Podcast: ‘Worst-ever block’ and Greens v Nimbys

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As good as it gets - an artist's impression of the Crownview building in Wollongong, now built but needing serious repairs.

In this week’s Flat Chat Wrap podcast we look at a report that building commissioner David Chandler has issued a stop-work order at a Wollongong construction site after structural defects were discovered in a 149-unit apartment block.

According to a story in on the ABC news site, Mr Chandler said the prohibition order followed the detection of a number of issues in the Crownview building in the last few years with $37m already spent on remediation but new problems with critical cable tensioning were discovered during remediation work.

As a result, he announced that he was pushing to have regional offices across the state because standards are so lax outside of Sydney – and we have a take on that too.

We glance in the direction of government moves to nudge baby strata managers to get themselves qualified and gain expertise in a bit more than gouging Schedule B fees from unsuspecting apartment owners.

And we look at news that already has the trendoids of Sydney’s inner-west suburbs in a tizz; the NSW government wants councils in these areas close to the city centre to stop blocking low-to-medium rise apartment blocks.

Add that to the Greens’ demand that the Federal Government should build 360,000 homes to be available for low-cost rents and purchases and all those former workers cottages in streets with no parking will be swallowed up … or probably not.

We look at what you really want in the shops in your block and a slight change of direction for Great Escapes.

That’s all in this week’s Flat Chat Wrap.

TRANSCRIPT IN FULL

Jimmy   00:00

A lot going on in the world of strata.

Sue   00:01

There always is.

Jimmy   00:03

We get to the point where we think “what are we going to talk about,” and then we realise we probably don’t have enough time to talk about all the things. What we are going to talk about this morning is an apartment block in Wollongong. Apparently, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph, it’s the worst that David Chandler has ever seen.

Sue   00:22

It must be bad.

Jimmy   00:23

It must be very bad. The New South Wales Government are talking about the whole of the inner west of Sydney; rezoning it so that they can have medium-rise buildings, low-to-medium rise buildings. The Greens have got a policy now; they want the federal government to build 360,000 new low -cost homes and a poll has come up what people would most like to have in their buildings.

Sue   00:58

That would be nice to find out.

Jimmy   01:01

I’m Jimmy Thomson , I write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review.

Sue   01:05

And I’m Sue Williams and I write about property for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the AFR and Domain.

Jimmy   01:10

And this is the Flat Chat Wrap.

[MUSIC]

Jimmy

That was a very interesting report in The Daily Telegraph last week, about the building in Wollongong.

Sue   01:32

Do we know much about it?

Jimmy   01:33

Well, one thing we don’t know is who the developer is. The whole report went through about how David Chandler, the Building Commissioner had said this was the worst, or one of the worst he’d ever seen and I think there was a stop-work order put on the building. People were who were already living there were told they might have to move out. I don’t know if it’s complete. The report was a bit odd in that respect. Normally, David Chandler has done very well in his campaign of naming and shaming.

Sue   02:10

Usually he doesn’t hold back from naming buildings.

Jimmy   02:14

And that terrifies developers. Maybe, he’s moved to a new policy of bearing and scaring.

Sue   02:25

Well, maybe he’s giving them a chance to get things right. Because I guess you know, when a building is publicly named and shamed, it is really hard for all the people who’ve bought in there off-the-plan, because suddenly, it gets a really rotten reputation. So maybe he’s becoming a bit more gentle and saying well,  if these developers can sort this building out, I won’t name you, if I see you’re actually making a big effort until it’s okay again, which would be fair enough.

Jimmy   02:54

How hard would it have been for the journalist to have found out; we could have found out who the developers were with a couple of phone calls, probably. You wonder, it’s just just a very curious thing, it’s like one of the most significant pieces of information. But you’re right, you know, you criticise one building by one developer and like everybody else who owns an apartment built by that developer suddenly goes well, there’s $50,000 off the value of my property.

Sue   03:25

That’s right, so maybe it’s only fair. I mean, he’s still got that scare tactic; he can still say to them look, I will name you, unless you actually act on this.

Jimmy   03:34

We don’t know that he said that. We think he might have, maybe possibly.

Sue   03:40

What could be wrong with this building, that it would be the worst building, because there’s been some shockers?

Jimmy   03:43

You’re talking about the guy who just negotiated a deal for Mascot Towers. I mean, is it worse than that? From what I could see from that story, it was a case of cabling that had been embedded into the concrete, which is normal, but it sounded like some part of that process had weakened the concrete. Can you imagine; the structure of this building has got all this through it and if it’s starting to crack… I mean, it’s equivalent to concrete cancer, so it could be quite serious. Anyway. big picture of the building and I’m sure that people who have bought in there off-the-plan would really, really like us to stop identifying.

