The local Councils and NIMBY community associations have discovered a fresh mantra. 

They have been shocked by the recent turn of public opinion against them, led by the rise of the YIMBY activists, finally speaking up for the interests of younger generations and for housing supply.

The NIMBY forces have responded by blithely (and in many cases, disingenuously) claiming that they support increased housing supply, but only when it is supported by “infrastructure”.

Infrastructure is the new fig leaf hiding the horror of the naked truth of the NIMBY.

Now this is hard to argue against, indeed, it is clear that water, sewerage systems, roads, public transport, provisions for social infrastructure like schools, medical facilities and public open space must be part of increasing urban density or planning for the delivery of new greenfield communities.

So, let’s examine the case of the NSW Government’s recent decision to increase the height of buildings and the floor space ratio around 37 selected Transport Oriented Developments (TODs), and the reaction to this announcement.


What is a “tier-two TOD”?

The nominated TOD areas span selected heavy rail or metro stations in Greater Sydney and individually, encompass a 400m radius from a defined GPS point, usually the station’s overpass.

According to the recently released SEPP, developments within this 400m radial circle are allowed:

  • Maximum building heights were increased to 22m for residential flat buildings, and
  • 24m for shop top housing;
  • Shop-top housing in larger Commercial Centres (only 7 of the 37 stations have E1 Commercial Centre zoning within the TOD area) but not residential flat buildings;
  • Apartments and shop-top housing development in E2 local centres; and
  • A Floor Space Ratio (FSR) of 2.5:1 (reduced from the exhibited draft proposal of 3:1)

There will also be a requirement for 2% affordable housing to be provided in perpetuity to a community housing provider (CHPs) for any development in a tier 2 TOD area.


2% affordable housing to be provided in physical form – a miss step

This is one point of the new policy where the government has stumbled.  Because of what appears to be an oversight from the Department, they have belatedly found that the current Regulations mandate that the affordable housing be provided by way of physical stock.

This means dribs and drabs of affordable housing will be allocated to CHPs.  This is highly inefficient for CHPs and is not sensible in what are still, relatively modest developments (a development of 48 apartments would yield less than one physical property for the CHP).

A more sensible approach would be to amend the relevant regulation (no legislative change is needed) and allow for a financial contribution to a CHP to be administered by DPHI or by the local Council for the purpose of funding a CHP to provide affordable housing in a building where they can obtain economies of scale.

While initial announcement of the TOD policy in December was clumsy, with an accidental leak of the station locations appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald after the details were inadvertently uploaded onto the DPHI’s website (and were quickly taken down after the horse had bolted).

Confirmation of those details came with an official announcement involving the Premier and Ministers a couple of weeks later, in December.


Broad consultation began

The Department of Planning (DPHI) embarked on an extensive consultation process.

Some Councils were “outraged” as a matter of principle.  Others were offended that they were cast as the enemy before consultation even began.

Some, like Burwood Council, actually called for more height and density, while expressing concern that the selection of sites within their council boundaries were not akin to the areas preferred by Council to deliver significant numbers of additional housing.

A few Councils (Lake Macquarie, Canterbury Bankstown and Central Coast) actually approached the Government and asked for additional stations in their LGAs to be listed as tier two TOD station areas.  Accordingly, a new announcement of an additional 6 tier two TOD stations areas was announced, bringing the total to 37.

The selection of the stations was based on transport infrastructure capacity (available seats on the rail or metro line and capacity within the water supply and sewer drainage/treatment systems).  This is precisely what the NSW Productivity Commissioner, Peter Achterstraat recommended under both the former coalition government and the current Labor Government in NSW.

We have a housing supply crisis after all.  No-one disputes this anymore.


NIMBY hypocrisy exposed!

Increased housing supply based on areas with available infrastructure capacity! That’s what the NIMBYs said they wanted.  So why would those NIMBYs, who say they support housing supply as long as there is infrastructure to support it, oppose this?

This is where they have been exposed as being disingenuous.  Saying they want “infrastructure” to support housing supply is just another way to oppose density and housing growth.

One Council, Kuring-Gai, a serial offender, openly snubbed former conservative Ministers Stokes and Roberts on housing targets. They have now taken out an ad on page 22 of the Daily Telegraph (28/4/2024) opposing the government’s new TOD policy accusing it of failing to support growth with infrastructure.

An area with the largest houses, the most public open space, the highest number of private back yard tennis courts and swimming pools and available space on the North Shore line (created in part by the massive public funding for the new Metro), opposes increased housing density of a relatively modest scale, within 400m of major rail stations like Gordon, Lindfield and Killara. Seriously?

That said, it is very pleasing to see some councils are coming on board and are nominating stations as tier 1 TOD station areas.

However, it is a little concerning that some stations, which will be converted from Heavy Rail to a new Metro Rail service along the Sydenham to Bankstown corridor, have now been designated T2 TODs (thus effectively under-scoped for growth) and are not subject to a broader precinct plan that is only happening with the eight Tier 1 TOD sites (where there is a larger radius of 1.2Km and promises of larger increases in height and density).

The former head of the Commonwealth Department of Transport, Mike Mrdak AO and Queensland transport expert, Amanda Yates, were commissioned to undertake an Independent Review into Sydney Metro. They were explicit in saying ALL metro stations should be accompanied by a land use planning study and a substantial uplift to height and density in order to facilitate housing supply growth.

Recommendation 4a of the Sydney Metro Independent Review Final Report Summary (December 2023) states:

“4a. In respect of viable enhancements to the existing Sydney Metro West project, that Sydney Metro (supported as appropriate by NSW Treasury, the Department of Planning & Environment, and TfNSW) should:

  1. Prepare a whole-of-precinct land-use analysis for the existing 9-station precincts, incorporating assessments of relevant Government and other major landholdings, current zonings and constraints, a preferred plan for how these (enlarged) precincts could best support a significant increase in housing supply to meet Sydney’s medium- and longer-term housing targets, and a succinct end-state vision enabling all Government, industry, and community stakeholders to align investment behind a common master-planning strategy.”

This is basic common sense. When the Government decides to spend billions of dollars on a city shaping project, like any metro upgrade, this should be backed up with a comprehensive re-evaluation of the existing land uses surrounding those stations. That is the basic concept behind a TOD.


A move in the right direction

We will judge the TOD policy by its results, but an early suggestion can be drawn from the Mrdak – Yates review.  All new stations should be supported by tier 2 TOD precinct designation.

For now, we have 37 new tier 2 TOD precincts.  The Minister for Planning, Paul Scully, has predicted they will deliver 170,000 new homes over 15 years. While it sounds like a lot, this remains a modest contribution to the NSW Housing accord target of 377,000 over the coming 5 years (76,000 completed new dwellings each year for five years starting from July 1) – but at least it’s a start.

Time will tell.  If we are not hitting the targets, we may have to revisit the heights and densities – if not for these TOD areas, then for others. But the announcement of the details is certainly a step in the right direction for housing supply and affordability.


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