Don’t know if Building Commissioner David Chandler has a hotline to Santa but with the Building Commission being boosted from 40 to 400 inspectors, you’d have to think all his Christmas wishes have come true.
Then there’s the government plan to compel developers to include affordable and social housing in their schemes if they want to get approval – no trade-offs or sneaky deals for added floors.
And there are the first clear signs of the proposals to open up land around rail hubs – which were accidentally posted online, just as we were recording the pod.
We talk about the valid concerns over e-bike and e-scooter batteries, and some solutions, but point out that apartment blocks are far from being the most at risk.
We thank the people who contributed to our being the most successful fundraising team in the MedEarth “Trails For Change” charity walk (but it’s not too late to contribute HERE).
And we discover that this week’s Lock Up and Leave is not only close to home but close to Sue’s heart as one of her favourite holiday resort hotels in the whole world. That’s all in this weeks’ Flat Chat Wrap.
TRANSCRIPT IN FULL
Jimmy Thomson 00:00
Have you packed?
Sue Williams 00:00
Ha ha; very funny! We leave on Thursday, for Fiji.
Jimmy Thomson 00:05
And it’s Tuesday afternoon.
Sue Williams 00:06
That’s right. What’s wrong with Thursday morning packing?
Jimmy Thomson 00:09
Well, it’s a good way of leaving behind all the things that you really need, and taking all the things you really don’t need.
Sue Williams 00:17
Oh, it’s too hard; I’ve got too much work to do, between now and Thursday.
Jimmy Thomson 00:22
Not least of which is this podcast.
Sue Williams 00:24
Jimmy Thomson 00:25
Today, we’re going to talk about the amazing expansion of the Building Commission in New South Wales; like, by 10 times.
Sue Williams 00:33
Oh, my god, it’s becoming a real empire, isn’t it?
Jimmy Thomson 00:36
Don’t say that! And we’re also going to talk about the new push by the New South Wales Government, to force developers to include affordable housing in the developments near transport hubs. And we’ll have our ‘lock up and leave,’ as usual. I’m Jimmy Thomson. I write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review.
Sue Williams 01:00
And I’m Sue Williams and I write about property for Domain.
Jimmy Thomson 01:03
And this is the Flat Chat Wrap. Okay, a huge expansion of the Building Commission…
Sue Williams 01:23
Yes. This is a bit unexpected to me.
Jimmy Thomson 01:25
Well, that law that came through last week… Actually, it came into force yesterday; the expanded powers of the Building Commissioner. They’re really cracking down on dodgy developers.
Sue Williams 01:41
Quite right, too. I mean, every time you have a story about a developer and a development going wrong, that really undermines confidence in the building industry, doesn’t it? And when we’re about to get so many more apartments on the market, because we need more housing, that could be fatal for the government.
Jimmy Thomson 02:01
And David Chandler, the Building Commissioner, was saying recently (and this was reiterated by the Premier and the Fair Trading Minister), that they are not looking at quantity at the expense of quality, with these new apartments. They want lots of new apartments of high quality.
Sue Williams 02:01
Jimmy Thomson 02:01
And we were talking last week about the iCIRT people…
Sue Williams 02:17
Jimmy Thomson 02:18
Equifax, and how they’ve done a survey and something like, was it most people would pay up to 6% more, if they felt more confident that would get them a better quality building? So there it is laid out for the developers; you can make the buildings better, you can make the apartments better, but you can charge a bit more, because people, if they feel confident, will go for that.
Sue Williams 02:53
But you don’t want the bad developers charging more, for building crummy buildings.
Jimmy Thomson 02:58
That’ll definitely happen. But then, we have this team of 400 building inspectors…
Sue Williams 03:06
And how many was it originally?
Jimmy Thomson 03:08
Sue Williams 03:09
And originally, before the 40, wasn’t it just David and his mate, or something?
Jimmy Thomson 03:15
It wasn’t as many. It wasn’t very many. But you know, David Chandler built up the Building Commission sufficiently to show that it was working; it could work.
Sue Williams 03:27
Where are we getting all these building inspectors from?
Jimmy Thomson 03:29
That’s it’s a question, isn’t it? I mean, maybe they are out of work dodgy developers…
Sue Williams 03:35
Oh, no! Maybe they’re out of work from the building companies that have gone under, because of the high construction costs; high cost of materials, COVID, that kind of stuff.
Jimmy Thomson 03:45
I can’t imagine that they would just suddenly turn up; like 400 building inspectors would suddenly appear. They’ll have to train them up and things, but I guess that’s what the ultimate expectation is. And of course, that comes with the new powers to basically, go into any apartment or any house that’s being built anywhere in New South Wales…
Sue Williams 04:09
Even after it’s been built.
Jimmy Thomson 04:12
I think so. And just say “right, we’re here to inspect the foundations, or whatever.”
Sue Williams 04:18
Fantastic. It woould put the fear of god into any developer not doing the right thing, wouldn’t it really? That will be really interesting.
Jimmy Thomson 04:23
I think that’s the idea. Rather than going around telling people to fix things, which they have the power to do now… They can come in and say “look, that is going to be defective, so fix it now, before you finish and cover it up with all nice shiny plastic.” They can go in and tell people to fix things and they can go in whenever they want, and tell people to fix things when they’re finished. I mean, it’s huge, really. Now we’re going to have somebody from Customer Service New South Wales, a gentleman called Angus Abadee…Angus will be here on the podcast next week, to explain what all these things are about and what they’re doing. It should be.
Sue Williams 04:26
You kind of know the sort of things that they’ll be inspecting. I guess membranes is always a huge thing. But cracking walls; how can you inspect for that? Well, the warning signs…
Jimmy Thomson 05:30
I’m interested in, as you said, where are they going to get all these inspectors from and how many are they bringing in at a time? I think they’ve got a new office building, just for the Building Commission, or a new suite of offices; they are certainly expanding, big-time.
Sue Williams 05:48
Hopefully, they’re well built.
Jimmy Thomson 05:51
Well, if if anybody can check it out, it’s them. When we come back, we’re going to talk about the new pressures being put on developers to add affordable homes in new developments. And we’re back. It was in the paper the other day; the New South Wales Premier has said “okay, all you developers that want to boot up high-rises near railway stations (and there’s a lot of new stations on this metro line that are about to open), we need you to put affordable housing in and social housing.” They’re saying “no, it’s not a case of ‘yes, you will put it in, if we give you two or three stories more on the height of the building…’ Go in with a building that meets the local planning requirements, and make sure there’s enough social and affordable housing in there.”
Sue Williams 06:56
That’s a really good step, isn’t it? Because I mean, the developers who are building around transport hubs, they get the advantage of the transport hub. They get the advantage of maybe a train station, or bus depot nearby and it’s obviously going to be close to shops and restaurants and cafes and community facilities. So they’ve got all that; they don’t actually have to build much infrastructure into the new development. So therefore, they should be giving something back. This is kind of the way the future; we don’t want loads of big Greenfield developments, miles away from anywhere and we have to build infrastructure, we have to build more roads, and people are going to be driving longer distances. People love living near lots of facilities and that’s going to be the way of the future, I think.
Jimmy Thomson 07:39
But if you have a clean, fast, efficient, reliable rail service near your apartment…
Sue Williams 07:45
That’s going to be a big seller. When you look at all the fuss in New South Wales, about the new Rozelle interchange, and what a disaster that’s been, you kind of think, well thank god we do have trains. We do have that option, a lot of the time. I mean, I spent most of yesterday on a train, coming back from Lithgow and I spent most of today on a train as well, going backwards and forwards to town and Bondi Junction. It’s great, having rail facilities so close by. And when they work well (and they often do), it’s great. I mean, it is worrying that in New South Wales, there’s all these reports that keep coming out saying that the rail system is actually hanging by a thread, because it hasn’t been maintained properly. We had that guy a few weeks ago, who didn’t turn up to work; he called in sick and the whole system closed down.
Jimmy Thomson 07:46
Because they didn’t have a signalman.
Sue Williams 08:34
It was incredible. It’s astonishing, that things like that can happen. So we really need to shore-up our rail system and our bus system, as well. I got a bus yesterday and it’s a bus I’ve got once before and it’s a place sort of around Lithgow, to the train station. I was the only person on this bus and the bus trip was about 20 minutes and I’ve caught it a couple of days and both times, I’ve sat up with the driver and had a long chat, because there was nobody else. I think it’s because it is so irregular. If it was a much more regular service, then people would use it much, much more. We just have to keep improving our public transport, at the same time as we keep building new roads and building new tunnels and building bigger roads as well. We just need to do this in tandem, so people do choose public transport often.
