Equanimity

Local sustainability

Cornerstone Living development – a short history

This piece continues on from where the History of the ‘Dutch Houses’ of Coopers Plains left off.

Privatizing Public Land and Housing

Cornerstone Living is in Coopers Plains bounded by Troughton Road, Boundary Road and the Gold Coast passenger train line. “In 2010 the Brisbane City Council under the LNP began planning a redevelopment of the site and put it out to tender along with the state government under the then ALP Premier Bligh. Consolidated Properties is the company behind the $400 million master-planned development that is privatizing government land and public housing.” Brisbane Times August 28, 2012.

Cornerstone Living described itself as “an exciting new neighbourhood with open green spaces, walking and bike paths, community garden and centre. Cornerstone Living is a $600 million, 10-hectare residential community that will create almost 1,200 new homes over a 10-year period. This is a neighbourhood of substantial scale and significance, and is the largest suburban renewal to take place in Queensland.” Facebook Page

Reality Check

More than ten years on, how does the reality look in light of original intentions? Also, does it meet the need for appropriate development and urban renewal in the context of a growing population, increasingly unaffordable housing, depleting resources, a degrading environment and increasingly unstable continental and global weather system?

The development project is currently between its second and final phase. There are no bike paths, no centre and one central park has been set aside as open green space. The community garden and centre mentioned above was, it turns out, always ‘interim’, according to inside information from the Department of Housing.

Cornerstone Living – Our Vision (2022)

Community Engagement and transport

Consolidated Properties managing director Don O’Rorke commented;

We’re thrilled to be taking the first steps towards delivering what will become a showcase project for Brisbane in terms of private enterprise, local government and the community working together’’ [my emphasis]

Brisbane Times

My efforts over the years to engage with plans for The Corner, which was owned by the Department of Housing until December, 2021, have been stymied. The Corner was a Council requirement of the developer to provide a community centre. Initially, this consisted of a sales office, the community garden, a Dutch House and a cafe. The Dutch House was never utilized and the cafe closed when the sales office was abandoned. The grounds were left to go to seed.

Both the developer and the property managers of Cornerstone Living appear uninterested in engaging with local residents and businesses. The only cross-community communication appears to be the realtor’s closed Facebook page. The Banoon shops on the south east corner of the precinct – not 200 meters from The Corner – has been serving the area since the 1951. The Corner is slated for demolition and the Council approved plans in 2019 for a shopping center and car park. The impact on the Banoon shops are up for conjecture, but the only reported contact with the proprietors has been offers to buy them out for redevelopment into apartments. They declined. The Henley Street shops, at the western end of the precinct over the railway crossing and adjacent to Coopers Plains station, was the area’s main shopping center until Westfield Garden City was built in Upper Mt Gravatt. In the 1950s Rudy and John Vandenberg and Franz Wilbrink ran a bakery there and sold some of their produce at the Banoon shops.

I have been actively involved in the community garden and concerned about both the history and future of the development since 2018. One early participant in the community garden reported to me that the property manager actively discouraged her from tending the garden [see garden report].

By contrast, after visiting the Sales Office in about 2014, I was called incessantly regarding a purchase, despite never expressing an intention to buy.

A future-proofed community emphasizes active transport paths (for walking, bike riding and mobility devices) and public transport. The absence of bike paths is a lost opportunity. Cornerstone Living is ideally placed between two train stations – especially Banoon station – and is well serviced by bus routes and yet individual car reliance is designed into each apartment. There is no car-sharing facility. The Boundary Road level crossing to Coopers Plains station on the city side of the area is one of the state’s transport hot spots. After decades of lobbying the community is finally getting a multi-tiered government funded overpass solution. To date, the only publicly visible involvement by the developer has been to attempt to sell off the corner block that will be most impacted by the overpass to an unwitting buyer.

Public and private housing mix

The state government said it would use the estimated $60 million it will earn from selling the land over the next 10 years to build new public housing elsewhere. In 2012, Bruce Flegg, the new LNP Minister for Housing and Public Works stated, ‘The one change I have made is the previous government’s plans for the funds from the sale of land here was going to go into a general administrative fund and I’ve put a stop to that. If we sell houses, that number will 100 per cent go into new houses and will go into more new houses than the number we sold.’ Brisbane Times

In 2013, Housing Minister Tim Mander sought to minimize rumours that it would be selling all public housing (ABC May 2013). The scale of privatization at Cornerstone Living has been unclear to the local community and widespread confusion has ensued about how much public housing would remain. The impression has been that “the old housing commission estate on state government land has been sold off to developers to provide a mix of social, low-cost and private housing.” DACC

In 2012, the Brisbane Times was informed, “One thousand new apartments and townhouses are planned for Cornerstone Living with 135 of those properties set aside for affordable housing.”

Broadly speaking, there are three categories of housing set apart from the open market; public, social and affordable. Public housing is owned by the Department of Housing and rented to eligible applicants at 75% of the tenant’s income. Social housing is built by not-for-profit developers and rented out at 75% of the market rate. Affordable housing is available to, for example, first home-owner grant recipients.

A state departmental representative who has been more forthcoming, informed me in 2022 that it was pursuing a policy of dispersing public housing, having learnt that concentrating it creates social challenges.

