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Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works
12/06/2013
Redevelopment and construction of housing for Defence at Samford Road, Enoggera, Brisbane, Queensland

FOSTER, Mr Bryan, Development Manager, Defence Housing Australia

GALLAGHER, Mr Vernon, General Manager, External Relations, Defence Housing Australia

HASLAM, Mr Owen, Senior Urban Planner, JFP Urban Consultants Pty Ltd

HOWMAN, Mr Peter, Managing Director, Defence Housing Australia

NARAYANASAMY, Mr Raja, Project Director, Defence Housing Australia

WATSON, Mr Richard, Director and Traffic Engineer, TTM Consulting Pty Ltd

WHITEOAK, Mr Scott, Director, Ellivo Architects

YOUNG, Ms Andrea, Principal, Andrea Young Planning Consultants

Committee met at 14:44.

CHAIR ( Ms K Livermore ): I declare open this public hearing of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works into the proposed redevelopment and construction of housing for Defence at Samford Road, Enoggera, Brisbane, Queensland. We have before us the representatives of Defence Housing Australia and their consultants. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that these hearings are formal proceedings of the parliament. Consequently they warrant the same respect as proceedings of the parliament itself. I remind witnesses that giving false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as contempt of parliament. Would you like to make some opening remarks before we proceed to questions?

Mr Howman : Yes, thank you. On behalf of Defence Housing Australia I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to provide an overview of DHA's submission about our development site at Samford Road. We thankfully had the opportunity, with the weather earlier on today, to go to the site and have a look at the site, and we saw the close proximity to the base and also how it sits on Samford Road. The objective is to demolish the current seven two-storey brick and weatherboard houses that have dated and do not meet Defence requirements. It is proposed to replace the current townhouses with seven new townhouses and 48 apartments, 18 of which will be three-bedroom and 30 of which will be two-bedroom, all to be occupied by Defence members and their families. DHA does not propose to sell any of these to the open marketplace in our sale and lease-back program or our disposal program.

I would like to table a letter, if I may, from the local member for Ashgrove, Mr Campbell Newman MP. He says here: 'I have been advised by my staff that DHA is making every effort to reduce the impact of construction on residents. I am also pleased to hear that DHA has consulted with those in the immediate area. To date there has been no negative feedback provided to my Ashgrove office regarding this project. That letter came in after our submission went in.

Urban infill is a much more complicated project than greenfield developments, as you saw this morning at Warner. However, these types of projects are needed to provide a range of accommodation for Defence members and their families. Over 40 per cent of Defence members with dependants posted to Enoggera have no children, with another 20 per cent who we are looking after for housing having only one child. Many of these members are satisfied with their higher density living in line with the community standards.

DHA has worked closely with the Brisbane City Council over an 18-month period to get this design right. It will be a medium-to-high-density development. This density is justified by the excellent location next door to Gallipoli Barracks, with a bus stop directly out the front of Gaythorne Railway Station across the road. The council has granted a development approval, and DHA is ready to commence work. That DA—development approval—is in our submission as one of the attachments. All meetings with the Brisbane City Council confirm the view of DHA and our town planner that an increase in traffic as a result of this development would be minimal.

We have taken advice from Defence Families of Australia on what is required in these townhouses and apartments. They advise two car park spaces per unit—our development has 124 car park spaces, giving two per unit and 14 for visitors; strong noise reduction measures, which I can talk to during this hearing; additional storage; and reorientation of windows and balconies so that most apartments overlook the secure internal play areas.

In addition to meeting with the Brisbane City Council and Defence Families of Australia, DHA had a comprehensive social and cultural plan prepared by Buckley Vann. This report concludes that, due to the moderate scale of the development and the number of people to be accommodated on the site, the development is not likely to have any significant impact on local services and facilities. Naturally, there will be a positive economic benefit to local businesses due to the increased number of families in the area.

The most topical issue pertaining to the proposed development was raised by Gaythorne and Mitchelton Urban Taskforce, or GAMUT. It relates to its longstanding complaints about traffic flow and congestion in the vicinity of Gallipoli Barracks, Enoggera. In particular, GAMUT is concerned with Defence traffic traversing the minor streets in Gaythorne and Mitchelton to gain entry to Gallipoli Barracks. The Department of Transport and Main Roads is committed to significantly upgrading the Wardell-Samford Road intersection, which we saw this morning as we turned onto Samford Road; we saw those works already underway at that intersection. However, these works are several hundred metres south of our development and are unrelated to our development.

