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Breaking ground

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When the Suburban Land Agency wanted its latest display village to be built for the future, it turned to HIA for GreenSmart guidance.

Anne-Maree Brown

General Manager of Content
Less than 10 kilometres from Canberra’s CBD lies the undulating, picturesque Molonglo Valley. The name ‘Molonglo’ is derived from the Aboriginal expression meaning sound of thunder. Drawing inspiration from the violent weather that accompanies the rumbles and cracks of storms, the valley has had its own tempest season – the 2003 pine forest fires that left the land desolate. 

Rejuvenation may be the upside of destruction. This was certainly the case when the ACT Government’s Suburban Land Agency (SLA) decided to transform Molonglo into a vibrant new community. The new suburb of Whitlam will incorporate a thoughtfully designed display village with green spaces and views surrounded by Canberra’s iconic Brindabella mountain range. 

But it’s within the walls and foundations of the homes being built for the Whitlam display village that the true consideration can be found. From the outset, SLA partnered with HIA’s GreenSmart program, an initiative that provides environmental sustainability solutions for the design and construction of new homes. 

Due for completion in early 2022, the display village highlights improved sustainable home design by featuring all electric dwellings, a minimum 7-star energy rating combined with solar photovoltaic panels and battery storage to offset energy use, and electric car charging stations. The suburb will house around 2100 dwellings with an estimated 5000 residents. Amenities will include an ACT Government primary school, playgrounds and a future local centre site along with pedestrian and cycle networks throughout the suburb.
Display village community landscape space and sales suite
Mingle community space

An aligned vision
According to Nicholas Holt, SLA’s Executive Director, Built Form & Divestment, the SLA and HIA’s GreenSmart had a natural connection. ‘We are committed to building smart, sustainable suburbs and are helping to educate the wider community about more sustainable ways to build.
‘What impressed us when first approached by HIA to participate in the village was how closely aligned the GreenSmart initiative was with our sustainability objectives,’ he says. 

Greg Weller, HIA’s Executive Director – ACT/ Southern NSW, agrees, but to see the builds commence has been an exercise in patience. ‘We first put in an expression of interest to collaborate with the village in 2019,’ recalls Greg. ‘It had a fair share of delays due to COVID-19, but we’re thrilled that we’re now seeing the houses take shape.’ 

Green guidance
So, how did the builders come on board? SLA promoted to the industry that there was an opportunity to come into the village, and HIA in turn reached out to members. The resulting 13 designs from eight builders were chosen against a number of sustainable criteria points. Following this, the next step was training the builders. 

‘HIA helped organise GreenSmart training for display village builders. This took place over two days and focused on key features that will improve the efficiency of homes and reduce the environmental impact of residential building,’ Nicholas says. 

Greg continues, ‘Then came the technical advice stage. Over the past few months, HIA has been reviewing the house plans against the HIA GreenSmart house protocol. There are regular meetings and, as each of the builds progressively goes up, HIA’s team will inspect the homes to ensure they comply with the elements of GreenSmart house protocols to which each builder has committed. The HIA team support the builders, guiding them all the way to final sign off, and most importantly towards GreenSmart accreditation.’ 

Many builders in the village were already GreenSmart professionals, while a few were new to the program. ‘It’s an exciting mix,’ Greg says. ‘We’re hopeful that having the village branded as ‘GreenSmart’ will showcase the marketing benefits to other builders and the community. There are many benefits when a GreenSmart builder is selected.’ 

The green concept doesn’t mean a lack of diversity. There will be single- and double-storey homes with different designs to appeal to diverse homeowners. 

Nicholas Holt, SLA’s Executive Director, Built Form & Divestment
Community and education
HIA and SLA embrace education on a wider scale. At the centre of the village, SLA will run a hub for prospective homeowners with three demonstration homes, a community space and an information centre. They can select their builder, purchase blocks and learn about green building techniques. This is a movement towards communities of the future. 

ACT found itself to be a great test environment for a GreenSmart display village. Known for having four distinct seasons year round, it has enabled performance to be assessed for energy usage and comfort, along with territory targets around renewables. 

Nationally, according to Greg, the passion for sustainability is growing. ‘People are attracted to thoughtful, sustainable homes. This is not only due to reduced energy costs but also building for the greater good,’ he says. ‘It means that “homes of the future” are now being created. We’ve had plenty of support from the community and when there are future land releases, we’ll certainly put up our hand to partner with developers.’ 

Nicholas also embraces the communities of the future. ‘SLA’s vision is to create great places where communities thrive, and a big part of that is supporting community-enriched homes. These are adaptable to homeowners’ needs. Our goal is to strike a balance between environmental, social, cultural and economic issues. Sustainability is about taking care of the environment, as a healthy environment improves our quality of life. Put simply, if we sustain the environment, it will sustain us,’ he says. 

‘We are pleased to have HIA and a local team of builders on board to start the upcoming Whitlam vision. As the village takes shape, it will support new residents and help the community come to life.’ 
Greg agrees: ‘Being part of this has made us feel part of the village, part of the community, and part of Canberra’s future homes.’ 

For both HIA and SLA, this vision is about sensible building and sensitivity to the changing needs of the community and the residential building industry as a whole. And much like a Phoenix reborn from fire, Whitlam too has undergone a beautiful renewal towards a greener future.
Greg Weller: HIA’s Executive Director – ACT/Southern NSW

Why GreenSmart?

The aim of GreenSmart is to create comfortable, healthy homes while conserving Earth’s precious resources. The program gives builders the chance to develop new skills, gain recognition, and promote their environmental design or building knowledge to homebuyers. 

GreenSmart projects demonstrate a commitment to creating minimal impact through improved environmental performance of the homes. All projects incorporate responsible environmental practices in design and construction across six key areas. These include energy and water efficiency, indoor air quality and resource and site management, including low-impact building materials. 

For more information on HIA’s GreenSmart, visit www.hia.com.au/products-services/greensmart 
For more information on Suburban Land Agency’s Whitlam development, go to www.suburbanland.act.gov.au/whitlam