Gerard Reinmuth

27 February 2012 – The NSW Urban Taskforce has launched a glossy new magazine, with content by some of Sydney’s most influential designers and planners, to back its dramatic call to find infill sites to accommodate Sydney’s expected need for 500,000 new dwellings.

The magazine, Urban Ideas, is complete with concepts from Melbourne and Brisbane that encourage apartment development and ideas from prominent designers  Gerard Reinmuth of Terroir, Tone Wheeler of Environa, Stephen Moore of Robertsday, Nick Turner of Turner & Associates, Adam Russell of Draw and Stephanie Smith of Innovarchi.

Tone Wheeler

Sustainable architect Tone Wheeler told The Fifth Estate that he interpreted the new strategy by the taskforce to focus more on infill rather than greenfield development was a recognition by its members that their future was more closely related to medium density development than detached housing.

The appointment of Chris Johnson, a former NSW Government architect as new chief executive officer of the Taskforce, was an “inspired choice” according to Mr Wheeler, because, “Chris knows how to bring people together.

“He’s very connected and very good at putting things together.”

Launching the magazine on Monday, Mr Johnson said Sydney was at a tipping point where the character of the city is evolving from a suburban model to a more urban model.

“Increasingly, younger people are preferring to live close to amenities including shops, transport and work even if this means a different type of house,” Mr Johnson said.

“With the Metropolitan Plan targeting 770,000 new housing units by 2036 and 70 per cent of these likely to be in infill sites, we believe, the best way to accommodate this increased growth is in apartments up to 25 metres [about six storeys] in height.”

He said that to accommodate 500,000 apartments in six storey buildings would require 15 square kilometres of land, but to build 500,000 detached houses would require 225 square kilometres.

The Taskforce, a property development industry group representing prominent property developers and equity financiers, has included its strategies in its submission to the review of SEPP 65 – the policy that covers the design of residential flats.

The big issue now is supply not design, Mr Johnson said.

Stephanie Smith

“The design of apartments has improved dramatically since the SEPP was introduced 10 years ago. What we now need is to drive the supply of well designed apartment buildings in appropriate locations.”

The seven step plan calls for stronger state leadership and better ways to involve communities in the early strategic planning stages.

The taskforce also proposes that all apartment building proposals should be determined by the Joint Regional Planning Panels.

“The most important initiative to drive supply is to use a code assessable system for apartments below 25  metres,” Mr Johnson said. “This is based on the successful Queensland model where up to 80 per cent of all applications are determined in this manner.

“Community involvement needs to be focussed at the early planning stages so that the detailed assessment is made in relation to the controls for height, bulk and setbacks agreed by the community.

“Essentially we need a simpler planning system. Our concern is that the number of rules now applying to apartment buildings means we are getting design by regulation not design by innovation”.

Future issues of Urban Ideas which Mr Johnson expects to be published four times a year, will investigate the public  domain related to changing  retail trends, the new workplace that requires more flexible, mixed use zoning,  and other issues that relate to the changing nature of urban environment. It is currently published online and in a limited print run.

Mr Wheeler said there several other designers involved in the project and believed more would join.

The Fifth Estate – sustainable property news and forum