|Armadale: Ecology-driven development
Bold redevelopment plans are usually born of necessity and in the case of the Armadale Redevelopment Authority’s mission, the need was both local and global - and the plan that is now being implemented addresses both imperatives.
On a local level Armadale was in clear need of rejuvenation. Compared with the rest of Perth, Armadale’s population growth had stalled and its real estate and business sectors were lowly valued and stagnating.
Armadale is an old suburb, with both the rustic charm and the sleepiness of a typical country town. It is perched on both a major highway and a train line on Perth’s south eastern rural-urban fringe - in the shadow of the picturesque Darling Scarp that forms the natural boundary of the Swan Coastal plain.
In summer it swelters, too far from the beach to benefit from refreshing sea breezes and in winter its wetlands turn swampy, making large chunks of land impractical for development.
The Armadale Redevelopment Authority (ARA) was established by an Act of State Parliament in 2001 and given jurisdiction over 2000 hectares across seven disparate sites. Unlike similar bodies set up to revamp East Perth and Subiaco, the ARA was set the challenge of working without ownership of the land under its jurisdiction.
According to ARA Chairman Gerry Gauntlett, this meant a focus on consulting and negotiating with landowners in all project areas was critical to achieving a shared outcome. So far the process has been successful and Gauntlett reports that the landowners are enthusiastic, positive and supportive.
So what is it about the ARA’s plan that they like so much?
While the ARA’s overall plan includes revitalization of the city centre (with retail space in two shopping centers increasing from 25,000sqm to 45,000sqm, and close to $20 million worth of public works), and a 200 hectare business park, its two biggest and most ambitious developments have a lot to do with water and energy efficiency.
The first - scheduled to have residential blocks on the market in early 2008 - is called Champion Lakes and, in addition to 26 hectares of residential land, it features the infrastructure needed to make it an international water sport hot spot: including an international standard 2000 metre rowing course; a recreational lake; a rowing warm up area and spaces optimized for spectator viewing. There is also a 15 hectare site included in the precinct earmarked for a white water park, as well as facilities to accommodate visitors including a conference centre, short stay accommodation and a hotel.
Gauntlett said the Champion Lakes development is an important early stage of the revamping of Armadale because it will radically change perceptions and increase the socio-economic diversity of the area by adding to the property mix the highest quality real estate yet to be seen in the area.
While it is clearly lifestyle-focused, the development also includes cutting-edge planning ideas that fit with the emerging appeal of global-environmentalism. The lots in the subdivisions are oriented to permit passive solar design and improved cross ventilation reducing the need for power-burning heating and cooling system, all houses will be required to install rainwater tanks plumbed to their toilets and laundries and excess roof run-off will discharge directly into the lake via a separate pipe network to reduce the salinity of the lake water.
Local wildlife is also set to benefit with six islands in the rowing lake dedicated as habitat niches and the original owners of the land will be honoured and included through an Aboriginal interpretive centre that is also on the drawing board.
While there’s a lot more that could be said about Champion Lakes, Ellis is keen to breach the subject of the Wungong Urban Water Project. Covering 1500 hectares and expected to house up to 40,000 people over the next 15 to 20 years it dwarfs the elegant lakeside project.
It also posed more problems up front and has required a more creative response. The ARA’s list of its “environmental challenges” includes high water tables, drainage and protection of the Wungong River, as well as retaining the region’s rural character and indigenous heritage.
In rethinking the area the ARA also sought to minimize the use of power and scheme water and to maximize the protection of biodiversity and native landscapes.
With this approach in mind, the first stage of the development process was the commissioning of a landscape master plan from the School of Landscape Architecture at the University of WA.
According to the ARA executive director John Ellis it is this environmental underpinning that makes it such an iconic development. He said: “Considering the environment is usually the last stage of a development process, but with this one it came first and consideration of the landscape has guided every subsequent stage of decision making.”
With siteworks set to commence in 2008, the project will reduce potable water use by 75% per lot - an achievement that is attracting some heavyweight support.
In April 2007 Federal Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Malcolm Turnbull announced that the project would receive $6.19 million from the Australian Government Water Fund.
Praising the plan, Turnbull said: “The use of groundwater for purposes other than drinking will substitute up to two billion litres per year of drinking water from Perth’s water supply, and the project will also replenish the groundwater which forms part of Perth’s drinking water system.”
With the WA Government matching the federal contribution, the ARA is now proceeding with the storm water capture, filtering and groundwater recharge, extraction and monitoring components of the development. The state government is also providing additional finance to pre-fund core infrastructure to support early development.
For the future residents this will mean an extra water pipe bringing groundwater into their houses for toilet, laundry and garden (non-potable) use. It will also mean that the Wungong river, that wends its way through the development area, will become an aesthetic focal point.
Rather than adapting the environment to suit the housing development, the Wungong Urban Water rests on an understanding of the landscape and according to Ellis this may mean the introduction of building styles, such as lightweight housing and suspended slab construction, not usually seen in Perth.
This integration of natural resource management and urban development has also seen the project adopted by the CSIRO Water for a Healthy Country National Research Flagship, that is expanding on the research work started by UWA and providing ongoing input on topics as diverse as adaptive building materials, design and groundwater management.
According to Ellis the upshot of this kind of consultation will be an urban development visually different from anything previously build in the Perth metropolitan area that is in many ways a pilot program for a whole new approach to land development.
Asked to put it into a nutshell he said: “This is a planning response to climate change and to the need for social and economic rejuvenation of the Armadale area.”