Sue   04:35

Well, I guess the developers who have been working in Sydney kind of know what the game is now and they know that they have to perform to a certain standard. But maybe out in other areas of New South Wales, they really haven’t had the oversight yet and now this is maybe an indication that any developer developing anything in New South Wales has to perform to a certain standard.

Jimmy   05:04

Well, we found that to some extent with our investment property, which is out of the city, in the regions. Dealing with the strata managers there; it’s a different world. They expected to come to our first AGM and say “alright, nice to meet you. We’ll take it from here.”  There’s nothing sinister about that; it’s just the way they work. But when they get city folks coming along and saying “no, I’d actually quite like to have a committee that actually tells you what to do, rather than you telling us what to do, ” it’s like oh my God! The world is turned upside down.

Sue   05:40

It will probably continue to be like that, as long as Sydneysiders keep going and buying property in the regions, or even Melbournians go and buy in country Victoria; it’s going to be the same as well. Hopefully, standards will rise everywhere.

Jimmy   05:55

And there is a story in the Flat Chat website this week about how the government has extended the period for trainee, real estate and strata managers to get their qualifications, because apparently, four years ago, they set a rule that everybody who had worked in real estate or in strata management-which is what concerns us a bit more- had to be certified by the end of March 2024. Well, guess where we are? We’re at the beginning of March 2024. So they’ve got three months to get their certification and along with that, comes a commitment to increasing or extending their training. I think they’ve got another year to get all their training underway, or completed. So you know, this is part of the thing of making strata management more professional, rather than just a cash cow.

Sue   07:04

Which is good news for all of us.

Jimmy   07:06

I think so. Well, when we come back, we’re going to talk about a new plan for housing in Sydney and the rest of Australia. That’s after this.

[MUSIC]

Jimmy

On the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald this morning… Apparently, the inner west of Sydney is now going to be rezoned, so that they can build six -storey medium-rise apartment blocks, which has caused (you’ll be surprised to hear), a little controversy.

Sue   07:44

This is a plan that the government keeps talking about, about allowing medium-density everywhere, because we need more homes and we don’t have much more land.

Jimmy   07:55

The interesting thing about the inner west is, as its evolved; and you’re talking about places like Newtown,  Marrickville, Erskinville, Annandale; all those places… They’ve evolved and somebody explained it to me that you can actually see it’s almost like a ripple out from the centre. When Sydney was occupied by the rich bosses, the next suburb out was where the workers lived, so that’s why you’ve got a lot of little workers’ cottages in Newtown and then the rich bosses moved a little bit further out, which is why you’ve got those great big houses in Annandale and then you go a little bit further out, and you’re back into the workers’ cottages again, so you can see it’s like the rings on a tree stump. So what has effectively happened in there, is that in those innerwest areas, there are a lot of old factories and warehouses.

Sue   08:54

Because some of those areas were settled very early. You look at Camperdown, and that was a grant given to the Blighs; William Bligh and his daughter, Mary Bligh. And they named it ‘Camperdown,’ after one of his famous victories, the Battle of Camperdown. Those areas were settled very, very early and  so some of those big houses still remain, but some of them obviously crumbled and were replaced by factories.

Jimmy   09:27

Some of those factories have now crumbled. Some of the buildings have been converted to apartments, but I’m sure there are quite a few where you could say we could knock this down and put up a really nice little apartment block here. Now, of course, you’ve got the various mayors of inner west local government areas saying “we’re going to have medium-rise buildings marching down our streets; it’s going to be ridiculous. Every building in the street is going to be a medium-rise block. I mean, it’s nonsense, just nonsense. In fact, it’s just a discussion paper. You’re saying they’ve been talking about this for years; well, they’re talking about it again. This is the big news.

Sue   10:00

I guess they have to say that though, because they know the population are going to be saying “not in our suburb, we don’t want that here!”. So they’re courting popularity as well, by doing that. So maybe it’s good that the government would come in over them and say “no, we are definitely doing this.” It absolves them from responsibility. I think there’s more urgency about it now, because of the housing crisis. And maybe now, they really, really need to do something about it.

Jimmy   10:37

As we’ve often said, rather than going “no, no, no, no, no, you can’t do it here,” local councils should be saying “well, let’s decide on what these buildings should look like.”  In fact, that was the story we had last year, about a pattern book that was being evolved.

