Planning the Pre-Fabs
Bureaucrats and early Canberra
The National Capital Planning and Development Committee was established in 1940 [check date] and met regularly to discuss all manner of planning issues for the developing Canberra. Extracts of relevant minutes of the Committee relating to the pre-fabs are set out below, with a link to a PDF copy of the original minute where available.
These minutes are from ACT Archives and the assistance of Mark Dawson is particularly appreciated.
Meeting 48 - planning for temporary houses
Meeting 49 - costs, clash with railway?
Meeting 50 - revised plans, Murray lease
Meeting 51 - clash with Minister(s) resolved
Meeting 52 - Ministerial approval
Meeting 54 - Tulloch design
Meeting 59 - housing designs
Meeting 60 - additional 96 houses
Meeting 61 - contract let
Meeting 62 - additional 135 houses
Meeting 64 - group garaging abandoned
Meeting 65 - 2d series housing
Meeting 66 - additional housing
Meeting 70 - additional 46 houses
Meeting 74 - contract let for 58 houses
Meeting 86 - Econo-steel construction
Meeting 48, 14-15 March 1948, Canberra:
At the request of the Department of works and Housing, the Committee gave consideration to the question of reserving an area and developing subdivisions upon which to provide houses for married workmen. The suggestion envisaged the provision of pre-fabricated houses which would be located in a proper subdivision in which the the whole or a high proportion of the dwellings might later be replaced by houses in brick or similar construction, thus obtaining permanent value from the expenditure involved in roads and engineering services and planting.
Mr. Rolland explained that it was also considered necessary to provide a small proportion of the houses in the Division of Yarralumla to accommodate workmen at the brickworks ...
For the larger subdivision two sites were suggested, both in the Division of Narrabundah, the first lying between Canberra Avenue and Sturt Avenue and the second between Captain Cook Crescent and Narrabundah Road.
After inspecting the two sites suggested the Committee was of the opinion that the area south east of Captain cook Crescent was unsuitable for the purpose, but the alternative site between Canberra and Sturt Avenues was generally suitable for the scheme in mind.
General consideration was then given to a preliminary plan showing the layout of several hundred houses in the area lying between Canberra Avenue and Sturt Avenue which Mr. Rolland presented for discussion.
The details of this scheme were reviewed and sketches showing the designs of the pre-fabricated types of dwellings were also perused.
It was resolved that the Committee generally approves of the scheme subject to further development by Mr. Rolland and reconsideration of details of the subdivision and other features in accordance with the discussion.
Meeting 49, April-May 1948, Canberra
Workmen’s suburb Narrabundah:
A further layout of the proposed Workmen’s Camp, Narrabundah, was presented to the Committee, together with reports from the Department of Works and Housing and the Commonwealth Surveyor-General in relation to the project.
The Executive Member stated that he had been asked for comment on these reports by the Secretary, Department of the Interior, but as the Committee was meeting he considered it advisable to await its conclusions before presenting the reports with his views.
The Department of Works and Housing had submitted the proposal together with sketch plans and an estimate of cost of £133,000, requesting that arrangements should be made for the provision of the necessary funds to carry out the scheme in accordance with Cabinet approval of recommendation contained in Agenda No. 1045.
The Executive Member presented the Surveyor-General’s comments which pointed out that the site selected was intersected by the permanent route of the City Railway and that certain streets as shown on the Griffin Plan had been ignored. He referred to the route of the designed City Railway and stated that any permanent alteration of these would constitute variations of the approved plan which would require to be made and placed before Parliament in accordance with the provisions of the Seat of Administration Act 1910-1940. In the Surveyor-General’s opinion the proposed layout was generally satisfactory for temporary housing but he referred to the indication in the report of the Department of Works and Housing that streets and engineering services were to be located for permanent housing. He thought that further information from that Department should be given in relation to its views for permanent utilisation of the area before approval were given for the scheme. In this regard he mentioned the narrow width of the sections which would result in blocks of a depth not exceeding 100 feet and sometimes less.
The Executive Member, in referring to the Surveyor-General’s comments regarding the permanent features of the Griffin Plan, recalled that he had mentioned this matter at the preceding meeting and was informed that the proposal did not involve the use of the area extending as far west and south as the route of the permanent railway.
The Committee discussed the plan in the light of the departmental reports and also referred to the approved Canberra plan.
After examination it was thought that an amendment could be made to the design in the southern portion of the area so as not to interfere with the provision of the permanent features of the approved plan.
Meeting 50, 13-14 June 1946
Workmen’s Suburb, Narrabundah
A revised plan of the layout for the Workmen’s Suburb, Narrabundah, was submitted for consideration by Mr. Rolland. He indicated that it had been prepared in accordance with the recommendations made at the last meeting of the Committee and that the layout should not interfere with the permanent features of the approved plan.
During the discussion of this item Mr. Roland stated that he had received advice that the lessee of the area, Mrs. E. Murray, was engaged in ploughing and that he thought this activity should be stopped in view of possible compensation to be paid by the Commonwealth.
The Executive Member accordingly telephoned the Commonwealth Surveyor-General who stated that he had already notified the lessee of the possibility of resumption of portion of the area and advised that further ploughing should not be proceeded with.
The Committee then studied the revised plans Nos. C.D. 1139 and C.D. 1140. It noted that these confined development in an area between the reservation of the future railway, according to the approved plan, and a permanent road on the north east parallel to Canberra Avenue.
Plan C.D. 1140 showed the general arrangement of the dwellings together with open park spaces and provision for recreation and community facilities which could be provided as and when required.
Mr. Rolland explained that the initial proposal was for the erection of 100 dwellings in the area shown on the plan in lighter colour.
Plan C.D. 1139 showed to a larger scale greater detail in the actual arrangement of the dwellings and treatment of the allotments.
After studying the plans and discussion of the proposal in detail the Committee noted the following factors that were involved, namely:
(i) that the scheme provided for the erection of dwellings on a temporary basis, the prefabricated houses to remain only until such time as suitable permanent housing might be available;
(ii) the area and layout were suitable for permanent housing, if and when desired, on a variety of bases, involving, say, group dwellings and semi-detached dwellings as well as single residences;
(iii) reasonable provision could be made for recreation and sports areas of ample dimensions;
(iv) community facilities could be conveniently arranged on either a temporary or permanent basis;
(v) the proposal does not involve alteration of ay existing features of the approved plan of Canberra.
and it decided to recommend that the design be approved on the basis of a temporary housing scheme, without prejudice to the question of the permanent treatment of the area at a later stage, if desired, when the time is opportune.
Meeting 51, 11-12 July 1946
The Executive Member reported that as the result of consideration at the last meeting a report had been made to the Minister for the Interior expressing the Committee’s concurrence in the suggestion to proceed with the proposal, as indicated in Plans No. C.D. 1139 and C.D. 1140, for the erection of 100 dwellings of a pre-fabricated type on the basis of a temporary housing scheme without prejudice to the question of the permanent treatment of the area at a later stage when the time is opportune.
The Minister had duly approved of the report and advice to this effect had been given to Mr. Rolland.
A few days afterwards the Secretary, Department of the Interior, speaking for the Minister, had requested Mr. Daley and Mr. Sheaffe to accompany himself and the Minister on a visit of inspection of the area and had asked whether some alternative site, or preferably more than one site, could be selected to avoid withdrawing the area in question from the lease held by Mrs. E. Murray and used by her for dairying and associated purposes. The Minister had inspected Mrs. Murray’s dairy, the site proposed at Narrabundah for the housing scheme, and the general area in the vicinity of Griffith, and that in the neighbourhood of the camp previously occupied by Air Force trainees, as the latter had been suggested by Mrs. Murray as being more suitable for the housing scheme than the land already selected, as it was not so damp and foggy.
As the result of the inspection the Minister had requested that a proposal be put forward for erecting the demountable houses on a site or sites other than that for which the plans had been prepared.
The Executive Member had explained to the Minister that the Department of Works and Housing, upon Ministerial directions, had called tenders for the work based on the site of which he had approved, and that he should, therefore, discuss the subject with Mr. Lazzarinii. The Minister had said he would do so.
