Following The Courier's reporting into the future of planning, talking to those responsible for policy and outcomes overall, the paper has now approached those who deliver homes at the coalface - the developers.
Both Nick Grylewicz of Integra Developments and Joseph van Dyk of Hygge Property used the exactly same image when describing Ballarat's planning future. A 'tidal wave' of development is coming, and we need to prepare for it urgently.
While Integra has worked on greenfield development to the west and Hygge concentrates on infill within the existing city, both agree: without urgent, far-reaching and brave strategies, Ballarat faces being subsumed by poor developments and unchecked growth.
It's 60 years since architect Robin Boyd wrote in The Australian Ugliness, "This is a country of many colourful, patterned, plastic veneers, of brick-veneer villas," of our obsession with fake fronts and Featurism, the pathological desire to cull trees and control landscapes.
Could Ballarat abandon its provincial conservatism, be daring and rethink its approach to housing, one of our most pressing issues, with far-reaching consequences for our social and environmental wellbeing? It requires a council willing to abandon allegiances to the old cliques and councillors with true vision. Above all, it requires action over plans and strategies.
Reinterpreting the way we think about the city: Joseph van Dyk, Hygge Property
"Height, if it's done well, can be beautiful."
As a resident of the city, Joseph van Dyk is demonstrably passionate about good outcomes in planning, and the amount of work needed in Ballarat to make it a city with a sustainable built future.
His company Hygge Property first flagged the site which is now the Nightingale development, reinterpreting an industrial footprint into inner city housing.
He's now about to launch a second infill development plan - a 66-apartment project on the site of the former convent school in Lyons Street North.
Mr van Dyk says the conversation about the planning future of Ballarat should be about diversity of housing, not infill versus greenfield.
"What's happened is we've created a lack of housing diversity, Mr van Dyk says.
"If you draw a picture of Ballarat in 1871, there were about 70,000 people living here. The western extent of Ballarat was Pleasant Street. Redan, Delacombe, Newington, Ballarat North, Wendouree, Alfredton and Lucas didn't exist. So we've expanded our city area by 500 per cent, but our population has only grown by 50 per cent. We're creating this lack of housing diversity."
In fact, Ballarat's population peaked in the 1870s, not passing 70,000 again until the 1980s. So the past 40 years have seen numbers climb rapidly, passing the 100,000 mark in 2015-2016. The planning for this swift growth was deficient, leading to shortages and poor outcomes.
Mr van Dyk says he recently drew a line around Ballarat: from Brown Hill to Alfredton, Sebastopol to Norman Street and calculated how many houses were available to rent, at a cap of $275 per week.
There were nine.
"There are probably 40,000 houses in that area; there are already 400 people sleeping rough in Ballarat; it's a disaster waiting to happen."
We've expanded our city area by 500 per cent, but our population has only grown by 50 per cent.Joseph van Dyk
"You can't rent a house in Minyip, you can't rent a house in Beaufort, you can't rent a house in Boort. We've never experienced anything like this in the last 100 years."
The fear is, Mr van Dyk agrees, the older, established Ballarat will rapidly become an enclave for the wealthy and a wasteland of empty shops, with no opportunities for families to downsize, or those without transport to get around - while the new western development becomes cut off.
He says the City of Ballarat feels the greenfield developments are a success, but have consumed almost all of the housing growth, instead of the planned 50/50 split between greenfield and infill.
Why did this happen? Was the thought of rezoning land in Ballarat for infill just a bridge too far for council?
Mr van Dyk says the planning required for infill needs council to be brave and rethink their approaches.
"I made suggestions recently to the Committee for Ballarat, when the Victorian Planning Authority was undertaking their work on Station Southside Precinct Plan; they should look at de-risking opportunities," he says.
"Rather than say, 'We've done planning', ask what comes before the planning: geotechnical assessments, historical use assessments, cultural heritage management plan... if you're paying consultants, you may as well get them to broaden their context a little more and take some of the risk away from the developer, if they are serious about promoting or provoking infill development."
"If everyone, or a great majority of the population agrees, what we want to get to is more infill development - that's what the Ballarat 2040 Strategy says - why haven't we got there yet? Some of the existing conditions are economic. It costs $320,000 to build an apartment, before professional fees, before debt costs, before input land costs, and then it's $40,000 to $70,000 for an underground carpark.
"The economics of the construction don't really differ from Geelong or Melbourne. So it comes down to the end value. The Ballarat 2040 strategy says we're going to grow the population to 144,000 by 2036-40, targeting 50 per cent infill and 50 per cent greenfield housing. From that strategy came the Ballarat West Precinct Structure Plan. That was about 20,000 homes, so 50,000 to 60,000 people.
"In effect, what we did when we released Ballarat West was accommodate all our growth for the next 30 or 40 years out there, regardless of consideration for infill. It's the cheapest and easiest, so that's where people went.
"We've now hit a point where if we've accommodated 100 per cent growth or near enough out there, should we not be trying to bring some of that back? Logically we should because it creates more benefit, otherwise we let the economic heart of Ballarat, Bakery Hill and Bridge Street and places like that, die a slow and painful death. Bakery Hill was a success for over 100 years because people lived there, and now we have a 10-acre carpark."