In the absence of detailed written evidence from the department or the developer, I can confirm that as of February, 2022, all but 20 ‘Dutch Houses’ have been demolished on the site. There are many new unit blocks and town houses and some older, established homes, including a few ‘Dutch Houses’ that are occupied and well maintained. However, they don’t look like Housing Department rentals. They look like properties that it has sold to private individuals, which I understand has happened, as in the case of Fred and Marijke van Breeman on Macgroaty Street. However, they say, “They want us to sell it, they want us to move out, they want to pull it down, we just don’t want to leave,” Fred said. “We’re happy here,” adds Marijke. SBS

To date, I have been unable to ascertain the number of houses retained and leased by the department. Neither Consolidated Property or the Department of Housing have responded to my inquiries.

Affordable housing?

“The prices of all of the properties were said to range from $175,000 to more than $400,000 and part of the state government’s agreement with Consolidated Properties is they have to first offer the apartments and townhouses to first home buyers and people intending to live in the homes they bought, rather than renting them out.” However, upon inquiry in February, 2022, Consolidated Property informed me that “All of our properties suit both owner occupiers and investors and obviously we welcome the opportunity of catering to first home buyers too.” The Cornerstone Living Sales Office also confirmed that properties are on the open market to anyone interested.

February 2022 – what a difference a decade makes to prices

Could public housing be done better?

Yes. Economist Cameron Murray has studied the Singapore government’s model of public housing provision and says we could do it here. He calls it HouseMate. Publicly built homes on public land.

“What Singapore has that Australia does not is a public housing developer, the Housing Development Board, which puts new dwellings on public and reclaimed land, provides mortgages, and allows buyers to use their compulsory retirement savings [what Australians call superannuation] for both a deposit and repayments,” Murray says.

ABC Could Australia learn from Singapore to make housing more affordable?

HouseMate would be a “publicly run housing developer that would offer home ownership to any eligible buyer who doesn’t already own property, at a discounted price — so the price would be roughly 30 per cent less than the equivalent private dwelling — and buyers would be able to use their superannuation as a deposit and to repay the mortgage,” he says.

Sustainability

Cornerstone Living praises the sustainable virtues of townhouse living in light of our growing population, which basically means sacrificing the outdoor space of detached homes.

As Brisbane continues to grow, the great Australian dream of a large house isn’t as sustainable or affordable as it once was. Townhomes, however, give you space to enjoy your lifestyle and provide us with opportunities to build new communities like we’re doing at Cornerstone Living. By purchasing a new townhome in a master planned neighbourhood, you become part of a new community complete with maintained facilities including a park, cafe and community garden. A new form of community living

Given that there is no cafe or bike paths and the community garden is to be demolished, is the sustainability emphasis at Cornerstone on downsizing?

“Townhouses offer a more cost-effective, affordable and sustainable alternative to detached houses,” says Fred Iezzi, Managing Director of idearchitecture. “At Cornerstone Living, the majority of townhouses are sited to achieve the optimal north/south orientation and are designed to maximise flow-through ventilation and natural light.”

The advantages of townhouse living. Tuesday 29th November 2016.

North-facing windows that allow maximum light and warmth in during winter are typically large.

North facing townhouses

Cross ventilation typically ensures that windows are facing prevailing winds and are not obstructed.

Cross ventilation? Facing east to a southerly breeze.

Upon inquiry, Cornerstone Living claims to contain the most up to date sustainability requirements as required by BCC – including features such as cross flow ventilation, fans, water saving devices, with our builder Hutchinsons Builders following best practice for materials and procurement. (Email, 9th February, 2022, my emphasis.)

Does privatised, densified housing have to be like this?

No. In Melbourne a property developer is leading the way in creating socially connected, sustainable buildings. Property Collectives starts with a group of people who have a vision of living together. It facilitates their journey through multiple stages to the end product. These include apartment blocks and townhouses – whichever the group wants – with shared facilities such as laundries and common areas and rooftop gardens. They call it citizen-led collaborative housing at cost.

Dan-NorthcoteCF000327_Prop_Collectives_#1_high-WEB-886×668

Nightingale Housing is another Melbourne-based not-for-profit developer leading the way in the provision of apartments that are socially, financially and environmentally sustainable. Nightingale provides housing at-cost, not profit. New residents sign a caveat agreeing to pass on savings to future owners.

Both Property Collectives and Nightingale are outside the mainstream of property development. It is truly unfortunate that so much poorly designed built environment has been constructed in Melbourne before these better alternatives have emerged.

Do prospective buyers have the opportunity to be involved at the design stage at Cornerstone? “Each new building’s design reflects feedback received from previous buyers, current occupants, potential purchasers and general market research. We have an ongoing community consultation process to assist us in identifying those issues our community thinks is important.” (Email, 9th February, 2022, my emphasis.)

Perhaps it is no coincidence that best practice in collaborative and sustainable housing development is further down the track in Melbourne than in Brisbane. The past two decades in Australia have seen unprecedented population growth and an economy wedded to real estate and associated infrastructure construction. In Brisbane, we too have seen suburbs sprawling with poorly built, cheek-by-jowl housing that are ill-suited to the weather extremes we are witness to ever more frequently. Brisbane has the opportunity to learn from Melbourne’s experience.

Indeed, we all have the opportunity to learn from the Dutch Houses debacle and the Cornerstone Living profit-driven juggernaut that less is more. Housing is a prime example of why resilient future where people and environment precede wealth accumulation by a few requires a new system based on steady state economics.

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