Jimmy Thomson 09:29
I use this app on the phone called Citymapper, which we’ve used overseas as well, but they now have it in both Sydney and Melbourne. Last night, I had to go to a function in Newtown, which is kind of awkward to get to from Kings Cross. I mean, even if you go by train, it is at the wrong end of King Street; like it would have been a mile walk back to where the function was. So I got onto Citymapper, I get on the train to Town Hall, jump off the train at Town Hall, jump on the light rail around to Haymarket, cross the road at Haymarket and get on the bus, all on this app and sit on the bus. Total journey time, probably half an hour from front door to the place in Newtown; could not have been easier.
Sue Williams 10:15
And that can be quite hard to work out on your own, if you’re looking at bus timetables. Some of the apps are just pretty fantastic. It tells you when the train’s coming, doesn’t it? It tellls you when the bus is coming. So you can make a decision…
Jimmy Thomson 10:30
You can get on this bus in two minutes, or there’s another one in seven minutes, or there’s another one in 12 minutes. On the way back, I just crossed the road and there was a bus going to Martin Place. The weird thing was, I’m sitting on the bus and I’m so unused to being on a bus in Pitt Street, a street that I’m really familiar with, but not from the point of view of sitting in a bus, so I’m constantly checking out the window, going “do I recognise that shop; which street is this? Am I there yet? As it turned out, when it got to Martin Place, all I had to do was cross the road and I was straight into the railway station.
Sue Williams 11:04
So public transport can work out really well.
Jimmy Thomson 11:05
I think transport; we complain about it a lot here, but it’s pretty good.
Sue Williams 11:13
We do live in the centre of things, so it is much easier for us. I remember going out to Schofields once and just being amazed by the lack of infrastructure out there. There are so many apartments out there now and there just was very little out there, in terms of infrastructure. I mean, there’s a rail station, but you kind of have to travel quite long distances to get there. And that’s a problem, because then everybody needs a car; everybody needs a car space…
Jimmy Thomson 11:39
Which means we need to build more roads and more spaghetti junctions all over the place.
Sue Williams 11:44
And it’s interesting, because a lot of developers build developments and then build the infrastructure later. Whereas, some developers make it a point of building the infrastructure first, and then the development. You can understand why they would want to do the first way, because they want the money first. But the second way, you kind of think would build a much better kind of development; people would really want to go there. It creates much more of a community feeling, if they can see there’s lots of amenity nearby. While we will have many more developments out in places where it’s a long distance from the from the city, we need more and more apartments in the different hubs of the city.
Jimmy Thomson 12:27
If people can jump on a train and be in the town centre, the city centre in 20 minutes, they don’t need to live in the city centre to go to work, or to come in for entertainment or wherever, provided the infrastructure is there to get them home.
Sue Williams 12:43
I would choose a train over a car any day, because on a train you can sit and read, you can sit and work on a computer, you can listen to an audiobook, you can do a crossword… you can do anything really, whereas in a car…
Jimmy Thomson 12:58
I mean, we’re embarrassed to say that our little car… It’s about seven years old now; it’s done 22,000k. But it’s a business car, so we don’t need to use it all the time. When we come back, I want to say a few things about electric bike charging. We were walking down the street the other day, down Victoria Street. Remember we went past that backpacker hostel and counted the number of delivery e-bikes outside?
Sue Williams 13:37
Yes, because I guess for a lot of backpackers, that’s a good way to earn money, delivering food.
Jimmy Thomson 13:41
There was eight of them, chained up against the railing. All of them obviously, their batteries had been taken out, which meant all those batteries were somewhere inside that hostel. Now, there’s another fire on Sunday I think, in an apartment and again, it was delivery drivers. They brought their bikes, or their batteries into the apartment. There was a fire; one of the kids ended up with 40% burns and three or four of them were also injured. Fortunately (because it was an apartment), it was basically a concrete box, so the fire department was able to contain the fire to the one apartment, although they evacuated the building while they put the fire out. But it made me think; this is going to be an ongoing problem. I think the backpacker situation is really… I mean we’ve already had one fire in a backpacker hostel in Kings Cross and that was quite spectacular.
Sue Williams 13:42
They’re kind of the canary in the mine in some ways, aren’t they?
Jimmy Thomson 14:02
Well yes, but these are canaries that are going to get burned and the kids around them… These backpacker hostels are not modern concrete buildings that are fire-safe. A lot of them are old rambling buildings, with a lot timber inside. Thankfully, since the last big backpacker fire in Kings Cross, they all have to have sprinkler systems and things like that. But even so… The Owners Corporation Network is onto this; our friends there. They’re going to have a seminar early in the new year, but they’re also devising a bylaw, so that you can restrict the number of e-bikes and batteries and whatever, or at the very least, make it safer for the other residents in the building, if somebody does have an e-bike, or a battery.
