Robelle Domain water play area

Given the opportunity to develop an entire city on degraded former forestry land near Ipswich, The Springfield Land Corporation decided to masterplan for sustainability from the outset.

It’s proven an award-winning proposition and one that has also seen multinational GE establish its Queensland headquarters in a 5 Star Green Star building in the new city’s commercial district, and The Mater Hospital building a new facility in the health precinct.

Greater Springfield comprises around 390 hectares, and is part of the City of Ipswich local government area. The masterplanning provides for residential areas to accommodate around 85,000 residents in a mix of detached dwellings, medium-density dwellings and high-density apartments. It is developing commercial, educational, health and retail precincts that together will contain in excess of 1.4 million square metres of office, retail, educational, health and technology facilities, and provide jobs for around 30,000 workers. It also has an ICT hub anchored by the Tier 3+ Polaris Data Centre.

Raynuha Sinnathamby

SLC managing director Raynuha Sinnathamby says green buildings are the only kind that will be built in the city, and this is a deliberate strategy to attract organisations that are committed to sustainability.

“We have got a very unique opportunity because we are building our own CBD,” Sinnathamby says. “We have the ability to have an influence on companies to build in as environmentally friendly a manner as possible.”

“We have a unique opportunity to deliver this – as we don’t have old buildings that require retrofitting.”

The first major development in the city was the Stockland Orion Shopping Centre, which achieved Australia’s first 6 Star Green Star rating for a retail centre.

All of the subsequent buildings in Springfield have had a minimum of 4 Star Green Star set as a benchmark, Sinnathamby says, and the SLC completed its first speculative build of a 4 Star Green Star high rise office tower in 2008.

The commercial property marketing strategy has seen designs developed and then pitched to the market. The design for the GE HQ, for example, was the outcome of a competition, won by Conrad Gargett Riddell and Kane Constructions in partnership. Construction commenced once GE had committed to leasing the building. It officially opened in February this year.

University of Southern Queensland has a campus in the city’s education precinct that opened in 2006. This year it opened an extension to the campus that has a 5 Star Green Star rating, the first major expansion of the campus in almost a decade.

The Greater Springfield education precinct

Sinnathamby says the city is also attracting small to medium enterprises that are taking up tenancies in existing buildings. These smaller firms don’t tend to have sustainability as a priority or goal in terms of their space, she says, but they are like most people “more alert to energy efficiency” and wanting to achieve it.

The whole project of establishing a city “from scratch” is different to business as usual in terms of attracting major commercial tenants to developments, Sinnathamby says. Part of the challenge has been that Springfield is not a CBD area of a capital city – it is an outlying hinterland urban area.

“The early days have been the toughest, but this year has been the game changer,” she says.

Attracting a national brand like GE and having had the rail link with Brisbane operational for the past 18 months have boosted the city’s prospects.

“Now all the elements [for a successful city] are here.”

The new Mater Hospital is another element. It is due to open before the end of October, and has already been in staff recruitment mode. Sinnathamby says there were 3000 applicants for the advertised jobs, and 67 per cent of those applicants were Springfield locals. The balance were current staff in South Brisbane working at the Mater’s other branches.

There has also been a range of other health professionals moving into the area on the back of the Mater development, she says.

Other development planned for the city’s health precinct include listed owner, operator and manager of retirement communities Aveo securing the rights to build 2500 units of retirement and aged care.

District cooling

To boost the sustainability of the health precinct, SLC plans to develop a district cooling system, and also potentially centralised laundry and kitchen facilities to service all the different health-related facilities.

“We are all in a conversation about how to game-change this and centralise things for the whole precinct,” Sinnathamby says.

“This will have operational cost benefits not only in terms of plant costs, but also in terms of workforce.”

A district cooling system is already installed and operational in the education precinct, servicing USQ, primary and secondary schools, TAFE and independent educational providers.

“Education is a huge part of the community,” Sinnathamby says.

There are currently 10 primary schools across the city including both state and private schools from prep to year 12, and three more schools are expected to be built in the next few years, with sustainability to be raised with all stakeholders for new developments.

Green growth

The city has attracted 30,000 residents since it was first founded 23 years ago. The plan is for it to be home to 85,000 once all the planned residential areas are developed.

The social and economic sustainability strategy aims to ensure there is one job for every three residents, Sinnathamby says, and creating those jobs locally is another part of the green strategy.

“Not needing to commute is one of the drivers when we talk about sustainability,” she says, “because as soon as people have to drive the emissions from their car are polluting the environment.”

Sinnathamby says creating an economic base and employment is also key to the social wellbeing of the city.

“When we came here, the area was exporting its retail dollars, its youth and its education. Our driver was: let’s keep the dollars here, let’s keep the youth here.

“Sustainability is making sure people can live 5-10 minutes from where they work, and they can drop the kids off on the way to work. That offers a huge amount of work–life balance.”

