Thursday 15 July 2010
Hansard of the Legislative Council
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Madam President, I have a story today that I am sure will be of interest to the Minister for Education in respect of some work that is going on in Tasmania.

I will start by saying there are many reasons for homelessness, but a major factor in homelessness among young people is often problems at the parental home.  Late teenage and early adult years are difficult, especially for males.  They want independence, they want their own domestic territory, and relations with their parents are often under great pressure.  But what if young people in that situation, who are at risk of homelessness, could be offered their own individual housing unit in the short or medium term for practically no cost?  It could prevent those relationship breakdowns which can lead to young people leaving home with little or no means of support.  That is the aim of the Castle project in Launceston.  It is a community partnership involving, among others, Youth Futures, Studentworks, the University of Tasmania School of Architecture and Design, the Commonwealth and State governments, the Launceston City Council and jobs networks.

It is a very innovative project to meet a very complex social challenge.  The project has been in the making since 2000 and it is mainly the brainchild of Harry Tams of Youth Futures and involves the School of Architecture and Design lecturer Dr Richard Burnham and Infrastructure Manager Robyn Green.  If I might just quote from the brief that they have set up for this project:

'Responding to a demonstrated gap in the housing market the brief for the Castle demands a dwelling that is small, mobile, autonomous and spacially clever.'

Let us start with the hoped-for outcome of the Castle project.  It is a lightweight home module that is capable of being mounted on a trailer, therefore it is free of local government planning and building regulations.  Each home module is energy efficient, with solar power and cooking which uses methyl alcohol, which can be made from plant waste.  It has a composting toilet and the only input needed is a water supply.  When the module is unfolded from its 2.5 metre trailerable width, it gives a floor space of approximately 5 metres by 4 with a mezzanine bedroom, kitchen and seating areas.  It is designed to make a small space look bigger.

It weighs about 1 400 kilos.  That is about the same size as a medium-sized caravan.  It is insulated on the outside using technology employed by NASA for the heat-shield tiles on space shuttles; tiny ceramic spheres incorporated in paint.  Most importantly, it uses a principal building material that could be manufactured in Tasmania using plantation trees - plywood.  A computer digital construction program uses a digitally controlled router cutter to shape more than 175 plywood construction components.  The construction is kept simple so that semi-skilled workers can use just glue and machine-driven screws.  It can be supplied as a flat pack for about $10 000, that is like an unfitted-out carcass, or fully finished with all the technology for about $30 000.

It can also be marketed at its most basic form, a computer file, which can be used via licence to do the cutting of the components.  That means that the technique can be marketed and delivered online and because it is a product of a computer program, it can easily be customised for different results.  Before the computer-generated laser cutting of the components is actually employed, you can work out your own design.  That is the hope for the conclusion of the Castle project.  At this stage five prototypes have been designed and about a further five years of research is needed.  The design process uses groups of about 12 to 20 students for 14 days each and so far 120 students of the university's School of Architecture and Design have been involved in the design, with each group learning from the previous one.  It really is a wonderful learning-by-making sort of system.

As well as helping to house the homeless, these home modules can be used on beach blocks.  They could be used for extra accommodation on farms - just to involve the member for Western Tiers.  They can be used as substitutes for caravans - I know that the member for Windermere is planning on living in one when he gets kicked out of home.  They could be adapted to any climate.

So far the Castle project has had to use plywood imported from South America.  But what a great project this is for the Tasmanian forestry industry to get behind.  What a great opportunity for downstream processing.

Mr Aird - How much did that cost?

Mr FINCH - The cost of purchase is $10 000 and for fully fitted out $30 000.  They still have five years of research to find out what it actually costs to put one of these things together.

Plywood and other laminated timber products are the construction materials of the future and the Tasmanian timber industry has long known that.  Yet a project like the Castle project has to use South American plywood.  It is not appropriate.  The Castle home modules will also be deployed as tourist accommodation; as a starter home; accommodation at isolated work sites; or short- to medium-term shelter for disaster relief.  This amazing project is all happening here in Tasmania, Madam President.

Congratulations to Harry Tams and his supporters for this innovative and exciting initiative.