Cool bar in Perth, Wolf Lane. But it was cooler at the Surround Sound.

On mining magnates and sustainability magnets and how the west will be won

UPDATED: So how was our very first Surround Sound in Perth on Tuesday night? A bit heated, a bit loud and very spicy. We had no idea they had so many firecrackers in the West.

But why not? Our guests, nearly 80 passionate people – from property development, consulting, engineering, community, academia, advocacy local councils and government agencies – all keen to make a difference and to do things better.

But they’re hemmed in one side by a state government that’s in love with the sound of clunking Euclids and pretty well deaf to everything else, and on the other by a federal government that keeps putting old men who don’t care in charge of our future.

Maybe that’s why there was so much passion at the Surround Sound. Extreme governments breed… well… very strong reactions.

There were many rising themes.

A big firecracker moment came when Piers Verstegen announced an amazing partnership with the dark side of town – a group of developers. Except this lot are doing green apartments, with solar, with recycled water and electric car recharge stations as standard… and not charging the customer a cent extra.

Go figure.

The developer, Psaros, however, has the indefatigable Chiara Pacifici on side as head of sustainability, so there’s a big advantage.

Pacifici is also the Green Gurus guru, which educates real estate agents on how to understand sustainability so they can sell it properly. It works. And nice fit with the day job.

Verstegen said it was time to stop saying no to things like sprawl and start saying yes to the right type of development.

“Because we know what the solutions are, and maybe we can actually take the advocacy approach that the Conservation Council and other groups like ours are good at – the community engagement approach – and apply it. Instead of saying no to urban sprawl – which we’ve been trying to do and not succeeding for a long time – and actually say yes to a different type of development, yes to a sustainable type of development for the city of Perth.”

Research that the partnership will release is probably going to rock some people.

The top things that people within 10 kilometres of Perth want for their city, he said, were public transport, more cycling lanes and green buildings. They are the things people want in Perth.

“And by the way, people in Perth don’t believe the myth that urban sprawl is affordable. They’re just not buying it.”

Michael Barr from Leighton Properties inevitably dived into the challenges around housing affordability, sustainability and apartments.

Residential was different to commercial, he said.

“Affordability is a fundamental issue in residential property. It’s hard for people that are buying properties to pay the extra – to buy the idea.

“We need to prove that the same philosophy that’s quite well accepted in the commercial market is the same in residential – it doesn’t have to cost you extra to get to a good ESD standard.”

Alex Bruce from eTool challenged the notion around affordability and said “we have the highest ratio of income to cost of living in Australia that we’ve ever enjoyed”.

“We’ve never had more stuff,” he said.

“We do not have this housing affordability crisis now. We have this ridiculous appetite for big houses. So the first thing we need to do is stop the marketing that says you have to have a 220 sq m house to be happy.”

Marketing was to blame big time, he said.

“You open the West Australian and those guys have like $10 billion a year to advertise big, crappy houses. Every year that’s what they’ve got to spend.”

Barr and Bruce ended up deep in conversation outside the room as well.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam praised The Fifth Estate for rewarding industry doing the right thing but throwing a few half bricks when needed, however threw a half bricks himself in our direction too, noting a “diversity issue” on the panels, he said. Yes, two women were forced to pull out at the last minute due to unforeseen events –  Carly Barrett, the young architect with the cool social media profile who runs Open House Perth and Kerry Fijac of Landcorp.

But there were plenty of women in the room, which is where the main action was  in any case, with the panellists there to to represent key elements of the development universe and to create and take some heat from the audience.

Along those lines Debra Goostrey, chief executive of the UDIA, was great in  conveying the tortuous job of negotiating the path between sustainability ambitions – and getting projects through the approvals system or anything that was not standard.

What was needed was a whole new mind-set. The tools were there, the ideas were there –  the creativity, innovation, technology and efficiencies.

Just do it

A strong motif that rose up – and that we’ve seen elsewhere of late – is that in the absence of government leadership, perhaps the private sector can  just go ahead and do sustainable development/precincts/transport oriented developments itself.

The same thinking emerged at the recent Salon for Sustainable Precincts ahead of our ebook on that topic.

If government fails to lead, then leaders will emerge to fill the vacuum. Once it might have been the peasants storming the Bastille. Today it could well be the savvy developer, the infrastructure provider and the businesses who are responding to the market and know what sells and how to deliver it. Government, get out of the way. Oh, and hand over the value uplift revenue.

The model is proved overseas, according to Peter Newman of Curtin University. The uplift in the development value of land can be quite capable of paying for the train line to connect the people. What’s needed is a shape and process. Interesting idea.

The Property Council’s executive director Joe Lenzo was on the same track when he said the state government couldn’t care less about sustainability, but that the people in that room could drive change . For instance, the PCA was launching a report on infrastructure soon, and if the people in the room all got behind it, it just might force the government to listen, he said.