As the site of the proposed development adjoins Gallipoli Barracks there is an expectation that Defence members will walk or cycle to work. DHA has sought and received in-principle support from Defence to install a swipe-card pedestrian access to Gallipoli Barracks in close proximity to the development. I have a letter here which I would like to table from Brigadier Sitton, who confirms that in this letter, 'I advise you that I have approved the installation of a swipe-card pedestrian access gate on Samford Road, adjacent to Sandy Creek, which will allow members and families to enter the base on foot or bicycles'.

It should be recognised that the proposed development will not increase traffic to Gallipoli Barracks, as the future residents currently work in the barracks and transit there by local and wider road networks. DHA has proposed that provision of pedestrian and cycleway access, coupled with the opportunity for public transport to the city, has the potential to reduce slightly the traffic around the barracks. DHA engaged traffic consultants, TTM, whose report recommendation is, 'Given the volume of the traffic generated by the proposed development, it is not anticipated that there will be any noticeable deterioration of intersections' performance in the vicinity of the subject site'.

The National Broadband Network is not currently available in the Enoggera area, and no date has been announced at this stage. Once this service has been established in the area the site will be connected to the NBN. We will construct these dwellings to be NBN-compliant and ready to be connected.

The Urban Development Institute of Australia—the UDIA—study, the Property Development Industry Economic Impact Study of March 2010 states that, 'The direct impact of $1 million invested in the Queensland property development industry results in 6.5 direct and 10.4 indirect jobs per $1 million spend.' full-time equivalent jobs.' Based on the expenditure for this project by DHA, the Samford Road project will generate approximately 160 direct jobs and 255 total direct and indirect jobs throughout the life of the project.

In closing, these 55 townhouses and apartments are due for handover to families by November-December 2015, with 24 per cent, of the apartments designed to the silver level of Livable Housing Design Guidelines.

CHAIR: If nobody else wants to make any comments at this stage we will start with questions. Paragraph 54 of your submission talks about what you are required to do in acoustics for the dwellings. I know that is something that is raised in a letter from Defence Families of Australia as well. Can you just talk about what the factors are that create issues with noise, and how they will be mitigated in the design?

Mr Howman : Sure. This development is situated between Samford Road and the Enoggera Barracks. As you look over the Enoggera Barracks you will see that there are a number of parking bays for trucks. Those trucks are generally used in daylight hours, between 9 am and 5 pm. So there is very little noise coming from that side of the development.

On the northern side there are three houses and a small shop, so once again you get very little noise from those residential houses. Any noise that could have an effect on the development really comes from the western side, on the Samford Road side. That is due to the amount of traffic that goes down that road.

We are doing a couple of things with our development to enhance the appeal of it. First of all, we are moving the boundary line back off the road by a further three metres. Where today it is a six metres, we are moving it back to nine metres. Secondly, we are putting an acoustic wall along Samford Road to give acoustic deadening to the ground floor apartments and also the open public space on the ground floor. For the apartments that are facing onto Samford Road that have balconies higher up, the acoustic treatment that we will put on those balconies will be a solid wall of some sort to stop noise coming in. Also, the roof above the balcony will have some treatment to stop sound bouncing off the roof of the balcony and back down, which is where a lot of the noise penetration actually comes from.

CHAIR: Okay. We went out and had a look at the site of the existing seven townhouses, and they have certainly seen better days. You have explained to the committee that they do not meet Defence requirements and do not in fact house Defence personnel at the moment. But, having seen the site and looking at what is proposed, it does seem that you are really intending to put an awful lot of building on that site. Were there other options that were thought about in terms of how that site could be utilised? Why has Defence Housing Australia gone down this path to put such high-density accommodation on that particular site?

Mr Howman : We certainly looked at much higher density, which is what a normal developer would do. The reason you would do that is to, I guess, maximise your return. DHA focuses on optimising return and meeting the service requirement, so we have actually reduced the density from what the site could hold. We have done that by enlarging the apartments. They are around 100-square-metre apartments, including the balconies. Two-bedroom apartments normally would be much smaller—around 60 square metres. So we actually have a larger footprint per site. Initially with this project we looked at the prospect of selling the site, taking the money and then buying another site somewhere else and providing 55 dwellings. The problem with Brisbane is finding suitable sites that meet our requirements close to Enoggera barracks. We are being continually forced further and further out, so this was an absolutely ideal site for an infill development. What drove all that is the close proximity, of course, to the railway station.

CHAIR: Does DHA have any other sites of a similar size, scale and density in Brisbane?

Mr Howman : We have a number of smaller sites around the Brisbane area. Where we are having some success is in obtaining some older buildings that are on large blocks of land, demolishing those very old buildings and doing some small infill developments. We have a contract with the Queensland government. Over time we will have three contracts which will ultimately develop and deliver about 49 infill development units for us as well.

