NSW Transport Minister David Elliott quite rightly highlighted the vital role that rail infrastructure plays in supporting higher-density developments, but warns the potential risks being derailed by even a small number of poor quality apartments.

His comments about higher density near trains is backed up by a recent Committee for Sydney report, which showed that 40 per cent of Sydney’s population could be housed within walking distance of transport hubs within the next 20 years, resulting in a massive $16.3 billion windfall.

Young people want to live in apartments near public transport 

During his speech to a Property Council breakfast on Tuesday, Minister Elliott observed that high-quality public transport was especially important for developers looking to attract younger home buyers and tenants. 

The Minister confessed that he had been very much opposed in the past to higher density developments in the past, particularly through Sydney’s Hills district. 

However, he said he was having a conversion after seeing the transformational wave of new services and developments that had followed the opening of the Northwest Metro, as well as how it had been embraced by his 19 year old son.

“This generation just is not going to drive cars. That’s my prediction. And I thought there’s something wrong with him because he didn’t want to have his driver’s licence. But half of his mates haven’t got one either,” he said.

“We walk to a metro station from our house. He works at The Mean Fiddler [hotel], which means he just gets on and gets off at Rouse Hill. He’s studying at Macquarie University, which means that he can get on the metro at 8.30am and be at the university at 9am.

“His entertainment is at Castle Towers, with cinemas and pubs and bars and restaurants, which means that he walks down and he gets on the metro and every four minutes one comes and takes him to where he wants to go.”

Quality is the key

However, the Minister cautioned that there’s a big issue that threatens to derail higher density near train stations: poor quality apartments.

“When it comes to high density, but not certainly not limited to high density, quality is the key.

“We have a situation in this city at the moment where we’ve got senior bureaucrats telling people ‘don’t buy a unit under 20 years old’ because of the Mascot Towers, and I’ve got one in my electorate, which is an appalling construction job,” Minister Elliott said.

Without mentioning any particular company or building by name, the Minister alluded to dealing with a troubled apartment building in his Baulkham Hills electorate, which takes in Castle Hill (where the troubled Skyview apartment complex by Toplace is located).

“You couldn’t jump over the dollar bills that would be there if I had $1 for every representation I ever made to Fair Trading over one of the buildings in my electorate. It’s got flammable cladding. Certain developers have had to rip out hundreds, if not thousands, of bathrooms,” Minister Elliott said.

“I actually worry that the reputation of two or three developers and builders are going to completely destroy the reputation of high density housing in the city. I really do. And I know there are some brilliant ones.

“But if mum and dad tell their kids ‘don’t buy a unit, because we remember what happened with the Mascot Towers’, well then they’re not going to buy it. And they’re going to either delay their entry into the housing market, or are they going to force the prices up for low density housing and probably over commit themselves.”

If only we had a better apartment design guide…

Minister Elliott is quite right to be concerned about the quality of apartments. That’s why the former state planning minister, Rob Stokes, wisely included a best practice revised apartment design guide as a key part of his Design and Place SEPP policy

Unfortunately, Minister Stokes’ successor, Anthony Roberts, decided to abandon the revised ADG along with the rest of the SEPP, which was subsequently deleted from government websites.

The good news for Minister Elliott – and anyone else in New South Wales interested in better quality apartments, is that The Fifth Estate saved a copy.

And if poor quality apartments risk undermining higher density developments near good quality public transport, perhaps it’s time for the government to have a look.

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