The award-winning Oxley Creek Transformation Master Plan is an ambitious strategic document that makes the most of water as a shared social, economic and environmental asset. Image: Lat27
The award-winning Oxley Creek Transformation Master Plan is an ambitious strategic document that makes the most of water as a shared social, economic and environmental asset. Image: Lat27

Water wins in AILA Queensland awards

To design with water is to manage its multiple, slippery values as social, economic and environmental asset. The power of water has been explored and exploited in a refreshing wash of recent Queensland projects awarded by the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects.

Queensland is the wettest state in Australia, home to the vast majority of the wettest places in the country. It is no surprise then that many of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) Queensland state awards entries feature water, whether as part of enhanced or reconstructed natural ecosystems or as artful contributions to the fun history of Aussie beach and pool play. Also understandable for the Sunshine State is a well-rehearsed mix of public and private incentives and investments with regard to water management initiatives. Developers recognise the value of investment in improved environmental assets as well as marketable water features.

Awards of excellence given by the AILA to Arundel Wetlands and the Oxley Creek Transformation Master Plan recognise the complexity of large, water-focused projects. They also reward collaborative work that pays careful attention to how drainage corridors and their landscapes can provide multiple benefits.

The Arundel Section of the Coombabah Lakelands Conservation Area is a 64-hectare conservation parkland. It is upstream of Lake Coombabah, listed in the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia (DIWA), which is near, and includes part of, the extensive, internationally recognised Ramsar-listed Moreton Bay area. Parts of Moreton Bay and surrounds were designated as a Ramsar site in 1993 and, similar to other sites vital to global bird migration routes, are under threat from development. The larger conservation area is important because of its connected diversity of habitat, ranging from perched freshwater lakes and sedge swamps on the offshore sand islands, to intertidal mudflats, marshes, sandflats, coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves next to the bay’s islands and the mainland. It adjoins Lake Coombabah’s wetlands and upstream tributaries including the Arundel wetlands.

The Arundel site was heavily degraded from abortive attempts by the original developer to build a golf course. Cam Taylor of the City of Gold Coast explains that council recognised its potential for rehabilitation and purchased the land in 2011. “Illegal earthworks had altered the natural drainage, destroyed habitat and displaced wildlife,” he recalls, “but we had a unique opportunity to repair the site working with the new, adjacent developer, Villaworld.”

Working with Villaworld, council were able to achieve two things that weren’t usually possible. Firstly, they offered the developer the chance to treat stormwater in the wetland beyond their development site. “Usually a developer must retain and treat water within their estate as part of the infrastructure agreement and funding” says Taylor. But, instead, council suggested that they rehabilitate the adjacent degraded site for stormwater retention and treatment, along with providing trails and similar facilities for the existing and coming surrounding communities. “So they were able to increase their developable land,” explains Taylor “and money could be invested in well-designed recreational access.”

Secondly, there was a bigger-picture benefit. “The usual infrastructure agreement for site-treatment of stormwater results in many small and fragmented water bodies for each development, with minimal environmental corridor connections and buffer zones,” Taylor explains. “This degraded site provided a rare opportunity to rejuvenate a much larger area of water and environmental wetland.” The local residents from nearby developments understood the environmental value of the site and were also keen to see it restored and protected. “They didn’t want a golf course. They wanted an environmental asset for the future.” Asked about whether more birds were returning to the area Cam laughs. “When I was out there during construction of the sediment ponds, there were birds everywhere!”

The Oxley Creek Transformation Master Plan by Lat27 and Oxley Creek Transformation Pty Ltd, deals with the 20 kilometre Oxley Creek corridor, from the Brisbane River at Tennyson to Larapinta. Not only did it receive an AILA Queensland Award of Excellence for land management, it garnered a Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) national commendation for Best Planning Idea for a Large Project. The PIA judges particularly recognised the project for its excellent engagement and “economic delivery model as a blueprint for waterway regeneration to ensure viable outcomes”.

Like Arundel wetlands, the Oxley Plan explored funding and economic viability as part of integrated project design that has resulted in a strong basis for future delivery. Also like Arundel, the project makes the most of opportunities for a wide range of environmental and social benefits for the bigger corridor and the community, including a major walking and cycling network, bird sanctuary, wetlands parkland, nature-based adventure park and an ecological restoration plan. “These corridors, and the catchments they serve, are under increasing pressure,” says Damian Thompson, a director at Lat27. “The rewards from nurturing waterway health and biodiversity are immeasurable and we’ve been working closely with community groups, professional collaborators and land management agencies to this end.”

Poor handling of prolonged drought in southern Australia has drawn attention to the vital need to appreciate and engage broadly on water management projects, understanding how intimately water is connected with so many aspects of varied use and enjoyment of healthy landscapes. The  AILA Queensland awards recognised numerous projects for dealing with complex issues of short-term needs and long-term investment impacts to deliver valued environmental outcomes.

The Logan River Accessibility & Connectivity Concept Plan is a comprehensive document outlining diverse ways to better access and appreciate the river and its waters. Tract Consultants and Logan City Council received an award for Landscape Planning for the clarity and conviction of a long-term vision to guide works to 2067.

Queensland has a long and colourful history of bathing and public pools, born of residents’ eagerness to bath in the state’s hot climate. The Ville landscape and pool in Townsville by 360 Degrees Landscape Architects received a Tourism award for an elegant elevation of the classic palm-strewn resort experience, complete with ocean and island views. The Yeppoon Foreshore and Town Centre Revitalisation is a reimagining of the Queensland coastal lagoon. Place Design Group has delivered the project as stage five of Livingstone Shire Council’s larger foreshore vision. The design draws on its prime location, which has stunning Coral Sea views out to the Keppel Bay Islands.

Muller Street, Redland Bay is a 64-lot residential subdivision. Its two-hectare central spine of rehabilitated woodland incorporates vegetated detention basins and swales to manage stormwater for environmental benefit. But the winding pathways also provide enviable recreation opportunities for new residents and community. AS Design worked closely with an engineer, arborist and ecologist to deliver a project that gives new impetus to more sensitive subdivision design.

The recent AILA Queensland awards have recognised new explorations of thoughtful ways to design with water that have multiple benefits. Winning projects have negotiated with many stakeholders for long-term social and environmental benefits, while demonstrating acute appreciation for economic constraints and novel funding opportunities. Queensland presents us with some strong ideas for long-term future enjoyment of waterscapes. We should feel encouraged to go and have some watery fun in the sun!