Tanya Plibersek

19 May 2010 – Federal Housing Minister Tanya Plibersek today scotched any notion that she would support deregulated zoning in order to create more affordable housing, despite the Productivity Commission’s recent announcement that it would look at the idea in its inquiry into development controls.

A “zoning free for all does not deliver livable communities” Ms Plibersek told The Fifth Estate in an exclusive interview this morning after speaking at a Property Council of Australia breakfast in Sydney.

The issue of zoning and if it was to be deregulated was now a matter for consideration by the Productivity commission and it had been “raised regularly in discussions on the housing supply question,” she said.

However, it was “important to have a zoning system that  “talks to the existing community and was clear on land use in their area.”

A “free for all was not a good outcome. We need to know what land is suitable for home and where transport can be located. We need to know where to place the hospitals and the schools,” Ms Plibersek said.

It was also important to know that there was enough land for commercial needs.

Ms Plibersek’s comments come after the Productivity Commission announced last month that it would examine the issue of zoning among its inquiry into development controls. The move followed years of intense lobbying from some members of the property development industry, notably the Urban Task Force and groups such as the Institute of Public Affairs and Demographia, to deregulate zoning as a way to bring down the price of housing. See our coverage of the issue here.

Planners and the PCA oppose competition policy applied to planning, arguing that cities need a more orderly approach to their development. There is also fierce debate about claims that a free for all zoning brings down prices: they may well do, argue the critics of the deregulation movement, but this may because so few people want to live in such places.

During her speech to the Property Council breakfast, Ms Plibersek ranged through the now familiar dilemmas of how to stimulate more housing – and more affordable and more demographically appropriate (smaller) housing in the face of structural difficulties such as long lead times for development approvals and pricing pressures.

The issue has become more central and of heightened concern to the Federal Government over the past year and it was an issue the Prime Minister was taking “very very seriously,”  Ms Plibersek told the several hundred guests assembled in the Four Seasons hotel ballroom.

That was because housing was so important – “not just for social reasons” and the security it provided in terms of a home and as a buffer against poverty in old age, but also because rising house prices led to higher interest rates which in turn impacted on businesses’ ability to borrow and consequently on the whole economy.

PCA breakfast with Tanya Plibersek May 2010

“The stimulus package hit exactly at the right time and the numbers of people inspecting display home was up immediately,” she said, with “almost 246,000 people assisted in buying their own home.”

Now a spate of low cost housing projects were under way directly and through the National Rental Affordability Scheme to developers.

In Perth the Yaran Property Group has been approved to build 1114 homes  under the NRAS and another eight major applications were under way, she said.

Ms Plibersek said the federal Government’s establishment of a Major Cities Unit proved that the Federal Government took seriously the issues facing expanding cities, especially the provision of housing and infrastructure.

Some of the assistance packages that would be most useful and have long lasting consequences included $414,000 provided to Sydney City council and 10 other inner city council to identify affordable rental housing opportunities and to develop best practice guidelines to continue doing this in the future.

Federal Minister for Housing Tanya Plibersek in conversation with Welcome to the Residential Development Council of Australia executive director Caryn Kakas

Ms Plibersek said one of the reasons that local residents often opposed higher densities was fear – “Councillors are very sensitive to people’s fears”, but then there was a lot to be fearful about – with many developments just plain “ugly”, she said.

“An increase in densities doesn’t have to mean a loss of amenity.”

Ms Plibersek pointed to Potts Point where the influx of residents following the conversion of hotels to apartments made the area a more interesting experience for residents, and was now “very sought after”.

tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au

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