Are landowners hogging too much space in Canberra?

Zoya Patel 16 June 2021 136
Aerial view of Weston Creek

Is it time most homebuyers gave up the dream of the quarter-acre (or even more) block? Photo: Region Media.

Not that long ago, my partner and I were part of the teeming masses of young people trying to get into the housing market in Canberra.

Like many of our peers, we had grown up in this city in comfortable suburban houses on gloriously big blocks of land. We had enjoyed the luxury of both a front and backyard and the privacy of at least a few square metres of distance between our house and the fence line on either side.

Naturally, when thinking about the type of home we wanted to own, we had the vision in mind of a nice big Canberra block like the ones we grew up on. Of course, it took about 30 seconds of scrolling on property sites to realise that dream would be well out of our reach.

For a while, we still visited homes on 600-square-metre-plus blocks and wistfully wandered the backyards, toying with “if only”. But we eventually settled for the townhouse we now own, grateful to be able to own anything at all given the prices we were contending with.

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Now that we’ve settled in, I can see the benefits of living in multi-title developments, not just from a lifestyle perspective but from an accessibility standpoint.

By virtue of being situated on a smaller amount of land as part of a development, our house was far more affordable than the same size residence on a big block (and we didn’t have the added costs of renovations and repairs to the ageing properties in question). In fact, with the housing unaffordability crisis reaching new depths each week, it seems like the long-held dream of a detached home on a decent block is becoming less realistic and may, in fact, be exacerbating the lack of affordable housing supply.

Land is a finite resource, but when our population was lower, it was possible to see how Canberrans could retain the bush capital culture so many enjoyed and still be accessible for the majority to gain the security of homeownership.

But now this seems less realistic. With appropriate planning, densification provides more houses on a smaller amount of land but can have higher energy efficiency and a lower environmental impact.

I’ll confess that I have long been anti-development in Canberra, especially the obsession with building apartments on every scrap of land in the inner north where I live.

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Aesthetically and philosophically, I prefer lower density housing and more integration of nature with suburbs. Bigger blocks, single-storey buildings and less crowding would be ideal, but it isn’t realistic in the face of the inequity we see in the property market.

Having experienced the difficulty of buying a home, I can see how people in my generation and other new home-buyers are being pushed further and further out of the inner suburbs because the house-to-land ratio is too low. The further out, while most workplaces are still located around Civic and Barton, means the more you have to spend on transport, the more time you spend travelling between home and work, and the harder it is to access many of the amenities that are localised to major town centres.

We snuck into one of the last townhouse developments in our area. I’m grateful that we didn’t have to compromise on lifestyle/access to the amenities we enjoy to live in a reasonably sized home. We might not have a backyard or front yard, but we have a mountain behind us and a nature reserve across the road, and I’d rather see land used for communal parkways than fenced in around big blocks that are only enjoyed by the few that can afford to own them.

Apartments and townhouses may not fit with the vision of Canberra many of us hold dear, but is it time we faced facts and let the dream of the big block go in favour of a fairer use of land across the city?

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136 Responses to Are landowners hogging too much space in Canberra?
PlasticScene PlasticScene 4:14 pm 04 Jul 21

It is a disgrace to allow the infill policy to encourage the urban densification of Canberra.

It is a disgrace that the city creates new subdivisions yet only releases tiny blocks of land.

It is a digrace that future generations will not be able to enjoy wholesome hobbies like gardening & growing food, keeping dogs or chickens, etc.

It is a disgrace how many homes are built where rooms (including children’s bedrooms) look out upon a neighbor’s wall or fence.

It is a disgrace how densification/infill is encouraged in our land policy in order to drive up prices, making housing unaffordable for people trying to enter the market. (I guess we can all look forward to watching a lot of tv and sitting in front of the computer.)

Interestingly, when I drive around, I see a lot of mult-unit development and I see a lot empty spaces! It’s perplexing.

And I do concur with others who’ve said that Kambah is an undiscovered gem where you get large lots for very reasonable prices.

TimboinOz TimboinOz 3:41 pm 02 Jul 21

Hogging land!!!???? we paid for our house and the rolling 99 year lease of the block.

And we pay rates.

Silly, too! No territory government would dare to do any such!

Ol L Ol L 4:26 pm 01 Jul 21

The haves and the have nots. 10% of ACT residents live in public housing. Seems like a cheap option and something to strive for. Why buy when the government can look after you?

Amanda Elizabeth Lyons Amanda Elizabeth Lyons 9:10 am 21 Jun 21

Golf is hogging too much space in Canberra for the tiny portion of the population that utilises it!!!

Gary Wight Gary Wight 3:19 pm 19 Jun 21

Big blocks??? Are you serious? Most People in the northern suburbs are living in mainly 400-600 m blocks or apartments. Any smaller and they’ll be sharing front doors

May Agnew May Agnew 4:03 am 19 Jun 21

MOST DEFINITELY -so many homeless -a national DISGRACE -and wealthy developers becoming wealthier still - causing a concrete jungle to come about in the most beautiful CITY in Australia that was planned to be open spaces and beauty all around by Sir Walter Griffin-NOW prices as high as Sydney and STILL rising dramatically each week -Canberrans now crossing the NSW- boarder to build- thus shooting those areas to become over priced also. Let us NOT allow this to continue in this greedy manner and vote out our 20 years in office self government -for their lack of concern for the average residents who always kept the city impeccable and spacious -as originally planned -TIME TO TAKE A STAND !!

George Watling George Watling 11:42 pm 18 Jun 21

A recent OECD review of 300 Urban Planning studies from across the world has demonstrated that increasing the compactness of cities pushes up property prices for renters and first-time home buyers while increasing the wealth of existing property owners.

George Watling George Watling 10:49 pm 18 Jun 21

This story is not based on evidence or research. Higher density planning policies have been driving up property prices around the world for decades. Recent Australian research clearly demonstrates that density leads to higher house prices.

George Watling George Watling 10:49 pm 18 Jun 21

This story is not based on evidence or research. Higher density planning policies have been driving up property prices around the world for decades. Recent Australian research clearly demonstrates that higher density zoning leads to higher house prices.

Jeff Smith Jeff Smith 3:51 pm 18 Jun 21

Come to Kambah, we have very large blocks compared to the house price. More young people into the area might encourage the government to re-open a primary school (Kambah Marconi Cr Primary is currently above capacity), re-instate our bus service (they took it away in 2019) and provide some upgrades to facilities (many haven't been touched since the 70s or have been removed). Kambah has great connections to nature areas and hills for those who love the outdoors.

    Timothy Bailey Timothy Bailey 3:18 pm 02 Jul 21

    Yes, nappy valley became Happy Valley! Organic home-gown veggies, yum-yum!

Elizabeth Chen Elizabeth Chen 10:34 am 18 Jun 21

I'd be happy if offered a good price for our block....they could do a knock-down dual occupancy!

    George Watling George Watling 12:21 pm 04 Jul 21

    Urban Infill drives housing prices up and quality of life down.

    The government's insane plan to put an additional 70,000 new homes in Canberra’s existing suburbs means squeezing tens of thousands of more people into smaller and smaller spaces when the sad fact is that suburban densification here in Canberra and elsewhere (Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne) comes at a very high cost that includes:

    + living in a sea of hard surfaces that has far fewer trees, green spaces, and cool surfaces then are needed to maintain good physical and mental health,

    + very high temperatures in summer that increase the risk of heat stroke and stress for residents as the hard surfaces around them absorb solar radiation and become very hot,

    + increased air conditioning costs and greenhouse gas emissions as people have to run their air-conditioners for longer to cope with higher temperatures,

    + increased noise and light pollution as hard surfaces replace trees and gardens,

    + reduced habitat and food sources for local wildlife,

    + reduced air quality and protection from high winds as trees are removed,

    + limited places for kids to play and adults to relax in,

    + reduced privacy and access to sunlight as higher density buildings over look and overshadow each other and existing homes,

    + increased congestion on local roads,

    + decreased quality of life for everyone in the densification zone as green gardens and opens spaces disappear and already stretched and underfunded local facilitates and infrastructure buckle under the weight of so many more additional households.

