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Why Melbourne has planned better for growth than Sydney

Date

Michael Koziol

Bold action needed as thousands forced out by housing shortage

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 better of job of building sufficient housing for its growing population, particularly in the inner city.

“[Sydney's] slow supply has a big impact on the cost of housing because there's just not enough of it," Johnson says.

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 welcome 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 Pru Goward. 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.

"I think that’s driven by the lack of housing," Johnson says.

They're obviously doing something right down there, and it's now imperative that we catch up.

Michael Koziol is a Fairfax journalist.

228 comments so far

  • Here we go again, Melb,Melb,Melb!No traffic, that's bull. They have AFL, enough said! Go and live there then!

    Commenter
    zeldatea
    Date and time
    June 01, 2014, 7:33PM
    • It's an opportune time to have an open and fair debate about the future of Sydney. With the ever increasing population, spiralling house prices and increasing permanent traffic problems, there has to be a better way.

      Sydney has the harbour and beaches, but that doesn't really make up for the lack of planning and crumbling transport infrastructure.

      Not everybody wants to live in a cavernous house on a high maintenance 1/4 acre block, 1 persons "leafy nirvana" is another persons high maintenance, weed strewn hell.

      There is no reason Sydney with it's natural wonders, could not be complemented by its human made environment.

      Yes let's look at other cities, and it's not just Melbourne that is a heck of a lot better laid out than Sydney.

      Commenter
      Bobo
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 01, 2014, 8:33PM
    • This is not about how much better Melbourne is to live. It's about Sydney's constipated property market. Given Sydney's house prices there should be cranes in every direction. Instead there is little development in the suburbs surrounding the city. And what is remarkable is that much of the housing stock in these areas is plain ugly. Seriously when will Sydney get over the two story terrace? How many do they want retained? They were built for poor people a century ago and architecturally we have move on from them. The frustration is how many people have to move out of this city and of this country because the cost of getting a basic two unit apartment in Sydney is so over the top ie $500k for a one bedder. That is just not sustainable. Sydney needs a wake up call - firstly there aren't the jobs aren't here to support those prices and secondly it's not economically a good thing that every penny someone earns goes into their home. It's not good because retail suffers and if there is a downturn here a lot of people are going to learn their shirts.

      Commenter
      Fish and chips
      Location
      Pyrmont
      Date and time
      June 01, 2014, 8:48PM
    • Has anyone bothered to check house prices overseas? Just being there, I can say that Sydney & Australia is comparable. Media talk up how expensive it is in Australia. Try & buy something in Europe. Just as expensive! It's all media hype... As usual. It's about time the media stopped trying to whip everyone into a frenzy when it is the same the world over...but that doesn't make for good story, does it!

      Commenter
      BP
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 01, 2014, 11:12PM
    • Sydney is stuffed. over the last 30 years, just 3 new roads have been built, but new car sales have gone up 300%, from 300,000 pa to more than 1 million.

      Sydney is utterly stuffed. Soon you'll (not me) be living in supa hi-rises, living your entire life without ever touching the ground. The only wildlife you'll see are drunks in the stairwells and Toney Abbott election night farewell parties.

      Its called hell.

      Commenter
      Axis
      Date and time
      June 01, 2014, 11:14PM
    • @zeldatea I did move to Melbourne - from Killarney Heights to West Footscray. Ironically I live closer to the beach now than I did when I lived in the Northern Beaches and the CBD too. This despite a big drop in pay and leaving a nice area. The traffic and poor public transport even shopping on weekends or going to the beach was too much. CBD there is colder than Melbourne in winter. Needs improvement. Love Sydney for all its pluses though - even still read the SMH over The Age!

      Commenter
      Bennopia
      Date and time
      June 01, 2014, 11:17PM
    • Insert desperate hard working house mortgagees comment here. Its so true that its just a city of hard working over stressed people who only focus on money. Living in other city's and moving back to Sydney you realize its about survival here not enjoying the short life we all live. Take a good guess why.

      Commenter
      Escape the trap
      Date and time
      June 01, 2014, 11:50PM
    • Beyond the theme park CBD, Melbourne is as much of a sprawling mess as Sydney, Brisbane or any other city. The real problem is that our corrupt governments can only countenance a direct transition from urban sprawl to Hong Kong hovels, because that's what their developer masters like. Properly-built medium density apartments with good parks and well-serviced public transport, although a good compromise between the need for higher density and quality of life, can't be entertained in Australia simply because it doesn't maximise developers' profits.

      Commenter
      Blimp
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      June 02, 2014, 12:30AM
    • I agree with the other comments: Sydney is an amazing city, but it's growth is completely hampered as is. something has to give or else either people won't be able to afford housing anymore and traffic will be worse than Beijing, or the problems can be fixed and Sydney can continue being an amazing city. this isn't about Melb being better, it's about what they're doing right that Sydney can use to keep getting better.

      Commenter
      Andrew
      Date and time
      June 02, 2014, 1:56AM
    • No discernible traffic in Melbourne?! Was the author blindfolded when he visited Melbourne? Check the traffic cameras at 7 am and retract that ridiculous statement.

      Commenter
      Peaches
      Date and time
      June 02, 2014, 7:00AM

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