Eco-village a model of sustainability in NSW
ENTREPRENEUR: Morris Kaplan From: The Australian November 28, 2009 12:00AM
ARCHITECT Ian Bailey believes it is individuals, not governments, who will lead Australia into a low-carbon environment and he's putting his money -- as well as his time, skills and health -- where his mouth is.
He and his partner, designer Annie Georgeson, have taken on the role of sustainable development entrepreneurs, driving a sustainable village project on the NSW mid-north coast. At an age where most people would be retiring to an eco-village rather than developing one, Bailey, 65, says a health crisis altered his career track.
Diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 1988 while running a busy Sydney architectural practice, Bailey downsized and made the tree-change. "It was Annie who made the decision that if I made it through the surgery at that stage, we would move here." Recently diagnosed with a recurrence of the melanoma, Bailey says: "I'm still here. I want this, the Chimneys, to be a model for others. It addresses the most current concerns we are facing: water, waste, energy, food and transport, as well as achieving social sustainability. All great (social) change is driven from grassroots. It's individuals who can make a difference."
In commercial terms their project will offer the building industry and planners another option in sustainable development. Bailey says the key differentiator of his venture compared with other "eco" village developments is that the Chimneys will establish new benchmarks for accountable sustainable development in Australia. "We'll measure performance against robust benchmarks. It's the most accountable of its kind in Australia."
Comprising 66 lots organised into small clusters, the Chimneys has been designed with features that can be incorporated into developments of any size.
It is intended to demonstrate that a sustainable subdivision can be independent of council's water, sewerage and road systems, recycle all water for reuse on site, generate most of its own energy and contribute to some of its own food needs. Claims that the Chimneys is a viable model for residential development in a region under intense pressure must be welcome news for planners.
Current projections indicate the population of the NSW north coast could double over the next 20 years. A "business as usual" approach to development is not acceptable, according to Bailey. "It's imperative that responses and solutions be sustainable."
Although his illness triggered a tree-change, Bailey says consciousness has been the other motivating factor. "Although we've been doing work we absolutely enjoy and the quality of life has been enhanced, it's been an increasing concern for the environment. With six children and nine grandchildren between us, I worry about the life they will inherit four decades from now."
Designed for self-reliance with potable water supply, sewage treatment and reuse of stormwater, each dwelling will generate some green energy, fed back to the grid. Extensive areas of native bushland have been set aside in two environment protection zones. Meanwhile, the village will also trial a car-share, using a hybrid or low-energy vehicle.
While it is routine for property developers to "bet the bank" on a development, few would take on the challenges presented to Bailey and Georgeson. Costs -- more than $500,000 to date -- have consumed their savings. "We have dug deep and borrowed to undertake the venture. The risk was high. There was no guarantee that we were going to receive approval, although we did have support from the local council. Gaining zoning approvals took three years. It was made very clear to us that the final approval of the minister, at that time Frank Sartor, was by no means guaranteed."
He says much of the funds has been expended on studies, including agricultural assessment, Aboriginal archaeological assessment, heritage assessment, threatened species assessment (flora and fauna); site contamination assessment, bushfire threat assessment and a geotechnical survey, plus temperature-impact studies by engineering firm Worley Parsons.
"I was diagnosed with the seventh recurrence of my melanoma problem, this time with tumours in both lungs. I was forced to reduce work to a minimum, so finance became another hurdle."
Completion of the Chimneys now requires external investment. Bailey maintains that none of the investment criteria associated with development are compromised by sustainability practices. "People say sustainable housing comes at a premium. Not so. One of the primary requirements for building a sustainable house is to get the orientation right. Building a house in the right direction does not cost any more."
Bailey says that current development has little to do with sustainable planning.
"Take, for example, stormwater. We now have over 70 per cent of NSW in drought. To have a system in each subdivision which treats stormwater as a waste product is extraordinary. All existing hard surfaces channel water off the site and divert it to the Pacific Ocean."
Bailey says he was keen for the venture not to be pigeon-holed into a niche. "We didn't want this to be perceived as yet another alternative community. We are targeting the mainstream so that living in something like this is just as appealing as an unsustainable development down the road."
Bailey says that his consulting engineers on the Chimneys concluded that the project would cut greenhouse emissions by almost 50 per cent. "But when compared with a conventional development of the same size there is not much use setting up an example of eco-development if it is not profitable. The model will work for developers.
"The final challenge for us is to find a group of investors who will literally purchase the project and act as the developer, working with our team of consultants and ourselves. It's one likely scenario.
"It's been a journey (but) during that time, the importance and relevance of our work has only increased."
People power drives towns in transition
ECO-VILLAGES are breaking out in numbers as planners and developers move to meet growing consumer demand for low-carbon living.
According to sustainable development entrepreneur Ian Bailey, local architects are leading the charge to sustainable design.
"Overseas one of the most influential examples is Village Homes in Davis, California. It offers features for sustainable development and living such as a pedestrian-friendly environment with extensive bicycle and walking paths, edible landscaping, grassed swales replacing kerbs and gutters, and community gardens."
Emerging too are transition towns. Described as "a social experiment on a massive scale", the transition towns movement offers positive ideas for low-carbon living. It's a town whose residents have decided to make a difference in terms of sustainability. Bailey illustrates the small village of Kendall on the NSW mid-north coast. With a population of about 800, the town has been classified as a transition town. "Here 94 households have gone solar. In a population that size that's remarkable. I'd be surprised if there are that many (solar) PV panels in the whole of Port Macquarie, a city with a population of 60,000."
The idea behind transition towns is simple: if you have no faith that governments will take meaningful action on climate change, then you can come together as a community to do something about it. The movement is rapidly spreading beyond its grassroots in England.