Chrissy and Trent McCamley on the Glen Junor community farm site at Gisborne

A new project in Gisborne, Victoria, heralded as a model for truly regenerative, carbon positive regional development may not go ahead. Instead, the town could end up with more suburbanisation to accommodate its swelling population. 

Plans for a gold standard sustainable residential development in Gisborne have been derailed by a local government decision to keep the development out of its town growth plans.

This is despite overwhelming community support for the development, which allocated 50 per cent of the 210-hectare farmland site to open space and community assets. In a survey asking community respondents to rank the four proposed growth areas, 75 per cent picked Glen Junor as their number one preference.

The development, modelled on Serenbe in the US and profiled in detail by The Fifth Estate only a few weeks ago, ticked all the boxes on best practice thinking on regenerative, affordable greenfield development, and was the result of exhaustive work by some of the best minds in the business.

This included futurist and economist Brian Haratsis (MacroPlan), Mark McCrindle (McCrindle Social Research), Mike Day (Hatch RobertsDay), Brendan Condon (The Cape) and professor Sarah Bekessy (RMIT).

The decision made on Wednesday night by the Macedon Ranges Shire Council represents a major setback for the development, with councillors voting to remove it from the Gisborne Futures Plan, a document that’s meant to “guide sustainable growth and development of Gisborne area over the next 30 years”.

The challenge for the local government is to find homes for more than 5000 people by 2036, with the Gisborne population forecast to balloon from 14,406 to 20,454 people in this time.

These growth plans are required by the state government in all Victoria’s regional growth hotspots, with Gisborne, a commutable train ride from Melbourne, identified as an ideal site for people seeking affordable housing and a quiet lifestyle outside the capital.

Central to the Gisborne Futures plan is setting aside enough land for this growth, effectively drawing up a new boundary.

Anything outside this boundary will be subject to the usual zoning and planning system. For Glen Junor, not being included within this boundary will mean it can only be developed as low density residential as it is currently zoned for.

This will see the farmland carved into one-to-four-hectare blocks, and none of the landscape regenerated for native wildlife nor community assets built, such as a huge community garden and a youth innovation hub.

Not all hope is lost for the development. As Councillor Geoff Neil, the councillor who motioned to remove Glen Junor from the growth plans, suggested, it could still attract the direct support of the state government as an exemplar project, or it could go ahead as standalone self-funded planning amendment.

Trent McCamley, who is developing the land alongside investment partners Tiverton Rothwell Partners, led by Nigel Sharp, hasn’t given up. He told The Fifth Estate he will pursue other means, including taking the plans to the state government.

How did this happen?

The final vote came down to a four-way split, with Mayor Jennifer Anderson voting twice (once as a councillor and again as mayor) to break the tie.

Even the councillors who voted against its inclusion in the plans recognised the merits of the development. They also admitted that it had amassed serious community support.

The problem, according to some of councillors who voted against it, is that the council doesn’t have the bandwidth to deal with it as part of “mammoth” Gisborne Futures project, and that it will put pressure on existing ratepayers.

“Glen Junor can happen in tandem with Gisborne Futures, and not as part of Gisborne Futures, and not at the expense of all current ratepayers,” Councillor Neil said.

“The public infrastructure burden is already apparent and the financial resources to continue to consider Glen Junor inside the boundary will be significant and can’t be borne only by the land owner and will need to be borne by all ratepayers,” the mayor said.

The burden on existing ratepayers is something the Glen Junor developers have thought about.

The plan is to set up $3.5 million community endowment fund to ensure the natural and community assets are maintained in perpetuity. The fund, which would be operated and invested independently, is designed to take the pressure off the local council to maintain the abundance of open space.

The councillors voting against the project noted that the development wasn’t originally in the Gisborne Futures project (it was voted into the growth planning process by the council in mid-2020), and that the site is too far from the existing town centre, exposing the lower density outer areas of the town to overdevelopment.

The site also doesn’t seem to be much further from town than any of the other zones earmarked for future development. It will also be connected to the main town with bike and walking paths, and there’s also a plan to install an electric bike share service and a dedicated public transport service to take people to town and the train station. The plans also include a lot of the social infrastructure it will need to function as 20-minute neighbourhood.

Providing a variety of lot sizes is also part of the Glen Junor plan. The idea was to offer a variety of housing types to suit people at all stages of life, with higher density living in the centre with blocks getting larger as they get closer to the perimeter.

Those who voted to keep Glen Junor inside the boundary pointed to strength of the project, the overwhelming community support, and that the decision to remove it was being done prematurely before the full community consultation process had taken place.

Mayor Anderson was contacted for further comment but declined to add more to her initial statement made at the council meeting.

