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Rampant residential development in Sydney’s outskirts is creating infrastructure deserts lacking schools, swimming pools and trees to combat the hot summer months.
Yet hundreds of thousands of new homes may still be built on the city’s fringe in suburbs up to 80 kilometres from the Sydney CBD despite NSW Premier Chris Minns’ determination to curb urban sprawl.
Blacktown mayor Tony Bleasdale said Sydney’s urban sprawl had created “infrastructure deserts” that lacked schools, swimming pools and trees.Credit: Wolter Peeters
Data from the NSW Planning Department shows that of the 306,460 new homes built in Greater Sydney over the past decade, 64,830 dwellings were in greenfield growth areas (21 per cent) and 241,630 were homes in infill areas (79 per cent).
A Planning Department spokeswoman said about 280,000 more homes could be built in Sydney’s greenfield growth areas, including 34,500 in the Greater Macarthur Growth Area south of Campbelltown.
Aerial imagery from Nearmap shows the loss of farmland and trees in south-western and western Sydney for new roads and homes in the past 10 years.
Nearmap Australia general manager Dan Paull said Sydney’s urban development continues to spread in suburbs such as Marsden Park, Edmondson Park and Moorebank.
NSW Premier Chris Minns is not a fan of urban sprawl, warning in May that Sydney needed to grow up, not out.
“Sydney can’t grow by adding another street to the western fringe of Sydney every other week … [because] you have to stretch social infrastructure over a bigger and bigger plane,” he said at the time.
However, residential developments continue to mushroom on the city’s fringe, with Planning Minister Paul Scully approving 13,000 new homes for Appin earlier this month.
“We have a housing crisis. No one said we should have a single response to that problem,” he said. “We definitely can’t get there by having a strategy of simply going out. We must go up. But we also need houses, not only apartments. That means greenfield housing can’t stop completely.”
Property developer Stockland has built 4200 mainly freestanding homes in Marsden Park as part of its Elara development, which a spokeswoman said gave residents “access to a lifestyle which may not be as affordable in existing suburbs”.
“Building a new home is an aspiration of many Australians, and greenfield developments like Elara can provide that opportunity at an affordable price,” she said.
She said new suburbs such as Marsden Park had gone through a “thorough and strategic” planning process that had led to more than 10,000 new dwellings as well as schools, retail and community facilities.
However, the suburb has no train station and buses to Schofields take about 25 minutes, or 47 minutes to Blacktown.
Marsden Park falls within Blacktown City Council, which has approved more than 13,000 new homes in the past decade, adding 100,000 residents to the council’s “growth precincts”.
An additional 100,000 new residents are forecast to call Blacktown home in the next 20 years, taking the council’s population to 600,000 – more than Tasmania.
A council spokesman said development in the north-west growth area is up to 30 per cent higher than what the NSW government had planned.
“This unplanned density of development has resulted in significant and unmet additional demands being placed on transport infrastructure, open space and community facilities,” he said.
Blacktown Labor mayor Tony Bleasdale said the western suburbs experience summer temperatures more than 10 degrees hotter than the east, which is not helped by the lack of trees and facilities to keep residents cool.
“Relentless rezoning and land releases by previous NSW governments have seen the development of vast new housing estates, with homes-built cheek-by-jowl,” he said.
Liberal planning spokesman Scott Farlow said housing that is affordable for families and suits their needs will often be outside the inner city.
“People need to have choice when it comes to housing,” he said. “The Labor government appears to think inner-city apartment living is the solution to all of Sydney’s housing needs.”
Imposing new housing targets on inner-city suburbs without considering existing density, the feasibility of development and affordability for purchasers will not solve Sydney’s housing crisis, Farlow said. “If the NSW government is going to deliver 314,000 homes over the next five years then we need to be looking at going both up and out.”
Property developers say the state, already far behind in building homes to meet demand, will slip further behind if Sydney’s urban sprawl is curbed.
“We urgently need more greenfield development as there continues to be strong demand for larger, less dense housing,” Urban Taskforce chief executive Tom Forrest said.
Property developers are also frustrated by the slow provision of infrastructure in new suburbs, especially roads and water, Forrest said. “The development community has shown it can provide land for schools and hospitals if required.”
“But where government is a monopoly provider of infrastructure, like with… roads and water, they become the bottleneck,” he said.
Centre for Western Sydney executive director Andy Marks said Sydney’s urban sprawl is not the issue, it is the failure to provide community infrastructure.
“The previous government released land without corresponding investment in sufficient transport connections, schools and health services,” he said.
Marks said Labor’s election pledges to upgrade hospitals and build new schools in outer south-western Sydney, if realised, will support new land releases.
“A big test for Labor, in its first term, will be its ability to rebalance job creation away from its traditional concentration in Sydney’s east towards areas of greater population growth, like western Sydney,” he said. “These are the policy levers that will ultimately determine the viability of new land releases on the city’s fringes.”
But urban sprawl worries Committee for Sydney chief executive Eamon Waterford, who said: “Building on paddocks is much easier than building in places where people already live, but the lifelong costs stack up for residents and government.”
Waterford said Sydney could not expand forever.
“There are koala habitat constraints in the south-west, and flooding constraints in the north-west,” he said. “We need to get smarter about where and how we’re building homes to ensure we’re making the most of our remaining urban land.”
Waterford said projects on Sydney’s fringe such as Fairwater in Blacktown or Ed.Square in Edmondson Park provided high-quality public spaces, walkable streets and a diversity of housing stock. But these new suburbs were the exception rather than the rule.
“We can’t keep building car-dependent houses with dark roofs on tiny parcels of land that are disconnected from shops, services, schools and infrastructure,” Waterford said. “If it’s too unaffordable to provide the services these communities need, the housing shouldn’t be being built at all.”
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