3 July 2022

ACT Government needs to sate land hunger for family homes

| Ian Bushnell
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The Valiveti family was one of the lucky few to land a block in Macnamara in Ginninderry. Photo: Supplied.

When does the Barr Government’s land release program and overwhelming bias towards infill development become a political problem that can’t be ignored?

The Canberra Liberals have campaigned relentlessly on this issue over the years to no avail, but the weight of numbers must have some effect eventually.

The weekend before last, more than 7400 buyers registered for one of 51 blocks in the second release at Macnamara in the joint venture development of Ginninderry.

READ MORE Red hot demand for land as thousands compete for second Ginninderry release

The first release drew 8700 applicants for 71 blocks in November, while in the Molonglo Valley, the first release in Whitlam attracted 7566 applicants for 92 blocks and the second in February pulled even more – 12,417 applicants for 101 blocks.

That’s a lot of people wanting a traditional house and land package and some dirt of their own, not an apartment or even a townhouse.

While the medium and high-density sector is booming, families need space, and the fact is developers are not supplying many three-bedroom apartments or townhouses.

Architects and industry are calling for more of this so-called ‘missing middle’, but even then, who can blame buyers for wanting a garden and some sort of backyard and no body corporate to pay for?

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The other problem is the record prices being paid for established homes, leaving many first-home buyers sitting on the sidelines at auctions, wondering what they have to do to get inside the door.

Even the infill development where large blocks are split are not necessarily any, or that much cheaper, than the original properties or affordable for many.

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee says the census data showing Canberra’s surprising population growth – an extra 20,000 people we weren’t reckoning on – is an opportunity to adjust the indicative land release program to provide more blocks for stand-alone houses.

Elizabeth Lee

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee wants more land released and a more balanced infill target. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

She continues to assert that the government is choking supply to maintain prices to boost the Territory’s bottom line.

Of course, it would be interesting to see if the Liberals would be as generous or less worried about the Territory’s finances in government.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has always resisted these arguments, saying enough land is being released and that there is only so much the government and industry can manage at one time.

And there are new developments in train in Ginninderry, Gungahlin and Molonglo, not to mention Tralee and Googong across the border.

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Mr Barr also rolls out the familiar arguments about urban sprawl and the government’s commitment to a compact city.

These carry some weight. It is not a simple matter to add another suburb to the city which will need services, transport links and schools.

Much of the potential new land has engineering and environmental challenges, and many Canberrans would not like to see any more bushland go under housing.

The government is investigating a great swathe of land from Belconnen to Tuggeranong on the western edge of the city for housing potential and has released a number of planning studies.

Along with the challenges already mentioned, there is also the bushfire threat, remembering that this was where the 2003 firestorm rampaged through to devastate Weston Creek.

But a bushfire study has concluded that overall the risk can be managed.

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Ms Lee also blames the 70:30 infill/greenfield bias for the Canberra housing market being more unaffordable and lacking choice.

This is not all of Labor’s making, with the figure part of the price of the governing agreement with the Greens.

The issue is not black and white but nuanced with multiple aspects. But as the government heads towards the back half of the term towards an election, and more people miss out on their dream home and have to settle for what they perceive as an inferior product, views can harden – especially if the Liberals can offer a perceived easy alternative.

Is that when the policy becomes a political liability?

The fact is demand is far outstripping supply, and the other products on offer – a home in an established suburb, townhouse or apartment – do not appear to be attainable or palatable for one reason or another.

The government should review the effectiveness of the greenfield/infill ratio to see whether it is too unbalanced and driving people into housing arrangements they do not want.

It should also review the indicative land release program to see if more blocks could be brought to the market sooner, if too much land is being zoned for multi-unit development, and whether it is feasible to expedite any new areas on the horizon.

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Clever Interrobang5:58 pm 04 Jul 22

There’s plenty of land over the border. Clearly the ACT government can’t develop enough land, NSW could help anytime.

Just look at all the NCDC plans in the 60s/70s showing how far Canberra was supposed to extend into NSW.

All this talk about unsustainable development. When the ACT was still growing at 10% per year (1960s/70s) this was supposed to naturally slow down to around 4-5% (it’s been much, much less than that for a very long time).

Canberra was supposed to be 500,000 in 1992 and well over a million by now.

Besides, many parts of southern canberra have less people in them today than they did in the 1980s. Renewal of existing areas is what’s needed here and the government knows it.

I don’t really see the appeal of living somewhere like ginninderry or molonglo. Would rather live in a unit somewhere more central or convenient (which I do).

The want for the need for a bit of grass and a nice shade tree…it’s a new house and land…you are not going to get a shade tree happening for a few years.
Just building more suburbs is not the solution – we can’t keep bulldozing down lovely green area’s for housing and then have to put in schools, health facilities, shops and get transport; these things are already stretched to their limits.
I use to love driving to work along William Hovell way and looking over and seeing farming land and trees it was great, but now all I see is now urban sprawl…so much for the bush capital, and it is depressing to see this.
Yes, I’m lucky that my husband and I purchased our house in an old existing suburb over 20 years ago now and we got in while the house prices were good and I am very grateful that we could do that.
We really have to take a step back and have a look at what is already here and available that already exists and see what can be done in those suburbs/areas
I know that I will cop a lot of flack for my comments, but this is just my opinion and I’m not asking anyone to agree with me. Everyone has a right to their opinion and to be involved with a good discussion.
Thank you ?

