Rally to “Stop the Great Wall of Frankston,” Saturday 13th May at 10.30 AM, Corner Wells St. and Kananook Creek Frankston. Planning Applications are at Frankston City Council for 14, 15 and 16 storey apartment blocks of up to 60 metres height on the beachside of Nepean Hwy, and only 200 metres from Frankston’s scenic beach. The towers would overshadow Kananook Creek, the beach, nearby homes, exacerbate wind tunnel effects and change the face of Frankston forever.
In Melbourne last Saturday nine public housing towers with 3,000 residents were shut down for at least five days, due to a large cluster of identified cases of COVID-19 within their walls. Since then, of course, the whole of Melbourne has been locked down for about six weeks. And this is a Melbourne burgeoning with high-rises. It seems a lifetime ago, but it is only about five months since the cruise ship, Diamond Princess, with identified cases of COVID-19 was unable to disembark in Yokohama, Japan. Her hapless passengers were confined to their cabins, in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus aboard the ship and on land. Predictably however, the virus spread through the ship and by early March there were six casualties.
Those of us who see the downside of "storing" people in high-rise buildings and advocate against this trend in Australia, immediately saw high rise towers as vertical cruise ships. This obvious comparison has become a widespread notion, and many of us are trembling observers of this latest selective lock-down of the towers in North Melbourne and Flemington.
It is difficult to conceive of what the Victorian Government could have done differently in the situation and constructive criticism is equally difficult.
It is, however, easy to criticise the rapid trend towards increasing living density, both in Australian cities, and in most of the world. Beginning with the extreme: high rise, such as the public housing tower blocks, which have been there for many decades, but are being replicated in form all over our cities - this is not a sustainable way of living for humans. It is suitable for a few nights in a hotel when visiting a large capital city, but as a long term arrangement it is anathema to what most humans need. People may choose to live in an apartment out of economic necessity. In some cases, apartment-living may be seen as convenient and labour efficient for the resident, not requiring maintenance of gardens and fences, for instance. It is also secure for those who travel a lot. These reasons make sense for the solo person making his/her way, in a globalised business world, for example, but for those less peripatetic in their work habits, the advantages over a house and garden are dubious.
The COVID-19 crisis has, over the last few months,brought the problems of apartment-living into sharp focus, particularly with this latest lock-down.
COVID-19 has thrown us all back on our own resources in 2020, and those with more resources have suffered less. People who have gardens are in a better position than those who do not, because they can be outside, yet remain safe from infection by others. At present, people in Victoria, including people in apartments, cannot easily travel outside that state. Many of us are yearning to exchange winter in Melbourne for two weeks near the beach in Queensland, or even the milder climate of southern New South Wales, options that were so available to us before the current health crisis. But these are minor frustrations compared with the constraints under which the residents of the public housing towers are being held right now.
For years, some of us have seen the undesirability of normalising high-rise living in Australia's large cities, and we noted the helplessness of people in towers in the face of dangers like flammable cladding, or major plumbing issues that required evacuation. This is not to say that a house cannot catch fire or flood due to a plumbing problem, but the impacts of such crises are massively multiplied in towers with hundreds of residents, where the effects of being locked in or out are very serious. Residents in towers are at the mercy of the buildings' private or government owners. The high rise arrangement may be workable when all the complex functions of a large city are operational, but this cannot be guaranteed.
Population growth, engineered by governments and planners, is hypocritically given by them as an excuse for the transition in Australia's capital cities, especially Melbourne and Sydney, to ever increasing density. Increased population within a given area does not serve us well. It advantages those who make money from high volume sales - from the sandwich bar near a block of offices, with an imperative to meet its high rent, to those who own our toll roads and transport systems. Surely, we, as a society, have to admit defeat with respect to the notion of ongoing high volume being the commercial panacea for all transactions? We cannot "socially distance" in a crowded restaurant, in a capacity crowd at a football stadium, cinema, orchestral concert, ballet or theatre. Fortunately for the toll road owners, heavy traffic is not an immediate COVID-19 health risk, but if our roads are the only place we can now gather then one might hesitate to call the resulting human accumulation in cities any sort of society.
