It struck me on a recent trip south that Melburnians appear to be living in some sort of nirvana. Not only is there no 1.30am lockout, no discernable traffic and no State of Origin, but property in Melbourne is vaguely affordable, whether to rent or buy.
As a born and bred Sydneysider, this is astounding. Here, a fibro shack within cooee of a train station will soak up most of your income. There, agents are flogging new CBD apartments for $400 a week.
Chris Johnson, head of the Urban Taskforce which represents property developers, says Sydney’s price premium is partly driven by our harbour views, which drive the top end of the market. But Melbourne has also done a much betterjob of building sufficient housing for its growing population, particularly in the inner city.
New government figures published by the Herald show an additional 2 million people will live in NSW by 2031, and more than 660,000 homes will need to materialise in Sydney itself. These are revised forecasts and could be revised upward again.How these 5.9 million Sydneysiders will co-exist in a city adamant not to build anything is unclear.
The newly-announced Darling Square precinct, which will house 4000 people across seven towers on the old Entertainment Centre site, is a welcomed development. Even there, in the middle of the CBD, some dared to suggest that 40 storeys would be simply too high.
Sydney councils like to boast of meeting and exceeding their growth targets as set by the state government. But these remain fairly muted aspirations. Leichhardt, for example, was required to build 2400 new dwellings from 2004 to 2036 – an average of 75 a year.
The “not in my backyard” crowd is often characterised as a benign, pro-sustainability collective who just want to preserve their quaint cafes and quiet streets from the looming threat of outsiders.
But the true face of NIMBYism is a professional resistance movement comprising older generations who, having inherited or negatively geared their way into property ownership, have no interest in it being affordable to anybody else. Planning expert Bill Randolph told the Herald this week that a “real tension” will arise if older households fail to downsize and make way for young families, who increasingly want to raise kids in urban areas.
The state’s new planning laws are now the domain of PruGoward. At the heart of the legislation is a smart sentiment – decide on a planning framework and then stick with it, instead of endless debate about any one development proposal. But even this is needlessly more complex than simply following a well-worn path: take what Melbourne does and do the opposite.
Our Melburnian cousins have courageously proposed to build 1.6 million new dwellings by 2051, with two-thirds of them being apartments. This is good. But at least 50 per cent of the city’s residential land will be quarantined from development by allowing local councils to declare a “neighbourhood residential zone”. Such a zoning, which could be applied to “areas with neighbourhood character overlays” (whatever that is), would prohibit townhouses and apartments, leaving only the barren monotone of detached suburbia.
Rather than these flat-earth zones, where high-rise is verboten, Sydney should ban the construction of free-standing homes anywhere east of, say, Parramatta. All new construction would have a minimum density requirement. Any redevelopment of existing property would need to at least double its occupancy capacity, including home-owners undertaking a knock-down-and-rebuild.
Under this system, heritage would be preserved while also recognising that it cannot and need not last forever. Sprawling estates could still be permitted at the city’s edge, for those who maintain that children cannot be raised without a palatial rumpus room and a hills hoist.
Would such a bold idea ever be implemented in fair Sydney, where geography rules and everybody wants a mansion? Absolutely not. But it’s worth wondering why, according to Chris Johnson, NSW loses about 20,000 people each year to other states, chiefly Victoria and Queensland. The same does not happen in reverse.
They’re obviously doing something right down there, and it’s now imperative that we catch up.
Michael Koziol, The Age, 1st June 2014
Image credits: Donaldytong (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons