Comments on the
Draft Ku-ring-gai Housing Strategy
From local resident:
Stewart A Fist
70 Middle Harbour Road
Lindfield 2070 NSW
Phone: (02) 9416 7458
May 8 2020
Summary: In general I object to the main thrust of the State and Federal Government's strategic directions -- calling for enormous migration increases, based on spurious grounds of economic stagnation without constant population escalation.
However I would support the calls for an additional 1600 dwellings in Lindfield over the next 15 years ... with the proviso that these should be small houses specifically developed for the ageing residents of the suburb to allow them to remain within the suburb, but migrate to a small single-person independent home within walking distance of the central business district.
Lindfield is a suburb of privilege and wealth, and therefore of very-large family bungalow-style homes -- many of which have been both two-storied and expanded horizontally because of tax-saving investment laws. These houses are now proving too big for the residents, both in maintaining the house-size itself, and in the garden surrounds.
About one quarter to one third of home owners (a high proportion) are now owned by adults after their mature aged children have left home, and these are now too large for their owners to handle. But Lindfield lacks diversity in housing size -- and the various plans being proposed also lack serious focus on the future needs for Lindfield's aging residents.
Lindfield's future planning should place the needs of long-term residents, ahead of highly disputable economic ideology about the inevitable destination of our country as a "Big Australia". The past few months should have convinced everyone that the fallacies of globalisation, infinite resource depletion, fossil fuel dependencies, and global warming from perpetual population growth are all foolish in the extreme.
The most attractive asset Australia has comes about because we have a small manageable population, and we can remain relatively isolated from the tens-of-billions of our neighbours.
However Australia's citizens are living longer, and so the problems of ageing will increase even more with time. This gets a brief mention under the various plans presented under the Support Lindfield banner. They talk about the need for 'town-houses' and high-rise up to 15 stories and promote their Lindfield Hub -- which is more of the same development seen everywhere, but here it is to occupy part of the 'Commons' -- those bitumized areas now reserved for car parking.
Terms like 'townhouses' are delightfully vague -- so it is often difficult to disagree with their proposals -- however they all appear to be aimed at selling off what is now 'Common land' to large developers.
No one has seriously discussed the recurring need of small homes for the single aged, or aged couple/carer in each future generation. Yet common sense says that there will be a regular turn-over of singles and frail couples in the 70 and 80 year age group decade after decade. Ageing people will share the wish to remain independent for a decade or so before entering assisted- and palliative-care. Most will have no interest in buying a three-story 'town-house' for only a few years, and they are even more dismissive of high-rise apartment living. Most people are not willing to consider 'putting down' the family pet, and presumably they find no attractions in wearing a face mask on entering the lift when ever they venture out.
Ownership of these developments is also a topic not being discussed. Cooperative structures were once considered a valid alternative to either government ownership or private profit-making. Here the cooperative is preferable to ownership, because they prevent the same pattern of tax avoidance/gentrification/expansion repeating for the next generation. Cooperatives, in the form of mutuals and building societies, are also a very safe way for older people to invest -- and these can provide the financial resources needed.
The focus of council development should therefore be on providing small housing for the disadvantaged within the community through a perpetual cooperative structure -- primarily for the aged individuals and aged couples. However we must recognise that the aged are not the only disadvantaged within Lindfield community; similar housing is needed by single-parents and the disabled.
The necessity for this type of development in a wealthy suburb like Lindfield appears alien to the thinking of the State and Federal governments, and since their inspiration appears mainly to come from commercial property developers, a cooperative solution is unlikely to arise spontaneously without council involvement.
I offer this as a suggestion for the council to consider.
A Progressive Development Plan for the CBD of Lindfield.
This is an outline of a alternative long-term (and progressive) plan for the development of the CBD area of Lindfield, rather than for any quick-fix money-making population-density project utilising high-rise apartments which appears to be the current council focus.
The primary aim of this submission is to provide alternative solutions for the pressing problems of existing Lindfield residents, rather than to just satisfy the government's ideological obsession with a 'Big Australia'. Their aim of creating a 'Greater Sydney' by packing in more migrant workers into existing suburbs via high-rise is not in the interests of Lindfield residents.
Plateau development techniques can, however, achieve some of the required higher population densities through coordinated planning and therefore avoid the unwanted and unwarranted concrete-canyon development along the railway corridor which is favoured by developers. And since this approach is designed primarily to satisfy the needs of the elderly and ageing long-term residents (a category of citizens who largely hold the nation's fungible finances), the Plateau development approach for small housing and aged-care facilities can be self-funded, and with a cooperative structure, it can be organised as a perpetual solution to a recurring problem.