CHAIR: One of the concerns that have been expressed to the committee—I think you heard it earlier—is about the question of these units' saleability on the open market: if, for example, in 10 years time they were no longer required for staff at Gallipoli Barracks and they were being offered for sale privately, they would not necessarily have the appeal in the private market. Do you have anything that you want to say to that?

Mr Howman : Sure. It is not DHA's intention to sell these on the open marketplace whilst the Enoggera Gallipoli Barracks are used by Defence here. With the amount of investment that is going into that barracks, I would hazard that that will be a long time away anyway. So it is not our intention to do that. We have considered some lifestyle aspects such as swimming pools and so forth. If we do that then it pushes the rent for those properties up; therefore they are no longer usable for DHA, because they are above the rent banding that allows us to put our soldiers and so forth there. Consequently the project would not be sustainable from DHA's point of view. Most of the infill developments around here do not have swimming pools. Where you get one or two houses you knock down, they are too small; they might have five or 10 dwellings delivered. From a usability point of view, with Defence there they have all the facilities on the base at their fingertips. There are plenty of swimming pools, running tracks and gymnasiums.

CHAIR: I will leave it there for the moment.

Senator URQUHART: You talked about the existing houses that do not meet the requirements that are going to be demolished. Can you just outline the aspects of where they do not currently meet—

Mr Howman : Sure. In 2006 Defence brought out a new housing standard called the new housing classification policy, NHCP. That defined certain requirements that were needed to be met by DHA in the provision of what we call compliant houses. Part of that requirement was to have a 35 square metre backyard, 15 square metres of outdoor covered living space, 33 linear metres of clothesline but, more importantly, also an ensuite. Those properties do not have those facilities. We did look at upgrading the properties themselves to put those in rather than a redevelopment; however, the feasibility did not stack up. The value was much less than the cost to do the work. So then we looked at the option of a redevelopment.

Senator URQUHART: So there is a 35-metre backyard. These do not have that, do they? How do you get around that?

Mr Howman : For the new development, the seven townhouses we will build will have a 35 square metre backyard. They will be compliant townhouses with the appropriate requirements to make them compliant. The other 48 apartments will not be compliant. However, under the new housing classification policy, DHA also has a requirement to deliver what is known as rent band choice properties. They are properties that do not meet those requirements. We are limited to five per cent of our portfolio around Australia, excluding Sydney, at that level and consequently these properties will fall in that category. Secondly, in December of last year we signed a contract to deliver off-base housing provision to the off-base singles. Predominantly they are after apartments very close to Enoggera Barracks. These would also fall in that category.

Senator URQUHART: That compliance issue is the choice for Defence people between whether they want to take those or not.

Mr Howman : Yes.

Senator URQUHART: If they are available and they are compliant then there is a requirement for them to take them, is there?

Mr Howman : That is correct—if the property is compliant and it meets the needs of that particular family. For example, if it is a family that has a number of children that is entitled to a four-bedroom house or dwelling then these would not be suitable. But if the family's entitlement is for three bedrooms then this would be a suitable residence.

CHAIR: In other words—and this is going back a bit—with the 48 units, because they are choice properties, they are effectively in the private market because the Defence personnel can either take their rent allowance and go and live in an inner-city apartment with a swimming pool or choose to rent your apartment down the road from the barracks. So you already have to compete with what is on offer in the marketplace.

Mr Howman : Yes, we do. What makes a choice property successful for us is its amenity and its location. We pick good locations for what Defence members need—in this case, close to Enoggera—with amenities that are close by, such as a railway station for a spouse to go to work and other amenities such as swimming pools and so forth, which in this case, once again, are on the base.

Senator URQUHART: I think you said the existing ones were built in 1986.

Mr Howman : About then.

Senator URQUHART: Is there any asbestos in those buildings?

Mr Howman : DHA has an asbestos register that we keep for every property in our portfolio post 1986. I cannot guarantee whether these have it or not, but I know that if it is there then it is on our register.

Senator URQUHART: Can you find that out and—

Mr Howman : I can take it on notice.

Senator URQUHART: If it is not on your register, what does that mean—that you do not—

Mr Howman : No. If it is not on our register then there is no asbestos.

Senator URQUHART: I know that during that period of time there was a likelihood that there could be in some areas.

Mr Howman : DHA approximately a decade ago now did a survey of every residence that had the likelihood of asbestos pre-1988. Every one of those was physically tested.

Senator URQUHART: If it is deemed that there is, does that change the process of how you demolish? You are not going to go out onto the footpath or anything, as I understand it. Does that change that process for you?

