Chris Johnson

One thing you can say about Chris Johnson as head of the NSW Urban Task Force is that he knows how to work with media. Love or loathe his messages on behalf of the lobby group’s members, you certainly got to know what they were.

On the positive side were the clever programs working with leading architects to come up with great visions for Parramatta Road, for instance. As a former NSW Government Architect, that was a walk in the park for Johnson.

In the wake of one particular event that showcased some fabulous ideas for this ugly, traffic clogged major entry to a beautiful city, the wonder was why nothing had ever happened to turn those visions into reality. Drive down Parramatta Road towards Broadway today and you can’t help thinking that creative thinking remains wasted.

On the more negative side of his agenda Johnson drove some people nuts with his unabashed defence of his members and promotion of their ideas. The most galling perhaps the call for super high buildings in the city so that Sydney could hold its head up alongside other global monoliths. The timing was just off kilter there. Coming in strong was the sustainability wave and the knowledge that super high buildings may save on land footprint but they are voracious on resources and carbon footprint, not to mention the weirdness of living or working where it’s so high up you can almost feel the winds from the polar vortex swishing you around.

But stranger still was his pairing up with the arch defender of the status quo, the Save Our Suburbs mob to scuttle support for the Missing Middle program that encourages small infill developments in the suburbs. One of our contributors suggested it was to stop these mum and dad projects taking away demand for his members’ mid to high rise apartment products. Surely not? Surely there’s enough demand to go around? The answer to that remains elusive to this day.

Taking Johnson’s place will be Tom Forrest, who like his predecessor, has close connections to government – as you’d expect of an industry that likes to keep particularly close to its governing bodies.

Forrest will start the job on 11 November, taking over as chief executive from Johnson’s eight years in the role. He comes from jobs advising NSW ministers in key areas of treasury, planning, health, the Olympics and premier’s office. He’s also been in the senior ranks of the public service including the Department of Premier and Cabinet and Transport portfolios.

“More recently, Tom assisted private sector clients, including commercial and residential developers, navigate often complex regulatory landscapes,” a statement from the Taskforce said on Thursday.

Perfect for the job, in other words.

These further comments from chair of the group Peter Daly are revealing: “The development industry is currently facing a range of public policy and perception challenges, and its role as a key driver of economic growth has, in recent times, been diminished. We believe Tom has the right background, experience and energy to advocate strongly and effectively for the industry in an increasingly complicated space.”

Forrest said, among other things: “A strong and consistent supply of quality new housing and apartments will deliver improvements in residential amenity, sustainability through smart design and technology, and housing affordability.” Note the call for more supply again, even in the midst of an oversupply and falling prices and confidence in the apartment market.

Forrest said he takes on the role with a strong desire for an evidence-based policy approach to housing supply and development, and that’s encouraging.

Daly acknowledged the “outstanding contribution” Johnson has made as CEO.

“Chris has been an excellent and prominent advocate for our members and has led the organisation with distinction. We look forward to him remaining a friend and supporter of the Urban Taskforce well into the future.”

We’ll miss the quick and easy media grabs.

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  1. Strange that going up rather than out is not a sustainability issue. I have advocated for less low rise horizontal spread as Sydney grows from 5 million people to 8 million over 30 to 40 years. My support for high-rise has been on the basis of Sydney moving to a Metro rail network that moves people off cars onto trains… sounds like a sustainable argument but the Fish Estate seems to be against height and presumably prefers more spread of Sydney into our ring of National Parks. On a similar issue when I promoted smaller homes as Australia has the largest houses in the world (Melbourne Uni research says in 1950 our houses had 30 sq m per person but now have 90 sq m per person) that a move to smaller homes in apartments, with a more co-operative life style of sharing (rather than owning) amenities, the Fifth Estate said I was promoting slums.
    I stand by my advocacy of a more co-operative approach to living in densities that lead to walking over driving and that support an effective rapid public transport system. But I am amazed that the Fifth Estate seems to not support this approach presumably preferring a city of McMansions spreading across endless landscapes that require more and more cars. Chris Johnson

    1. Not at all Chris. Our issue was with super high rise, which consumes massive amounts of energy and resources to build and maintain. The best answers are usually somewhere in the middle. Density is very achievable with mid rise up to six storeys the experts tell us and sustainability isn’t as simplistic as just being able to walk and catch public transport. On housing being too small and relying on shared amenity that’s another story. But it’s worth flagging that if this is the industry’s permanent solution to affordability, then are we giving up on the Great Australian Dream of owning our own homes and returning to a feudalistic style system of a few big landlords and the rest renters?

  2. …..The development industry is currently facing a range of public policy and perception challenges, and its role as a key driver of economic growth ….and climate change 25% of our GHG emissions comes from construction, shoddy units,congestion,pollution and the urban hot islands that will kill people.