Tim Urquart, of Lend Lease mentioned that his company was already “just doing” heaps –  with a massive $15 billion of development under way in Australia – and a claim to be as sustainable as possible.

Darrell Williams of NDY brought a global and national perspective to the big question of green buildings, Ryan Keys provided a glimpse into one of the more powerful development agencies in the city, Geoff Warn, WA Government Architect, called for more creative and thoughtful solutions and Brad Pettitt, mayor of Fremantle, pointed to the way of the future in local government leadership.

But why give away more? We’ve saved some of the juiciest content for the book. Out soon.

A massive thanks to our MC Josh Byrne, Josh Byrne & Associates who showed why he has the profile that he does.

Panelists:

  • Senator Scott Ludlam, Australian Greens
  • Darrel Williams, Director, Norman Disney & Young
  • Joe Lenzo, Executive Director, Property Council of Australia (WA Division)
  • Michael Barr, Senior Development Manager, Kings Square at Leighton Properties
  • Ryan Keys, Executive Director Planning, Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority
  • Panellists Geoff Warn, WA Government Architect was
  • Dr Brad Pettitt, Mayor at City of Fremantle
  • Debra Goostrey, Chief Executive, Urban Redevelopment Institute of Australia WA
  • Tim Urquart, Project Director, Waterbank at Lend Lease
  • Professor Peter Newman, Curtin University

Apologies:

  • Kerry Fijac, LandCorp
  • John Carey, City of Vincent
  • Carly Barrett, Perth Open House

Co-lead Sponsors:

  • Leighton Properties, LandCorp

Supporting sponsor:

  • Norman Disney & Young

Event Sponsor:

  • Aurecon

See our early article on the Surround Sound and some of the briefing questions fleshed out from our survey on the topic last week.

The Vics and their mega rabbit burrows at the cost of $1 billion a kilometre

Interesting that Victoria said it would appoint KPMG and Ernst & Young to help “drive value for money in Victorian infrastructure” in the East West Link and the Melbourne rail link. It’s good news on the rail, but on the roads,  wanna think so, after news emerged recently that each kilometre of that mega rabbit hole would cost $1 billion. (No typos, subs)

It was a joint announcement with the feds.

“The Australian Government is providing $3 billion to the overall East West Link project,” the Feds said in a media statement. What, only three km’s worth?

And while  the daily newspaper cite an impending flood of apartments and over building – the Vics have approved fresh surge of planning applications. There’s Australia 108 developer Aspial lodging plans for a 23-level tower on the northern fringe of the CBD, Asset1 Group lodging plans for a $200 million four tower project behind Southbank’s Crown Casino and the 20Q Development Company lodging plans for a 92 metre mixed-use tower on Dorcas Street in South Melbourne.

It brings to mind the saying susty people in the tropical north use to describe developers and consultants who turn up, don’t have any connection to the local community, deliver a poorly designed and built project and then leave it to the locals to pick up the pieces. They call it the “seagull effect”.

Something to do with those who fly in, leave their excrement behind, then fly out.

Could it be Melbourne’s turn for the seagulls?

In Canada, the fly in fly out money and massive apartment investment buy-ups by foreign investors has resulted in what urban planner Andy Yan dubbed “property zombies”, whole city blocks of apartments in Vancouver where the lights are only on in common areas, and most of the time no one is home.

If you’ve been down St Kilda Road after dark amidst the new residential towers it’s a similar effect – with many completed projects showing very few signs of life. In one looming tower, a lone orange tree in a pot on the balcony of just one apartment about halfway up was almost an incongruous sign of actual day-to-day occupation. We just might want to rethink the impact of significant investor visas – Canada did, and dropped them.

Energy reeling

The energy efficiency and renewable energy sector reeled back on the ropes this week but is still fighting. One former policy advisor told The Fifth Estate that moves such as the Queensland Government’s new punitive $500 a day charges for large electricity users who have feed-in solar PV might just have the opposite effect to what the coal lobby would wish for.

“It will most likely send people scrambling away from the grid in drives,” said the source.

While this might seem like a good, righteous thumb-to-the-nose for the coal and nuclear fan club, it is not the most desirable outcome.

As our source observed, we have the poles and wires, we have a grid already, which we, the public at this point still own. It therefore makes cost-effective good sense to encourage renewables to feed into it rather than encourage them to abandon it altogether.

Global Compact Cities

Comparing Australia to places where there is less wealth, less waste and less of just about everything else except people, it’s interesting to see how the uptake of initiatives like sustainable development projects is greater. The UN Global Compact Cities program, for example, is going gangbusters in South America.

Someone in the international development field commented that perhaps the adversity being created by the current government will make Australian urban communities keener to embrace the kinds of principles that inform the UN Global Compact, which commits companies to principles including sustainability, respecting human rights, responsible investment and ethical business practices. If the right-wing rhetoric is all about running the nation like it’s a company, surely a Global Compact is the company we should be?