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Development Industry Ill-Prepared For ‘Building Quality’ Crisis_property marketing sydney

Development Industry Ill-Prepared For ‘Building Quality’ Crisis

Recent issues surrounding the design and construction of Sydney’s Opal Tower have highlighted the urgent need for the development and building industry to have stakeholder and crisis communication management plans and training in place.

In my experience the industry is ill-prepared to deal with a major crisis or issues related to building quality – particularly when numerous stakeholders are affected, and the media and politicians get involved.

There is a widespread perception that new apartment towers may not be built properly given the volume and pace of construction over the past few years, with fears about cost-cutting and use of inferior materials.

The Age newspaper (December 18, 2016) reported ‘Victoria is facing a crisis of faulty, dangerous and leaking buildings that experts warn is comparable in scale to the historical scourge of asbestos’. It added that ‘shoddy materials and poor workmanship mean many homes and apartments in Victoria are likely to be outlived by their owners’.

According to The Age, structural failures had already emerged in residential buildings just a few years old, while ‘leaky building syndrome’ had caused severe mould infestations making many homes uninhabitable.

In Sydney, ABC News (2017) reported that no-one knew for sure how many apartments were defective or leaky, but some figures indicated ‘most new buildings had some kind of problem’.

In an interview with Bill Randolph, the director of the City Futures Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, he revealed that ‘nobody keeps records of this stuff. Quite a lot of the defects don’t get anywhere, they don’t get to the court, or owners just pay up and get on with it because they can’t be bothered to cover the cost of taking a builder to court’.

However, the ABC revealed that ‘a survey of strata owners conducted by the Research Centre in 2010 found that a startling 85 per cent of respondents in buildings built since 2000 said their buildings were defective’.

Better documented are building quality issues causing major problems overseas in Canada with its leaky condo crisis costing an estimated $4Billion in remediation measures while in New Zealand the estimate is even higher at about $22Billion.

Senior Lawyer at Lovegrove & Cotton, Kim Lovegrove wrote in a company article in September 2017 that the signs for future problems were already present in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, and needed to be proactively and holistically addressed. He said: ‘A failure to do this will generate a very adverse community dividend both in terms of the impact upon the public purse and the happiness barometer’.

There is also some evidence that structural engineers sometimes get it wrong. A celebrated case was the Citicorp Center Tower in New York in the mid-90s when high-rise engineer William LeMessurier became aware of a major design flaw and set about rectifying it to avert a possible disaster – more than 10 years after the tower had been built.

Whatever the cause of building quality issues for Sydney’s Opal Tower, it is clear the development industry will increasingly be under the spotlight and must be ready with management strategies in place to fairly and effectively communicate with affected parties, and the broader group of stakeholders.

Everyone wants immediate answers and the longer there is a vacuum in the provision of information, the more difficult it will be to ‘cut-through’ the clutter of claims and opinions. More time can be spent dealing with wrong information than pro-actively addressing the actual crisis.

Developers and builders could suffer permanent reputational damage if they don’t have processes already in place such as trained spokespersons, holding statements and contingency plans for stakeholder communication and actions.

It is impossible to put all this together at short-notice. If you’re not ready, you’re putting your entire company or business at substantial risk. Employing a PR agency may help, but few consultants will have the necessary understanding about such a complex industry and its public, political, government and other stakeholders to quickly produce an effective strategy.

I have been a media and communications director in ‘crisis-rich’ organisations including for the Army both here and overseas, the NSW Department of Corrective Services and I worked as consultant with major corporate clients to integrate crisis and issues management plans and training into their operations. Amazingly, the development and building industry lags behind these government and corporate entities in this essential management area despite the clear risks.

The Opal Tower is just one example of what can happen if something goes wrong, but the building and development industry is likely to face many more such issues given the volume and recent sustained high growth period in high-rise building construction.

A small investment in getting prepared for crisis communication will provide a big return, and possibly even save your enterprise, should it be required.

Bill Pickering Bill Pickering is a crisis communication expert. His work includes leading the response to Townsville’s 1996 Black Hawk tragedy and the death of 18 personnel. He provided the crisis response to a major prison riot at Goulburn Goal in 2002 that seriously injured Corrections officers. In 2004/5/6, he managed issues communication for the smash repair industry leading to legislation change. In 2008 – 2012 he consulted to a national insurance corporation to establish crisis response and government relations management processes. In 2018, he guided a national aged care client with industrial negotiations. From 2016 to current, he has co-ordinated media stakeholder communication for developer, Showground Corporation.

Locals MPs and Councillors causing planning paralysis and rising home costs_PDM

Locals MPs and Councillors causing planning paralysis and rising home costs

News about halting development and planning proposals in the greater Sydney metropolitan area may align with a ‘politically correct’ agenda particularly with an upcoming State election, but it spells disaster for young people trying to get into the housing market.

Sydney is Australia’s major centre for employment and new immigrants. They need somewhere to live and failing to keep up with housing demand just pushes up the cost for dwellings and competition particularly at the more affordable end of the market.
We may be seeing a temporary slow-down in sale of dwellings in some areas, but the reality is the demand will continue to rise if supply continues to be reduced. It takes many years to have major developments approved by the bureaucracy, and it will take many more to rebuild housing supply to rectify the impact of cancelling or delaying approvals.

