Springfield City Group is the master developer of Greater Springfield – Australia’s fastest-growing and most innovative new city. Greater Springfield celebrates its 30th birthday this year and is established as the first Australian master-planned city since the national capital Canberra. Maha Sinnathamby has not paused for a moment in three decades of creating one of the greatest Australian dreams, so we took a closer look in the light of his tremendous success in CEO Monthly’s Chairperson Awards!
Since 1992, Mr Sinnathamby and his Springfield City Group business partner Bob Sharpless have kept up a relentless pace and proved the doubters wrong. The 2860 hectares of land they purchased on the doorstep of Brisbane – the 2032 Olympic City – has been transformed into a city with more than 53,000 residents in six suburbs. The master plan for Greater Springfield contains precise outlines of how the city will continue to grow. The Australian newspaper, on the city’s 30th birthday, wrote “there is nothing like it in Australia”, noting the “sheer scale of the project”.
And Mr Sinnathamby is convinced there is nothing like Greater Springfield anywhere else in the world. Its unique location, within 30 minutes’ drive of an established metropolis in Brisbane, has made it a beacon of innovation. Instead of mimicking what has been done elsewhere, Mr Sinnathamby and his Springfield City Group team have established themselves as trailblazers.
Mr Sinnathamby based his path on a simple yet inspired philosophy. “We want to enhance human and social capital,” he tells us. Nowhere is this clearer than in Greater Springfield’s Knowledge Precinct, an area of the city spread across 120 hectares of land powered by health, education and innovation. “Health, education and IT are the key drivers to make a unique community,” Mr Sinnathamby explains. “The Knowledge Precinct is unique. We have a golden opportunity to plan this city of the future.”
“Before Springfield City’s creation 30 years ago, I could see that brain power was the foundation of the world’s most renowned cities,” Mr Sinnathamby continues. “When planning our new city, I wanted to provide all the elements necessary for people and their ideas to flourish. Knowledge is with you your entire life. Education is the only currency that you can cash in anywhere in the world. And it is the only currency that can’t be stolen from the owner.”
Springfield City has been developed with partnerships built on the understanding of the founders’ vision, but these partnerships flowed only after hard work. “Our biggest problem has been the lack of understanding of the enormity of this project,” Mr Sinnathamby explains. “You can’t think too small. People didn’t understand that we weren’t thinking small. But then we started telling more people what we wanted to build. And we told people who could help us make that happen.”
Since the project was first concepted, six Queensland Premiers, seven Australian Prime Ministers and a host of mayors supported the birth of the city. The Premiers, from both sides of politics, played an integral role in allowing Greater Springfield to grow. In 1997, legislation passed Queensland Parliament with the supportive voices and raised hands of all 89 MPs to give zoning approval to the Greater Springfield area.
That unanimous vote was a highlight among the many from those first three decades. It was about determination, trust, and the ability to convince stakeholders of the benefits of Greater Springfield for a growing nation. To drive through Greater Springfield today, it’s easy to forget that ground-breaking work. Residents drive past the landmarks that underpin the city without even considering the achievement that lies beneath.
Greater Springfield offers a highway into the heart of the city as well as a rail line and passenger facilities as good as any in the transport network. When you arrive, you could play on a championship Greg Norman-designed golf course or visit a first-class stadium with 10,000 seats. Families are more than welcome to send their children to one of the twelve schools currently open, or perhaps one of nineteen kindergartens, or maybe even the university campus. Greater Springfield is home to a hospital that is on track to be the largest in the nation, a seniors’ village that enables grandparents to live close to their growing families and apartment living that adds a new depth to the city’s offerings.
And you can drive between them all within eight minutes.
“That’s just the beginning,” Mr Sinnathamby says with a smile. The population of about 53,000 people is growing annually and planned to reach 145,000.
Mr Sinnathamby’s path towards visionary city-builder has been anything but conventional. He was born in war-torn Malaysia and moved to Australia to study as a young man. Earning his Bachelor of Civil Engineering from the University of New South Wales enabled him to take his first professional steps, but Mr Sinnathamby was always looking for more. He wanted to pursue his vision of developing areas that would create better lives for their residents.
Mr Sinnathamby’s insists that “All power is within you” – a creed of self-belief. His other principles include acknowledgments of the lessons learned from failure – “the darkest night brings the brightest dawn” and “character is established through a thousand stumbles”. Mr Sinnathamby would live those principles as he moved to Perth in the 1970s and set up a business before eventually bringing his young family to Queensland to pursue new opportunities.
Mr Sharpless and his family followed, and the pair eventually settled on the land that would become Greater Springfield. They saw something that others did not because the land sat untouched on the market for many months. “It was the chance of a lifetime,” Mr Sinnathamby recalls. “When a person walks past a rock, they see a rock. But a sculptor walks past it and says ‘there’s something in this rock’.”
Plenty of people saw the rock. Very few saw the city that would be carved out of it.
The land was basic at best – almost 3000 hectares of a disused forestry operation. The area that would become the heart of Greater Springfield didn’t have a road nearby for kilometres. How do you make that into a modern city?
At least one bank had cold feet as the experiment unfolded, demanding its money was repaid quickly, but the doubters were thinking down the wrong line. They expected the Sinnathamby-Sharpless partnership would attract a financial backer and roll out the semi-rural land projects that were popping up on the fringe of the capital city. Nothing new in that, they said, but they didn’t understand the vision that was driving Greater Springfield. They didn’t understand the resilience, perseverance and sheer hard work of Mr Sinnathamby and the team put together to make the city into reality.
This was a long-term project that would become the key to uniting the areas of Brisbane, Ipswich and Logan into a complementary urban network. Greater Springfield would have a CBD, an education precinct, a health precinct, an innovation precinct, excellent transport and many families who would live long, productive lives without the headaches of traditional cities built without planning coordination.
This wouldn’t be a master-planned community.
It would a master-planned city.
And it would be fuelled by the commitment of a man whose biography would be called Stop Not Til The Goal Is Reached.
“Our work is not done,” Mr Sinnathamby said. “We have 65 per cent left to do but the fundamentals are in place and as a city, we look forward to the future with open arms.” Mr Sinnathamby will continue to follow the principles that have underpinned the success of his business life: “Make one idea your life”; “Work relentlessly”; and “Create your own destiny”.
Those three principles tell the story of Maha Sinnathamby and Greater Springfield, and how it has achieved such success.
For business enquiries, contact Springfield City Group on their website – www.greaterspringfield.com.au