The problems encountered in tower blocks in recent years are the indicators that we have hit the wall with respect to density of human habitation. We have had several warnings with the current one being loud and clear. Wrong way! Go back, or at least go in a different direction!
Australia's construction industry is corrupt, but protected by government. This has left building consumers in a terrible situation. A current scandal is that they are being forced to pay billions for builders' mistakes in a situation where no building over 3 stories is insured. This video is of an interview with Nerrida Pohl about the dangers of inflammable cladding on skyscrapers, using her own building as an example. The location affords views of similar problems on surrounding skyscrapers in South Yarra. It also illustrates the irony of having one's view built out, even when one lives in a skyscraper, as massive population growth an deregulation accelerate infilling and raise heights. Nerrida was a speaker at the Victorian Building Action Group AGM this year.
VIDEO UNPUBLISHED: Unfortunately the person interviewed in this video has asked me to unpublish it pending her dealing with some pressure she has received in response. Because this was a very educational video, I am regretfully unpublishing it for the time being.
Did you know that you cannot insure buildings over three stories high in Australia? On Sunday 16 June apartment owners and renters were locked out of a 122 unit apartment tower called Mascot Towers, in Sydney. Due to serious structural weaknesses, residents were rendered treeless like so many koalas, and with little more assistance. In Melbourne on Sunday 23 June, residents and shop owners in a 237 apartment building known as "Liberty Tower" were told to leave because the flooding had cut power throughout the building and damaged the lift. Apparently the water rose to 1.5m in some parts of the basement.
Faulty towers Australia may require immigration shut-down
It seems that the Australian construction industry has become so unregulated, corrupt, incompetent, and uninsurable, that residents buy high-rise apartments at their own risk in Australia. The risks involved: huge financial loss and costs, homelessness, and injury, are themselves a reason to dramatically slow down development and the huge immigration levels that drive the reckless, 'self'-regulated construction that now characterises Australia. If Australian governments cannot make sure that high-rises are actually long-term viable and insurable as such, then developers should not be given permission to build them. That means that the mad schemes for population growth via mass immigration need to stop, pending significant changes in law and practice.
Architects Geoff Hanmer, Steve Gleeson and Mark Maugham discussed the following in comments at https://theconversation.com/buck-passing-on-apartment-building-safety-leaves-residents-at-risk-119000:
- Home warranty insurance is not available for buildings over three storeys high in NSW. (Neither is it available in Victoria and probably other states.)
- Since construction companies often have short lives, a 25 year insurance policy should be purchased by the developer, upfront. It should be lodged as part of the final handover of the building to a government department. This would mean that the 'department' has the job of looking after the records and of paying out, and that the process would not be affected by change of ownership. The beneficiaries would be the apartment owners. It would be in the interests of the insurance company to ensure that the building is properly designed for a long life.
Probably all buildings should have this kind of insurance that benefits owners.
- That there is a need to employ architects and give them authority to approve the final product, since they are held responsible for its defects. Apparently at the moment the developer is deemed to be the 'consumer' and carries no responsibility. So, if the developer had to take out insurance for the rectification of defects, they would probably act more responsibly. It has been suggested that insurance companies should require a building professional to represent them onsite to ensure quality control before they give the developer insurance.
Until such changes are implemented, it seems to me that the 'program' for high density in Australian cities and suburbs needs to halt. Since this is the program that is supposed to retrofit a doubling of the population (and more, sky's the limit) in this country, the mass immigration of cities full of people needs to stop, because we simply won't be able to house them.
A case in point would be the proposed redevelopment with residential towers of the old Gas and Fuel Site known as Highett Gasworks. If the Victorian State Government has its way, and changes the height limit for the public land at 1136-1138 Nepean Highway, Highett to 26m, then the site will be doomed to be covered in uninsurable high-rises. As it is, any densification of this public land reduces the ratio of public open green space per person.