a huge stretch of the imagination for anyone. They weren’t saying go ahead and do it, but they weren’t preventing it either, there were the usual hurdles. One of the main things we were advised by another developer was to capture it in a piece of legislation. So the first five years was about getting the project enshrined in legislation, creating a Springfield Zoning Act, providing us certainty as developers and ensuring that as the project continued there would be bankability.
The zoning act gave us a level of approval, which left council to develop a structure plan that solely dealt with Springfield. It also provided things like no third-party rights of appeal which gives certainty to developers. Approvals have been very quick as well. Having legislation, a structure plan, and willing parties, has facilitated developments across Greater Springfield.
We were able to get a partnership with state government and a financier to deliver the Highway within five years and that was a game-changer. We provided the corridor at no cost to Government , which was significant for us. We also agreed to enter into a social infrastructure agreement which requires us to give land for state schools and emergency services for free . It was a cooperative way to get things done, although it was hard for us to agree to some of those things, but we just needed to find a way to make things happen.
Do you see the value in delivering schools and other community needs to attract people here, and was it worth the land cost?
Absolutely…there’s no doubt. We knew education would be a draw card. As soon as the rail line was in, we started getting a whole new type of student coming to the region for university and private schools. It’s really one of the game-changers for youth in this corridor. We are now retaining more youth in the city, whereas before they would have to leave the city and go to universities and higher education elsewhere.
So the train station has been a game-changer?
Naturally we expected people to use the train to leave Springfield for work in Brisbane, but what we’ve found there has been an influx of people coming in. It actually has given businesses a great reason to be here.
With the vision of, “We’re going to build a city,” what came first?
Our chairman Maha, has a huge passion for education in the community. Very early on we established these pillars: education, IT, and health. We decided “Let’s write to schools and see if they’ll come here.” That’s how it happened. It’s as simple as that.
We have gone around the world, looked at master planned communities and thought “We love that… that failed because they didn’t have this.” We wanted all the good ingredients and to not make the mistakes that we saw happening in other projects. We wanted a university, I was told by a Director General we wouldn’t get a uni here. I remember thinking, “You’re nuts! We’re getting a uni.” We had this unrelenting vision that we were going to get a uni.
We had to work pretty hard on state government to get a state school otherwise you’re building a community and people are buying, asking, “Where’s the school?” and they want answers. The community helped to lead the charge with that case, eventually we got the school who did a partnership with Apple computers to build the first Apple classroom of tomorrow from a Greenfield site. That was why people were driving from Greenbank to come here and be part of that school.
We now see large groups like GE and the Mater hospital at Springfield…how do you go about attracting that sort of calibre tenant and employment generator?
You knock on doors until people open them! Sometimes these people have never been approached. We wanted a uni. We spoke to all of them. Knock until the doors open, people change over time, faces change…
Also we’ve done our own research for the corridor because we found that it was lacking in some government departments. We find if we can gather the data, we can then present that to government and say, “Well, here are some solutions”. We don’t like to present problems…we like to provide solutions.
Did they need any sort of incentives to get them here? Land cost reductions?
We’ve done commercial deals with all of these groups. In the case of Mater Hospital, they said, “We’ll build a medical centre,” which soon became a ten-bed hospital. We then found that the federal government were creating cancer clinics, and there was a strong need for one in this region as people were travelling up to three hours to go into Brisbane for these services, it just was not acceptable. So we worked with Mater to secure one of the cancer care clinics.
It took three attempts to secure this funding until I finally received a phone call saying “Raynuha, the Prime Minister is coming tomorrow, I think you’re going to get the cancer care clinic”, and that’s what happened. Mater was given the funding to establish a cancer care, which triggered them to go and build a hospital around it. So it grew from an initial clinic to an 80-bed, $85 million facility, which recently opened.
We have become very used to people saying “no” to us. You just have to have a thick skin. We’ve got this philosophy in our organisation, “It’s no until it’s yes.” If your community needs it, and it’s staring at you, how can you just put that to one side and say, “We’ll let someone else fix that”? Because no one else is going to fix it. It hasn’t been fixed for decades in some cases, and we need to take charge and bring our partners along where they can add value as well.
