Reflections on doing it right: Alphington, Williams Landing and Fishermans Bend

Two important stories which traverse both transport and housing topic areas were highlighted on Urban Melbourne this week.

The news that the medium and high-density components of Williams Landing will ramp up highlight what some might gloss over but what I think is the correct 'order' of doing things: the rail station is built first, developers then piggyback off the new infrastructure second.

Likewise, this morning's report on XO Project's first foray into the UM database is a good example of how the apartment market in Melbourne more broadly is maturing.

Alphington

Putting aside price per square metre and whether this (or any) development has a certain percentage of units targeted for affordable housing (at or below market prices for purchasers or units made available for affordable housing associations); putting aside whether the building is "too tall"; putting aside whether the apartments are the "right" internal square metre size - basically putting aside all the standard arguments which have multiple proponents and opponents across academia, the industry, government and the community at large - let's devote our attention to this one aspect for a moment.

It's this one line in Mark's article

  • 109 apartments: 31 x one-bedroom, 56 x two-bedroom, 22 x three-bedroom

One project out of 1400 on our database doesn't make a trend, yet this is what I'd call a balanced configuration.  One that should be highlighted given the current set of planning regulations and real estate dynamics that define our current market.

(Apologies for going all Kevin '07), there's merit in calling affordability and housing equity issues the great moral, city-building, challenge of our time, but just for a moment let's pause and celebrate the fact that developers are confident enough to take a development to market that for all intents and purposes will smash the stereotype pedalled by some that apartments are just for singles, couples or investors.

In the arbitrary world of measuring the size of a development by height or number of floors (which I freely admit does the planning world & profession a disservice), I like to call the residential growth zone the Goldilocks Zone: not too small and not too big - the 'just right' size of [potential] development that's not going to send too many members of the community out into the streets with pitchforks. It's the 'just right' compromise that is easily understood.

Despite this development's size not fitting within Goldilocks Zone parameters (it's 9 levels as opposed to the Goldilocks Zone standard of 4 levels), I'm hereby dubbing this and all future projects like it to be a Goldilocks Development.  This is based purely on the diversity of unit configurations available off plan.

A sizeable chunk at the larger end that could conceivably be considered family-friendly and the bulk of the units in the mid-sized configuration.  

If more and more projects currently on the drawing board or those that will be proposed in the future have a similar level of 'off plan' diversity then Melbourne's apartment market will have said goodbye to its formative teenage years and made that first step into adulthood.  

There's a long way to get there, however confirmation that the city's apartment market has moved well and truly into adulthood will happen when we get policy and planning settings right on affordability and when the city's citizens don't feel the need to automatically look to the fringe to start a family.

Williams Landing

In Williams Landing we have a small scale but clear cut example of doing things in the right order.  Williams Landing station was opened in April 2013 and thereafter the medium and high-density components kicked off with both the Newton and Oxford apartment buildings entering their registration and sales phases in 2015 and 2016.

Now we have a new catalyst, a commercial building with a well-known brand to have its head office housed there.

In the world of gazing into the crystal ball on how to expand and ultimately augment Melbourne's rail network, talk on how the land surrounding the rail network inevitably gets discussed.  What's now happening in Williams Landing stands as a great example of can happen when we get the order of development right.

Unfortunately for Geelong, its loss is Melbourne's gain with Target moving its head office right next to the Williams Landing station.  

While I have and will continue to applaud businesses who employ large numbers of people under one roof and then choose to locate themselves next to the transport mode which will have the most dramatic impact on lessening our insidious car culture, the way the rail network now operates will make it hard for those who would presumably like to remain living in Geelong but follow their job to Williams Landing.

Geelong trains now run around the back of Werribee and there is a bus that links Tarneit - where some Geelong trains stop - and Williams Landing station, however the frequency of service leaves little to be desired.  That said, rail and bus frequencies can (and do) increase over time; however what's the bet that joining the hordes of people on the Princes FWY will be the favoured journey to work from Geelong?

Spring Street has already signalled that it intends to hold back the more intensive redevelopment of the Arden precinct until the new metro station opens - it gets to dictate these terms directly in this case as the state government is a major landholder in the area.  In my view, again, this is the correct order of doing things however what of Fishermans Bend?

Despite its purchase of the former GMH site, the state government is not in the same position as Arden when it comes to south of the Yarra - already developments have kicked off in the eastern end around Montague and in this early stage the 109 tram might be able to cope with a small increase in residents and workers, over the medium to long-term it'll be - excusez mon français - a shit fight.

The cat's out of the bag and Melbourne can't do a Williams Landing on a much larger scale in Fishermans Bend, however that doesn't mean the state government shouldn't reprioritise and play catch up so that proper transport for the precinct is provided in the earlier, rather than later stages of this multi-decade redevelopment zone.

A final framework for Fishermans Bend without a clear picture of how heavy rail will work (and perhaps more importantly when it will begin operations) will mean it's dead on arrival.

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