Above: Warrigal Care CEO, Mark Sewell, celebrates with residents of Warrigal Care Coniston.

By Stephen Easton

Celebrations were in order today at Warrigal Care Coniston after its owner received the green light to build a new, modern replacement for the high care facility, located in Wollongong on the NSW South Coast.

Last week, the NSW Land and Environment Court gave partial approval to the project, which had stalled after Wollongong City Council rejected the organisation’s development application in 2010.

Warrigal Care can now prepare the beachfront site, located a few kilometres away from the Coniston facility, and build a three-storey, 120-bed residential aged care home, incorporating an age-friendly community plaza for all local seniors with underground parking.

The non-profit group also plans to build two high-rise blocks of serviced apartments for retired singles and couples, on top of the new nursing home.

Although the court stopped short of approving the six-storey retirement towers, Warrigal Care’s CEO, Mark Sewell, is confident planning authorities will allow the second stage of the project to go ahead after a fresh round of community consultation.

Above: An artist’s impression of the planned Warrigal Care development in Wollongong, NSW, which has received planning approval for a three-storey aged care facility, but still awaits the green light for two six-storey blocks of serviced apartments.

“We’re as confident as you can be,” Mr Sewell said. “The council is certainly more positive than it has been before… Since the new council was elected last year, we have a new mayor and new councillors, and they seem a lot more cooperative and helpful.”

Before the development application was rejected in 2010, Wollongong City Council had been sacked by the NSW Government on the advice of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), which found “systemic corruption” related to property development.

The administrators appointed to run the council were understandably cautious about any new development proposals, Mr Sewell said, which made it difficult for Warrigal Care to differentiate its benevolent purposes from those of commercial property developers.

As well as facilitating ageing in place and social inclusion for residents, the new facility will provide a high-quality replacement for the Coniston site, which will reach the end of its life in 2015 and is unsuitable for renovation to modern standards. 

“This is the kind of place older people should live,” Mr Sewell said. “Many aged care places and seniors housing precincts are quite closed off and separate. The last thing we want is people to feel they can’t have contact with the community.

“Older people should be part of civic life, and this new home is designed so they can get out and about, and their relatives can visit easily.

“The first floor is an open community plaza with a hairdresser, community rooms, a café, medical suites; all those things are available to older people who live across Wollongong, not only people who live on the site.”

Affordable housing for Blue Mountains retirees

A few hours drive north-west of Wollongong, UnitingCare Ageing has finished expanding and upgrading an affordable housing project for local retirees who live in Springwood, at the foot of the Blue Mountains.

The Springwood Court retirement community now has 18 modern apartments, following the renovation of 11 existing units and the construction of seven more. All are available for rent at 25 per cent below the market rate and were funded through the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS).

Regional Director of UnitingCare Ageing Western Region, Jenny Coutts, said the new units would give local seniors the opportunity to live in modern retirement accommodation, close to shops and services in the centre of town.

Above L-R: Faith Astle, chair of the UnitingCare Ageing Western Region board of directors and Jenny Coutts, regional director of UnitingCare Ageing Western Region.

“This will ensure seniors will be able to access more affordable accommodation, relieving some of the financial burden of renting on a low-to-moderate income,” Ms Coutts said.

“We are very excited to be delivering this project, which is part of UnitingCare Ageing’s commitment to assist seniors to stay in the communities they call home.”

Ms Coutts said that in addition to the 18 units, a new community room at the front of the development would provide the opportunity for local groups to meet and conduct activities on site.

“All of our units incorporate universal design standards, making them accessible and ideally-suited for seniors, as well as people with disabilities,” she said.

Aged care and independent living

Another aged care provider affiliated with the Uniting Church, Uniting Aged Care, has recently completed a much larger building project.

The $36 million residential aged care facility, in the Melbourne suburb of Kingsville, has 68 low and high care places as well as a specialised dementia unit, and is co-located with 49 retirement units called the Amarco Apartments.

The site also features day therapy services, a library, alfresco dining, a home cinema, workshop and gymnasium. 

Above: Uniting Aged Care residents, Reg and Elizabeth.

Uniting Aged Care’s executive director, Sharon Donovan, said providing greater choice was now the major priority in planning and providing services to older Australians. 

“Increasingly our focus is and will be to help people maintain greater control of their own lives,” Ms Donovan said. 

“Kingsville shows a model for how older people can remain present and active in the community, with rehabilitation services, home visits or relocation to on-site apartments or residential care.”

Local MP and federal Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, described the new facility as a magnificent contribution to aged care in her electorate. 

“People want to be able to remain independent for as long as possible and to do that they need the right kind of support,” the former health minister said. 

“By combining specialised residential care with independent living, the designers have created a living environment that integrates form with function.” 

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