Sue   10:55

A series of templates for good apartment buildings and a competition between architects to do that.

Jimmy   11:00

These local councillors should be saying “yes.”

Sue   11:04

This is a chance to get some really high-quality buildings. One of the biggest trends at the moment is older people trying to downsize into apartments and they want to downsize into good apartments. And they want to go to the areas where they’ve lived all their lives. So they might have had a big family house in Annandale, and they want to go to a nice apartment building in Annandale, near their friends. They still want to go the same cafes and go to the same gyms and stuff. So we really do need these places and when they’re built, people do buy them, usually very, very quickly. So there is a need there.

Jimmy   11:42

And you can build quality, because these people are selling houses, and walking away with an extra spare million dollars in their back pocket, after they’ve book the apartment, so they can build quality and expect people to pay for it.

Sue   12:00

And they have access to really top architects now, if this pattern book idea comes out.

Jimmy   12:05

I wonder what happened to that?

Sue   12:08

We should check that out.

Jimmy   12:09

We should ask somebody. Moving on to the federal stage; the Greens have apparently announced this morning, that they want the federal government to build 360,000 new homes. It sounds like a good idea. They’re saying if the government is the developer, you can take the profit margin out. It will take the price down, so it will instantly make them more affordable, and probably drive down prices in other properties, as well. What’s the problem? I’m going to nail my colours to the mast here and say this will never fly.

Sue   12:53

Because the government is just not equipped to develop homes.They don’t have the profit motivation. They don’t have the expertise. Maybe it’s something that’s better done in the free market, but with oversight.

Jimmy   13:09

The free market is profit-driven, so if you take the profit margin out, then the free market is not going to get involved. If this ever had any chance of getting up, the government would set up an agency, ‘the Australian Federal Housing Development Agency,’ if that doesn’t already exist. And that agency would say we we are going to identify the sites; we’re going to build the properties. I mean, I think they’re doing it in Victoria already, aren’t they? They’ve identified sites near hospitals and things like that, where they can build low-cost housing. So the government creates an agency, the agency then becomes the developer. The agency hires people from the private sector. There seems to be quite a lot of large building firms going bust, so I’m guessing there is some skills that may be lost, if they are allowed to go to the wall completely. There’s a skill set out there.

Sue   14:18

The government does do that, to some extent, in New South Wales. They partner with private developers to develop things, like at Green Square. So that does happen. But I guess the form that this housing is going to take is another big issue. Should it be apartment buildings just for social and affordable housing? Or should it be mixed apartment buildings; private apartment buildings, but with a few floors, or a certain number of apartments in each one, which is set aside for social affordable housing?

Jimmy   14:58

What the Greens policy seems to be is the build of homes that are available for rent and sale. So that immediately gives you the mix. And it could be that you, as happened in the UK all those years ago under Margaret Thatcher, all the council housing, she announced that you could go to your council and say “how much do you want for the flat that I’m already renting?”  So it could work on that kind of system. My issue with this is it just feels like it’d be paper-shufflers and carpet-strollers flocking to these projects, and billions of dollars would be spent and you’d end up with one house.

Sue   15:43

That would give a lot more people jobs.

Jimmy   15:48

But look, it’s actually it’s a good idea. It’s a shame that is the Greens that have come up with it, not because there’s anything wrong with the Greens, but because they are not one of the two main parties. But maybe, if the Labour government needed more from the Greens, then they could do a deal with them, to at least get the ball rolling on this. I think it’s a good idea.

Sue   16:09

I mean, I guess everyone’s saying we need more housing and the government is saying we need more, and they’re saying “we’re going to build 300,000,” but nobody’s come up with any definite positions of how to do this. It’s good that we’re still talking about it, because it could so easily be brushed under the carpet. You know, even where we live, there’s a lot more people living on the streets. Every time I go to Central Station, there’s a lot more people sleeping there. There’s a lot more rough sleepers around, it seems; it’s just terrible. If you don’t have a home to live in, you don’t have anything. It’s really hard to get a job. address. It’s hard to claim Social Security, because you don’t have an address and life is just a constant battle. It’s going to have a huge cost to society generally in the future, in terms of mental health issues, and physical health issues, as well. People living on the streets don’t eat properly; it’s hard for them to prepare meals. This is an urgent need and so much of it is hidden away. You know, it’s couch surfing; couchsurfing people sleeping at friend’s places, young people moving back in with their parents… It’s really hard for the parents, and it’s hard for the young people, as well.

