Artist's impression of Denman Prospect

One of the ACT’s newest suburbs, Denman Prospect, is believed to be the first in Australia where the developer has mandated the installation of solar panels for every dwelling and committed to donating a percentage of every land sale and house sale to fight homelessness.

The ACT government selected Capital Estate Development, a development arm of the prominent Snow family’s Capital Airport Corporation, to develop the first half of the suburb. It comprises approximately 145 hectares of predominantly north-facing land overlooking the Molonglo River Valley and the National Arboretum.

CED paid the government $241 million for the development rights.

Nick McDonald Crowley
Nick McDonald Crowley

Denman Prospect CED project director Nick McDonald Crowley said the mindset of chief executive Terry Snow and managing director Stephen Byron was focused on “wanting to push the envelope on a whole range of things”.

“Their line is, ‘We are creating Canberra’s most remarkable suburb,’” Mr McDonald Crowley said.

He said the family had a passion for public art, the environment and the community, and that these three core values were part of how the development was being planned and executed.

Generating recurrent funding for social housing

Mr McDonald Crowley believes The Big Issue’s Homes for Homes initiative – which will see 0.1 per cent of the purchase price of all land parcels sold by CED donated to assist projects to reduce homelessness in the ACT – is an Australian first in terms of its suburb-wide scale.

There will also be agreements with builders that when they sell a home, they donate the same 0.1 per cent amount – which is tax deductible – and also permissible caveats will be on every land parcel that encourage owners to make a 0.1 per cent donation with every future transaction on the home.

The Snow Foundation has been working with The Big Issue on Homes for Homes since 2013 when it committed $300,000 over three years as seed funding.

“The Foundation has a long history helping tackle homelessness, most recently with the Common Ground ACT project,” CED managing director Stephen Byron said.

“Committing to Homes for Homes is a simple way of generating recurring funding that will help stamp out homelessness in our own region, and I encourage all property owners in Canberra to consider participating.”

Public art will also be a feature of the suburb, and Mr McDonald Crowley said a “very significant artist” has just been commissioned to do some work, with a public announcement to be made in the near future about the artwork.

Sustainability a must

And then there’s care for the environment, the most obvious measure being the requirement as part of the developer’s building and design guidelines that every home have solar panels.

The company were looking at ways they could promote good environmental management and reduce carbon emissions, Mr McDonald Crowley said. After considering a range of options, solar was decided on as it could be quickly implemented and also made an obvious environmental statement.

The guidelines stipulate that every house will have a 3kW solar system that will generate approximately 4146kWh of electricity annually, reducing yearly carbon emissions from fossil-fuelled generation by about 3.7 tonnes for each house.

Mr Byron said CED had partnered with ActewAGL for a bulk purchase of solar systems to supply the first 350 homes in the suburb.

“The model we are providing is convenient, user friendly and allows families to check their generation via an app over wifi,” Mr Byron said.

“Due to the volume of solar systems being purchased by Denman Prospect we are able to offer these systems to home buyers at around half the cost.”

The developers estimate that based on a 7000kWh typical annual electricity consumption of a new six star home and current residential tariffs, a 3kW solar system will reduce a homeowner’s annual electricity bill from about $1500 to $1000 a year. The system will have paid for itself in about 7-8 years.

“In terms of environmental benefits, every installation will be like taking a car off the road and it will reduce the carbon footprint of the entire suburb by about a third,” Mr Byron said.

“I am pleased the ACT government has also committed to the Building and Design Guidelines for the first 24 public housing dwellings in Stage 1a that will be created at Denman Prospect, which will help it reach its renewable energy target.”

ActewAGL estimates that the first 350 homes in the suburb will generate electricity equivalent to a 1.05MW solar farm.

Mr McDonald Crowley said that, ideally, the developers would have taken up on-site storage from these initial stages, but “were not that confident in the technology yet”.