Sue Williams 15:39
Or an e-scooter, I suppose?
Jimmy Thomson 15:40
Or an e-scooter, yes. But it just seems to be a very sensible step to take, to put together a bylaw that is workable, that is fair, that is reasonable, but at the end of the day makes the building as safe as it can be, which I think is a good thing. So we’ll keep an eye out for that and when we get dates for the webinar, we’ll put them on the website.
Sue Williams 16:05
And while we’re talking about transport…We did a big sponsored walk on Sunday, in aid of the charity MedEarth, which recycles old Australian hospital equipment and supplies and instead of putting them into landfill, it recycles them and sends them to the developing world, to hospitals and clinics that really need that kind of equipment. So we did a sponsored walk for that and we just wanted to thank everybody who sponsored us.
Jimmy Thomson 16:38
Yes, because our little team was the most successful at fundraising.
Sue Williams 16:42
That’s right. We raised about $3,800.
Jimmy Thomson 16:43
We should have tried harder…
Sue Williams 16:49
We just wanted to thank our listeners who sponsored us. So thank you very much.
Jimmy Thomson 16:52
And by the way, if you’re thinking this charity sounds like a good idea, because it reduces landfill, and it helps sick people (so it’s a double-whammy), Trails for Change is the central fundraising body, so get onto that…
Sue Williams 17:09
You can still donate and you can still donate to us. We are the ‘Fully-Booked Team.’
Jimmy Thomson 17:16
The great thing about it is the benefit every dollar gives is worth something like, every every $10 is worth $100…
Sue Williams 17:25
A thousand dollars’ worth of medical equipment.
Jimmy Thomson 17:29
So it’s 100-fold. And you know, a $200 donation, basically can equip an operating theatre in the third-world.
Sue Williams 17:39
And we have such great health care in this country (though we do complain about it), but it is incredible.
Jimmy Thomson 17:46
We are lucky.
Sue Williams 17:47
So it’s nice to be able to do something for other people.
Jimmy Thomson 17:50
I wonder if America gets some of the stuff; they don’t have a good health system…
Sue Williams 17:54
They are not a developing country, even though sometimes…
Jimmy Thomson 17:57
They’re just a bit backwards. And finally, ‘lock up and leave.’
Sue Williams 18:03
Yes, on our Mild Rover website, mildrover.com
Jimmy Thomson 18:06
Which is going gangbusters, by the way, folks.
Sue Williams 18:10
We look particularly at holidays for people who are residents of apartments, because it’s so easy to just lock up and leave. One of the holidays that caught my eye was a trip… I think it was a three-or-four day stay at the Reef View Hotel on Hamilton Island, in the Whitsundays. Actually, that’s my favourite place to stay; I love that place. The rooms are big, and they’ve got these huge windows, looking out over the water. You open the windows, then all these birds fly in. Well, they kind of mostly stay outside, but they kind of try…
Jimmy Thomson 18:47
You make it sound like that Alfred Hitchcock film.
Sue Williams 18:50
They can waddle in and they kind of steal a bit of sugar that might be left on the table or something and then waddle out again. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen that and obviously, it’s really bad, because sugar is poisonous for birds. I remember being overwhelmed when I first went there. It was the first time I’d been to the Whitsundays and Hamilton Island is so beautiful anyway, and it was just absolutely gorgeous and there’s so much to do there. You can rent a boat; go out in a boat for a bit. You can go to Whitehaven, one of the best beaches in the whole of Australia. You can do lots of water sports. Paddleboarding; I like paddleboarding.
Jimmy Thomson 19:30
It’s your namesake who created that Keith Williams.
Sue Williams 19:33
Oh gosh! That was a long time ago. I wish he were!
Jimmy Thomson 19:40
So that’s a special deal. It’s through Luxury Escapes I think, as many of our deals are and that’s on the mildrover.com website. Well, we’d better get packing, because Fiji awaits. In fact, we might be doing our next podcast from there. No, our next podcast is going to be Angus from Customer Services New South Wales, who is going to explain all about this massive expansion of the Building Commission. Thank you very much for listening, and we will talk to you again soon.
Thanks for listening to the Flat Chat Wrap 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.