From the Editor’s desk

“Excellence in Sustainability & Affordable Housing was awarded to Witchcliffe Ecovillage – a first in carbon negative community living with a holistic approach to reducing ongoing living costs in our South West. If we had a “Hard Won Victory” category, Sustainable Settlements & Perron Developments would have won that too given the years of challenges they have overcome to achieve this outcome.”

Urban Development Institute of Australia WA, CEO, Tanya Steinbeck

She’s damn right. It’s not been for the faint of heart, this Ecovillage project. While few would dispute that the Ecovillage co-founders are visionaries, luckily they’re not clairvoyant. Had they known the development would take this long or be this difficult to deliver – through years of planning approvals, a global pandemic, building industry and housing affordability crises – I doubt they would have even started.

However, Mike Hulme said to me the other week that he feels like “we’ve finally broken the back of it and things will get easier.” All the civil works are done, the wastewater treatment plant is up and running, and we’re on the home stretch selling lots in our final residential stage. After the longest, most arduous battle on the energy front, the large solar systems in Stage 1 are approved and the large Powerpack batteries in Stage 1 were recently commissioned by Tesla, and we’re expecting Western Power to grant approval to turn them on any day now. < cue cheering > We still have the village square public realm to deliver and plenty more besides, but the bureaucratic complexity, huge dollars and countless hours spent ticking off the big boxes is largely behind us. < slow exhale >

Many of the people on sales tours have only recently discovered the Ecovillage and are bubbling with enthusiasm and incredulity at what we’ve achieved here. One of the many lovely aspects of now having an established community is that I always suggest prospective buyers take a walk through the community gardens where, more often than not, they fall into conversation with a resident working in their garden. Listening to firsthand accounts of the joys of living in the Ecovillage community is always so wonderful to hear.  

But it’s not Utopia. This fledgling community has its fair share of challenges to overcome, more so, I’d wager than any “normal” residential development. As any trailblazer knows, being first is hard and doesn’t always go to plan (see ‘energy’ above). Innovation is often not celebrated until well after the fact. But the early adopters of this Ecovillage development are already reaping the rewards in a multitude of ways:

  1. An increase in property values is already evident in recent established home sales of $1.25 million for a large family home that we sold in two weeks and $900,000 for a two-bedroom cottage (sold before the first home open). These fantastic sales results from our Ecovillage real estate agency, Village Homes Realty, show that despite the pain of building price escalations, owners can rest assured that they’re not over-capitalising on their homes.
  2. Ecovillagers enjoy low household running costs, due in large part to the requirements set out in our Sustainable Building Design Guidelines, which result in high quality, thermally efficient homes. Household tanks and dam water for productive gardens means there are no incoming water bills. With Western Power’s long-awaited switching on of our large solar systems, and recently commissioned Tesla batteries being switched on in the very near future, homeowners who have already installed PV on their roofs will finally do away with electricity bills entirely and be self-sufficient in renewable energy. In fact, most will be cash positive by selling their excess solar power back into the grid via our private energy retailer, Amanda Energy.
  3. Ecovillage residents get so much “bang for their buck” with shared ownership and use of conservation zones, dams, orchards, community gardens, playgrounds and many acres of open space within the pristine natural environment of WA’s South West. It’s an enviable lifestyle full of simple pleasures, like vegetable gardening, swimming in the dam, or celebrating the solstice with your cluster neighbours.
  4. A supportive, like-minded community: it’s arguably the main reason people want to live in the Ecovillage. We can’t claim credit for it; it’s an organic, people-driven, fluid thing. But everything we do, and all of the infrastructure we’ve provided, is aimed at supporting the development of a healthy, caring community that will thrive long after the developer is gone.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner

All the media attention and industry awards we’ve been winning lately hasn’t hurt either. It’s a gratifying reward for the WEV project team to earn the admiration, respect and collaboration requests from industry bodies and academia, such as the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA), Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) and Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute (CUSP).

Recent awards include:

  • AILA WA Excellence Awards for ‘Gardens’ and ‘Infrastructure’
  • National AILA Awards for ‘Gardens’ and ‘Infrastructure’
  • UDIA WA Awards for Excellence in ‘Sustainability’ and ‘Affordable Housing’
  • We are awaiting the outcome of our entry into the highly contested ‘Sustainability’ category of the National UDIA Awards for Excellence, the pinnacle of development industry recognition in Australia.

Beyond the pat-on-the-back for the project team and the feel-good factor, awards provide valuable exposure. For a complex, innovative, values-driven project like WEV, awards are an excellent way to gain media attention and get the word out across the nation about how sustainable our residential communities can be.