“But it is only a matter of time,” he said, and as the number of residents grows, and the price of storage continues to decline, it is very likely to be part of the suburb in future.

Another measure under consideration as the project proceeds is water re-ruse, which has been incorporated into CAG’s commercial developments at its Majura, Brindabella and Fairbairn Business Parks, and at the Canberra Airport Terminal.

The first release of land in the suburb is all detached dwelling sites comprising 377 blocks, with a further 24 blocks of the initial 401 lot subdivision retained by the ACT government for public housing. Mr McDonald Crowley said the government would also be subject to the same design constraints as private owners and builders, including the installation of solar.

Why constraints are a good thing

CED has an in-house design coordinator, and all plans will need to be reviewed for quality and sustainability and be consented to by that coordinator, who has a degree of autonomy to approve variations to the guidelines “if it’s a good design”.

“Our experience, looking around the states, is that where there are constraints in place, the built form ends up being of a higher quality,” Mr McDonald Crowley said.

“But we’re not looking for something like The Truman Show; we want to see variety.”

He said there is also a large proportion of affordable housing required to be delivered as part of the overall masterplan, and “we want to do that tastefully”.

Trading profit uplift for amenity upgrade

The entire parcel of stages 1a and 1b of the suburb has been masterplanned for between 1000-1200 detached dwellings and 600-800 multi-unit dwellings. However, Mr McDonald Crowley said that to meet the design and aesthetic goals the developer has, the number may end up being “suboptimal” from a commercial point of view.

There has already been a major amendment to the masterplan that has reduced the potential profit for the sake of a better open space and community amenity outcome, with a ridge that runs through the centre of the suburb that was earmarked under the ACT Land Corporation plan for high-value housing instead changed to green space.

“Our urban designer went back and changed some of the configurations [of the masterplan] to include greater areas of park,” Mr McDonald Crowley said.

“The ridge running through suburb that would maximise financial yield we will retain as open space and as a pedestrian throughway. We think that is adding value for the community and adding value for the blocks around it.”

He said this also opens up opportunities for additional plantings, including native vegetation.

There are also some ridge and buffer areas around the suburb, which was formerly pine forestry plantation, where CED is in talks with the ACT government to enhance and consolidate remaining woodlands to create areas including walking and cycle paths.

Treating bikes like cars

Cycleways and pedestrian paths have been planned throughout the suburb, with cycle connectivity one of the “key criteria” the team have been working to, Mr McDonald Crowley said.

A “hierarchy” of cycle paths and pedestrian paths is being developed – similar to the hierarchies used for road design – that will size them relative to expected traffic volumes.

He said that being only 10km from the Canberra CBD, some residents may choose to use cycling to commute to work, and that public transport will be provided by buses.

Two school sites have been nominated, and discussions are underway with the ACT education minister about what type of schools might be built and when. There is also a requirement for the developer to put in a local shopping centre adjacent to the new Molonglo Town Centre.

“The Snows have a philosophy of, ‘If you build it they will come,’” Mr McDonald Crowley said. “And the same philosophy applies to the retail.”

At this stage it is uncertain if CED will be undertaking the development of the second half of the suburb, he said. The current tender does enable them to nominate a price, and the Land Development Agency can sell should it choose to.

CED is willing to pay for an advanced stage of planning approval, he said, and the firm’s landscape designer is already doing a masterplan for the full suburb, with a decision on whether LDA will sell them the balance of the land expected around mid-2016.

The initial auction of 40 blocks in stage 1a is being carried out this weekend by Colliers International, and industry sources have tipped prices ranging from about $450,000 to $550,000.

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  1. It’s great that a development company is committing to these goals. My issue is with replacing good sustainable design with technology. How long will a solar panel last? Maybe 40 years at the outside. But buildings designed to need no power for heating or cooling can be designed to last 500 years. And suburbs designed to harvest water and produce food will support residents for as long as the suburb lasts. A great example is the development of Village Homes in Davis, California. A little information is here: