Melbourne Sprawl Continues to Spread Unchecked

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Thursday, November 26th, 2015
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A record high spike in sales of Melbourne’s greenfield lots coincides with calls from both government and academia for curbs on the spread of the city’s peripheral sprawl.

Despite the trend toward high-rise densification in Melbourne’s downtown core, sprawl continues to expand along the city’s undeveloped fringes at record rates.

Data just released by the National Land Survey indicates that the sales of greenfield lots in Melbourne have hit an unprecedented high, surging well past previous peaks for the city.

According to the National Land Survey Melbourne saw nearly 1,900 lot sales during each calendar month of the September quarter – a figure roughly 25 per cent higher compared to the last cyclical high six years ago, when purchases were spurred by home ownership incentives.

Melbourne’s greenfield sales currently comprise 25 per cent of the national total, with a low median lot price relative to other cities of just $211,000.

The data coincides with calls from both government and academic experts to curb the unchecked growth of sprawl in Melbourne due to its inequitable social effects and negative environmental impact.

Speaking to The Guardian in September, Carolyn Whitzman, professor of urban planning at the University of Melbourne, called for the government to place significant restrictions on the expansion of sprawl in the Victorian capital.

“A first step is to do what other cities have done: set a growth boundary and stick to it,” she said. “We need to stop the speculation at the edges and fund infrastructure to keep pace with the population growth.”

The Victorian government’s Plan Melbourne refresh discussion paper also seeks to mitigate sprawl expansion, proposing that established parts of the city absorb 70 per cent of new housing needed by mid-century.

According to the paper, less than a third of the 1.6 million new homes that Melbourne’s growing population will require by 2051 need to be built in greenfield areas.

Concerns have already arisen that urban sprawl could boost the cost of fresh food for Melbournians in future by diminishing the amount of agricultural production within a reasonable distance of populated areas.

Deakin University’s Dr. Rachel Carey recently told Fairfax that the Melbourne “food bowl” of farms on the city’s fringes currently supplies 41 per cent of all the city’s fresh fruit and vegetables. This figure could drop to under 20 per cent by mid-century, however due to ongoing population growth and the attendant spread of urban sprawl, which will place agricultural producers at a greater remove from the city.

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