Nightingale Housing will be testing the waters in regional Victoria next week, with an information night to gauge interest in a sustainable co-housing development in Bendigo, a city of just over 100,000.

According to Andrew Maynard of Austin Maynard Architects, who is also a director of Nightingale Housing, Bendigo offers a number of drawcards for a potential project.

“A number of us are interested to see how [Nightingale] would adapt to a regional area,” he told The Fifth Estate.

“Bendigo is an interesting place to test that idea.”

Going for it are its proximity to Melbourne – two hours north by train – and shifting demographics caused by the government’s “GovHubs” decentralisation project and the new law courts.

There’s already support from the local council to welcome Nightingale into the fold, too.

“It’s an incredibly interesting council… looking for ways of letting this city evolve. We’ve already had discussion with councillors, and the reception has been great.”

What a Nightingale development looks like in a regional setting may be quite different to those that have come before it – typically 5-6 storey apartments on small footprints in the inner city. But, according to Maynard, there isn’t a “typical” Nightingale look.

“A lot of people confuse [the model] with The Commons and Nightingale 1,” he says. 

“A lot of people think it’s a hipster solution for inner-north Melbourne. It’s actually a financial model. It’s not an aesthetic or a design template.”

Land is currently being scouted and a number of ideas are beginning to form, though it all depends on the site. 

Maynard says a three-storey walk up made with lightweight construction materials like cross-laminated timber could provide big savings, though accessibility becomes an issue. Other sites could potentially work well with four storeys and lift. A site that could accommodate both, to provide diversity, would be a great outcome, he says. 

 Maynard says Bendigo CBD would be the best place for a development, to help create some vibrancy and density – “getting some 24/7 activity in city instead of it being a 9 to 5 city where people go home to the suburbs after work.”

Those moving from Melbourne for work or lifestyle reasons could be potential buyers. The event next Tuesday night hopes to find out if there’s enough like-minded people to go through with a development.

“We’ll be saying, ‘We think Bendigo is a good fit. Do you agree? Or should we go to Newcastle or Ballarat?’” As an aside, Newcastle, north of Sydney, is currently being investigated, Maynard says, with some landowners already in contact about the possibility of a development there.

A challenge for regional areas like Bendigo is the growth of cheap, low-quality dwellings in greenfield areas, making Nightingale’s selling point of affordability in terms of purchase price harder to make.

“What we do know is that we can’t use the word affordability in Bendigo. There’s paddocks outside Bendigo being carved up and filled with cheap brick veneer houses,” Maynard says.  

“But we don’t build low-quality buildings. We build for the long term.”

The final development should be 15-20 per cent cheaper than comparable building stock (prime, centrally located property), and will also have the benefit of big operational savings.

That’s the value proposition being put forward. Whether there’s a market for that will be clearer after next week’s event.

For more information on the event click here.