Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sinkhole Suburbs: Thousands Face Ruin

A front page article in the Sunday Age of 8 June with the above heading drives home starkly one of the sad consequences of Melbourne's rampant population growth. Homeowners may end up with debts of tens of thousands of dollars because the property industry and planning authorities are too greedy and short-sighted to make sure homes are only being built in locations that are safe and suitable.

New estates from Grovedale on the outskirts of Geelong to Doreen in Melbourne's north, and including thousands of homes in the municipalities of Hume, Melton and Wyndham, have been built on highly reactive volcanic clay soils on "waffle slab" foundations. Soil movements under a home's foundations cause walks to crack, doors and windows to jam, and floors to tilt. The Sunday Age reports that 160 home owners have contacted Slater and Gordon lawyers.

A Melbourne consulting engineer says waffle slabs, poorly trained and regulated soil testers, and builders failing to follow the AS2870 standard for home footings are at the root of the problem. But one must also question the land releases on Melbourne's fast growing outer suburbs, many in areas with volatile soils, and the expansion of Melbourne's urban growth boundary which facilitated this.

The property industry demanded these land releases, in order to boost its profits, and claimed they were necessary to help make housing affordable. It did this rather than admit that the real solution for skyrocketing house prices is to stop Melbourne's rampant population growth. But homeowners facing ruinous home renovation and legal bills will not think that housing for them has become more affordable as a result of this greedy and short-sighted behaviour.

This unhappy episode shows that far from listening to demands from the property industry for less red tape when it comes to land releases, we need firm, clear and enforced State and local government regulation which protects innocent homebuyers.

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