Mr Howman : Yes. There are well-recognised processes for demolishing properties that have asbestos in them. We would follow the appropriate standards. There are certain people who are qualified to demolish buildings that have asbestos and we would engage those qualified people.

Senator URQUHART: Do you know if that will change the access of the pedestrian—

Mr Howman : It would have zero impact.

Mr FORREST: I go back to the chair's first question. Like the project we looked at this morning, I cannot get over how desperate DHA is getting over the site. It is going to spend $25 million on this site; it is going to dig a 10,000 cubic-metre hole; it will cart all that mud away; and then it will ask people to live in this kind of intense living condition. I am still with the chair's first question: how do you justify all of that? How desperate are you?

Mr Howman : Thank you for that question. I will just qualify a couple of comments. There are only approximately 4,800 cubic metres of fill being removed, not 10,000. It is also N-class soil, so it is not mud, it is rock. It is good fill and it is saleable. That is just to correct the record.

Mr FORREST: That is still 1,000 truckloads.

Mr Howman : It is a lot of truckloads. The issue is that all the cities are growing up. All cities have the same problem: how do you get affordable dwellings close to amenities where you wish to be? When Enoggera was first developed as a base, well before my time, it was probably on the outer ring of Brisbane. Today it is surrounded by the city. We have a requirement to be within 30 kilometres of the base or an hour and a half travel time. We have a need to be very close to the bases. That is our mantra. We have a great need to try and find properties that meet that criteria. A city like Brisbane is expanding and it is simply very difficult for DHA to find appropriate properties that meet those needs. When I talk about 'appropriate', cost is a major factor—the cost of the rent. There are properties close by, but the assessed rent of those is outside the range that Defence requires us to deliver to meet the rent needs, such as a private, for example. That generally forces us further and further to the fringes of the cities. When we can ever find an infill site like you saw this morning, or this one, we would take it if it stacks up from a feasibility perspective.

Mr FORREST: We will get to the cost shortly. It is $25 million. You have done all your homework on that; you have had proper quantity surveyors; you have dug a hole; you know what sort of ground conditions are down there—

Mr Howman : Yes, we have done geotechnical surveys of this site. It used to be a Defence site. It was annexed off some years ago and transferred on to DHA's balance sheet, so we are comfortable that we understand the history of the site. We understand the finances of the proposal. I could go into those further in the coming session, if you wish.

Mr FORREST: You said it was rock. I would be surprised if it were real rock—

Mr Howman : Yes, it is known as weathered rock.

Mr FORREST: It just going to be a series of rocks with a lot of dirt around them. So you will have to have concrete walls for the basement?

Mr Howman : Yes. I do not want to foretell what the engineering solution will be. That will come out as we elicit tenders from contractors.

Mr FORREST: How have you done the cost estimate without some sort of assessment of what the foundation is going to be?

Mr Howman : We use quantity surveyors to do that work and we seek input from various contractors around. We understand what the basic needs are, but as to whether they use reinforced concrete or brick or a core-filled besser block or something like that, that would be up to the solution provided by the tenderer.

Senator URQUHART: Related to that is the question of whether you have undertaken similar projects in other cities and what the response has been from defence personnel. Do you have defence personnel living in similar properties in other parts of Australia?

Mr Howman : Chair, before your time on this committee we took a project in Sydney at the leafy north shore of Lindfield, where we secured some car parks at the University of Technology, Sydney, or UTS. There we are building 345 dwellings onto that site, of which there are five precincts. They are up-to-five-storey apartment blocks. One of them has about 170 apartments in that block and we will take about 50 per cent of those apartments. We engaged Defence with us in the design of those apartments. Once again, the design is enhanced from the community standard because we are including a lot more storage facilities, as we are here. This is well and truly above and beyond what you would find in the community in order to meet the needs of the Defence people.

CHAIR: Is that a project that DHA is developing?

Mr Howman : Yes.

CHAIR: But Defence will take only a proportion of those units and then you will be putting the others up for sale on the open market.

Mr Howman : That is correct. The reason for that is it is a large site, so we do not want to have the whole site as a Defence enclave. We are taking about 150 apartments ourselves but spread throughout the development. The rest will be sold on the open marketplace. Those with only 55 are not that large, and the closeness to the base is outstanding from our point of view, so we will keep the lot.

CHAIR: You have addressed it to a certain extent in your opening comments, but the committee has received the submission from GAMUT for this particular project, expressing its concerns about the ongoing traffic issue. Is there anything you specifically wanted to say in response to that submission?