Actions by some Liberal MPs to call for a halt to planning approvals for housing in their electorates and supported by local councils, is contrary to the Premier’s agenda and the party’s agenda for increased housing supply. Worse still, it shows a very narrow understanding of the real issues with housing development.

Everyone understands that providing more housing means more demands for services and infrastructure, as well as greater population density, but smart planning doesn’t have to mean existing residents get caught in more traffic jams or crammed onto packed trains as a result.

In fact, services and infrastructure funded by Government in parallel with the huge revenue from housing development will actually provide our city with more effective and efficient public transport, better roads underground that move more vehicles more quickly to key destinations and away from local roads.

It just needs Vision!! Not an anti-development Vision, but an integrated infrastructure/housing development Vision.

Good development proposals need a better council process_hugo halliday

Good development proposals need a better council process

Bill Pickering As a former Mayor of the City of Ryde council and Metropolitan Vice President of Local Government NSW, I am only too aware of the tension that can exist between communities who don’t want change at any cost and development proposals reaching for the sky.

Councillors and council staff are often left struggling to find the right balance, and developers are locked in an indeterminate process.


Increasingly however, I am seeing a failure of local councils to understand good planning and good development proposals, causing unnecessary and costly delays that serve no-one – including residents whose rates ultimately pay for court costs, lawyers and planning consultants.

After reading a Central Coast Express Advocate article about a Central Coast developer whose building proposal took 17 years to get through the former Wyong Council and who is now too old to undertake his project, it struck me just how bad the situation has become. This is a $100m development – that council apparently wanted at one stage – that would create 500 to 600 jobs and now it likely will never happen.

This council didn’t accept numerous planning proposals even with changes recommended by its own planning staff, gazetted the incorrect zoning and rezoning, and caused major delays though inaction. Finally, the matter was taken to the Land and Environment Court and council lost.

To any ordinary observer, this process seems very unfair, unnecessary, costly and even ridiculous. Of course, it is easy to point the finger of blame at council staff, but it is quite possible the political agenda by councillors may have had some influence.

While 17 years to get a planning approval is extreme, unfortunately there are some councils where similar circumstances and behaviour is causing major problems.

The development community is quick to reveal examples of the actions of ‘difficult’ councils particularly in metropolitan Sydney. High on the ‘difficult list’ is The Inner West Council, Ku-ring-gai Council and the Hills Shire Council. The story from developers is generally the same – the council is anti-development and deliberately delays the planning and approval process.


There are always arguments on both sides ranging from claims of overdevelopment and public opposition verses a need for urban renewal, transit-oriented development and addressing the housing crisis. All of these are relevant, but the bottom line is there is such a thing as good development based on strong planning principles that address the needs of housing-hungry Sydney.

Key among these principles are proximity to major public transport infrastructure (particularly rail), availability of local services and amenities, open space for recreation and relaxation, security and affordability. Unfortunately, even these planning principles can be completely lost on some local authorities.

The Hills Shire Times reported recently that the Hills Shire Council had rejected a massive $3 Billion master-planned planning proposal in the State Government-designated Showground Station Precinct opposite a new metro rail station. After three years of consultation with council planners, the proposal gave a commitment to 50 percent open space, major infrastructure upgrades of roads and amenities, new local parks, cycle ways and pedestrian paths with through-connection to the station, childcare centres, housing for key workers and everything that a council should want for their residents. It ticked all the boxes for the State Government and the NSW Department of Planning and Environment.

There are claims that the proposal it was rejected by councillors who hadn’t even read the proposal when it came to the vote. Interestingly, every proposal in the Showground Station Precinct has been rejected by Hills council, despite the NSW Government actively encouraging developers to build in the precinct to help address the housing crisis as part of its transit-oriented development agenda near the new metro rail.


What is more unusual is that a large community action group called Residents Matter Action Group or ResMAG – with an estimated 1000 supporters – has formed to back good development including the Showground development proposal and others proposed by developers in the Hills. Action groups usually oppose development, so this local support should not be discounted.

ResMAG has its own website ( and in a further twist to this saga, the community has called out the Hills Shire Council. ResMAG uses examples of council selling off public land to developers, up-zoning this land and then approving higher density without any community benefit or infrastructure. This apparent contradictory behaviour has angered residents who believe political interference is the root cause.

The planning system in NSW is cumbersome and confusing. It needs both State and Local Government to play their part in ensuring good development proposals succeed, but there can be no doubt in the cases of both the former Wyong and Hills councils that a better and more accountable council process is needed, and urgently.

Of course, developers do have the right-of-appeal and in the case of the $3Billion showground proposal, it will go before an Independent Planning Panel on appeal. But, questions must be asked about the time and money wasted on what appears to be a great development supported by residents, and what the future will hold for the Showground Station Precinct and its new metro rail if this major proposal fails.

The bottom line for good development is good master-planning that provides liveability, open space community amenity, functionality and connectivity to public transport. As history shows, Councils that reject good development proposals usually end up with piece-meal development in future without master-planned outcomes. The biggest losers are residents who end up with a tangle of roads and buildings, and no community amenities or open space.

Hugo Halliday has experience helping property developers work with government and regulatory bodies to get developments approved. Contact us today for more information.

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