Redland City Council and the state government have hit back at suggestions that canoe slalom events should be moved to Penrith for the 2032 Brisbane Olympics, insisting the whitewater facility planned for Birkdale will create a “lasting legacy” for the city.
Both levels of government have spoken out after a senate inquiry recommended the NSW venue – purpose-built for the Sydney 2000 Games – be considered as an alternative to building a new stadium in Redlands.
Council has lodged a submission in response to the inquiry’s findings which claims the Birkdale venue planned off Old Cleveland Rd East will provide a long-lasting economic and community benefit for both Redlands and south-east Queensland.
It argued submissions to the inquiry contained “unfounded assumptions” and the interim report failed to mention the many Olympic whitewater venues that had been successful.
“The Redland Whitewater Centre complements the Sydney venue,” council’s submission read.
“Both facilities will be national centres of excellence for the sport of canoe slalom and will promote and grow the sport.”
The senate inquiry, which handed down a report on Australia’s Games preparedness earlier this month, recommended the state government work with NSW to assess the possibility of using Penrith for the 2032 Games.
It raised a series of concerns about the Birkdale facility’s costs and urged the government to ensure the International Olympic Committee’s New Norm Policy was “front and centre” for decisions on Games infrastructure.
“The history of whitewater facilities built for previous Games suggests there is a high likelihood that the [Redland] facility could become a drain on the community and public funds in the future,” the report read.
A parliamentary petition launched by Community Alliance for Responsible Planning president Lavinia Wood has also called for the government to take canoe slalom events to Penrith, claiming Olympic venues are “financially crushing” host cities worldwide.
It has received about 2400 signatures to date.
But Redland City Council and the state government are adamant the Birkdale venue will succeed, with legacy opportunities planned for the site including adventure tourism, active recreation and swiftwater rescue training for emergency services.
Council said it had adopted a “legacy-first” approach to planning for the Games and believed hosting the Olympics would provide opportunities for investment in transport infrastructure, boost the city’s tourism sector and open the door for private investment.
“Redland City Council understands the sentiment from some in our community to not pursue delivery of Games infrastructure that cannot perform a legacy function, ultimately becoming a financial burden to the local government that inherits the asset,” council wrote in its submission.
“We share that same intent on behalf of our ratepayers and we would not have pursued – nor would we continue to pursue – the realisation of the Redland Whitewater Centre if we were not confident in the long-term financial sustainability of that investment decision, and for the wider economic benefit it will bring to our city.”
Mayor Karen Williams said council believed it was important the inquiry was provided with information about the research, planning and community consultation that had been undertaken for the proposed whitewater centre and Birkdale Community Precinct.
“We do not believe the inquiry has all the information required to make the recommendation it did in a recent interim report in regard to the Redland Whitewater Centre,” she said.
A planning department spokeswoman said the government had made it clear that Games venues were being built for more than just the Olympics and Paralympics – which span only a few weeks – and would continue being used for high performance sport well after the event.
“We’ve always said that venues are being built in time for the Games, not built for the Games,” she said.
“This facility [at Birkdale] complements the Sydney facility.”
The spokeswoman said the state government was in the process of completing a Project Validation Report (PVR) for most of the Brisbane 2032 projects and expected to deliver the Redland-specific findings by 2024.
“The PVR looks at a range of planning and delivery aspects, costs and scope, including the best way to deliver the project and a reference design,” the spokeswoman said.
“The PVR also considers service need, analyses demand, and looks at social impact and affordability.”
Council said commentary and assumptions on the long-term financial viability of the project should be considered “pre-emptive” until the government’s validation report is released.
It said analysis from a pre-feasibility study carried out by Deloitte in 2019 provided council with confidence that a whitewater stadium “can and would generate the demand to make it a viable venue”.
Councillors have since voted 7-4 to adopt the Birkdale Community Precinct master plan, while the state and federal governments have agreed to fund the whitewater stadium through the $1.87bn Minor Venues Program.