By having a sustainable economic base and community, families are stronger and can spend more quality time together, she says.

Full pedestrian and cycle connectivity was part of the urban planning from the start, to reduce the need for vehicle use within the city. Using the car becomes “the last resort”, she says.

“If you make the options [of cycling and walking] available in the early days, people will use them.”

Showcasing sustainability

The early stages also provided an opportunity to showcase more sustainable approaches to residential development.

“For 23 years we have been thinking sustainability. In the early days it was largely about the residential developments,” Sinnathamby says.

A key element of the approach has been encouraging houses that are built to compliment the topography of the land, and maximise the benefits of natural breezes and passive solar design. An emphasis has also been put on the use of lightweight materials that impact “lightly on the earth”, and all home designs are overseen and approved by SLC’s on-site architect.

At the lower end of the market, she says, home owners and buyers still struggle to see sustainability as a priority.

From the outset, SLC set about demonstrating how to achieve best practice sustainability in residential dwellings by building its own “non-traditional display villages”.

Sinnathamby says the initial thinking was people would think the sloping land was too hard to build on, so display villages were constructed on the challenging sites and the first land releases were of flat land. She says SLC was surprised by the reaction of many people that they would prefer the steeper sites and the types of homes that had been built on it.

“Many of them said, ‘We’ll come back when you have that sloping land for us,’” she says.

“If you spend the time to educate the market, people are willing to engage with sustainability.”

Another major focus in terms of environmental impact has been water. The drought of the late 1990s and early 2000s brought this into sharp focus, and rainwater tanks and advice on appropriate products have been emphasised.

Rooftop solar is becoming more widespread for homes, she says, and SLC is exploring the concept of a solar farm to feed electricity to existing commercial buildings, through utilising the existing rooftop space on both retail and commercial developments for panels.

“We will keep exploring and innovating,” Sinnathamby says.

“I think the game is changing for a lot [of people], particularly with commercial offices in regards to electricity.”

SLC is a “long-term player”, she says, and everyone in the city will benefit from its sustainability approach down the line.

Grey water use is also an area where efforts are being focused. Currently SLC owns and operates a golf course that uses some on-site grey water for irrigation, and an agreement just signed with an international resort developer includes exploring the re-use of grey water from the resort in the surrounding suburbs.

Sinnathamby says that one of the challenges being faced in terms of pioneering approaches to grey water use in the city is many governments – including local government – have restrictions on the use of grey water that prevent it currently being used for public parks or nature strips.

Infrastructure funding

Providing the infrastructure needed by a city is something SLC has funded through sales of land and the proceeds of commercial leasing.

“I don’t think there is a quick fix [for infrastructure funding],” Sinnathamby says.

“Because we are a private company, and do not have to declare profits, in the early years our funds were channelled into the project [and infrastructure].”

This included funding the first two lanes of the Centenary Highway, and giving the land for the rail corridor and the highway to the State Government.

“It’s just one of those things as a developer, you just have to decide to do it to move the project along,” Sinnathamby says.

The state government paid SLC back for the highway over a period of time, she says, and having donated the land for the rail corridor made it much easier for the state government to construct the rail as there was no need for land acquisitions.

“We feel extremely fortunate, and the region benefits,” Sinnathamby says.

“It’s just one of those things as a developer, you’ve just got to pay up front. Looking back now it’s easy to say it was the right decision, but at the time, to give away a 4km corridor of land, plus organising the financing [for the highway] – that was painful. It was a leap of faith, because the industry has its ups and downs.

“But fundamentally, now all that infrastructure is in place we will see growth. And the 55,000 new residents [to come] will all benefit.

Planning for climate change

Sinnathamby says planning for climate change has also been fundamental to the city.

“Any good organisation worries about climate change resilience,” she says.

The challenges for the city include being in range of bushfire, and also the potential for civil unrest. Amberley RAAF base is nearby, and it provides air security for the city, something that is particularly crucial for the data centre, she says.

The planning has emphasised stormwater management to prevent flood issues, and Springfield was not affected by the major flooding that has several times affected the region this decade, including nearby Ipswich.

Ensuring water supplies in drought is another consideration.

“Water will be a challenge for the nation going forward,” Sinnathamby says.

“We need to be drought-proofing our homes, and the [development] industry needs to look at buildings and houses in terms of drought.”

Greater Springfield has won numerous awards over recent years, including the UDIA National Master Planned Community Award in 2015, the 2014 the Queensland’s President’s Award Master Planned Community, the international FIABCI Prix D’Excellence Award for World’s Best Master Planned Community in 2010, as well as the 2010 UDIA Presidents Award, UDIA Master Planned Community Award and PCA Master Planned Development Award.

SLC estimates that on completion, the investment in Greater Springfield will amount to more than $85 billion. To date more than $10.3 billion has been invested, and a growth in expenditure of more than $600 million was expected through 2015.