What happened to Brisbane’s green belt?

I was recently undertaking a bit of a literature review about the history of urban consolidation policy in Australia, and I found reference to a proposed green belt around Brisbane/Meanjin.

Anyone who lives in Brisbane will know that our sprawling metropolis largely spreads unhindered between the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast, and west to Ipswich. What would you think if I told you that at one time local governments were concerned about ‘unregulated growth’ to ‘distant settlements’ at places like Acacia Ridge, and that there were calls to cap Brisbane’s population to 600,000 people?

What is a green belt?

A green belt is undeveloped land that encircles an urban area. The concept predates modern cities by a millennia, but contemporary urban consolidation policy (containing new urban grown to within the existing urban boundary) is definitely a relation of the green belt.

Adelaide, designed by Colonel Light in 1840, is frequently cited as Australia’s most famous example, with a very well preserved green belt to this day. There are still agistment paddocks with horses grazing, walking distance from Adelaide’s CBD.

Colonel Light’s 1840 Plan of Adelaide. Source: https://adelaidia.history.sa.gov.au/panoramas/lights-plan-of-adelaide-1840

Brisbane planning

Brisbane has a bit of an interesting urban planning history. It became a local authority in 1925, after the amalgamation of multiple city councils and shires formed a mega council – the largest by population in Australia.

Town plans were iconic of the colonial/invasion period, but it was Brisbane which became the first city in Australia to establish a town planning department. At the time, Brisbane had a population of about 200,000 people (Brisbane Courier, 30 January 1925).

Brisbane local boundaries in 1925. Source: Fryer Library

In 1928 a plan was submitted to divide Brisbane into residential, industrial
and agricultural zones, but the town plan was shelved during the depression.

Proposed green belt

During the closing years of the Second World War, Brisbane again attempted to produce a planning scheme. At the time, local governments were concerned about the escalating cost of supplying infrastructure to new suburbs (Courier Mail, 19 April 1950) – an problem we still haven’t solved today.

In 1944, a draft planning scheme featured a 1.6-kilometre greenbelt around the city to contain projected post-war growth (McInnis 1944) through infill development (Courier Mail, 28 May 1948). This aimed to utilise the vacant or underutilised land within the city for new development, and prevent growth outside these boundaries.

The policy aimed to restrict population growth of the city to 600,000 people by preventing growth beyond 10 kilometres from the CBD (Courier Mail, 23 April 1948).

Any future excess population growth was to be directed into satellite towns beyond the green belt (Courier Mail, 19 April 1950).

The greenbelt proposal involved extensive land acquisitions (Courier Mail, 12 February 1944) and met with strong opposition (Courier Mail, 26 February 1949). The plan was never enacted into law.

Despite numerous drafts, the first statutory planning scheme for Brisbane was not adopted until almost 40 years later. The first planning scheme, enacted in 1965, provided guidance for orderly development and the greenbelt disappeared entirely (Low Choy and Gleeson 1998).

Since the 1975 town plan ‘urban consolidation’ formally entered the planning sphere in Brisbane. Consolidation is similar to the greenbelt idea, as it contains urban growth to within the existing city – but it doesn’t carry the same protections for surrounding natural or rural areas. Greenfield land can still be released for development – including almost 20,000 hectares between 2009 and 2017. These were all low density, suburban housing estates – some 50 kilometres from Brisbane’s city centre.

So, we still haven’t solved the problem of balancing housing demand (and peoples’ dwelling type preferences) with the real environmental, social and economic costs of sprawl.

References

Low Choy, D.C. and Gleeson, J. (1998) ‘A Green Belt Too Far: The Abortive Green
Belt Proposals of the 1944 Brisbane Draft Town Plan’ paper presented to 8th
International Planning History Conference, Sydney, Australia, 15-18 July 1998.

McInnis, R.A. (1944) Recreation and Open Spaces – The Green Belt, internal Council
minute, Brisbane City Archives 460/52/4.

Published by RachelGallagher

Geographer, urban researcher

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