JOHN MADDOCK, Citizen Reporter: Report of the information night and forum held on 1/7/09 at the Welcome Inn, Kingston on developing a Master Plan for the remaining Huntingfield land, organised by the Housing Innovations Unit, Department of Health & Human Services. Disclosure: This report is biased. As the owner of farm land of similar high quality near the Huntingfield land (but separated from it by the Channel Highway) and a lifelong farmer, I write from the position of wanting to preserve this land for food production into the future. I hold no beneficial interest in any existing or planned entity involved in the possible use of the Huntingfield land.

The Department of Health and Human Services has engaged multinational consulting firm Sinclair Knight Mertz to assess the suitability of government owned land at Lindisfarne, Huntingfield, Rokeby and Penguin for development. These investigations are part of the Tasmanian Government’s Land for Future Communities Project , which aims to increase the supply of affordable housing across Tasmania.
The meeting was organised by the Housing Innovations Unit of DHHS. In attendance as a panel were Richard Gilmour and Philip Williams (HIU); Craig Webb, Kirsten Leggett, Rachel Ducker (Melbourne based planner) and Keith Midson (SKM); John Cottingham (UK based consultant); Andrew Goodsell (Town & Country Planning (TAS) Pty Ltd, a Kingston based private company. Mr. Goodsell was previously the Planner at Kingborough Council and the principal author of the Kingborough Planning Scheme 2000.)

On the night, there was a full house, with probably more than 100 people attending, the vast majority grey hairs. From the type of questions asked, it is quite likely that the majority were Huntingfield residents.

Opening his Power Point presentation, Mr. Gilmour explained that the HIU sits outside Housing Tasmania and reports to the minister Lin Thorp and the treasurer Michael Aird.

The Housing Innovations Unit aims to improve housing affordability, halve the homelessness rate, implement housing investment schemes and address
urban renewal. At Huntingfield, it was looking at getting the ratio right between state and private development. As an example of the type of housing envisioned, a photograph of a house under construction in Carbeen St. Mornington was shown.

(My comment: from the perspective shown in the photograph, it appears that the house has no thermal mass and minimal eaves, two of the four principal prerequisites for a passive solar design, without which the house is likely to consume excessive amounts of energy, particularly in the winter. Although it is claimed to have a 5.5 star rating, I understand that this is fairly easy to attain without using passive solar design.)

The Prime Minister and Premiers via COAG had identified housing affordability as a major problem Mr. Gilmour said. Hobart house prices had risen 131% since 2002 and one factor affecting housing affordability is land availability: no land available forces the price up.

This project is aimed at making use of land which at present is sitting idle, doing nothing. We want to find out if it is suitable for development and if it is, to go for it, said Mr. Gilmour.

Around Tasmania, the government has identified 1600 parcels as possibly suitable. Huntingfield is one of the top sites at 71ha.

In this project, the stakeholders are the Federal government, the State government, not-for-profit housing associations, councils and local communities.

(My comment: since the local communities have to live with this development, I would have thought they would be top of the list of stakeholders.)

In his address, Philip Williams said that the Managing Land For Future Communities project aimed to identify land suitable for residential development – in this case Huntingfield. There is expected to be a mix of residential uses, with private ownership the mainstream, a smaller number of affordable housing and the minority (by a long way ) of social housing.

SKM is to do a master plan to support rezoning. Thorough consultation is taking place with local interest groups being critical to the success of the project. If all goes well and the council and the RPDC approve, then private/public partnerships should result.

(My comment: it was not made clear how these would be created or administered, but increasingly I read of private/public partnerships failing, for various reasons, and in most cases the taxpayer misses out.)

Land For Future Communities is about creating communities which are sustainable.

(My comment: just how they are to be sustainable was not discussed).

Rachel Ducker addressed the meeting, briefly introducing the SKM team: Rachel (being a Melbourne based planner with SKM for some years), Andrew
Goodsell (past planner with Kingborough Council), UK based John Cottingham, (housing consultant) Keith Midson, (traffic planner with SKM) and Kirsten Leggett.

Ms Ducker outlined the various stages in the process; at the moment we are at Stage 1, “Strategic Assessment”, analysing constraints, with Stage 4, a “Master Plan”, due by December.

She reiterated that community views are critical.

The project approach is to identify constraints, look at the demographics and housing needs and consult with the council, government and residents.

John Cottingham in his address, said that he had 10 years experience of providing affordable housing the the UK, principally in the south west. He had a house in the Huon and spent part of each year in Tasmania. He will be advising on the full spectrum of housing and is doing a housing needs survey. This will identify the full range of tenure & needs. He sees Huntingfield as a private sector development incorporating four different tenures:

1. Normal home purchase
2. Intermediate, with shared equity, either government or n.f.p.
3. Private rental
4. Public rental

The need of this community must be established, but is likely to be young couples being squeezed by the current housing costs. The aim is for sustainable development.

(My comment: “Sustainable development” was not discussed nor defined, nor were there any guarantees that the planning process would ensure sustainability – whatever that is in regard to subdivisions.)

At this point, there was an interruption with an elderly lady, clearly a resident of Huntingfield, saying loudly how unique Huntingfield was and what would be the effect on birds and wildlife in the Peter Murrell Reserve, especially the 40 Spotted Pardelot.

This question triggered several other people, again mostly elderly, to comment on the need to ask the wider community what its views were, the importance of installing infrastructure such as the Kingston Bypass before subdivision began, and to ask questions on the percentage of public housing.

All this inappropriate questioning and commenting (it should have been better managed by the panel and left to the end of the information session, when most of the questions would have been answered ) took time and introduced a belligerent tone to the rest of the meeting.

Andrew Goodsell spoke next, and in outlining the layout of the development, used the hackneyed phrase “treading lightly on the site”, a phrase in my opinion now largely meaningless. Describing the project as “exciting”, he said that:

1. Road access was always a major problem for Huntingfield. 2. There were issues around the Peter Murrell Reserve and how to use the bush areas on the site (presumably the old growth E. obliqua on the southern boundary) 3. There were issues relating to social infrastructure 4. Ultimately the need was for affordable housing.

(My comment: I think the panel’s cause was not helped by the appearance of Mr. Cottingham and Mr. Goodsell. Their words simply re-enforced the view of many that this is a done deal, the consultation process a sham.)

Kirsten Leggett then outlines the studies done to date, including assessment of :
1. Aboriginal occupation
2. Flora and fauna
3. Bushfire risk
4. Flooding risk
5. Geophysical
6. Noise
7. European cultural history

Expanding on these, she said several constraints had been identified:

1. Two sites containing aboriginal artefacts were logged.

(My comment: I believe that in the past aboriginal tools had been found in an area south of the Tarremah school on a site separate from the two mentioned).

2. The majority of the Huntingfield site land is Class 3 soils.

(My comment: Since only 3.5% of all private land in Tasmania is Class 3 soils, this class is quite rare. From my experience with the similar soils on my farm, I suspect that there are also areas which would be Class 2. Until recently, I had believed that in accordance with the State Policy on Protection of Agricultural Land , Classes 1,2, and 3 Prime Agricultural Land must be reserved for agriculture.

However, I note that in a story in tasmaniantimes dated 21 July 2009, under the headline “PAL Policy: Lazy, hopeless LibLabs”, John Lawrence sets out the details of how Tasmania is now without a Protection of Agricultural Land (PAL) policy. The interim 2007 policy expired on 10th July 2009 and the government was unable to obtain the necessary approval from both Houses for the revised 2009 policy to take effect. If this is true, there is no protection for this little piece of prime farm land.)

3. Threatened species have been found on the site .

4. There are transport and infrastructure constraints.

(My comment: there was no mention by the panel of the implications of the European cultural history of the site, nor its connection with the likely second road access.

The original Huntingfield farm was subdivided after the First World War to produce four soldier-settler blocks: “Mayfield” (now under houses, the Mayfield house having been demolished); “Springfield” (the Family Church is on part of this farm); “Highfield” (the farm building were burned in the 1967 bushfires, the farm house also destroyed by fire, some years later); and and the final block, named “Rulla” in 1948 by the last private owner, Les Gabriel after the small ship he commanded in New Guinea waters at the end of WW II. “Rulla” was a depot for fodder supplied to the Kingborough Fodder Relief Committee after the 1967 fires.

The Rulla farm house (1287 Channel Highway) is on the location of what is likely to be the second access route to and from Huntingfield, being an overpass over the existing Channel Highway.)

In a question to Mr. Cottingham, Cr. Michele Higgins queried the response rate of the housing surveys. His response was that he was looking to get it to more people but did not detail how this would be achieved.

In the general discussion period, I commented that there will be an increased world-wide demand for food and that fertile soil is disappearing world-wide. Fertile soil such as found at Huntingfield will produce the cheapest and best quality food.