Mr Howman : I have read their submission and I respect their opportunity to write that. It is encouraging that the committee takes an interest in our projects, because we want to be part of and integrate with the community, so we always look forward to great submissions from the community. We have spent a lot of time with the people from GAMUT—not myself personally, but Raja, who has been our development manager on this project in the past, has spent a lot of time with them understanding their concerns and making sure we are addressing those concerns.

Today, we know from work that Defence has done in traffic management that around 70 to 75 per cent of the Defence people gaining access to the base come from the north-west and north-east of the base. Many of those use an entrance to the back of the base and, consequently, to access that gate they need to drive down suburban streets. Of the people who will be living in this particular development at least 70 to 75 per cent would be from those northern suburbs anyway. It is the desire that once we have the swipe-card pedestrian and cycleway access onto the base they will utilise that, and therefore there will be a slight reduction in traffic.

The traffic study that has been done shows the total traffic impact in the area is quite small from our perspective. For example: the peak count is 2,064 vehicles per hour in the am between 7.30 and 8.30; and 2,151 vehicles per hour in the pm peak hour transit up Samford Road past our development. The impact of our development will be minimal.

CHAIR: I thought it was important to acknowledge the submission and put that on the record.

Senator URQUHART: About the trees that are already along the front: can you explain for the record what that process is going to be in terms of retention.

Mr Howman : The median strip that you saw today out the front where the trees are between Sandford Road and the building is six metres wide, and we will be widening that to nine metres. It is the intention to retain the vegetation that is there today. Down the side, where the driveway is today, you would have seen some tall pine trees. Those trees will be removed. We have a requirement that for every tree we remove we need to plant three more, and we have got the space on that verge along Sandford Road to increase the planting.

Senator URQUHART: They do not have to be planted in the same spot.

Mr Howman : No.

Senator URQUHART: You can plant them just wherever.

Mr Howman : We need to plant three trees for every tree we remove.

Senator URQUHART: How many are you going to remove? The three pine trees. How many pine trees?

Mr Howman : There are some smaller trees around the back where we parked at the base. It is between the back of the buildings and the Enoggera base. There are some small trees there. There are probably about a dozen or so smaller trees there that will be removed as well.

Senator URQUHART: So you will remove a dozen. You will have to put 36 in.

Mr Howman : Yes.

Senator URQUHART: Where are you going to fit them all?

Mr Howman : Those 36 do not necessarily have to go on that site.

Senator URQUHART: Okay.

Mr Howman : We have to plant 36 trees somewhere.

Senator URQUHART: 'Somewhere'. They do not have to be on that site.

Mr Howman : No.

Senator URQUHART: That is a relief.

Mr Howman : Yes. So if we cannot find the appropriate site there, then I know where there is another site out at Brendale which could have ample more trees planted.

Senator URQUHART: Is there a requirement that they have to be planted within a particular distance from where they are removed? For instance, could you come down to Tasmania and plant them?

Mr Howman : I am unsure of that. I am not sure whether my colleagues might have that information.

Mr Haslam : It has to be within the Brisbane City Council area.

Senator URQUHART: Within a municipal area.

Mr Foster : I will just say too, because we are increasing the size of the buffer zone, that provides an opportunity for advanced plantings in that locale as well.

Senator URQUHART: So some of that, you will have some extra.

Mr Foster : Yes. There would be ample opportunity, in conjunction with the additional landscaping we are doing, particularly around where the townhouses are. I think there will be more than enough scope to replace the quantity onsite.

Senator URQUHART: Great. Thank you.

CHAIR: Another point that Defence Families of Australia raises is around the question of air-conditioning. Is that because they have looked at the early plans and there is not any air-conditioning? Or is that just because they are making the point in a general sense?

Mr Howman : Yes, it is in a general sense. Probably two years ago now Defence ran a program, and we delivered it on behalf of Defence, to roll out a lot of air-conditioning and environmental systems around Australia to many of our houses. Houses that are non-NHCP compliant do not have air-conditioning, and we were getting a lot of complaints about the environment within the building, so we rolled that out. When that submission was written it would have been with that in mind. However, under the NHCP we have to meet certain air-conditioning requirements, otherwise the house is not acceptable as a rental property by Defence. I would imagine that was in their minds at the time when the letter was written.

Senator URQUHART: That same letter talks about double glazing as a measure to reduce the noise from the railway and the busy road. Is that a consideration?

Mr Howman : There are certain standards and requirements for acoustic treatment, and we will look at those requirements and deliver in accordance with them. I know Ms Julie Blackburn very well and I respect her letter and her points there. They are obviously a desire. They are not necessarily in accordance with the legal requirements, but we will endeavour to meet all the needs that are there.

Resolved (on motion by Senator Urquhart):

That this committee authorises publication of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.

Committee adjourned at 15:19