The Committee noted this report and proceeded to give consideration to an alternative scheme for the layout of the Workmen’s Suburb, which had been prepared by Mr. Sheaffe as the result of the Minister’s directions. Mr. Sheaffe attended the meeting and explained his scheme and also his views against the selection of the site indicated in Plan C.D. 1140 for permanent residential purposes. This view had previously been placed before the Committee in departmental reports and was related particularly to the permanent diversion of the area from use for recreation purposes.
It was noted that the alternative site suggested by Mr. Sheaffe was located immediately to the south of that already planned, extending from the railway reserve to the intersection of Sturt Avenue and the unnamed avenue running east from the circle where Captain Cook Crescent joins Sturt Avenue.
Mr. Sheaffe indicated that the area suggested by him also formed part of the lease held by Mrs. E. Murray.
The Committee observed the following points in regard to the tentative alternative layout plan submitted by Mr. Sheaffe, viz:-
(a) As a permanent residential layout it would involve major variations to the approved City plan and the elimination of important features;
(b) the capacity of the area was approximately 150 houses as compared with approximately 300 in the layout already approved;
(c) it was based upon a permanent layout with larger individual blocks but having considerably less open space for recreation and community facilities;
(d) portion of it was more remote from existing development, and it would be definitely severed from other settled areas by a considerable expanse of undeveloped land upon which, under the scheme already submitted, the proposed residences would be erected.
The Committee, after discussion with Mr. Sheaffe, and reconsideration of the matter in all its aspects, did not see any good reason to vary its previous recommendation as to the suitability of the area indicated in the plan already submitted as the site for a temporary housing scheme. In arriving at their conclusion the Committee had in mind that:
(i) such area would involve no variation of the approved Canberra plan;
(ii) as the proposed allotment of this area was originally for park and recreation purposes, the layout for temporary housing already suggested was made in such a manner as to provide immediately a considerable expanse of playing fields, arranged so as to form part, if desired, of the ultimate permanent development in this regard;
(iii) such development could be expanded to the extent that experience might indicate that the number of pre-fabricated residences in the area could be reduced, the engineering services being available for the requirements of the recreation features;
(iv) from the information given to the Committee it appeared clear the area indicated in the original scheme would be required in any case in a few years for the progressive development of playing fields;
(v) the scheme submitted would admit of this being done in a satisfactory manner with gradual expansion as the temporary houses are progressively eliminated.
After consideration of this matter the Members of the Committee, by arrangement, proceeded to Parliament House and discussed the subject with the Minister for the Interior and the Minister for Works and Housing. Mr. Rolland informed the Ministers of the Committee’s view that no good purpose would be served by changing the site already approved, and after some discussion, the Minister for the Interior agreed to withdraw any objections that he had raised in this regard. It was arranged that the Executive Member would submit a report to the Minister in confirmation of the views expressed.
Meeting 52, 8-9 Aug 1946
Workmen's Housing, Narrabundah:
The Minister for the Interior has approved of the recommendations in the Committee's report of the 15th July.
Alternative tenders have been received for the prefabricated houses for the Narrabundah temporary subdivision. These are much higher than was expected and the action to be taken is at present under consideration by the Department of Works and Housing.
(Noted. Mr. Rolland gave the Committee details of the tendering and indicated various alternative proposals, such as an arrangement for construction on a "cost-plus" or some similar basis, that were being considered. He referred to the "Triton" system of construction which might afford a basis for having the fabrication done in Melbourne.)
Meeting 54, 14-15 Nov 1946
Narrabundah Demountable Housing Scheme:
The Committee noted generally particulars of the Tulloch system of construction which was being adopted for the 75 houses for which a contract had been let for erection at Narrabundah.
Meeting 59, 4 July 1947
Housing Development - Narrabundah - Sections 55, 58 and 59:
A preliminary plan was submitted by Mr. Rolland showing a suggested subdivision of the balance of Sections 55, 58 and 59 upon which it was desired to commence the erection of brick residences at an early date. He stated that the original subdivision into blocks had been revised and that, in the revised scheme for smaller blocks, it was possible to obtain an additional eight sites. It was noted that the frontages for these were about 60 feet and the depths approximately 140 feet. This provided still for a substantial unit area. In the discussion that occurred it was felt that, if the smallest types of houses were to be erected on these blocks, it would result in an uneconomical use of land. It was resolved to recommend:
(a) that the subdivision be approved for larger types of houses;
(b) if smaller types were to be used that the blocks be further reduced in size;
(c) that in all cases the designs for the houses should be prepared or selected to suit the sites.
Meeting 60 (date?)
Housing Development - Narrabundah:
Plans forwarded by the Director of Works were submitted indicating a proposal for building 96 additional houses of the demountable type. After inspecting the area it was resolved that the Committee approve of the proposal for provision of these houses in accordance with Plan No. A. C. T. 17217 of the 28th July, 1947, and of the amended designs of houses as shown in Drawings Nos. A.C.T. 1702 (two bedroom type) and A.C.T. 17205 ( three bedroom type) of the 29th July 1947. It was noted that the Works Director proposed to cover the walls externally with ﬁbro-cement sheeting and the roofs with corrugated ﬁbrolite.
During inspection of portion of the area at Narrabundah upon which the demountable type of house is already being erected the Committee noted that many of the houses had not been erected in accordance with the plans to which it had given its approval. It observed that the
alignment along the streets had been broken, the position of houses on the northern corners had been changed and they had been placed at right angles to the streets, and the colour schemes doped were far too varied.
It was decided to draw attention to these facts and recommend that the plans as approved be adhered to and should be worked out in groups instead of in the indeterminate manner
Meeting 61, 2-3 October 1947
Notifications - Narrabundah Settlement
The Director of Works was about to let a contract for an additional 96 houses at Narrabundah.
Meeting 62, 6-7 November, 1947
Residential Subdivisions - Narrabundah: Demountable Housing Subdivision:
A communication was received from the Director of Works forwarding plans indicating a proposal for the erection of 135 demountable dwellings in the workmen's area at Narrabundah. A copy of the site proposal plan (C.D. 1140) showed the dwellings proposed coloured in pink and this was accompanied by a detailed layout plan (No. A.C.T. 17278) and plans indicating designs for two-bedroom and three-bedroom dwellings. Drawings Nos. A.C.T. 17202 and 17203 respectively.
It was noted that the present proposal comprised the sections required to complete the original scheme, and that the proposed layout and disposition of the houses were in accordance with the plan previously approved.
After examining the plans and discussing the details it was resolved that the Committee concurs in the proposal, including the layout for the houses and the designs for the two and three bedroom dwellings.
Meeting 64, 5-6 February 1948
Residential Subdivision: Narrabundah Workmen's Demountable Housing Area:
Advice was received from the Director of Works that it was proposed to erect six houses at the north-west end of the development area in accordance with the red colour shown on copy of Plan No. C.D. 1140. The object of this was to provide a front road treatment, rather than a back fence, facing the main highways on Sturt and Canberra Avenues.
The Committee noted that the provision of the residences proposed was part of the original scheme and, as it agreed with the reasons given by the Director of Works, it resolved to concur in the proposal.
A further communication from the Director of Works forwarded a copy of Drawing C.S. 334 which showed in red colour nine sites for group garages, namely Blocks 6 and 15 of Section 105, Blocks 8 and and 17 of Section 107, Blocks 8 and 17 of Section 109, Blocks 8 and 17 of Section 111, Block 8 of Section 113.
The Committee's concurrence was sought to the principle of placing garages as required on individual blocks adjacent to each house, and to the use of the nine blocks mentioned as sites for dwelling houses.
The Committee examined the layout plans for the area and noted that there were sixteen sites devoted to group garages.
Mr. Redmond, who attended the meeting, explained that the group garage sites in sections other than those now referred to had already been allotted for residences and this permission was now suggested for the balance.In the discussion it was indicated that the provision of group-garages had the advantage of strengthening the control by the Department over the building of unauthorised structures on individual blocks but that there were disadvantages as well in such a scheme, as, for example, the difficulty of securing responsibility for the proper maintenance of the group-garage areas.
Mr. Harris pointed out the necessity for proper location of individual garages on the various residential blocks and was informed by the Executive Member that, if erected by private enterprise, the matter would be controlled by the Building Regulations, and if by the Department, that care would be taken to ensure proper disposition of the buildings.
The Committee concurred in the allotment of the blocks mentioned in the Director of Works' letter as sites for dwellings and also in the principle of the provision of separate or attached garages, as may be required, on individual blocks. It decided also to suggest that care be taken to see that the abandonment of the group-garage system did not mean the erection of unsightly and unauthorised structures by the tenants of individual blocks, as had already occurred in some areas.
Meeting 65, 4-5 March, 1948
Residential Subdivisions: Narrabundah, Workmen's Demountable House Area:
For the Committee's information the Director of Works forwarded a copy of Plan No, T.P. 16/48 which showed the proposed siting of six additional houses on Section 3 of the Narrabundah Demountable House Area which had been prepared as a result of the
Committee's approval for this additional development. The Director of Works explained that the house types were those of the second series and the adjacent houses on blocks 1 to 6 inclusive on Section 3 and 11 to 19 inclusive, Section 104, were also second series.
It was proposed that the six houses now to be erected and the 15 just mentioned should have their roofs pitched at the same slope as that in the adjacent group of 75 which had been completed. This would give some similarity in the shape of the new houses to that of the existing houses of the group of 75.
The Committee expressed its concurrence in these proposals.
Consideration was given to Plans Nos. T.P. 14/48 and T.P. 15/48 showing proposals for erecting houses on the vacant sites previously intended for group garages in the Narrabundah Demountable House Area.
The Director of Works stated that 5 houses shown on Plan T.P. 14/48 belong to the second series and were located amongst the second contract group of 96 houses at present under construction facing Canberra Avenue. The 4 houses shown on Plan T.P. 15/48 belong to the first series of type plans and were located amongst the first contract group of 75 houses already completed. It was possible to build individual garages on each house site as required and gravel drives were being provided in each case in existing contracts.
The proposals indicated in these plans were noted and approved by the Committee.
Meeting 66, 6-7 May 1948
Residential Subdivision: Narrabundah: Workmen's Demountable House Area: Further Extension:
For the Committee's information the Director of Works forwarded a copy of sketch Plan T.P. 24/48 of proposed development for additional demountable houses in this area. He stated that the proposal was the result of a request from the Housing Accommodation Branch for an additional eight houses. His Department suggested that a considerably greater number of houses could be satisfactorily provided.
The suggested layout plan and details of the topography were explained to the Committee by Mr. Redmond of the Town Planning Section, Department of Works and Housing, and, in particular, the levels of the area and the effect of the recent flooding of Jerrabomberra Creek were discussed with him.
The Committee approved of the proposal as a temporary layout subject to a check being made regarding the contours of the area and its freedom from liability to flooding.
The Committee was of the opinion that the proposal for this area should be regarded as a continuation of the temporary subdivision and not as a permanent variation of the City Plan.
It was noted by the Committee that the practicability of effectively extending sewerage services to the area was still subject to investigation.
Meeting 70, (date? August 1948?)
Narrabundah Demountable House Area: Additional Dwellings
The Director of Works submitted for the Committee's consideration Plan TP. 74/48 which indicated a more detailed study of the proposals shown in Plan TP. 24/48, already considered by the Committee, in respect to the design of an additional area for the location of 45 dwellings in the workmen's temporary housing area, Narrabundah.
The scheme was discussed with the Engineer for Development, Mr. Thornton, and Mr. Redmond of the Town Planning Section and its main features were reviewed. Mr. Thornton stated that the area for development was safely above the levels reached by the floods in December, 1947.
It was resolved that the Committee approves generally of the scheme as indicated in Plan TP. 74/48 subject to the submission of further plans in due course indicating the layout of the proposed residences.
Meeting 74, 8-9 December 1948
Notifications - Demountable Housing Section, Narrabundah:
A contract had been let for an additional 58 residences.
Meeting 86, 1-2 March 1950
At the request of the Executive Member, Mr. Potts, Director of Works, attended the meeting to give information to the Committee on the subject of pre-fabricated housing, on which the Secretary, Department of the Interior, had asked the Committee's advice. Mr. Potts was accompanied by the Principal Architect, Mr. Miller, who brought with him sketch plans of certain house designs.
