As I was examining some properties in the upper northern suburbs of Sydney, the leafy suburbs where residents enjoy a great lifestyle, the planning officer noted many dual occupancy developments were no longer allowed as of 2011.
Such developments are now prohibited unless the allotment is a minimum 3,000 square metres, or 1,500 square metres of a future subdivision. My client showed me several examples of well-designed houses on 700 square metre lots.
The subject land had a bus stop at front which dropped students and office workers to the railway stations within 15 minutes. The stations were home to the shopping village with banks, retail stores, cafes and offices, all of which would benefit from more residents in the neighbourhood. Some of Sydney’s best schools, from prep to senior, were a quick five-minute drive away.
Sydney’s housing market has gone through the roof since the Carr Government made way for a more progressive - maybe too progressive - Baird government. People are crying out for housing supply. So why is local government being driven by ideology and ignoring the needs of the residents of the state?
In Greater Melbourne, there are pockets of large tracts of land where the minimum lot size is around 2000 square metres. And these are suburbs well served by economic growth corridors, new spends on infrastructure such as hospitals, freeways, university, business and even a proposed new railway station. But the local council is adamant that if you develop on or very close to the main road - and the rest of the suburb - they will fight tooth and nail at the tribunal.
This is an ideology creeping into local government which could be the root of the housing affordability crisis.
Recent new planning policies have introduced a percentage garden component which varies on size of land. A typical mid to outer Melbourne suburb where people want to live in a dual occupancy or townhouse development will be burdened by 35 per cent garden area requirements. That doubles the 18 per cent permeable surface area, in other words. So an about to retire mum and dad who could have built three homes on a typical block before the 35 per cent garden was introduced - one to live in and enjoy in retirement, one for a family member to live close by and a third to provide passive income - will be reduced to two dwellings.
The argument can be made that one could now go up three floors from the two floor previously allowed to free up that additional permeable land. That sounds good, but then you get into the prickly issue of neighbourhood character. New developments must respect neighbourhood character above all else.
And if one goes for a drive around the suburb or the street, three-storey developments would most likely be absent. So council can now use its discretionary powers and refuse a three-storey development on neighbourhood character grounds. So talk of building upward is all just words - and more pain for our State’s residents.
Until such time as we remove the neighbourhood character caveat, we will continue to have housing shortages, at least until greenfield sites get finally developed.