The Plateau, in summary:
With Plateau deck-building techniques controlled and funded by a cooperative, the council can satisfy the State government's density requirement without needing either to utilise its own capital resources, or destroy the low-rise, garden and tree-lined character of Lindfield.
At its simplest, the Plateau approach is simply to engineer a concrete deck over existing parking areas and transport corridors.
a) the low-rise concrete deck over existing parking areas is used to create a pedestrian-only extended space for housing.
b) the deck above major vehicular and transport facilities would be utilised for commercial development, creating a central mall area over the railway station, equally accessible from both sides.
The key factor is that this type of construction can be progressive and non-disruptive to existing traffic and businesses.
1. Small housing (and later assisted-care/palliative facilities)
There is a desperate need for small independent houses close to the Lindfield central business area, both for aged and disadvantaged residents. The aged have outgrown the family home on a quarter-acre block, but they wish to remain within the area with familiar shops, service providers, friends and churches (etc). This group includes:
- The single aged and/or care-giving couple.
(Their family home and garden has become too much to handle after the children have left).
- Long-term residents with disabilities.
(Their requirements are much the same as the aged).
- Single parents with small families
(This usually follows a family break-up or spousal death. Their desire is to remain in the school district.)
- Local student and young-couple accommodation near transport hubs.
(They mainly want cheap accommodation for sleeping and studying.)
The primarily requirement for all in these categories is for a small independent rented house or apartment within walking distance of the shops, services and transport hubs. It is notable that the 'hub and spoke' proposal, reserves the central position for luxury-flat high-rise occupants, and sends the elderly and disadvantage off along the spokes to the far reaches of the suburb.
The elderly see the problem as one of maintaining their independence in familiar surroundings for the few years they have before needing assisted-care (which should later be offered in the same development). Older residents will often lose their license (macular degeneration mainly), and single pensioners can hardly afford to run a car these days.
Because they known they are facing assisted care, the guaranteed rental of the home is preferred for the elderly over short-term nature of any house purchase.
Single working mums also require cheap small houses/apartments, but their emphasis will be on the safe environment, hopefully within same school catchment area, and especially when children are unsupervised. They would also benefit from a close community where elementary after-school services can be easily provided.
Ideally everyone would benefit from the blend of a mixed community (rather than this being an aged ghetto). The Plateau approach provides this. By using concrete decking over existing 'Common land' (the council car parks) it is possible to create an extended pedestrian-only garden/turf-covered precinct surrounding small homes (probably clusters of Victorian terraces).
The need is for small low-rise independent houses/apartments projecting above the deck, surrounded by an environment consisting of raised-garden beds (suited for elderly gardeners), small trees and mown lawns. This pedestrian-only surface is raised about 3 metres above traffic levels, and therefore safe for children on bicycles, and convenient for aged walkers, or those disabled on mobility scooters, etc.
The plateau should be relatively flat (but not billiard-table) to allow easy walking to the shops. Footpaths without roads should free the residents from the dangers of having to cross highway traffic, or the need to climb stairs to the railway bridge. A few two-floor lifts at convenient locations (the type used to currently assist some to cross the railway line) would probably be needed - but essentially a life could be lived in full on the plateau level.
Ideal house type:
The ideal type of housing, I believe, would be modern versions of the half-a-dozen Victorian-style Terrace home clusters - modified in design to separate the top floor (now rentable apartments for single parent families) from the 'ground' (deck level) floor. This 'ground floor' with easy access and garden area, would be reserved for the aged and disabled. Each of these ground-floor units would have a very small, private outdoor back-yard of about 3.5 x 3 m for gardening and exercising a pet.
In many cases a third below-deck one- or two-bedroom apartment would be available for students and possibly couples saving for their own home.
The ideal dimensions for the basic ground-floor home is about 3.5 m in width and 9 m in length, divided into a main-lounge/TV area with kitchenette, a narrow corridor leading past a small bedroom and a shower-toilet, to a large day-room/master bedroom at the back.
Verandahs for the top and deck levels would not be divided as they traditionally were with the old terrace. The top-floor units will be accessed via a 3 metre wide common verandah which provides a play area for children during inclement weather. On the ground level, the verandah will similarly be shared. These verandahs are a shared-community meeting space designed to help combat problems of loneliness.
The cavity below the deck is reserved for:
- Current commuter and resident's car parking.
- Some student-type accommodation (with light-wells and/or ceiling-level lites)
- Various exercise and general facilities (lap pool, gymnasia, shared self-help laundry, indoor bowls area, clubs, craft areas, library, bar, etc.)
2. Shops, service providers and professional offices.
For the shop-owner competing against the supermarket, the main advantage of Plateau development comes from the fact that the decking virtually doubles customer access since the commercial centre of Lindfield is currently divided into two halves separated by the combined obstacles of highway traffic and railway lines/bridges.
Plateau development does this by recovering the space currently devoted to car-parking, access roads, traffic-filled highways and railway lines/stations. By decking over these bisecting traffic corridors and making the air-space available for commercial, use the small shop and business precinct becomes unified. The transfer of small shops on either side of Lindfield station/highway to a central two-story mall location above the rail-line can be progressive -- there is no need for coercion -- however it immediately doubles the ease of access of shoppers/customers to the shops and business services.
Obviously a few elevators (of the kind already provided at the rail station) would be needed, especially during the transition stage.
Also, clearly there would need to be some resumption of the existing two-story shop buildings alongside the highway and Lindfield Ave., but this can be done progressively without disrupting these businesses until a much preferable alternative is provided.
good use can be made of the present buildings (temporary low cost student accommodation, etc.) until full-scale redevelopment is required. The key point is that no one should be coerced, nor should owners or occupiers be financially disadvantaged.
These days it is easy to deck over existing transport corridors and parking facilities, and this technique creates a single unified mall space (not dependent on high-rise and supermarket companies). This benefits the viability both of local businesses and State rail. The mall would probably remain under the ownership of road/rail authorities and provide them with a source of rental income. This relocation can also be done progressively and without serious disruption to existing businesses.
Disruptions to traffic and trade:
By using craned-in Hollowcore concrete decking, a mall space extending across the highway and railway line can be achieved without disrupting existing road or rail traffic. Hollowcore planking is used for warehouses, and it comes in various lengths and thicknesses. It is strong enough to carry pedestrian traffic and two stories of shops and professional offices with a moderate module separation of pillars and beams.
The constructors could also make use of the third rail-line (previously used for train parking) for delivery of the concrete deck panels. This 3rd line area can later be incorporated into a multi-story commuter car park within the railway easement.
[NOTE:] Pre-cast Hollowcore 'planks' are made in special factories to ordered length. A number of manufacturers make them, and they are widely used today for high-rise and warehouse construction.
Planks can span distances between supporting pillars and beams of 15 metres or more, so they can easily span highways and railways without needing disruptive road work. However, they are expensive, so they would only be used for decking over active traffic arteries.
3. Other end-of-life facilities:
The plateau area above the existing car parks can be developed with little disruption to the current use. The small-housing areas (there are at least three potentially in Lindfield) can be on either side of the rail corridor, and progressively extended west down the hill as funds become available. Since these later extensions would be constructed over existing car parks at a lower-level, more than one under-deck floor can exist and still maintain a relatively flat top plateau.
This approach maintains the footpaths relatively easy to navigate for aged pedestrians, gophers and wheelchairs, while also providing a extra utilisable space beneath the top deck for assisted-care and palliative-care facilities, and also for hospital staff accommodation and a variety of other general services for the aged and other residents.
When aged residents need to transfer from independent living to assisted care, they will remain within the same complex, and therefore be easily visited by friends, ex-neighbours, and service providers. These factors are important at the end of a person's life.
This third-stage development needs architectural design, multi-level elevators, light-wells, etc. and is probably best as a steel frame structure on the lower reaches.
The role played by the cooperative in Phase Three developments would probably be quite different to Phase One: it would be more acting as coordinator and controller. The cooperative would often be the provider of the main physical resources, made available on a group rental basis. There is no reason why different service facilities within this complex aren't provided by outside groups (church-run assisted care, the masons, day-care centres, medical offices, day-hospitals, etc.)
The Plateau design principles.
It is important to realise that the Plateau principle is aimed at an engineering solution to creating new 'ground-space', not at the architecture itself.
The plateau design is primarily intended to create an extended pedestrian-only zone of grass, flowers and foot-paths, which surrounding a variety of small houses. It does this cheaply by utilising the existing air-space used by trains, trucks, and cars in the central part of the Lindfield business district. It is a form of repurposing, but without disrupting their current applications and amenities: in fact for rail transport it will have a substantial financial benefits.
The first two stages (the early home-construction phase, and creation of the above-rail mall area) are totally engineering solutions which are relatively straight-forward and simple. This is a very cheap way for the council through a cooperative to create new 'vacant lot' precincts both for small-home construction, and for a centralised suburban shopping mall with associated professional services/offices (which would remain owned by state transport authorities).
Both of these potential developments have highly viable sources of investment funds from those who will benefit the most.
The aims and consequences of plateau development are substantially different to those of conventional high-rise project dominated by architects and developers.