Getting community buy in

The Gisborne Futures project for managing growth, and others like it, are meant to be done with of plenty of community engagement so that existing residents of these towns don’t get short-changed on the liveability and character of their towns as they expand.

The Gisborne community seemed to have several opportunities to make themselves heard on the town’s future. In an early engagement process conducted by Ethos Urban, the planners selected to prepare Gisborne Futures, as many as 800 residents voiced their concerns about how growth is typically handled in semi-rural towns, with strain put on services and infrastructure and the “look and feel” of these places degraded, such as loss of tree cover.

“Balancing these concerns with the need to accommodate housing growth is a major challenge/opportunity for council, community and this project,” the report stated

In the same report, prepared in July 2019, several respondents expressed their enthusiasm for Glen Junor as a model for development they could get behind.

“This commentary stands in contrast to suggestions that other housing estates reflect poor design practice and are not contributing to affordability and choice within the region,” the report stated.

Trent McCamley and Nigel Sharp

Before the vote on Wednesday night, a group of 350 ratepayers signed a petition to keep the development inside the dotted line for higher density growth.

There are also accusations that more community consultation in support of the project had been deliberately held back until right before the vote on Wednesday night.

The development’s Facebook page also has an active membership of 847 followers, with many people expressing their support for the new model for greenfield development that offers triple bottom line benefits. It’s even attracted the praise of award winning director of 2040, Damon Gameau, who called it a “sensational initiative”.

Despite the wealth of community support, Mayor Anderson made it clear that councillors have the final word on such matters.

 “All councillors decide how much weight they wish to place on community consultations results that include surveys, petitions and officer recommendations,” she said at the meeting.

McCamley, the site’s developer, said the council failed to take into account the community’s wishes fairly and transparently in their decision.

“My point to that is how can you expect the community to advocate for the future they want if you give them no choice, and it’s a matter of ‘it will be up to me if I will put any weight on what you have to say’.”

When the council has to accommodate thousands of new residents as part of its growth strategy, McCamley says cancelling Glen Junor will only transplant the problem elsewhere. And those houses, by contrast, will most likely follow the usual suburbanisation, car dependant greenfield development model.

People visiting the project’s prototype community farm.

This is bigger than Gisborne

Liveability expert Dr Iain Butterworth, who provided some policy analysis on the Glen Junor project, suspects that there’s a lack of understanding about liveability on display.

While most of the world is chasing compact, walkable 20-minute neighbourhoods to house a growing population sustainably – preventing sprawl into agricultural land and dwindling natural landscapes – somehow Australia still ends up with low density development.

“We’re in a climate emergency, and a biodiversity emergency, and having a global population explosion, and the reality is this low density development on the edge of a township is not sustainable.”

Butterworth is acutely aware that this issue is bigger than Glen Junor.

“The reason we keep having these debacles is that the Planning and Environment Act or the Climate Change Act does not require developers to prove how their projects will protect and enhance social, environmental and economic capital.” 

He says there’s plenty of talk about the “triple bottom line” and other lofty ambitions in planning documents but the final product tends to fall short because of an absence of onus of proof, with development in growth corridors defaulting to suburbanisation.

For Butterworth, getting better outcomes hinges on serious state and local government leadership through enabling, reinforcing and integrated legislation.

17 replies on “Gold star sustainable Gisborne development is snuffed by council despite serious community backing. Now it’s up to Daniel Andrews to help”

  1. Im another happy Gisborne resident who is glad that council made a stand against more urban sprawl in the town. Some very clever marketing with this proposal, but lucky our mayor and the majority of councillors could see through this one. Well done council.

  2. 1, Were all lots to be served by retic, sewerage?
    2. What is the depth to highest known water level?
    3. What are the soil science results- capability 1-5 for all grazing-ag-hort-vit-vin-flori-silvi (cultures); and road construction, housing et al?

  3. This is a comprehensive article spelling out the various benefits to this region and Victoria of the proposed Glen Junor sustainable community. Currently there are very few housing projects nationally that give people a choice to live in a better standard of climate adapted home – homes that are healthy, carbon neutral, fossil fuel free with low running costs, thermally comfortable year round and resilient in heat waves. A growing number of people are looking for this type of better quality housing in Australia, and the housing industry needs to change tack from status quo and deliver it.

    It is arguable that the vast majority of our existing older housing stocks, and the new conventional estates and housing being built today in Australia are simply not fit for purpose – vast expanses of wall to wall, energy and carbon intensive, “hot box housing” that lack shade structures and lock in high running costs and energy bills for residents and communities.

    Current housing stocks and commuter vehicles combined are generating 20% of Australia’s carbon footprint. While people rightfully point the finger at new proposed fossil fuel projects like expansion of the Galillee coal basin in Queensland, the current poor standards of Australian housing is helping to lock Australian communities and the country into a high carbon future. If housing doesn’t shift then Australia is unlikely to shift decisively on to a low carbon trajectory. Our housing sector needs to pull it’s weight alongside the rest of the economy and community.

