baugruppen development fremantle
Fremantle markets, photo: Natalie Su

The City of Fremantle has left a group of hopeful tenderers for a baugruppen development shaken and distrustful after cancelling the project. However one group thinks there’s a silver lining, having created a co-housing model with the potential to be rolled out across the country.

Hopeful applicants for a baugruppen development on unused council-owned land in Fremantle were “bewildered” when the council dropped the entire project without discussion.

Following the release of an agenda item for the council’s Strategic Planning and Transport Committee meeting held on Wednesday night, they’re now a little less confused.

On the meeting agenda, there is a recommendation to amalgamate the 7 Quarry Street site with its neighbour 9-15 Quarry Street, rezone to R100 mixed use (plot ratio of 1.25) and sell onto the open market.

Previously, architect Sid Thoo, who worked on the baugruppen proposal, had told The Fifth Estate that after the council changed the goalposts for a complying tender late in the process, it appeared it would be “almost impossible” to submit anything that could conform.

Speaking to The Fifth Estate on Thursday, the founder of co-op housing consultancy Green Fabric, Eugenie Stockmann, who was spearheading the project, said while only the council could speak on its intentions, it was possible the baugruppen idea was canned due to a desire to sell off the two sites into the open market instead.

Fremantle Council said in its meeting agenda that no tenders had met its requirements and disposal on the open market was subsequently being considered.

Regardless of the reason, Stockmann says she continues to find the council’s decision to step away disappointing, noting they could still opt for a baugruppen development on the amalgamated site, and that a larger site would be easier to finance.

“I’m extremely disappointed that they have basically pulled an opportunity such as that.

“Our group put forward a proposal that would have delivered affordable, sustainable housing in perpetuity. It was innovative. It would have helped inspire the market and show what’s possible.”

A silver lining

Stockmann says there are a number of takeaways, and even some positives to come out of the process, however.

While two years have been spent on the tender, it hasn’t been for nought. In fact, there’s plans to roll it out on a much bigger scale, with the potential to be replicated across the country.

“Any council that wants to talk to us about the work we’ve down, we’re ready to talk.”

The co-housing model created is based on a co-operative legal structure, which Stockmann says is “fundamental”.

As well, there is an innovative finance solution “that would have made the project fly”.

Stockmann says with typical co-housing models, financiers require 30-40 per cent equity up front, which can be a huge sticking point. (We note that WA state agency LandCorp has pushed back the deadline for expressions of interest in its baugruppen project, which requires a 30 per cent equity stake, to 15 August, indicating it may be struggling to find interest.)

“When I’ve looked at the database we’ve created, 80-90 per cent of people interested would be able to finance purchase when complete, but would not have the amount of equity required to build in the first place. With the co-op model and simple finance solutions, we’ve been able to overcome the equity hurdle in a simple but innovative way.”

Stockmann says there’s room for a number of different co-housing models, including Nightingale, which already has a site in Fremantle.

“I think all those models are playing and have played a really important role in how we do development.

“I see the waves Nightingale is making.”

The difference is in the cooperative legal structure being used by Green Fabric, which makes it easier for people to move in and out if circumstances change. The process also involves a “true community-led approach, where we start with a blank piece of paper around the design”.

“All of the models have a place, and they’re all important. It’s never one or the other. It’s a continuum.”

While Stockmann says the baugruppen cancellation has been a loss, she is hopeful it will open other opportunities.

In a few weeks Green Fabric is set to launch its first opportunity in WA, and is looking for land a bit further out of the city, due to the need for “a patient landowner”.

And she remains hopeful Fremantle can find the space to help progress a baugruppen development on council-owned land.

“I would love them to continue to go down this path. There’s a strong role local government should play [in enabling co-housing]. We need to learn from what’s happened. I think Freo needs to think very hard about the role it wants to play in this space.”

The City of Fremantle was approached for comment, and referred The Fifth Estate to a report on the Quarry Street site produced last month that stated no request for tender for the site was accepted. It also referred to Wednesday’s meeting agenda.

“Both 7 Quarry Street and 9-15 Quarry Street have been budgeted for disposal in the 2018-19 financial year,” the spokesman said.

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