The planning approach is quite different.
The architect on a high-rise project generally needs to fix the design of his building's ground-work on his plans (to the last centimetre), before he makes later design decisions. Each subsequent floor must then match the service accesses and facilities of the floor below. Consequently problems with upper floors compound because the loads and complexities increase with hight. This necessitates meticulous planning from the outset.
By contrast, the plateau engineer simply creates a deck with vacant spaces for standard two-to-three story concrete-block apartments. The below-deck cavity can usually be fitted out later. It can be changed or left vacant (as an existing car park) until needed. This makes the plateau development a highly flexible and adaptable way of constructing community facilities.
Costs of plateau development.
The main comment made by neophytes about Plateau construction techniques is that the amount of concrete used must make this approach ...
- too expensive
- not eco-friendly.
Both ideas are totally incorrect.
While it is true that concrete manufacture and transport is a major generator of carbon-dioxide, the pay-back in ecological and economic terms is very quick.
a) The natural insulation provided to the shared under-deck space by the turf-coverage is very substantial. These buildings rarely need air-conditioning.
b) Summer cooling in turf-covered constructions is simply a matter of spray irrigation of the grass cover.
c) Concrete has substantial thermal mass and in proximity to the earth it has very great temperature-coupling advantages. Low-profile concrete constructions pay back any carbon energy debt many times over every year.
Residential land in any part of the Lindfield is worth a minimum of $1000 per square metre, with central land probably worth 1.5 times that figure. However since the current utility value of the recovered space is not being destroyed, then the (roughly) $100 sq/m cost of a concrete slab makes this the cheapest available housing land in Sydney. Note also that has been already fully serviced with road access, water, gas, sewerage, electricity, telephone, storm-water, etc.
Population Density requirements.
The government's increased population density requirements can be satisfied by plateau techniques. The small-home/terrace-style emphasis allows between 12 and 18 independent independent living spaces to utilise the quarter-acre currently reserved for one family home in most parts of Lindfield.
And since the emphasis is on providing the single aged resident a viable and pleasant alternative to the old family home (replaced by a new family), the population density requirements of the state government are easily achieved, without the high-rise assault on the suburb's character.
Conventional high-rise requires a total financial commitment. It is this pre-commitment, in fact, which makes investment in high-rise viable and exploitable business decision only for wealthy large-scale property developers.
Plateau development, however can be progressive. The area can be expand as finances become available. It is this which makes plateau construction unsuitable for profit-making ventures, but highly viable when run cooperatively.
When constructing a deck, the space between the upright pillars must of necessity be the major limiting factor in plateau development. Conventional suspended concrete flooring (not Hollowcore) for housing often extends over spans of 3 to 5 metres.
We have settled on a module size of 3.6 metres with space between the pillars of about 3.5 metres. This is a comfortable distance apart for:
a) two parked cars side by side.
b) two moving cars on egress and access roads.
c) a convenient width for a terraced home allowing a small bedroom and toilet-shower unit adjacent to a longitudinal corridor + full-width front and back rooms.
Ownership and control:
Ownership and control of plateau development for the Lindfield area can therefore be shared between:
- The commercial zone atop the railway station/highway and owned by the State Road/Rail authorities.
- Some private development adjacent to, and extending the main plateau (ie. Coles parking site, church and masonic properties, schools, etc.)
- Council ownership of existing 'Common Land' (the parking areas) under an agreement for management and control with (ideally) a perpetual Lindfield Community Cooperative.
This cooperative would have as members, anyone within the post-code (and perhaps peripheral to it) willing to invest their superannuation, shares, or term deposit savings in a Mutual Building Society which would finance the development. Members would receive bank-interest, and the amount invested would contribute towards their priority of access to the lower homes. They would have voting rights at meetings while the other occupants would simply be unit renters.
It is this which allows the plateau homes offering to become a full end-of-life service provider. The anticipated progression would be through:
i. Independent small home living
ii. On-site assisted-care facility
iii. Palliative care
iv. Funeral and wind-up services.
The formula needed for priority of access to the small-homes, would take into account:
i. Amount invested (to a limit) in an associated mutual building society for construction (recoverable on death).
ii. Number of years that investment has been available for construction.
iii. Number of years the prospective member has lived in Lindfield.
iv. The member's age.
This kind of large-area development is about as eco-friendly as is possible.
Water Harvesting: The whole deck area can harvest the rain, simply by using gravel underlay and a water-proof membrane beneath the footpath, turn and garden areas. The thermal mass of the buildings would benefit enormously if water tanks are incorporated into the under-deck cavity (utilising odd spaces) to store unprocessed rain-water for later use. Under-deck lap pools and swimming/exercise pools can also make good use of this water for exercise and enjoyment, and also increase the thermal mass of the complex.