    Perhaps the more significant issue set to play out in coming decades is that we are sleepwalking into a major health exposure with the inability of current housing stocks to cope with extreme heat. With increasing heatwaves in a heating climate, our heat wave experts/ leading climate scientists predict 50 degree days for capital cities in coming decades, (Penrith in Western Sydney blew out heat records last summer when it hit 48.8 degrees – https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2021-01-24/heatwaves-sydney-uninhabitable-climate-change-urban-planning/12993580 ) We can’t keep building housing stocks that lack shading, thermal stability, passive solar design, resilience, the ability to exclude heat, or the ability to maintain liveable temperatures when we have grid outages in heatwaves/extreme weather events.

    Scaled projects like Glen Junor, where the project team has voluntarily adopted higher standards of sustainable healthy housing, in line with expert advice, are really important to push our housing sector on to a carbon neutral trajectory. Scale projects are critically important as mythbusters to prove it can be done, it’s possible, and to show the rest of the industry that carbon neutral, climate adapted housing can happen. Scale projects help overcome the inertia to change that exists in the housing sector, while having the size and resources to help to retrain trades and designers, helping to normalise better, higher performance, healthy housing.

    Recent modelling by independent group Renew show that Glen Junor’s proposal to lift mandatory minimum housing standards to minimum 7.5 star energy efficiency, gas free/all electric housing with solar on every house will avoid between 86,000 – 168,000 tonnes of CO2 and save the community between $18.9 – 23.3 million in energy bills over 20 years. More than this, the estate will generate a large energy surplus helping to power up the surrounding Gisborne electricity grid which will help decarbonise the town. What wasn’t captured in the Renew modelling is that Glen Junor can also adopt 32 amp charge points in their efficient, all electric, gas free homes to allow residents to charge electric vehicles on surplus solar and eliminate petrol bills.

    Having recently toured the site, Glen Junor is currently a degraded agricultural site, almost completely cleared of native vegetation. Typical of many rural properties, the property has been cleared for many decades, but the upside of this is that it offers a blank slate for scientific restoration of habitat and biodiversity values along waterways and through creation of bio links. The 50% of land set aside for open space, and community amenity creates this opportunity for restoration of nature. This level of restoration – involving the seed collection and planting of hundreds of thousands of trees, grasses, shrubs – takes large budgets which won’t happen under normal circumstances, but can be accommodated in the landscape budget of a scale sustainable project like Glen Junor.

    The Glen Junor project team includes Nigel Sharp, who has a long track record in protecting biodiversity, founding rare and threatened breeding reserves like Mt Rothwell Biodiversity Research Centre (https://www.mtrothwell.com.au ) near the You Yangs, and has collaborated on some of the largest conservation projects in Australia such as the protection of the Great Cumbung Swamp on the Murray Darling. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/jan/23/private-conservation-group-55m-protect-murray-darling-great-cumbung-swamp This is why I have confidence that they will invest the time and money to restore ecological values on the site, and to create a predator proof zone for the breeding of rare and threatened species, is not pie in the sky. It is really exciting and something new in Australia to have this type of biodiversity facility integrated into a community plan as part of a residential neighbourhood.

    The urban agriculture/ community farm proposed for Glen Junor is also really well considered, with the first stage of the farm up and running already, generating food for local charities, and a much larger urban farm has been designed and planned that will support and encourage lot scale urban farming and improve food security in the community and surrounding area.

    How do I know this level of sustainable design is possible – I’ve overseen a similar project at the Cape at Cape Paterson – https://www.domain.com.au/news/the-cape-ecodevelopment-should-be-the-national-standard-for-a-zero-carbon-climate-resilient-future-experts-say-922298/ involving the same elements – urban farming, carbon neutral housing, restoration of habitats (see biodiversity restoration progress here – https://capechatter.com ) I am excited to see the Glen Junor team committing to the delivery of the same standards as the Cape. It is hard work to go above and beyond and needs a dedicated team with the right expertise but when it happens the results for people and nature can be really positive.

    The alternative for Glen Junor is the subdivision of this property into rural residential lots – potentially home to well under 100 households living in a fragmented settlement pattern, conventional homes, car dependency with little chance of scale restoration of natural values on the site.

    Because so few development teams are stepping up the plate to deliver integrated sustainable climate adapted estates and communities, it makes it easy for me to support the team at Glen Junor as they work to bring this project to reality. The worst thing we can do today in the Australian housing sector is to keep doing the same. As council has signalled, Gisborne township will expand with future development, and benchmark projects like this can help lift the standards of regional development and become the new normal and create a better standard of community, setting residents up well for future challenges. I agree wholeheartedly with the article that this is bigger than Gisborne, and I hope the Gisborne and Victorian public gets right behind this project despite this recent setback.

