Pemulwuy update – solving a funding problem
REDFERN: The Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC) has submitted a new Development Application (DA) for the Col James Student Accommodation, Precinct 3 of the Pemulwuy Project, to the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE). No changes are sought for Precinct 1 (62 affordable homes for Aboriginal families and the gymnasium on The Block), nor Precinct 2 (the AHC office, shops, commercial space and child care centre). The change will go on exhibition through the DPE Major Projects website in coming weeks to allow for comment.
The 2012 approved Precinct 3 building was for a three- to six-storey mixed-use building containing retail, commercial, gallery spaces, and student accommodation of 154 beds in 42 units.
Unable to get funding to deliver the affordable housing (Precinct 1), the AHC proposed to increase the student housing to a 16-storey building with 522 rooms. A paid-upfront 99-year lease with student housing provider Atira would then fund the balance of the Pemulwuy Project (Atira will fund its own construction).
In response to the changed scale of the student housing building, DPE set design excellence requirements, to be facilitated by the Office of the Government Architect. A new architect was appointed by the AHC who worked with an independent Design Review Panel over six separate sessions to address issues raised by the panel and produce the design now submitted.
The revised proposal retains 522 rooms split into two buildings. The height of the building along Eveleigh Street has been reduced to three storeys to respond to the overall height of the adjoining terraces and the lower-scale AHC housing opposite. Behind it, separated by a central north-facing courtyard, will be a building with 23 floors of student accommodation located to the centre of the site and alongside the railway line. A landscaped public meeting space with public art, retaining a railway wall mural, will face Lawson Street.
Karine Shellshear, Col James’ wife and fellow housing activist, said: “It is important to see how much of a landmark it is for the AHC to achieve its social and cultural vision by leveraging the value of some of its inner-city land to provide housing and other services for the rest of the site, while remaining accountable, not to government funders but to their own people, achieving a model of independence.”
As he was a Sydney University academic who spent many years expanding architecture students’ notions of housing, she considered that “Col would have loved to see a student village provide the financial means to build homes for Indigenous people on The Block”. Acknowledging opportunities for students from the country “to achieve their dreams for higher learning within a sense of place and belonging”, she envisioned a thriving Indigenous community “with independent means for ongoing sustainability”.
The SSH sought the reaction of people who live in the immediate vicinity.
Bev Baker, who lives in Eveleigh Street, said: “I have been very supportive of the proposed development of a cultural hub including housing, an art space, a cultural centre, student accommodation and an elders’ space for Aboriginal people in the heart of the city … This massive increase in height, however, does raise some concerns.” Among them she questions why the magnitude of the increase in student accommodation has not brought with it any increase in the number of houses to be built on The Block.
Ms Baker is also worried about the precedent set by approving a development west of the railway line so out of character with existing housing and commercial stock. “This current proposal exceeds both the height limits and the floor-space ratio enormously [and leaves open the way to] development proposals demanding the same height limits, destroying the amenity of people who have lived in the area for years or who have recently purchased a home in the area for its low-rise and sun-drenched outlook.”
One resident who has lived in Caroline Street for the past 15 years had some apprehension about a 24-storey building at the end of the street, but was pleased it was not being built on the original Block. The resident understood the need for the AHC to have secure funding to build housing on The Block first, and welcomed the possibilities for community and understanding as Aboriginal students and students of other backgrounds lived together in the same building, able to interact with Aboriginal people living nearby.
All agreed that housing for Aboriginal people needs to be built now.