There are pros and cons to the original wide open space design of the Whepstead heritage precinct.
The treed leafy nature and wide grassy verged streets appealed when we bought our house (in 1999). At that time criteria included the low density (only 14 houses in Burnett Street at the time and one lot of 5 units), quietness of the area, proximity to the train station and access to water sports (windsurfing/ swimming), a green leafy area and significant bushland habitat nearby.
A variety of birds inhabited our leafy garden including rainbow lorikeets, honey-eaters and pheasant coucals. Then we found that koalas would sometimes climb gums near our home. These visits were a real treat!
But negatives began to arise
Then the morning and evening traffic rush hour began with people going to the station via our street. This was aggravated by the wide open streets, and the need to get to the station on time. Traffic experts acknowledge that this design encourages speeding (Daisa, 1997; Swift, 1997; Edquist et al, 2009). The street design also encourages hooning as the grassy verges are great for performing wheel spinning slides in wet weather. There have been 3 car crashes on our street corner, partly as a result of the design and “getting to the station on time”.
With about 30 other locals, we started to lobby the Council for some traffic management measures. We had traffic surveys conducted in 3 streets, consulted with independent experts, researched strategies, analysed traffic data, wrote reports with lots of suggested improvements, and made presentations to Council over about 6 years. All to no avail. The data showed more than 50 percent of cars exceeded the speed limit in two streets with speeds of 96 and 139km/hr being recorded. But the Council engineers argued that traffic volumes were too low to warrant traffic calming and speeds were statistically within a ‘normal’ range, all according to their design rules. This was a win for bureaucracy, not the residents!
Urban consolidation strikes Whepstead precinct
From about 2000, the goals of urban consolidation started to impinge more noticeably. Government changed the rules so that residents could no longer object to “code approved” developments and the precinct
was rezoned for medium density. All of this was a boon for the developers, and to some extent to Council (from rates).
Initially I thought “Ok, we need higher density near stations to reduce car usage, and with the improvements in the building code, we should see some best practice, energy efficient design happening”. How naïve I was! The units that emerged across the road from us reflected little of best practice design. While light colours were used and most units located living areas to the north, there was minimal insulation installed, no solar water heaters or solar electricity, little green space provided, lots of concrete with no waste water collection and reuse on site, and limited filtration. Just send it off to Moreton Bay!
And of course while the station is close by, it mainly caters for Brisbane CBD region workers, with only about 10 percent of all trips outside Redlands to the CBD region (RCC, 2003). So many still have to drive and so there is often one car per adult per home.
Unit development with no solar, little insulation, lots of hard surfaces and little green space.
Then the infill housing started in earnest. The first infill homes, built prior to 2000 on 400m2 blocks, had been rather modest single storey, 150 m2 homes. But now the common size is two storey, about 200 m2 plus with a pool. In the past 10 years, about 26 detached homes and 17 units have been added to this area, increasing the total dwelling stock to about 220 houses and 42 units These are my observations of the outcome to date in Whepstead precinct.
There is an overall ‘’de-greening” of the area so there is little space for trees, or for the children and/or dog/s to run around on small blocks with large houses. No parkland or green spaces have been provided to offset this loss of outdoor space. While I am happy for children to play in the wide open streets, the traffic has not been “calmed” so this is incompatible. As it is, the car gets to dominate our urban streets. This is not best practice. Some additional tree planting in streets was provided, but mainly for aesthetic reasons. The loss of vegetation, the increase in hard surfaces and the re-surfacing of streets with even darker bitumen all add to increased run-off and the heat island effect of the city, potentially increasing air temperature by up to 1 to 3 degrees Celsius.
My observations of new housing construction locally, and through my work in assessing the energy efficiency of new housing in SEQ with CSIRO, confirms there is some very poor building practice happening.
The construction of large detached houses within 3 metres (or less) of each other means that (depending on height) noise is easily transmitted through open windows. Therefore, windows are likely to be closed.
Furthermore, wind speeds in general are reduced around closely built houses, and windows become ineffective as breeze pathways. Natural lighting is compromised as often windows are screened for privacy. Lower storey windows facing north generally get no winter sunlight to warm the house, as the house to the north shades the windows. Winter heating is still a requirement for June to August.
Heating, cooling and servicing problems
Slab on ground construction can reduce heating and cooling demand but not so much when foam- core, floating slabs are used. Insulation is poorly installed by best practice standards and often too little is put in ceilings and walls, with lots of gaps. I often see no reflective foil sarking being installed under the roof sheeting. This is crucial in our hot summers to reduce ceiling space temperatures. Yet air conditioning ducts are installed through the hot ceiling space, effectively making the air conditioner work much harder in heat waves, particularly for dark coloured roofs.
All this is creating more peak power demand for air conditioning. The dramatic increase in air conditioning in recent years, and the resulting cost of upgrading the power distribution system, has been a major contributor to the doubling in electricity costs over the past 6 years.
Furthermore, rain water tanks have been installed in many cases but how are these tanks going to be replaced in coming years when at the rear of homes? That makes me wonder about the greatly restricted access for emergency services such as fire crews.
Written by Trevor Berrill of Wellington Point, his previous article on the impacts of urban consolidation is Infill housing Redlands – are we getting it right?
The third article in this series about the Whepstead area will be published soon, and a final article will follow.
Redlands2030 – 14 April 2017