We actively look for gaps in the market that will benefit the whole region.
Have you ever had an issue managing community expectations when infrastructure hasn’t been delivered early enough? Or have you always been hitting those targets that you set?
We didn’t give specific timelines on elements we could not control. We just said, “This is the grand plan.” People bought in thinking, “there’s going to be things happening here.”
Springfield have a focus of one job for every three residents. When did this become a goal and how is it progressing?
We’re on target. You can’t build a community and then not have the jobs – it’s all part of the same fabric. The first employers were the schools, then some local shops, the universities and all the rest – we’ve ratcheted it up every year. We’re on track with our target of 1 job for every 3 residents.
Do you have a core vision for each precinct…and how would you look to create a ‘healthy community’?
Absolutely…a vision is critical. We now have our own governance system for Health City as an example, which includes the heads of the Mater Hospital, Aveo and ourselves who are all on board to create something unique. We will be looking at everything from design, product, the apartments we’re doing for MS, the IT resources… we’re trying to get all the providers to link with each other, having commonality in platforms.
We want to deliver e-health. People are talking about it, but no one is really doing it, we can really do healthcare in a different way.
What about in terms of the community, are there any grass roots type organisations helping build ‘community’?
The grass roots organisations have been fantastic. Right from the early days we’ve had a local church pastor who we’ve worked very closely with. We set up a Fun Run with him which helps build the community spirit. We also have a number of other church groups.
Our stakeholders have been very active. YMCA is here and an active member of the community. USQ (University of Southern Queensland) started the dawn service and a billy cart race. Lend Lease, who are one of our major stakeholders, have done everything from markets, to community days, to major events.
So naturally, especially in the early part of the project, a lot of it was driven by us and by Lend Lease, but increasingly what we’ve found, especially over the last five years is let the community start to take over. You feel you lose some control but that’s ok…you just need to seed it.
In the past we’ve had a community development manager that would work with community groups to help them organise everything from the walking group to Toastmasters. As a result, you tend to know everyone in the community, and start to put them together and eventually the community takes over.
Are you still involved in community groups or is everything now run by community-led organisations?
We’re still doing it in some respect maybe only 15 to 20%. In our Brookwater community, we run things like an annual ball. Now we have established a community steering group and if they want us there or to sponsor, they will ask us and we will assist them in whatever way we feel is appropriate.
Are you pioneering the apartment building to address housing diversity?
We’ve pioneered a lot of things in this project, and apartments are no different. People are probably laughing at us for doing apartments, however we’ve sold more than 50% and we’re building them…they will sell. People really enjoy the environment here and Australian society is seeing family units wanting lower maintenance lifestyles, therefore apartments need to be a part of the story of Greater Springfield going forward.
Have you provided any social housing?
We have tried to work with different groups to get that up and running but it hasn’t yet eventuated in any particular product, but we will as it’s an important need to meet.
How far away is the completion of Springfield?
It is a 30 year plan. We’d like to say a large part of it will be developed by 2030, but we have a million square metres approved for our CBD, and you don’t put that away quickly. Certainly to get the game-changers like GE state headquarters you’ve got to be ready, willing, and able to deliver when those opportunities come up. I don’t think anyone would have thought that the GE state headquarters would come here, but it’s great as for us as it creates jobs for our residents – that’s really what we try to do. 2030 is our goal, but ultimately, the community will evolve and change so many times, even before and after that.
If you could change one thing about the way we currently create communities what would it be?
Jobs are the key. People don’t want to be commuting long times to work. Having a serious jobs hub in your project is essential. People are looking for work-life balance, and unless you’re going to create that, it’s not going to be what our communities need going forward.
There’s great opportunities to reinvent the way people work with telecommuting now the norm. There are some really interesting ways that developers can seed innovation – how do we encourage people to reinvent the way people work?
This is what developers are good at: innovation. So let’s create that in our communities.