I’m guessing that the ALP/Greens 70/30 rule is about limiting urban sprawl and transport emissions.

The irony is that those very same families who can’t get a block of land here, probably can across the border.
With that, The ACT is losing a share of its Commonwealth funding through “encouraging” growth and development in NSW.
Of course, those same people are still probably working here and driving further, pushing more greenhouse gases into the environment, because they can’t buy land locally. There isn’t even the option of jumping a TC bus to reduce those emissions.
Pretty big own goal, in my opinion.

Kenbehrens,
The recent census data has shown that the ACT has grown significantly faster than the surrounding NSW council areas over the last 5 years, which doesn’t line up with your claim.

And even if it did, it wouldn’t really be an argument for the ACT government to change its approach, rather it would highlight the need for better regional planning between the various governments and councils.

Are you sure Chewy? A radio news report said Queanbeyan council population had grown even more than Canberra had. It also said some coastal towns populations had grown a lot too.

But cities (such as Canberra) always grow much faster than surrounding regional towns, so I expect this CENSUS to be a bit of a Covid one off (if population growth reports are indeed true).

BJ,
I’m basing this off the census data.

The ACT population grew by around 14% between census.

QPRC by about 11-12%.

Yass Council by 7-8%

Snowy Monaro by less than 5%.

And those council areas are coming off a significantly lower base, the raw numbers for the ACT are huge in comparison.

So if people are being led across the border because of the cheaper prices, it isn’t a significant amount.

Yeah the media report surprised me, But they definitely said the Queanbeyan council population had grown by even more than Canberra. They need to go back to maths class. Mind you, I expect much of that population growth was in Googong and Bungendore.

Ta for the data Chewy. I was surprised when they said Queanbeyan council had higher population growth than Canberra (that’s why it stuck in my mind). Send the journalist back to maths class. Mind you, I would expect most of that cross border population growth was in Googong, Bungendore and Murrumbateman however.

Stephen Saunders11:00 am 04 Jul 22

Canberra’s land-release supply tail can never catch up with the demand-side dog – the national LibLab program for OECD-topping levels of immigration and population growth.

As long as Barr and Lee go along with this undemocratic program, which will push Canberra population close to 1m, their urban planning postures and pronouncements count for little.

I think the main problem is that the planning for “how” densification happens needs some serious work.

The government should make and enforce better planning rules to ensure a much greater mix of dwelling types throughout the suburbs.

It’s not just about houses vs apartments or greenfield vs brownfield developments.

I don’t even think it’s the how, it more the sales pitch to those who don’t see the issue. You only need to look at the comments around here on any development issue.

In relation to the how, the reason I say that may well not be the issue is I live in a reasonably new suburb of Gungahlin with a brand new suburb (Taylor) being built next door. When you actually take to time to walk around Taylor you can see the policy changes from when my suburb was built 10 years ago.

The most obvious is the MIX of property types. They still have larger (by Gungahlin standards) blocks as well as a mix of smaller free standing blocks.

They also have town house development, some of it is not to my personal taste but some is quite attractive. And they also have larger suburban apartment style blocks. Which are different from the high rise which is appropriate for the town centre.

Brownfields of course is a lot harder to get a mix like this, especially with the reluctance you read here, but really not sure what else can realistically be done.

Oh am not that many will admit it but the core issues around development are not unique to Canberra.

I agree. Anyone who has a family knows the need for an affordable home with a garden, a shady tree or two and grass for kids to play. A city of bland apartments and high density living are just ideological drivers for Barr and Rattenbury, both of whom are totally contemptuous of family needs and aspirations. Densification is not what the concept or vision of ‘Canberra’ is.

And yet they’ve gone to multiple elections with this as their key planning policy and won every time.

It’s a clearly stated objective in all planning policies and strategies. It is exactly what the current stated “vision” for Canberra is.

In fact, the last election, the Liberals were the only party not supportive of further densification and they went backwards with their vote.

You can say you don’t like it, but until people change their votes, it is exactly what will continue.

pink little birdie4:23 pm 04 Jul 22

ehhh we are in a house now but the real problem with the densification currently is that there isn’t really anywhere for the kids to play. I don’t actually know where the closest public playground to us is but now we have swings and slides in our yard.
Take a look at Belconnen at all the apartments popping up. Not one has a playground (swing & slide). The closest public outdoor playgrounds are John knight park (which really isn’t toddler suitable), Western foreshore and medium density housing streets in Totterdell street, off college street Belconnen and Bruce. We used to live near one of the playgrounds off Totterdell and it was fine (aside from kids in the pandemic where the playgrounds were closed) we walked and cycled way more because the facilities were there. We spent way more time outside in winter than we do now.

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