The Advisory Committee hearings for the proposed redevelopment of the Flemington public housing estate start next Monday 11 September.
The Advisory Committee received 193 submissions from individuals and organisations. About 30 of the submitters asked to be heard at the hearings, which will go for six days across two weeks, with one day, 19 September, being held at the Flemington Community Centre.
The issue is a complex one – with a myriad of challenging, and potentially conflicting, objectives. The Committee hearings are an important part of teasing out these complexities and trying to establish common ground for the improvement of housing in Flemington.
One thing is clear – that rushing through changes, without carefully considering the social, environmental and community impacts, is unlikely to achieve the good outcomes that might otherwise be possible. Here, ‘means’ is as important as the ‘end’ – and a slow and considered approach has more likelihood of success.
The need to take a considered approach is supported by the extent and variety of concerns raised by people living on and off the estate.
I spent a day last week reading 180 of the 193 submissions and collating the issues raised and the views presented. I’m yet to analyse some of the larger submissions from organisations including the Flemington Estate Residents Committee, City of Melbourne, City of Moonee Valley, Victorian Public Tenants’ Association and the Flemington Association.
This is what I found.
180 submissions were from individuals. 13 were from organisations.
About three quarters of the submissions were from individuals and organisations on the estate – and a quarter from individuals living near the estate and organisations not located on the estate.
Only one individual submission (from an individual not located on the estate), and one organisation (on the estate), fully supported the proposed development.
Several organisations, and one individual, gave clear conditional support for the proposal.
The remaining 180 or so submissions objected to the proposal to varying degrees and on a wide range of grounds. I have collated these below.
The graphic shows the percentage of responses that mentioned each broad issue as an area of concern. The red and green columns show the breakdown in terms of whether respondents live on or off the estate.
It was difficult to categorise some concerns and the graph is not statistically perfect, but it suggests a few interesting insights.
Firstly, and unsurprisingly, the issues of greatest concern to residents living on the estate are not the same as the issues for residents living nearby. Estate residents are overwhelmingly concerned about the loss of the existing open car parking spaces – which under the proposal will be developed into multi-storey car parking facilities and apartments. There will be a significant reduction in the car parking spaces available for existing tenants.
Concerns about the loss of parking per se was higher than concerns about safety of parking in the proposed multi-storey facilities. The proposed differential rates of parking (with a higher rate of parking to be made available to residents in private dwellings) was of slightly greater concern to people living off, rather than on, the estate, but the two issues are integrally connected and differences may reflect differences in expression rather than substance.
Submitters living off the estate were also more concerned about the loss of open space between the existing tower buildings. However, what is observable from the submissions is that the space between the buildings is characterised differently by those living on and off the estate. Estate residents referred to the space between the buildings as “play areas”, communal areas, and car parking space. Submitters living off the estate referred to it as “open space” – presumably because they have less idea about the ways in which this space is used by residents.
And it is this point that I find most striking, and also most obvious – that a detailed understanding of the way in which space is used by and has meaning for residents of the estate cannot be fully understood or appreciated by those of us who are not actually living there.
We call it “open space” without really being able to understand the ways it serves as functional, meaningful and important space. The explanations from submitters living on the estate provide critical insights into the importance of the existing areas between the four 20-storey towers.
Many submitters referred to the spaces as play areas for children, or recreational areas for older people who may walk through the estate, or sit with others. Some spoke about the need to be able to see their children playing from their windows. Some wrote about the ways families and friends use the BBQ facilities in summer. Others wrote:
“We all sit together and stay out late if it is hot in summer. We will be sad without that … Being together as a community with lots of friends is important.”
“It is important for us to be able to come out of our homes and use these areas because it is our backyard.”
“I just want to be able to play in my community.”
“In summer, no one is in their home. They go outside and sit under the trees.”
One woman wrote that she was concerned that older people with mental health issues won’t have shady green spaces to sit. Another said:
“I don’t want these buildings! No one wants these buildings – it needs to stop – it’s not always about money, it’s about the well-being of people.”
“I don’t want the area to be replaced by buildings that will be owned by private residents. This is a ridiculous proposal.”
Concerns about the loss of space between the buildings – the loss of car parking, play areas and trees – blends into concerns about the extent of the proposed development, that is, 845 new dwellings (825 private dwelling) in buildings ranging in heights from 4 to 20-storeys.
This concern was shared by all submitters opposed to the proposal, and was articulated vividly by some submitters who live on the estate:
“My family is squished in already.”
“Knocking down the existing walk ups should not mean a population density of this many.”
We would become like a city”
“We would not have areas where we can relax and we will become suffocated.”
“I don’t want to feel shut in.”
“We are crushed.”
Safety or security were concerns to almost half of the submitters from the estate. Concerns varied from a sense that more people would bring more anonymity and less connectedness, to the design of the new buildings resulting in less visibility and more dark corners. One submitter, summarising the concerns of many, said: “I won’t feel safe.”
There are many reasons people currently living on the estate report feelings of vulnerability, uncertainty and fear for their personal safety. Clearly, well-considered and long-term solutions are needed.
“My kids wake up in the middle of the night, they scream, they scared. They leave for school early, I’m watching them, I’m busy. Is it safe? Unsafe – no life.”