Ballarat's population is growing at 3.5 to 4 per cent, while its median income is also rising, Mr van Dyk says, but the opportunities for people wanting to downsize with infill properties has never been realised in Ballarat. He's advocating for more vision from the city regarding infill.
"We've just launched a permit for 60 apartments (in Lyons Street North)," he says.
"We believe the economics will come quickly. We've got income growth, property values increasing quite rapidly; we're going through a market re-rate. This is making apartments more viable, more locations, the depth of markets make it viable right now.
"When you look at the planning policy, the Ballarat 2040 strategy - it all encourages infill growth. So why hasn't it happened? It's economics and planning: 'We said we wanted to bring it here, but really we've facilitated the strategy out west first.' There are about six or seven strategy pieces which aren't completed properly yet, which define infill for in the city. So developers haven't really be able to qualify clearly what is and isn't achievable in a planning outcome, and it's left us exposed.
"So you've ended up with Lydiard Street looking like an old Collingwood footballer: if you stand at Craig's Royal Hotel, you've got Her Maj, that horrible Eureka House building, then the little sandwich place... they're the sort of things that happen when you haven't planned the strategy properly. There are a multitude of strategies underway, but have to be prioritised in this process right now."
Building a community: Nick Grylewicz and Integra
"What we don't do enough of is the long-term planning."
Integra's Nick Grylewicz says it's a bit of a sport to criticise greenfield growth in Ballarat, which makes developers wary of commenting on their projects.
He says the company thinks of community and community building before a shovel touches the ground.
"We always start with community, with the creation of community," Mr Grylewicz says.
"We always look at what are the things that people love about Ballarat. That's the avenues, the boulevards, the bluestone, the red brick. We do focus groups on it, and we say, 'we want to build on the fabric of Ballarat, we don't want to be a new place out here. That's why we called ourselves Lucas. We wanted to be attached to the history of Ballarat, to the Lucas girls.
"Where we start in planning is 'How do we create communities?' So in our streets, we've got a first homeowner, or a second home owner, a third, someone in retirement, you know, in retirement, we've got a couple of retirement villages. The fact we have two primary schools and two retirement villages is a great example. We have to offer a diversity of housing."
And therein lies the difficulty.
"The most important thing is early provision of infrastructure and services to counteracts that perception of sprawl," Mr Grylewicz says.
"When we started with Ballarat West, and when we were doing Golf Club and Lucas, we helped duplicate Sturt Street. In Lucas, we built the shopping centre in the first two years of the project. Traditionally, you'd build 1000 houses, you get the catchment. The first two years these guys traded under, they took some trade from Alfredton. We actually gave up this land to a developer because we knew they'd deliver it in the early stages of the project.
"I'm hoping to develop community, trying to do best practice and continually improve all the time,"
"We start with liveability, community creation. I understand why people fear growth; unchecked growth is sprawl. That's the last thing you want for Ballarat. We want well planned, well managed growth.
"Lucas' is designed on the five master planning elements: live, shop, learn, work, play. like you know. And so from a 'live' point of view, Lucas is made up of seven intimate small neighborhoods, nominatively of about 250 to 1000 residents. They generally all have a central focus like a community park or a gathering space where that little neighborhood has a meeting place, where they can connect.
"From a shop point of view, we've got the Lucas Town Centre, with an iconic greengrocer, 30 shops here now, and growing. Council have committed to a $5 million Community Centre here at Lucas. We've now got employment coming in, we've got offices moving in here now. We've got medical - Ballarat Community Health's head office is here now. And we're just about to see the second wave of investment here of community construction.
I understand why people fear growth; unchecked growth is sprawl. That's the last thing you want for BallaratNick Grylewicz
"So next year, there's new medical centre coming just behind the council Community Centre, a swim school moving in; the dentist from across the road is expanding out into their own building. This is another two more office buildings moving in as well now. From a play element, we've got parks within five minutes' walk of almost every house. And that's what I was telling you before; that's the heart of those little neighborhoods."
"For me, there's definitely opportunities for some densification of the CBD. That's a really interesting discussion with the community: whether the Ballarat community is ready for densification. Some of the stuff Joe (van Dyk) is doing with his multi-level stuff is in the right space. We fully support him in that. I can't understand why the Haymes site hasn't been swallowed up.
'What we've been talking to council about is: we're playing catch up with planning, and the tidal wave is coming. We know it's coming, COVID has accelerated it. The ability to work remotely is a game changer for the regions. More affluent people are coming to the regions, the median wage has risen, That brings some prosperity to the town, and innovation.
"The thing we're missing is the affordability issues of Melbourne, becoming more and more prevalent, locking people out, which means they're looking for options. And we need to be ahead of that growth. So you need well-planned, well-managed growth, you need to be looking at a whole range of offerings in the CBD - because we won't seem congested to those people, and they're coming.
"But that's the risk, and the trick is unlocking supply."
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