Jimmy   17:25

I think at this point, you just feel like saying to the government “stop talking and do something.” It doesn’t matter what you do, just do something. We’re not going to stop talking. because when we come back, we’re going to talk about what you would like the shops in your building to be.

[MUSIC]

Jimmy

We talked about this last week and we’ve run a poll, a very unscientific poll on the Flat Chat website and we’ll talk about the results after this. We put a poll on the website last week, just a bit of a fun thing, about what kind of shops would you like in your apartment block. Now, I have to say it has not been overwhelmed by responses. There’s been a few; a few people have come in and it’s still open, if you want to stick your vote in there. I remember asking you, which one would you really like in our building, if we had shops in our building and you said newsagent. It wasn’t newsagent that was number one; what do think was number one, according to Flat Chat readers?

Sue   18:45

A coffee shop?

Jimmy   18:47

Close. The number one choice was a bakery.

Sue   18:50

Really?

Jimmy   18:54

It would be nice to wake up to the smell of freshly baked bread. It wouldn’t do much for our waistlines.

Sue   19:05

That’s interesting, isn’t it? I guess it’s a bit old-fashioned really. Every single town in the outback might have two shops and one will always be a bakery. People go there and buy coffee and bread; it’s a life-giving kind of place. Bakeries are much more popular now, because now we seem to have so many more specialist bakeries that do fabulous, different types of sourdough.

Jimmy   19:39

One of the other things that’s happened, it seems to me, is that a lot of small bakeries have their own ovens. It might be just a little bakery in a shopping centre, but rather than getting all their stuff delivered from a central bakery, they’ve got ovens there and I think they get the dough delivered. They don’t have the big mixing machines and they don’t have bakers out the back, covered in white flour and kneading away. The dough arrives chilled and they stick it in the oven and the bread comes out really fresh and you can smell it.

Sue   20:24

I think that’s what they do at supermarkets, as well.

Jimmy   20:26

Absolutely; freshly-baked bread. It works for everybody, except people who are gluten-free. So bakery is number one and then there is newsagents…

Sue   20:43

Great! So that was number two? Good old news agents, even though most people go to them for the lotto now, don’t they?  A cafe and a general grocer.  Good choices. You can go downstairs, you can have a doughnut, you can have a cup of coffee, you can do your shopping…

Jimmy   21:10

And the man in the coffee shop will say “did you buy that in the bakery next door, because we sell those here.”

Sue   21:17

That’s great. They would all know your name and you could have an account there.

Jimmy   21:24

“Put it on the tab,” you’d say. And before we go; a bit of a change to Great Escapes, which used to be Lock up and Leave… I’ve done a piece about how to decode travel review sites like TripAdvisor, because you look at a TripAdvisor review of a hotel and it might make the hotel sound like it’s really terrible, but it could be that the person writing the review is really terrible. So there’ll be a link to that on the Flat Chat website.

Sue   21:57

And you had a story in the Melbourne Age last week?

Jimmy   22:01

Yes, about walking in the northern province.

Sue   22:07

Are you going to put that on the website too?

Jimmy   22:09

I should wait until the Sydney Morning Herald has put it on their website, which is next week. But yes, once it’s had a run there, I’ll put it on Mild Rover, our travel website. And we’re discovering interesting things like that people who read Mild Rover like to go to hotels in Australia. They’re always looking for a special deal, like half-price weekend’s and things like that and they also like to go on cruises. So if you’re thinking of doing either of those things, head to Mild Rover. We’re done. We’re good. We’re out. We’re going to go to the bakery now. We’re going to get a donut. We’re going to get a coffee; pick up a newspaper at a news agent and probably get something for dinner at the general grocers, none of which are in our building. Thanks again, Sue. And thank you all for listening to us on the podcast.

Sue   23:07

Have a good day, everyone. Bye.

Jimmy   23:10

Thanks for listening to the Flat Chat podcast. You’ll find links to the stories and other references on our website, flatchat.com.au. And if you haven’t already done so, you can subscribe to this podcast completely free on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, or your favourite pod-catcher. Just search for Flat Chat Wrap with a w, click on subscribe, and you’ll get this podcast every week without even trying. Thanks again. Talk to you again next week.

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      In this week’s Flat Chat Wrap podcast we look at a report that building commissioner David Chandler has issued a stop-work order at a Wollongong const
      [See the full post at: Podcast: ‘Worst-ever block’ and Greens v Nimbys]

      The opinions offered in these Forum posts and replies are not intended to be taken as legal advice. Readers with serious issues should consult experienced strata lawyers.
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