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Real estate is a very Sydney conversation and there is plenty of talk of prices, desirability, affordability and planning schemes holding up development.
In this week’s Herald series exploring housing development, Sydney editor Michael Koziol found while there was widespread feeling among residents and politicians that they are not adequately consulted on local development proposals, in fact, a lot of consultation does take place, albeit within the slow, labyrinthine NSW planning system.
Planning for housing in Sydney has often been haphazard.Credit:Brook Mitchell
In fact, the planning process is proving a real impediment to Sydney’s struggle to meet demand for housing. Nowhere was it more starkly illustrated in stories of some developers spending years countering objections to proposals. In one example, a developer, Roche, proposed to develop a warehouse site in Lilyfield in 2016 and is still awaiting an Inner West Council go-ahead. Across Sydney, these sorts of consultations are having a clear impact: reducing the size of new housing developments and lowering the supply of homes.
There is a clear need to hasten housing projects: The federal government’s Centre for Population predicts that after pausing during the pandemic, Sydney’s population will rise from 5.3 million now to 6 million in 2033. Canberra has also put state governments on notice to overhaul planning and zoning legislation to build 1 million homes by 2030. Without adequate, well-located new homes, this growth in population will only further drive up the cost of buying and renting. The Herald series highlights the problems ahead as Sydney grapples with the twin tasks of accommodating more than 85,000 more people a year while attempting to relieve the relentless pressure of growing housing costs.
Urban growth on city fringes has historically proved far too costly, both financially and environmentally. It is a sensible policy to target older inner areas for density development. Undoubtedly, this will upset some local NIMBYs who complain that the character of their leafy suburbs is being lost.
Housing development has yet to surface as an issue in the coming state election campaign but before the 2019 state election, then-finance minister Victor Dominello turned NIMBY and broke with his own government and demanded a freeze on new development close to train stations in his seat of Ryde.
Rarely heard in these debates, however, are the voices of those who desperately want to live near transport and services. The cost of preserving leafy suburbs around train stations is borne by renters and first home buyers forced to move further out into sprawling suburbs with limited services and access to jobs.
Surprisingly, perhaps, the series did uncover support for development outside the building and investment industries – the YIMBYs (“Yes in my backyard’) movement started in San Francisco due to high costs in the 2010s and a local chapter has opened in Sydney. They are a small but noisy group, largely from a generation of potential homeowners locked out of the market by skyrocketing prices and blaming – at least in part – supply constraints worsened by planning rules and NIMBY objections.
The new metro stations being built under the city, north shore and south-west Sydney are cornerstones of the NSW government housing policy. A rush of high-density proposals has resulted in developers chasing windfall profits buying up land around future stations while contributing little to the community. But the former chief executive of the Committee for Sydney, Tim Williams, has warned the building industry would not build more homes for fear of collapsing the market whatever restraints were lifted on planning.
That said, supply remains the issue. More land can be released for greenfield development, and inner-city industrial and commercial land rezoned residential, but the government must radically improve its haphazard planning processes to speed up urgently needed development.
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