Prototype community farm at Glen Junor in Gisborne.

Glen Junor in Gisborne is liveable, carbon positive and good for your hip pocket, with half the land to remain open for people and nature to share. Modelled on Serenbe in the US, it’s caught the attention of Nigel Sharp, Brian Haratsis, Mark McCrindle, Mike Day, Brendan Condon and more.

In the small Victorian town of Gisborne, 52 kilometres north west of Melbourne, a quaint but degraded 210 hectare farm in the middle of town has been slated for up to 1000-dwelling greenfield development.

Such a suggestion might conjure images of identical four-bedroom homes plonked in a paddock but this is exactly what first-time developers Trent and Chrissy McCamley and investment partners Tiverton Rothwell Partners, led by Nigel Sharp, want to avoid.

Glen Junor will not be a conventional housing estate. Incredibly, 50 per cent of the land will go to open space and community assets, including a predator-free enclosure for endangered animal species along a restored waterway.

It’s a model of development that, if adopted at scale, could see thousands of threatened species survive and recover. The transformation of habitats for growing food and building homes threatens thousands of species globally, with at least 70 per cent of Earth’s land now altered by humans.

The other half of the Gisborne site will go towards compact, sustainable urban neighbourhoods based on the Victorian government’s long term planning strategy for 20-minute neighbourhoods. Homes will be connected by cycling and walking tracks that will take precedence over roads.

The carbon neutral development will have all-electric, renewably-powered homes with a minimum 7.5-star NatHERS rating.

At the centre of the neighbourhood will be a bunch of “socially designed” community assets, including what’s probably the largest urban food garden in the country, a youth innovation hub, a co-working facility, electric vehicle sharing schemes (including ebike docking stations at the Macedon Ranges train station) and the Gisborne Gorge and Jackson creeks, which will be restored to their former glory for all to enjoy.

Plans for the completed community farm.

The idea is to provide a variety of housing types to suit people at all stages of life, and prevent people having larger environmental footprints than they need to – or want to – because the only housing option is a detached four-bedroom house in the suburbs.

There will be higher density living in the centre and then the blocks will get bigger as they get closer to the perimeter.

“The idea is that everyone can find a home here,” Trent McCamley told The Fifth Estate.

Bringing nature into the everyday

When the McCamleys first purchased the land, which was depleted from overgrazing, Trent found it quite confronting that natural landscapes could be privately owned.

“Nature should be shared.”

The development is grounded in the principles of regenerative development, where human intervention is needed to restore and enhance the biodiversity of the area.

Nigel Sharp, chief executive of impact investment company Tiverton Rothwell Partners told The Fifth Estate that there are mutual benefits to be gleaned by bringing people closer to nature again.

The partnership with Sharp’s company, which invests in regenerative agriculture and now regenerative urbanism projects, will provide a permanent framework for the biodiversity work.

Sharp, who also founded biodiversity not-for-profit Odonata that designs and manages financially sustainable conservation projects, says that although people recognise the importance of keeping open space for nature, funding it has always been tricky.

That’s why the developers will establish a $3.5 million community endowment fund to ensure the natural and community assets are maintained in perpetuity. The fund, which will be operated and invested independently, will take the pressure off the local council to maintain the abundance of open space.

It’s even got built in value capture

As well-maintained nature and community assets improves the value of the private property around it – as can be seen by the price of homes near urban parks or beaches – the model will also create a “value capture” effect for the community by raising the value of properties in the area. 

McCamley says that putting in the community infrastructure from the beginning – not after residents move in – has its roots in this same triple bottom line sustainability ethos.

As The Fifth Estate canvassed in a recent feature on unsustainable growth in the regions, the failure to install key infrastructure such as train lines into new estates upfront leads to poor liveability for residents that move in early.

The planning system doesn’t cope well with innovation

McCamley says that a project this innovative doesn’t generally bode well with the rules-based planning system.

He says that while local government leaders recognise that the way urban development occurs needs to change, it’s still been hard to “step outside the system”.

It hasn’t helped that there’s been “pockets of the old thinking that is very, very hard to change”.

“It’s extremely hard … it’s been exhausting.”

He says that it really helps to have the community’s support. He says they also have an appetite for a better brand of development.

A racehorse retirement home to so much more

The 210 hectare site on Wurundjeri Aboriginal land used to belong to four-time Melbourne Cup winning jockey Harry White, who owned the site for 35 years before the McCamleys bought it in 2015.

White, who will stay living on the site, will have his legacy (and two Cup winners “Think Big” and “Hyperno) remembered at The Harry White Park.

When the McCamleys bought the place, a generous tract of land in the middle of town, the logical solution was to develop it for housing. But as a family who has lived in the area for 20 years, they couldn’t bear to do this in a way that wouldn’t have a positive impact.

Trent McCamley has since assembled a cracking multidisciplinary team of urban planners, biodiversity researchers, impact investors, urban farming experts and sustainable development practitioners to draw up plans for a truly regenerative community that he says already has community buy in.

The few barely advertised open days have attracted hundreds of interested locals keen to see the prototype urban farm, which once completed will supply enough fresh food for Glen Junor and perhaps the rest of the town.

“I see this as a grass roots community movement.”

Through consultation with the project’s partners, which includes the likes of futurist and economist Brian Haratsis (MacroPlan), Mark McCrindle (McCrindle Social Research), Mike Day (Hatch RobertsDay), Brendan Condon (The Cape) and professor Sarah Bekessy (RMIT), it quickly became apparent that “all roads lead to sustainability”.

He says assumptions about sustainability from only a few years prior – that it’s expensive or just for “greenies” – have been overturned now that sustainable technology has advanced and become more affordable.

In fact, numbers crunched by Renew’s policy and research manager Damien Moyse shows that it will cost no more, or negligibly more, to build an above standard energy efficient home powered by renewables on the site.

And once its built, residents will enjoy dramatically lower bills, and will make money by exporting surplus energy back to the grid.

McCamley says the Renew report shows that sustainable living affects affordability in very real ways. By living within your means – in a home that’s a suitable size and relying on shared services where possible such as electric cars – it’s possible for people to save a lot of money.

He says these savings compound and allow people to build wealth. On top. Of that, it’s also becoming cheaper to secure the capital to build sustainably as lower ongoing costs give banks more security to give out loans.

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  1. Just leave it alone! It’s fine as it is. Farmland, freedom for kangaroos and other wildlife to move through it. A last bastion of open countryside on the EDGE – definitely NOT the middle of Gisborne.

  2. There are overlays preventing development on 50% of the site. The owner was not proposing to donate all of this space to open green space because he is so morally conscious, if he could get another 1000 house on the land he would try! Ask any local who knows the history of this site, as opposed to those reading the marketing blurb

  3. I live in Gisborne. The problem with this proposed development is related to location of the property, such a major development would be inappropriate at this site. Some of the other aspects have merit, but I’m so glad local council said no to the over development of this parcel of land. A lot of marketing $$$ was spent with lots of smoke and mirrors! I’m so glad this got stopped in its tracks.

  4. This guy says “I feel guilty owning all this land, I want to share it with others” – what a load of BS

    1. I do keep asking this. Seems NSW is a bit behind on this front, though happy to be corrected if there are some interesting projects out there we’re missing!