Making It real
My story in attempting to bring a new housing type that improves affordability, livability & community resilience
Previously I set out how I came up with the design and home concept, and now I will explain my experience with the institutions and merry ground that I have had to endure. Before getting too deep in criticising all of those involved, I will start by saying that no government or large institutions is free from periods within its existence where a heightened level in the fragmentation of responsibility will exist. Through not acceptable, this is not abnormal. What really matters is how these organisations behave once they are made aware of the issues and what role we have in making them aware of it. My personal belief is as stakeholders of society, we have a responsibility to become more informed if we come across an issue that raises concern to see if we can do anything about it. If we consider it worthy of pursuit after deliberation, we should at least try to notify those who are responsible; allowing them an opportunity to clarify and/or rectify the issue presented. If we do not do this as the customer/citizen, who will and how long will the change take if we simply choose to voice our displeasure through the ballot box or by shifting our purchasing decisions? Let us have a quick look at how the private sector has sought to quickly respond to their customer's issues well before becoming evident in delayed sales results.
One of the most significant changes to the private business over the last decade has been their ability to invite and scan instant feedback to gather intel and determine what they are doing right or wrong. This early collection and analysis help them deal with the issue before it becomes cancerous and has long term impacts on the business. This is not so commonly adopted by government institutions due mainly to its immense scale and the difficulty to decide which agency might be responsible for the issue in the first instance. What makes this even more difficult is that it is not uncommon that a problem may cross over multiple government agencies/departments meaning that determining the chain of responsibility often becomes the most challenging puzzle of them all.
When an issue may need to cross multiple 'desks”, it does make it hard for those within the system to freely make decisions without considerable engagement with others in other corners of the system. As a result of the excessive amounts of effort required to navigate these desks, it can lead to an encouragement of the continuation of that unfortunate service trait of being passed on to someone else. So, if you are after change, it certainly requires an unnatural level of tenancy, persistence, and the belief that your efforts will one day result in something meaningful. The effort needed does sadden me somewhat as I wonder just how many unique ideas/solutions some people have had but have been lost due to bureaucracy? I can see why people would give up. So, let me start with the agencies I tried to work with and where that all ended up.
Once my plans were with the building surveyor, it was not long that I discovered the building rules were against me when it was made clear to me that 2 kitchens above each other created a risk to life. (see challenge6). After the challenges with my first building surveyor, the new one encouraged me to have early discussions with the council to obtain several set back dispensations and acceptance of the second kitchen. To be fair to Darebin council, some officers agreed the design had merit. Still, through further consultation within their office, I was informed approval would not be granted for any consent unless I removed the 2nd kitchen. As that was central to the whole design idea, I wanted to understand the reasoning for this. Even though they have the authority to approve instances where no definitive ruling on an issue exists within the building code, they preferred a more conventional approach. The council suggested I go down a town planning route and submit the house design as a rooming house, not a typical residential family home (more on the differences of these two later).
By this stage, I had already spent close to $20k on consultancy fees. A planning process would double this not to mention it would drag out the process even further with the added risk that I might lose the design aspects that I had generally been accepted. In other words, the planning route had a real chance of delivering me with a worse result. So rather than go down the public planning process, I opted for an "as of right" approach to obtaining approval through the councils building inspectors rather than their planning office. This approval approach came at the expense of the second kitchen. However, there was a slight opening of opportunity to later submit a formal submission to obtain approval of a Rooming house (Class 1b) once the house was completed as a typical residential house (Class 1a). There was, however, a bit extra I needed to do for this approach to occur.
The original plans would need to change to meet the class 1a requirements and the design needed to ensure the current design was future-proofed, allowing for an easy transition to a class 1b building, pending whether council granted the approval in the first case. Futureproofing was no easy feat as a class 1b needed to allow for disability access requirements (DDA). For those who are not familiar with DDA rules, not only are they incredibly complex but it generally requires extra space, potential ramps and undesirable institutional-looking bathrooms. Making all this work within a 10m wide lot with acoustically rated walls (i.e. Thickwalls), was extraordinarily difficult. Not only did this require an additional specialist consultant and extra wall supports, but it forced me to increase the building footprint that not only increased construction cost but reduced the backyard space :(
I undertook this knowing it was a gamble as there was no certainty that council would accept my intended future planning submission, but for now, I considered it the best approach to move forward so I could at least build something.
This redesign's total cost, including additional floor space and extra fire rating, is estimated to be adding around $50k to $60k to the final build price. This is something that could and should have been avoided as most of these additional requirements are unnecessary. This was the investment-gamble I considered would give me the best chance when I eventually presented my case in the future planning submission. Let us not forget the planning submission will likely cost me another $15k. In the end, the additional expense, that could be associated with bureaucracy would surpass $100k. I would have preferred to have used that to obtain an 8-star energy rating, yet I am not sure the authorities understand just how much of a burden they are placing on such initiatives. This should be even more surprising when you learn Darebin (The council) are supposed to be environmentally focused. There is one other important fact to note. During this whole redesign period, I was having parallel conversations with both the building and the planning authority to work out who was ultimately in control of the rules that prevented a multigenerational house from being built. So this is how that went....(see next blog)
Over 25 years experience in both the private and public sectors o f property
A lover of technology and design that is practical, beautiful and improves the way we live not as a individuals but as a thriving community.