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On what we discover on the way to Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland 2017
Tomorrowland 2017

News from the front desk – Issue No 402: You pick up some great insights doing the briefings with speakers and panel members for an event like Tomorrowland. These people are a cross section of the best in the industry and they’re really tapped in. When they tell you something it’s for reason. We think some of them exemplify exactly what T’land is about.

For instance, the snippet about a particular developer buying land under the noisiest part of the flight path in Western Sydney, destined for Sydney’s second airport, and surprise surprise, now embarked on lobbying the consent authorities to change the rules to allow resi there after all. Guess there is always double glazing and taxpayer dollars to mop up the damage. The argument the developer is offering is tempting: lots of dollars flowing into government coffers to pay for the infrastructure that will make the new airport work the way it should.

The fact that the developer might be Chinese adds a neat twist. Could the threat of a diplomatic incident sway the consent authorities? If the topic comes up at T’land maybe we should invite Julie Bishop, as well as John Alexander.

In some ways this dilemma is nothing new. There are plenty of examples of developers buying land in, oh, heritage protected bushland or some other inconveniently zoned space, and then setting about doggedly to get the rules changed in their favour.

But in many ways the airport land case reveals the complexity of what’s at stake in urban development.

There are benefits and costs to the proposal, winners and losers. Families need homes, industry needs another airport (even before we get emissions free fuel, apparently) and the money could fund the trains we need.

Questions are raised: who advised the developers, who is to blame or sue when residents say they were fooled into buying in an area they can no longer live in?

Will the housing to be built there be not just noise proof but will it protect the residents from the extreme heat predicted for Sydney’s west and who’s to blame if there are deaths there in time?

All these questions reveal one big thing: development is highly complex and to get it right we need to integrate so many different goals and stakeholders, consent authorities, scientific forecasts that have no precedent to guide us, and any number of other implications and consequences, financial or otherwise.

When the stakes include a new airport for Australia’s biggest city so far (Melbourne will soon be bigger) we need not just connected thinking but a kind of fluid inclusive process that incorporates myriad goals and what Alice Thompson from KPMG, and a former adviser to the former PM on cities and transport, calls collaborative city governance.

This term, she says, recognises that cities are now economic policy and that to get the outcomes we want means using a range of policy and infrastructure levers.

You need to cross over between levels of government, portfolios and disciplines. You can see how messy things can quickly become if one level of government approves the housing so it can pay for a new train, but then someone else has to cope with the consequences.

If you put housing under the flight path, bingo here’s a new curfew coming our way and frustrated travellers sent to Melbourne instead of their beds when bad weather disrupts the plan. 

Resi slowdown could lead to long term rentals and more sustainability

Among other snippets of great conversation we’ve picked up in our briefings with more than 25 speakers panel members or presenters include how developers are responding to the eroding resi market.

Now this is fascinating. According to Bates Smart director Matt Allen, who will be part of our precincts workshop, some are considering build to rent models and this in turn means it might be feasible now to consider sustainability options that lower bills and create better value for both owners and tenants. Embedded grids for instance.

Allen says social sustainability and more nuanced design solutions are also of greater appeal. By this he means that in a hot market a more generic option is attractive: luxury inclusions that appeal to a largely investor buying market.

In an owner occupier dominated market the inclusions and design will be tilted towards particular demographic groups such as empty nesters, young professionals or young families.

At Newmarket At Randwick by CBus four architects are working on different parts of the 680 dwelling project to ensure a more boutique feel, he says.

This signals that the resi market could be shifting to bring it more into line with commercial property where long term leases mean the tenant becomes a stakeholder in the property and the owner pays attention to what the tenant wants.

Social sustainability is a rising topic everywhere, partly as a natural flow on from environmental sustainability since it’s hard to draw the line as to where your ethics start and finish and partly because it will be more appealing to buyers.

It’s a topic that Landcom’s Lauren Kajewski is keen to explore in the precincts workshop.

We call it a workshop because we anticipate a fairly collaborative process between Landcom, Arup, Bates Smart and Terry Leckie’s Flow to work up how our current notions of excellent sustainable precinct of the future can look like.

The audience will be a big part of helping to ask the right questions.

Another great briefing this week was with the talented Davina Rooney. Rooney not just general manager sustainability for Stockland but chair of the Property Council of Australia’s national sustainability round table so she’s across a lot of industry actions and programs that she says make 2018 the big year that bears fruit for the hard work of so many people.

Optimism is her strong strong point right now. Not just in the sudden rise of net zero carbon but in the better quality of commercial and retail buildings likely to come out of the upgrade to the building code. She thinks the scope and depth of the improvements will take many people by surprise. And that resi will be next to be tackled.

If you want a bird’s eye view of this industry, there is far more that will come out on the day. But don’t worry if you miss out on tickets. As usual we will bring you the Tomorrowland ebook.

Thanks to our great sponsors, Arup, Landcom as co-leads, Bates Smart and Flow as supporting and venue sponsors Baker McKenzie.

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