What's more, this kind of construction is easy to retrofit with additional pipe networks, so harvested un-potable water can be easily fed to gardens, and/or to showers and toilets. This would greatly reduce usage of the city's scarce high-quality potable water supply.
Solar panels: These can be fitted to every roof in the development area, and the energy generated either stored in large-scale batteries or used to heat and light the below-deck facilities throughout the year.
Air-conditioning: This should be unnecessary.
- a) The garden/turf-cover of exposed areas of the plateau deck between the houses will be a top-class insulator against heat and cold.
- b) Smaller houses require proportionally less energy to run, and terrace houses have shared concrete-brick walls, so sharing both heat and cool.
- c) The main concrete construction materials and floors are close-coupled to the earth, so thermal-mass moderates temperature once again. This is the secret of passive houses.
Turf coverage: Water spray on a turf-covered roof is the most cost effective and carbon-reductive way of cooling a building in hot weather.
Gardens: Gardens require maintenance. However the population of the plateau complex will largely consist of frustrated home-gardeners, many with their own private gardens. Ideally older people need raised garden-beds constructed of three or four layers of hardwood sleepers which allow the elderly to sit and garden.
Trees: The presence of a few trees in more open areas of the plateau would add considerably to the aesthetics of the complex. This requires some pre-planning and the use of large earth-filled concrete pipes in some locations as support pillars for the decking.
Existing trees on the area will often be incorporated into garden+bird light-wells in the lower-areas of the site. These should be central to the planning of palliative-care facilities.
The recent reality of climate change, bushfires, and the global coronavirus crisis exposes the fallacies inherent in the New South Wales government's requirement for Ku-Ring-Gai Chase council (along with others) to prioritise "the expected growth of Greater Sydney over the next 20 years to 2036". Population pressures, over-development, and the "Bigger-is-better" mantra are now exposed as a fallacious ideology for Australian prosperity. These are now global problems which we don't need to import.
In fact, the best thing that Australia has going for it in the future, is its small population and low population density.
The solution to the problems of ageing Lindfield residents does not lie in low-paid migrant workers or further multi-story high-rise and large-scale aged-care facilities, but in the availability of rented small independent homes -- each with a small ground-floor garden space -- located within easy walking distance of the existing shopping centre and railway station. These are for the 'bridging years' between the support of family and the aged care facility,
Lindfield, fortunately, has a vast area of 'Common' ground (The bitumized parking spaces) in the perfect locations for this type of housing, and it is already owned and controlled by the council. Many hectares of car parking space exist on both the west and east sides of the Lindfield railway station and Pacific Highway behind the lines of shops.
Also fortunate, is the fact that the finance needed to construct these houses is currently held by the Lindfield residents who will benefit the most -- the elderly retired citizens who remain in their old family homes, since no suitable small homes are available. One in three- or four- large houses in Lindfield are occupied by the single aged resident or an aged couple where one is often a carer. Lindfield would be on the wealth end of the scale, and 40% of retirees are "net savers" -- they accumulate more than they spend.
The statisticians tell us that the typical aged pensioner dies with about 90% of the assets they took with them into retirement, unspent. This is then passed on as bequests to their children. This group currently hold most of their retirement savings in bank deposits and shares.
They need this back-up funding because they can't judge and make allowances for the future:
- they don't know how long they might live.
- can they avoid becoming a problem for their children
- what will be the costs of assisted care.
- what will happen to their pets.
- can they remain within their familiar district
- they can't judge the necessary adjustments needed for inflation.
If the council was to assist these retirees with the type of housing that they will want for the years between single-retirement and residents in an assisted-care facility, then the construction finances would be readily available, provided the development was guaranteed. The old mutual building society finance model appears to be most appropriate
Similarly, the 'Common-land' now utilised by day-commuters to the city to park their cars, can remain in council hands, but be under the control of an open cooperative structure designed specifically for the resident/members. On average, the elderly will probably rent these houses for about ten years before needing assisted residential care.
For this reason, such homes need a perpetual cooperative/mutual form of ownership structure; this could utilise the existing mutual building-society legislation, with the addition of some slightly modified cooperative rules to ensure that the houses couldn't be privatised, but remain available for future generations.
The ideas in this proposal were developed extensively about twenty years ago by a global discussion group. They have been upgraded and modified by me. Other than as a future resident I have no commercial interest in any of these developments or the products mentioned.
Stewart A. Fist
70 Middle Harbour Road
LINDFIELD 2070 NSW
Ph:(02) 9416 7458