John Brogden at the UrbanGrowth, Home Conference, Penrith 11 March 2013

28 March 2013 – UrbanGrowth chairman John Brogden can see it.
NSW has an urgent need to fast track housing – 545,000 new homes in 20 years if you look at the wish list in the new metro strategy for Sydney. Yet this goal does not have to be at the expense of sustainability, Brogden says.

Speaking between sessions at the Home Conference by UrbanGrowth at Penrith earlier this month, Brogden told The Fifth Estate that sustainability was core to UrbanGrowth as it was to Landcom, its previous incarnation.

“As we were at Landcom for many years and we are at UrbanGrowth we take a leadership position on sustainability and we hope to continue that role.”

“But sustainability should not be at the expense of supply.  The clear indication from government is our role is to improve supply of housing. It doesn’t mean it can’t be sustainable at the same time.

Delegates between sessions

“Our challenge now is to deliver more housing. We need 25,000 homes a year and we’re delivering only 15,000.

“It’s no use building 25,000 lots is if they’re not sustainable and no use to build only 15,000 if they are.

“We need to ensure the market is large enough [for both targets] he said.

In his address to the conference, Brodgen said robust discussion was key and the conference was designed to stimulate that.

“There are two main themes the industry is wrestling with – housing affordability and housing supply. We need to work together to find a way to deliver the estimated half a million new homes we’ll need in the next 20 years in an affordable and achievable way.

The conference could not be better timed.

The level of debate over housing supply, density and planning, has been steadily rising, reaching almost fever pitch recently in The Fifth Estate as resident groups suddenly realised the planning reforms for NSW will lock them out of project specific objections.

Bob Hamilton

Bob Hamilton UrbanGrowth director
Speaking between conference sessions, Urban Growth board member and a co-founder of Mirvac Bob Hamilton said that there was nothing new about opposition to development.

“I’ve been in the business for 55 years and for 55 years I’ve been having the same problems,” he said.

“They don’t want change and the city has got to change whether you want it or not.

“The answer in Sydney isn’t necessarily high rise,” Hamilton said.

He pointed to UrbanGrowth’s Thornton project with its low rise terraces, garage top apartments and townhouses a stone’s throw from the railway station at Penrith as a good way to achieve higher density without high rise.

Panel session

“Developments such as Thornton create increased densities without the upheaval of high rise everywhere. And

“Except in central areas where you have railway stations and good transport you’ve got to have the increased densities and high rise.

“For Parramatta Road to be reviltalised, the only way to that is to have higher densities.”

Hamilton thought local councils could carry some of the blame for this resistance to change, he indicated.

“I live in Mosman and 80 per cent of the people there voted not to amalgamate with North Sydney.”

Left to right: Bob Hamilton UrbanGrowth NSW, Michael Brooks former CEO Real Property Association of Canada, Julian Frecklington, GM urban strategy, UrbanGrowth NSW

Michael Brooks on the Toronto experience

The conference featured Canadian speaker Michael Brooks, former chief executive of the Real Property Association of Canada.

Brooks drew some analogies between his home town Toronto and Sydney in terms of housing pressures, land scarcities and geographic barriers to growth.

The challenge was to build higher density lower cost housing to allow young people to enter the market, Brooks said.

Toronto has its own “Blue Mountains” type of barriers by way of aquifers and rich farmland.

“We don’t want the sprawl to cut food supply,” Brooks said

Delegates

“And our mountains are much closer in and much closer to the boundaries.

“So our overall vision is to stop sprawl, save that farmland and get people out of cars, get them walking cycling and taking transit.”

Transport is a big item for debate: whether to spend money on more underground rail or buses, which are cheaper.

Another is issue is about parking requirements.

“One recent high rise condo has zero parking. It sold out in one weekend,” Brooks said.

Delegates

“Why? Because people who live, work and shop downtown don’t need a car. And you don’t want to be forced to buy a car. You can rent a car and you can rent a bike on a hourly or daily basis.”

Parking spaces are naturally at a premium, up to $80,000 each.

High rise as dating machine

High rise apartment living was a “dating machine”, Brooks said, with “twenty-somethings riding the elevator with each other – it’s sold on lifestyle by people who do not put value on the grass out their back door.”

Brooks touched on an important part of residential development. Without sufficient density the retail spaces that can activate the street and make it interesting to be in or attractive to shop locally, won’t happen.

Quiet streets are fine, but the butcher and the baker will eventually shut down.

Any vibrant area also needs a mix of demographics, such as young people moving in.

On affordability, the Torono developers ” kept prices down by shrinking the size of condos”

In her session at the conference, Jane-Frances Kelly program director for cities at the Grattan Institute thought Australia had a lack of experience in high-rise development – and was therefore low on innovation for the sector. Which might be part of the reason higher density housing was still beyond the reach of many first home owners.

Another clear similarity between Sydney and Toronto, Brooks said, was resident opposition to development in general and densities in particular, he said.

However, it was not clear that the planners of Toronto are any better at managing resident opposition than Sydney’s. As one delegate at the conference pointed out, Brooks noted that developers typically needed to factor in a cool $500,000 or so for delays to each project in planning delays.

By Tina Perinotto, The Fifth Estate