Australia: Economists and planning experts broadly agree that Australia has a housing shortage, but there is a lot of disagreement on how to address it.
The New South Wales Government has asked landowners to nominate sites they think would be suitable for new homes. Forty-three have replied, mostly nominating land on Sydney’s far south-west and north-west fringes. The State Government is now evaluating which sites are viable.
Frank Stilwell is a professor of political economy at the University of Sydney who has written several books on urban policy. Stilwell says the New South Wales Government’s move to open up development sites outside its previously planned corridors defies decades of research on urban planning.
“If you’re getting housing on those urban fringes, a long way away from the city with poor public transport, if any is locally available, then it means car dependency,” Stilwell said. “That of course is a strange policy to be pursuing at a time when we’re trying to look for sustainability.”
He is not alone in this concern, Angie Zigomanis from forecaster BIS Shrapnel says there is a national shortfall of about 100,000 to 150,000 dwellings.
Zigomanis says appropriate infrastructure and employment opportunities are crucial before large housing estates are allowed to go ahead. “If you’re building on urban fringes or in those regional areas you need good transport networks between regional areas and the capital cities and also between the outer areas and central cities,” Zigomanis said.
“You also need sufficient employment in those areas as well so that people don’t have to travel those vast distances to lose big parts of their days.”
Developer lobby group, the Urban Development Institute of Australia, agrees infrastructure is needed to coincide with new housing. Its national president, Julie Katz, says the best places to promote development are closer to the city centre with existing transport infrastructure.
But Katz says places are becoming harder to find. “A lot of the really ideal sites in established areas have been developed now,” Katz said. “So we’re really using a lot of the less desirable areas to develop, whether they’ve been subject to contamination or they’re industrial areas, that really need to go back to residential or a variety of things.
“But it’s a matter of finding those sites and maximising the number of dwellings that can occur on them.”
Katz also says a combination of opposition to change from existing residents and slow planning processes are some of the reasons developers are often forced to look further afield from the city for development sites. “It may take between two and four years from when you start a project to when you actually get approval for it. And that puts a lot of developers off because it’s just seen as so difficult,” Katz said.
But Professor Stilwell says developers also enjoy the windfall gains often associated with developing what used to be rural land. “If what was previously agricultural land becomes rezoned as residential land its value increases overnight. And of course the benefit of that rezoning is captured wholly by the original property owners,” Stilwell said.
Stilwell says more development on the urban fringe also does not necessarily equal lower home prices across the city. “The housing in an area like Sydney is very segmented,” Stilwell said. “A change in the supply of housing in our outer fringe areas doesn’t necessarily have a direct impact on the cost of housing in the middle ring of suburbia or the inner city areas either.”
The message seems to be that, as with China’s vacant ghost city developments, homes must be built in places people actually want to live.