Breaking new ground at the Witchcliffe Ecovillage
By Jo Thierfelder, Communications and Marketing Manager, Sustainable Settlements
The Witchcliffe Ecovillage vision is to be one of the most sustainable residential communities in the world; self-sufficient in water, energy and fresh food produce.
Achieving this ambitious goal is no small feat but it’s one that the Sustainable Settlements team has been relentlessly pursuing with uncompromising attention to detail since its inception nine years ago.
The Witchcliffe Ecovillage is unique, and its appeal is broad and growing as it seeks to address so many of the pressing social, environmental and economic issues of our time.
Our objective has always been very simple: to make this project as sustainable as possible.
A long and winding road to approval
The Ecovillage project began in 2010 when the 120ha farmland site was first purchased in a 50/50 joint venture partnership between Sustainable Settlements and Perron Developments (companies owned by Mike Hulme and Stan Perron who have been in partnership for more than 20 years).
Despite its commendable sustainability goals, innovative approach and solid financial foundation, the project has been mired in planning bureaucracy for nine years (twice as long as originally anticipated). After an enormous amount of hard work and dogged determination, the Ecovillage finally received all of its planning approvals last year enabling the project to proceed with confidence, and the Sustainable Settlements team to expand to facilitate its delivery.
The project timeline has been split up into six stages and is anticipated to take between 7-9 years to complete, depending on the rate of sales. We broke ground on Stage 1 in February 2019 with construction of the dams, which are due for completion before winter rains set in.
The Ecovillage is located in the quirky, historic hamlet of Witchcliffe, just 8km south of Margaret River in WA’s beautiful South West. It is blessed with stunning natural assets on its doorstep, including Redgate Beach (great fishing and surfing), Boranup Forrest, limestone caves and world-renowned vineyards, not to mention the fertile agricultural pastures on which the site itself sits.
The Ecovillage will significantly expand the existing Witchcliffe townsite, which we hope will have many positive physical and social effects on the community. The site runs directly behind the main street retail precinct extending north and south along Bussell Highway.
Community and public life
On completion, the Ecovillage will encompass more than 300 passive solar residential dwellings organised into 11 strata clusters that each surround a shared 1ha community garden. This cluster design is the beating heart of the residential community infrastructure. Each strata cluster will manage its own space that will include a community building, orchard, chickens, rain garden (stormwater system), fire pit, BBQ area, compost bays and a myriad of other possibilities. Each lot will have its own exclusive use vegetable garden that forms part of the community garden so that neighbours will naturally be drawn together to socialise and share resources. Permaculture principles of earth care, people care and fair share are the foundation upon which the Ecovillage ethos is based.
The Village Square and surrounds will be the focal point of public life for the greater Ecovillage. Plans include a café, community centre, microbrewery, winery, boutique hotel / backpackers, commercial precinct, food hub, educational facilities, nature playground, biking and walking trails, sports facilities, artist and maker spaces and more. This bustling, vibrant, diverse community hotspot is designed to attract residents, regional locals and tourists alike who will come to stay, play, relax and learn about sustainability.
Water, energy and fresh food
The Ecovillage is a complex project made up of many elements but attaining self-sufficiency in renewable energy, water and fresh food produce is one of its primary aims.
The Ecovillage water strategy has been designed so that every drop of water that falls on the site is captured, diverted and reused. It incorporates three large dams for irrigation, sophisticated stormwater systems and rain gardens, rainwater tanks on every lot for household use and a community scale wastewater treatment plant, which recycles and treats all sewerage on site.
The entire Ecovillage will be run on solar energy with rooftop PV panels on every house, batteries and cluster-level microgrids from which households can draw and share their power. These microgrids will be attached to the main Western Power electrical grid enabling excess power to be sold and providing a back-up in the unlikely event that we need additional power.
Fresh fruit and vegetables will be grown in the agricultural lots that surround the Ecovillage, which will be available for residents to purchase as a commercial enterprise. The dams will supply each agricultural lot with water, and we envisage these will be used for small scale, high value crops such as garlic, asparagus or blueberries for example, although some people may just want to create their own food forest! Producers will be able to process and sell their produce in the food hub and associated markets. Of course, the residents will grow the lion’s share of fresh produce for their daily needs from the extensive vegetable gardens that form part of each community garden cluster.
Lots and housing options
The Ecovillage team has developed a range of different lot sizes and housing options to ensure we meet market demand, encourage demographic diversity and address housing affordability issues as best we can. These include lifestyle, family, cottage, affordable, aged and dependent care, medium density, short stay, tourist and studio lots, which range significantly in size from 2,700sqm to 300sqm.
We are currently finalising the Ecovillage Building Design Guidelines, which is a comprehensively researched document designed to help residents choose the best building materials and methods that fit with our sustainability principles. A range of house and land packages will be designed for each lot type, but residents may prefer instead to build their own custom designed sustainable home that fit within the BDGs.
We are aiming to open for pre-sales in early September 2019 at which time prospective residents will be able to make a deposit to reserve a block. We anticipate titles will be created by Landgate approximately a year later at which time residential building may commence in earnest.
Expressions of interest
The team is feeling buoyed by the incredible level of sustained interest from people who have followed the project since its inception, registered their interest on our website, subscribed to our newsletter and maintained regular contact with us. And yes, many of them are Permies! We feel like we have the beginnings of a wonderful community already.
We encourage you to explore our detailed website at www.ecovillage.net.au to gain a full understanding of the project and register your interest for further information. You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram.