Bearing the brunt

Bearing the brunt
Simon Harvey

Assemble (or Assemble Communities) is a property development and community management company.

It must have been during 2017 when I first knew of Assemble that I visited a promotional session on behalf of a friend, about an Assemble residential project in Albermarle St. I later visited another of their developments in Roseneath, Clifton Hill.

Many locals will know of the (now completed) Albermale St development because it incorporates Cassette, a very pleasant café on Macaulay Rd.

While I had some reservations about their “lease-to-buy” model I was generally impressed by what I read in their Assemble Papers, and by what seemed to be the Assemble approach to development and management.

Sometime in 2019 I heard that Assemble had acquired 402 Macaulay Rd, which was formerly home to the large Webb warehouse property near the corner of Barnett St.

Understandably there had already been a lot of speculation by the residents on the east side of Barnett St as to what might be built on the site, since the Webb warehouse site extended behind their properties, with only a narrow laneway as a buffer.

Later that year, as chairperson of the Kensington Association, City of Melbourne Cr Rohan Leppert told me that Assemble’s head of urban design Andy Fergus would like to contact me.

Before meeting with Andy I notified residents on Barnett St that I was meeting him, and asked them to let me know their principal concerns. It quickly became clear to me that Assemble, in reaching out to me, were well aware of the sensitivity of the western boundary bordering onto the lane behind the residents of Barnett St.

In my conversation with Andy he did his best to reassure me that Assemble would be taking every step to minimise the impact of the development on Barnett St residents.

The stark reality is that in this type of scenario the die has already been cast. The purchase price paid by Assemble would have factored in a return on their investment and the possible size (in particular height) of the development.

In the months that followed my meeting with Andy, Assemble had discussions with the community about design issues, like deep planting as a buffer along the laneway, and line of site mitigation from balconies into the backyards of Barnett St residents.

Fast forward to 2023, what Assemble knew would happen and initially tried to mitigate is now playing out. They have effectively vacated the “driver’s seat” to the building contractor Hacer, and the residents of Barnett St are “bearing the brunt” of what happens when a large building is constructed behind their back fence.

In my view Assemble must make a much more comprehensive effort to insist that their builder, Hacer, drastically lift the focus of their “game” ... particularly with respect to all aspects of the way they show consideration for and communicate with Barnett St residents.

A Barnett St resident described it this way: “we are living through hell and they don’t give a hoot”. The fact is that only the building preparation has started; what will the build itself be like!? So far, this is the picture …

  • There is a lack of proper protective fencing on the boundary.
  • Vibrations into residents’ buildings begin from 7am.
  • Residents are deeply concerned about the integrity of the foundations of their period cottages.
  • The laneway (back access) has effectively been taken away from them.
  • Dust from the earthwork falling onto back-yards, paths and windows has been ghastly.

This boils down to a severe lack of consideration by Assemble/Hacer to the real-life impact on the residents of Barnett St, who are “bearing the brunt” from the build and their concerns should not be dismissed with the shrug of a shoulder as “collateral damage”. •

John Buncle

John Buncle

February 14th, 2024 - Felicity Jack
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