Monday’s headline in The Sydney Morning Herald – Sydneysiders in revolt over development as two-thirds declare the city is ‘full’ – decidedly captured the community’s response to the government’s high population growth projections and accompanying urban renewal areas.
As expected, industry lobbyist Chris Johnson from the Urban Taskforce hit back, playing the intergenerational blame game, along with Greater Sydney Commission’s Lucy Turnbull and friends in the Tele on Monday with a well-oiled response.
Looking past the headlines, what’s the truth?
A few facts: Sydney is set to grow by another one million people over the coming decade, on par with London and New York – far bigger cities. The bottom line is that Sydney’s growth rate (and Melbourne’s) is high compared with other global OECD cities. Australia has a long track record of relying on high population growth rate to prop up its economy, which may well falter if the breaks are put on.
At the same time, our high population growth rate has serious implications for infrastructure and liveability. High densification and urbanisation also have a major impact on land prices and consequently house prices, along with the economisation and globalisation of our housing market. There’s also our tax problems. All in all, a complex set of dynamics.
In the meantime, the NSW Coalition government, reliant on the property sector to drive the economy, is pulling out all stops to fast-track development.
Its solution is to push hard on complex and politically sensitive infill development where infrastructure is already in place, albeit this comes with some serious challenges. In doing so, the government is cherry picking the concept of transit orientated development (which has long been attractive to the property industry) by prioritising urban renewal areas.
However, these precincts are often not infill projects but rather involve the demolition of street after street across multiple suburbs. This is changing the face of Sydney as we know it, along with the planning system, while removing the capacity for communities to fight back. Development is invariably being fast-tracked outside the traditional local controls and development approval processes.
While local democracy is failing the pub test, what’s making matters worse is the evidence before our eyes – suburbs of poor development along with a serious game of subterfuge played by the government.
Take Belmore, a typical suburb that’s on the radar as a Priority Precinct courtesy of the Metro project (another story in itself). A long-standing community of different ethnicities living in harmony in low-rise pre-and post-war homes being gentrified, Belmore, like neighbouring suburbs, is increasingly being sought after given its location under 15 km from the city.
Here, the government is proposing to rezone almost every street from what is now largely detached single-storey homes to four to 25-storey blocks. This includes its best street, where heritage homes will be demolished to make way for 25-storey apartment blocks.
Critically, in an attempt to go under the radar, the government has only disclosed growth of 3000 dwellings over 20 years. At face value – scary, and naturally receiving some wholesale negative feedback from not only locals, but architects and planners alike.
Now imagine for a moment reading an underlying report that shows an additional planning capacity of 11,234 dwellings, with a projected market estimate of 9115 dwellings, that is, 81 per cent feasibility of what’s likely to be achieved. Yet these figures are not disclosed in any government promo or drop-in session, rather the headline figures say it’s 3000 dwellings – a figure most locals are already struggling to accept.
At the same time, in response to growing tensions, NSW planning minister Anthony Roberts is promising to “recognise local character, and deliver more open and active recreation space”. The bullshit meter is well and truly on.
Jeanette Brokman is community advocate for better planning for Sydney.