Solutions that will work can only be developed by talking with residents about their experiences. To date, many submitters on and off the estate believe the consultation attached to the redevelopment process has been ineffective with DHHS representatives not answering questions or providing information one submitter on the estate described as “ridiculous”.
“[I’m] so stressed and unsure of what the outcome for me will be”
I hope the government will listen to residents but I think they will build it no matter what.”
“Change can be nice and beautiful. But this change will underestimate residents like me and make us second level people … I want the government to give me answers to my worries.”
“Why is the government putting their hands in our mouth and stopping us from speaking?”
“They haven’t told my mom and my family where we are going to move too. During the youth consultation, DHHS fed us pizza and asked us what we wanted to see in Flemington. We told them we wanted a basketball court and place to run around. Now I know they aren’t going to do anything and I and my friends are very upset.”
One of the submitters providing conditional support for the proposal commented that “[t]he overall plan is a good idea but only if the locals had their say.”
A significant number of submitters commented that they support the redevelopment of the walk-ups, with more residents off the estate commenting that more apartments with three or more bedrooms are needed (the majority of walk-ups are three bedroom apartments and they will be replaced with one and two bedroom apartments under the current proposal).
Significantly more submitters from off the estate wrote that the proposal should contain more public housing rather than private housing, but no submitters on the estate explicitly supported the construction of private dwellings on the estate. Some submitters on the estate commented that they had been waiting for bigger public housing for over a decade and there should be more public housing in the redevelopment.
“My 70 year old brother has been on waiting list for 11 years. I want to get him one of the new units. The units should be public housing.”
“Why not construct 2 or 3 high rise public buildings instead of adding double amount of private housing.”
Other residents on the estate questioned the likelihood of the public-private social mix achieving successful social cohesion.
“I think people will not get along. They will see themselves as different from us.”
“Is there international research to show introducing private residents will be beneficial to existing low-income residents?”
“If they are talking about mixing people with lower income people it’s nice in all thoughts but it could lead to unsettledness. I live here so I guess I could be looking at it narrow mindedly.”
“Please don’t pretend that this development to support other people’s need for social housing. The amount of private dwellings planned proves that this is project is not for vulnerable or disadvantaged people needing homes, it is for revenue … I implore you to please listen to the community you are impacting with these plans.”
Other concerns included the relocation of the community centre and the community garden. There were mixed views expressed about the community centre with some submitters saying it was too far for older residents to walk and a younger resident commenting that:
“The community centre is the heart of Flemington. This place kids come together and hang out. To be moved and then made into a multilevel whatever is not cool. We want to be able to feel like a community.”
Concern about the relocation of the community garden was shared by a number of estate residents including the organisation that supports the residents with vegetable plots in the garden. It appears the proposal is that the community garden be relocated onto a rooftop.
“Strongly believe garden should be retained in its existing location … 126 plots … 400 sq. m of growing space – could not be replicated on a rooftop.”
“I live at 120 Racecourse Rd. There is a community garden behind. I like to see the garden and the other places. I don’t want to lose the garden. I don’t want to lose the trees to look at. I want to see nice things. I don’t want buildings next to me.”
Despite the evident differences between the detail of the concerns expressed by residents on and off the estate, there are constant reminders in the submissions of the things we all have in common: like the desire for attractive places and spaces to live, access to transport and comfort, and the opportunity to be heard.
“Don’t abuse us because we are human. We don’t have choice to go to private house or buy new house. We’ve been here 13 years. Everyone like the good house, the parking. We the same. If they want to use their power – we don’t have the power.”
The planning amendment at the heart of the Committee hearings is a complex document, but it tries to articulate a vision for the area. One resident off the estate articulated the opportunity that the redevelopment presents: “An opportunity to create liveable, stimulating and socially sensitive space.” The challenge for all of us is how we can best achieve this.
The lone individual submitter who expressed support for the proposal made the following statement: “Don’t let NIMBYs stop this development which will bring more people and more activity into our suburb. Where there are more people, there is more activity, more services will follow. Our community will be safer to walk around.”
Planning always involves a degree of speculation and uncertainty. What will make our community safer? Will more people bring more services? Will private dwelling bring social cohesion? Will fewer parking spaces bring more sustainable transport? Will removing open spaces create a healthy, comfortable living space for residents? Have residents on the estate been listened to?
We can’t use guesswork. Optimism and good intentions are not enough. We need rigorous research, meaningful consultation, and reliable evidence.
One submitter finished her statement with a question that needs to be answered carefully and truthfully: “What will it be like?”
On estate – top ten concerns:
- Loss of car parking – 52%
- Security – 45%
- Overcrowding/ overdevelopment – 39%
- Loss of play areas – 34%
- Need recreational facilities – 28%
- Loss of open space – 27%
- Impact on tenants’ lives – 23%
- Poor consultation – 16%
- Replace walk-ups – 13%
- Issues during building – 13%
Off estate – top ten concerns:
- Loss of open space – 61%
- Overcrowding / overdevelopment – 47%
- Impact on tenants’ lives – 47%
- Need more PH – 44%
- Selling public land / private profit – 42%
- Traffic congestion rat running – 39%
- Loss of trees and garden – 33%
- Infrastructure – 31%
- Planning Minister as RA – 25%
- 3 plus bedrooms – 25%