I also commented that although the panel had used the “if” word frequently, it was clear to me that the deal had already been done, and cited Mr. Goodsell’s comment to me some years ago asking what made me think that farming was the highest or best use of the Huntingfield land.

My comments were restricted by a request from Mr. Gilmour to be brief and so I finished by saying that although it would not be easy, the people of
Huntingfield had the power to ensure this farmland is preserved for future generations.

Given more time, I would have added that when the land was being run as a dairy farm, it was producing enough milk to feed 2,000 people every day, and that although the economy had changed since then, in my opinion the combination of its natural soil fertility and position at the entrance to the Channel made it an ideal prospect for a farmshop/tourism venture.

In other discussion, the problems of access to the site and to Hobart were discussed in depth and with some passion. Although Sirius St. was shown as one access route, local residents objected strongly saying that Sirius St. was narrow and the only suitable access from the north was via Huntingfield Avenue.

There was also close questioning of the panel by several people on whether the Kingston Bypass would be constructed first. The present inadequacy of
the Algona Rd roundabout and the adjacent “T” junction of Huntingfield Ave. with the Channel Highway was also covered with some heated discussion.

In response, Keith Midson said that he had been closely involved with the Bypass traffic study and was well acquainted with the problem – but he did not comment on the present plans for constructing the bypass.

Other questions and comments related to the impact on the Peter MurrellReserve and its fauna, especially birds.

(My comment: if houses are built adjacent to the Reserve, domestic cats are likely to have a significant effect on the wildlife.)

A member of the audience then put his view (with some passion), that the community consultation was just window dressing and that the development of Huntingfield was a done deal.

In response, Ms Ducker assured the remaining people present that the consultants would answer all the questions raised, and to ensure that, compiled a list of comments and questions on butcher’s paper.

Mr. Gilmour repeated that the consultants and HIU do not have a preconceived idea on the use of the land. Another member of the audience then asked whether roads and housing are ‘appropriate use’ for this land, proved historically as first-class primary production land.

She also asked whether this area should be part of a planning vision of State Government and Kingborough Council, for future food production, and sustainable needs. We have been warned to plan for climate change influences, with past-peak oil reassessment for transport, including food. Visionary planning is needed for local food production, she said.

In answer to a question on how this proposed development would be different from Rokeby, Bridgewater etc. Mr Gilmour said that these types of broadacre development were all in the past. Huntingfield was not a public housing subdivision, we (HIU) are not Housing Tasmania and there would be a maximum of 5% social housing. This brought additional questions and comments on whether existing houses would be devalued by the presence of social housing.

The residents were assured this would be most unlikely, Mr. Gilmour adding that there are 1009 households in Kingston under stress as measured by more than 33% of household income used to service the mortgage.

In the final minutes before the meeting wound up at about 9:30 p.m. , there were requests for consideration of access to public schools (Margate Primary) s well as a corner shop/ small supermarket within the subdivision. Other comments related to the need for increased Metro services and another water reservoir. (My comment: KIngborough Council has already surveyed a site at the western end of nearby Maddocks Rd for new resevoirs).

A vote of thanks from a person in the audience for the panel’s courtesy and help brought the formal part of the evening to a close.

(My comment: it is clear to me that both the HIU and the SKM team expect the subdivision of this land to be given the nod by the powers that be.

Despite the fact that I met the HIU team in December 2008 and discussed the continued agricultural potential of the land, this potential has been ignored.

Where was the agricultural consultant on the SKM team? Where was the openness and transparency often spoken of by this government? Is it true (as one other audience said to me after the meeting) that there is $60 million of Federal money sloshing round looking for a home in affordable housing?

Is it also true that the PAL protection of Class 3 land not longer exists?

If this had been a genuinely consultative process, I would have expected something like the following:

1. A series of meetings, advertised in different media, held at different times of the week to allow the widest cross section of the community to attend. An interactive website to be set up.

2. At those meetings, a full and open discussion of the pros and cons of the competing land uses i.e. houses versus farming.

3. Consultants appointed after this to develop several alternative plans which would include cost/benefit analyses for several decades ahead at least.

The alternatives would be:

1. Subdivision, considering various housing mixes

2. Agriculture only

3. Agriculture/tourism mix

4. Agriculture/ housing mix, especially retirement housing integrated with farm activities.

Clearly, the above is a wish list unlikely to be acceded to, especially with the current review of the planning system, in which as I understand it, public appeals will cease to be. If this is implemented, the minister of the day will have enormous power to influence planning decisions – and in this situation I would expect money to do the talking.

Such is life in Tasmania.

John Maddock