For the Committee's information, Mr. Potts explained that a proposal had been made by his Head Office that, in view of the acute housing shortage in Canberra, special steps should be taken to provide a thousand houses in addition to those which might be erected in the programme now progressing. The suggestion made was that 500 of these might be of a type produced in Australia, that is, using Econo-steel framing and of a structure similar to those already erected in the workmen's temporary suburb at Narrabundah. The remaining 500 were to be imported, but, at present, no definite information as to types or details of construction was available. Tenders had been called for and various offers received. Mr. Potts thought it possible to obtain types suitable to Canberra requirements, but advice as to such requirements was awaited from the Department of the Interior.
Reverting to the Econo-steel houses, Mr. Potts said that they were capable of use as permanent development and he thought it desirable to erect them to fill up existing areas, in order to provide the services at the present time. Mr. Harris mentioned that in England attached houses and even rows of terraces were now being used to increase population density in areas where services were available. He felt that the same necessity was present in Canberra and that a limited expansion of single houses, with the corresponding expansion in roads, sewerage, lighting and other services, would be found to be beyond our capacity. Inability to expand services forced upon one the adoption of a new principle. Mr. Potts thought that the services required could be provided reasonably soon in Canberra. The demand, however, had been artificially increased beyond immediate possibilities of overtaking the leeway. Mr. Harris pointed out that this had also been found elsewhere, even in places where the resources were much greater than those of Canberra. If other countries could not cope with such expansion, he thought that Canberra would not be able to do so. Mr. Potts thought that labour was not now a serious difﬁculty, as migration was assisting materially, but that design was a factor holding up development. Mr. Harris still insisted that the scheme of development should be changed.
In reply to Mr. Rolland, Mr. Potts said that the supply of steel framing was satisfactory. Accessories, such as baths, sinks and so on, would have to be imported. Cost might be 15 per cent in excess of other types of construction. The general additional building costs in Canberra might amount to 20 per cent over those elsewhere. This margin had been incurred by the Government in the payment of allowances and in other directions, as an incentive to retain labour. Mr. Potts mentioned that considerable allowances were being paid to public servants living away from home, and this might be set off against the higher cost of providing houses, which would reduce the necessity for such payments.
Of the 500 permanent steel-framed houses, it was proposed that:
"10 per or 50 be four-bedroom type
60 per cent or 300 be three-bedroom type
30 per cent 150 be two-bedroom type."
The Eoono-steel manufacturers had offered to supply complete houses, but Mr. Potts did not think that the Department would accept this offer, but would take the steel frames and would independently arrange for the other materials and labour. In answer to Mr. Rolland, Mr. Potts said that weatherboard or ﬁbro-cement sheets would probably be utilised for walling. The wall materials used for the ﬁrst 75 houses (steel-framed) in Narrabundah were, he agreed, not suitable. The plywood was not turning out well in this climate. The sketch plans were then submitted for perusal and discussed. The Chairman raised the question of whether the method of construction could not be combined to provide group houses. He thought also that the development of new areas beyond the limitations of the already developed Grifﬁn sections, should afford opportunity to sub-divide according to the types of houses to be used and obtain blocks with varying frontages. Mr. Miller said that the Department of the Interior was requiring blocks not less than 70 feet. The Chairman said this was too extravagant and that the principle of narrower blocks for houses of less frontage should be adopted. Likewise, where there were wide frontages, less depth could be allowed. Mr. Potts said that he said agreed that, provided a minimum area, say 8,000 sq. ft. were adopted, blocks can be adapted to the designs. He did not favour the cutting down of allotments too much. Mr. Harris did not agree with this view and said that Australia was much behind the world in this matter and that the position would have to be reviewed in the light of present day difficulties. Mr. Potts said that in the final issue, he was guided by the views of the client department.
At the instance of Mr. Harris, there was then a discussion as to the extent to which semi-detached houses could be used, as had been repeatedly recommended by the Committee. These must, of course, have been placed on narrower frontages, otherwise no saving would be effected. The idea was to save land and increase the density of the population. It was arranged that Mr. Miller would submit to the Committee later more detailed plans of the types available for the 500 steel-framed houses.