  4. There’s 4,000 new dwellings that will go into Gisborne in the next couple of years. The Council has said so. I feel like a lot of the people commenting here think that we can just stop all future development in Gisborne entirely and stay exactly as we are now, but I don’t think that’s possible.

    Glen Junor offers us a chance to deal with this growth in a way that will actually improve our town. I’ve seen the plans… the green spaces, the community assets, bike paths, and the clean energy offers enormous benefit to all of us already living here. Plus, it’s on a part of Gisborne that will have the least impact on our main roads, not to mention has the least risk of bush fire (unlike the other proposed development sites… which offer NO community benefit, just more people and cars).

    All over Victoria plots of farmland are being chopped up into 1-4 acre blocks (as is currently approved for Glen Junor) which just deliver even more cars, less community/green/open space, and more people with no plan to provide for them. It makes me sick every time I see it! Low density development will lock us into environmental and social disaster – we have to lead the way and show the country what can be done!

    1. That’s exactly the way we feel Sam. We are absolutely biased…towards better development. And realistic as to the big challenges that are coming with climate and population. As climate change starts impacting our neighbourhood do we really think we can shut the gates?

  5. Funny how its only one side getting promoted here. Its not in the town boundarys, pretty simple, they can develop it as per the current parameters. 10 acre blocks, they just want to cut it up into over 1000+ blocks. Under the disguise of “enviro” friendly. Maybe look at some facts… Not All/most of Gisborne is behind Glen Junor, l’d say most don’t. Gisborne can’t and don’t want another development thrown into the current town boundry. This sounds more like one of their paid promos and with them going futher with this proposal shows that they dont care whats good for Gisborne, but only whats what is worth more money to them.

    1. Hi Brad, I’m a tad offended you think we write paid promos.. but then so many other people do exactly that I’m not surprised you think this. I would love to hear your evidence for saying this project is under the “disguise of enviro’ friendly”? Plus I think you mistake what we are and what we do. What we are is an online newspaper focused on sustainable development… We like sustainable development. We think this is really outperforming project at least in its intentions; we want more of this, not less. And we are NOT writing about in or out of the town boundaries which seems to be the only issue that concerns you. Is that correct? if you can show other relevant issues pls send them along.

      1. Town boundary is the key issue for this development, which will result in urban sprawl. The marketing team for GJ have tried to make the debate about sustainability, which it is a secondary conversation and a mute topic. Please check all of the project info before commenting on it, as a whole the development is bad for the community.

  6. Jilly Dal its not in the town boundarys, pretty simple, they can devop as per the current parameters. 10 acre blocks, they just want to cut it up into over 1000+ blocks. Under the disguise of “enviro” friendly. Maybe look at some facts…

  7. The response of our councillors to the Glen Junor story was unpredictable.
    The GJ marketing exercise was excellent and many fell in love with the concept. On the other hand there was a compelling argument that GJ was offering us the new, clean energy paradigm and the price was another large greenfield housing development; the last thing needed.
    Had the GJ proposal been presented a decade or more ago, it would have been acclaimed unanimously. Now the evidence of overpopulation is an everyday occurrence and there is more development in the pipeline. The vast majority of residents know that any further development, however wonderful, will ensure the transition of Gisborne into Gisbury.
    The surprise was that only one of the three south ward councillors supported the majority of their constituents. Thanks to the mayor and two east ward councillors for saving the day.
    Does this decision suggest that we have heard the wake up call and are aware of the need to change our ways? Can we expect that the next version of Gisborne Futures will call for a further contraction of the boundary and a stabilisation of Gisborne’s population?

  8. As residents we are so glad this got knocked back, there are a lot of smoke and mirrors with this development. I hope you publish all comments not just the ones that support the marketing of this development.

    1. HI Felicity, happy to publish your comments but it would be good to know what you mean by smoke and mirrors and why you object to the development. I think we all need to understand what’s going on.

      1. This should never have been listed as being in the town boundary to begin with. Cr Mandy Mees extended the town boundary for the puposes of public consultation again Planning Officer advice in an amazing turn of events in the June 2020 council meeting. Cr Mees didn’t stay on as a councillor this term, she may still get a call from IBAC (see Casey City Council case study for more info). So glad we have enough experienced councillors at the moment to made the right call on this.

        1. Hi Felcity thanks for your reply. Sadly other comments have accused us of bias and being pro developer. What we are biased towards is more sustainable development that respects nature and people. This looks to be exemplary and we want to flag it far and wide as an example of what more housing can look like. As opposed to sprawl.

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