    Elizabeth Chen Elizabeth Chen 12:42 pm 04 Jul 21

    George Watling all valid points but several dual occupancies to each street is the norm in Canberra and there is still plenty of green space in these places and smaller space to cool internally great for downsizing.

    George Watling George Watling 12:57 pm 04 Jul 21

    Elizabeth Chen Agreed - if the government can limit the numbers allowed in each street and suburb. Only problem is they are allowing too many in a number of existing suburbs. Have look at Eggelston Crescent in Chifly between the shops and Philip. That part of Chifly has been hand over to a bunch of ‘bulldoze the lot and concrete to the boundary’ cowboy developers. 800m2 blocks with gardens have been split into 400m2 blocks. The new townhouses, multi-unit dwellings, and dual occupancies the developers have built fill the blocks. The few meters left between the buildings and their colourbond fences are concreted or paved. There are no lawns, gardens, or shade trees.

    Together these properties make a perfect heat island. On a 32 degree summers day all their un-shaded bitumen driveways and grey concrete patios will reach 77 degrees and 62 degrees.

jorie1 jorie1 12:05 am 18 Jun 21

Keep the population low and there’s no issue. Worldwide the population is far too high. Australia is an island and we do not need to take in so many people. Stop high levels of immigration.

    JC JC 4:22 pm 18 Jun 21

    How do you suggest we do that?

    By policy, aka china’s old one child only policy?

    Compulsory sterilisation?

    Euthanise people above a certain age?

    Nah not easy is it?

    chewy14 chewy14 8:29 pm 18 Jun 21

    Did you miss the bit where Jorie has said stopping high immigration as the means?

    Maya123 Maya123 10:39 pm 18 Jun 21

    JC, The Australian birth rate is below replacement, so none of your fantasies would be necessary. Sorry to ruin your strange dreams.

    Joe Smith Joe Smith 8:06 pm 19 Jun 21

    Yep thats the problem look at europe

blingfish blingfish 10:12 pm 17 Jun 21

Living in the inner north is a desire not an entitlement. No different to another person’s desire to live on a big block. One isn’t more valid than the other.

Monica Tiffen Monica Tiffen 9:35 pm 17 Jun 21

Space is needed for Homes, Children, relaxation, and privacy!

Robyn Holder Robyn Holder 8:47 pm 17 Jun 21

Eventually we will die and someone will come and clear our huge garden and 100 trees and even more shrubs and squash two houses on the block and never grow any more trees or big shrubs. Have you heard thst we need trees and all kinds of plants?

    Sher Bee Sher Bee 12:01 am 27 Jun 21

    Robyn Holder Barr doesn’t want to wait, so he’s killing us with rate hikes

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 7:49 pm 17 Jun 21

In this, as in other things, the people who run this town seem to be unable to find the happy medium – it’s straight from one extreme to the other.

A proportion of people will, of course, want to keep “hogging” (such charmingly subtle language) their big blocks – and paying the ever-increasing rates which the ACT government charges for the privilege of doing so. Others might be perfectly happy to move if given more choice at a more reasonable price (and that includes the price of strata fees and levies) and with much more certainty about building standards. This government has been going to do something serious about building standards for much of its long and sorry life – we are still waiting.

More broadly, this is about the Australian genius for having so much land (and yes, we don’t have as much liveable land as the similarly-sized US, but we do have a lot) and still making it so insanely expensive.

ChrisinTurner ChrisinTurner 7:20 pm 17 Jun 21

I know people living in the inner north on huge-sized blocks who have been told they cannot subdivide. Seems the rules are against more concentrated dwellings.

    chewy14 chewy14 8:33 pm 17 Jun 21

    No, it just shows that you still need a mix of development types in most areas and that densification needs to be controlled and not just allowed to occur anywhere.

Melanie Cööper Melanie Cööper 5:16 pm 17 Jun 21

Ridiculous article.

Angela Clark Angela Clark 5:13 pm 17 Jun 21

Landowners? I believe land in ACT is leased not owned

HSewell HSewell 3:24 pm 17 Jun 21

It is inexcusable that there isn’t more medium density development (such as duplexes, townhouses) on the huge blocks of the inner north and inner south.

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