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Brisbane Floods- History forgotten in rush to riverfront luxury

18 Jan

IN the rejuvenation of Brisbane as the River City, boasting expensive homes and apartments along the waterfront, buyers of the relatively new and luxurious apartments of Tennyson Reach enjoyed the best of both worlds.

On one side, the Brisbane River; on the other the new home of tennis in Queensland.

The development, by ASX-listed company Mirvac, also boasts history: it is on the site of the old Tennyson power station, a huge sprawling complex that was pulled down to make way for millionaires’ row. In Brisbane’s 1974 floods, the water that inundated the power station was a powerful reminder of the vulnerability of the city and its leafy near-river suburbs to heavy and sustained rainfall.

But, with the passage of time, as developers moved in and the beautification and rebranding of Brisbane gathered momentum, the images of water flooding around the power station were forgotten or discarded. Residents believed their insurance policy was Wivenhoe Dam, commissioned a quarter of a century ago to mitigate against a future large flood. Yesterday, as the smell in the luxury dwellings at Tennyson Reach, home to tennis greats including Ashley Cooper, rose with the temperature and humidity, owners wondered how the planning controls that were meant to regulate development could have gone so wrong.

Several said they were assured before buying that the ground level would not flood unless the Brisbane River reached a mark of 8.4m, well above the 4.46m at which it peaked last Thursday after a massive discharge of 645,000 megalitres from Wivenhoe Dam on Tuesday. Between cleaning up and moving out yesterday, several owners said they needed explanations from Mirvac and the council about their true flood immunity and whether the development, completed less than two years ago, should have been approved, given its history of inundation.

The flooding at Tennyson Reach is one small part of a major problem for Brisbane City Council and the Queensland government, as the losses of owners, the liability of developers, and the policies of governments combine in a perfect storm of recrimination and confusion. The residential precinct went through all the council’s usual approvals process after the Beattie government sought tenders to make something glorious from the site of the abandoned and obsolete power station.

Apartment owner Chrissie Buchanan, who bought in June 2009 with her husband, Sam, who is a quadriplegic, has had damaged floors, walls and cabinets. She said she was fortunate to have insurance and was in a lot better position than many in Brisbane. ‘‘The things that have been damaged are easily replaced,’’ Ms Buchanan said. ‘‘There are people who have lost their businesses and houses. I feel for people who are a lot worse off than ourselves.’’ She said flooding risk was ‘‘not an issue’’ that was canvassed when she and her husband bought the property. ‘‘You never believe it’s going to happen to you,’’ she said.

Keith George, who paid $2.25 million for his ground-floor apartment 18 months ago, said he had waist-level water throughout his property. As a result, he will have to rip up floors and carpets, rebuild walls, and most of the apartment’s cabinets will have to be replaced. ‘‘I’m going to have to spend at least $100,000 to replace the cabinetry,’’ he said. ‘‘We won’t be back in here for months.’’ Mr George said the flood risk never came up when he was buying the property, partly because City Hall had approved the development. ‘‘And I always believed the Wivenhoe would not let the Brisbane River come up,’’ he said. Another resident, Julie Savage, said most people living in the complex were not too concerned on Tuesday night when other parts of the city started to evacuate their homes. ‘‘I got the impression everyone was relaxed because it could withstand a flood of 8.4m, so it would all be fine,’’ she said. It is not only residents on the ground floor who are affected, with those on the many levels above unable to return home because there is no power and no lifts working. ‘‘They were saying 12 weeks until they can return, but it might be eight,’’ Mr George said.

Chris Freeman, the former Queensland chief executive of Mirvac, also bought into Tennyson Reach, but higher than the flood level. Mirvac Development Queensland chief executive Matthew Wallace, who inspected the development yesterday, said the priority was to work with the body corporate to get the buildings reinstated, and ‘‘get peoples’ lives and properties back together’’.

The flooding hit the apartments 12 hours before the peak in Brisbane of 4.46m. It is believed the body corporate does not have flood insurance. Several owners who bought their apartments before the global financial crisis had looked for loopholes to litigate a way out of their contracts before settlement, but failed after filing actions in the District Court. The irony is that being misled over the level of their flood immunity might have provided a perfect exit.

After successfully defending itself against some residents’ claims that it misrepresented the quality of the river views, as well as a host of technical legal arguments surrounding the contract documents, Mirvac said the original buyers had to meet, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars in default interest and associated costs. The development’s proximity to the city — 8km from the Brisbane CBD and a half-volley from championship tennis courts — was a large part of its appeal, along with the usual prestige trappings of gymnasium, swimming pool, walking and cycle tracks, barbecue areas, parklands and landscaped gardens.

Source- Australian, January 18th. 2011.

Alfred Tennyson’s Crossing the bar

SUNSET and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.