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Builders back Libs’ land-release pledge to re-balance unit dominated market

Ian Bushnell 30 October 2019 33
Stand-alone houses

Stand-alone houses remain in the shadow of apartment development. Photo: File.

The building industry has backed the Canberra Liberals’ pledge to boost the supply of land for single houses if they win Government next year, saying people did not have enough of a choice of housing types and the high price of land was a key factor.

Master Builders ACT CEO Michael Hopkins said that while the Canberra market had shifted in recent years to apartments, the decline in single housing should be addressed, as well as the ‘missing middle’ of small-scale units, townhouses and dual-occupancies.

He said the price of land in the ACT was incredibly expensive with supply constrained in recent years and releasing more land was one of the ways to reduce the cost and increase the viability of smaller-scale development.

“One of the issues we need to come to terms with is how we can deliver affordable housing when our land is so expensive,” Mr Hopkins said.

He said there needed to be a greater diversity of housing stock in the market to meet the needs of the ACT’s changing households but a number of factors, including the price of land, were holding back builders.

“These are the types of projects which at the moment are hard to make viable to build because of land prices, lease variation charges and, in particular, development application delays,” he said.

MBA CEO Michael Hopkins

MBA CEO Michael Hopkins says we need to address the ‘missing middle’ of small-scale units, townhouses and dual-occupancies. Photo: Supplied.

Build-ready land was available in the short term but down the track the ACT would need more.

“We know demand is only going to increase because of population increase, and the economic fundamentals that will drive a lot more people to move Canberra for jobs,” Mr Hopkins said.

He would not be drawn on the areas highlighted by Opposition Leader Alistair Coe, such as Kowen in Canberra’s north, but said any new areas would have to be assessed for environmental factors, and the ability to provide infrastructure to make sure they were suitable for development.

“If government was looking to open up new fronts it’s something we’d be willing to work with them on,” he said.

The MBA supported the thrust of the Barr Government’s Housing Choices paper but those policy ideas needed to be translated into action.

“It’s now time for that policy direction to be turned into actual Territory plan variations so we can turn that policy into actual projects on the ground,” Mr Hopkins said.

With dwelling starts at a four and a half-year low, according to latest CommSec State of the States report and fewer loans being written for new housing, the industry is still recovering from the uncertainty created by the banking royal commission and the election.

But affordability remains a core issue with ABS figures showing potential first home-buyers in the ACT are struggling to get a foothold in the market, especially for the more expensive stand-alone product.

Loans to first-home buyers dropped 18.6 per cent over the 12 months to August, owner-occupier loans for new home construction were down 30.5 per cent and the number of owner-occupier loans to purchasers of new homes slumped 47.8 per cent.


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33 Responses to Builders back Libs’ land-release pledge to re-balance unit dominated market
Amanda Evans Amanda Evans 7:56 am 03 Nov 19

There's not much point building more single houses, if the blocks are so small that there's no room for a reasonable amount of outdoor space where at least one shade tree can be planted. Too many single dwellings across Canberra have hopelessly inadequate outdoor spaces and are, quite literally losing on every level as they are crammed so close together that the space between them is less than 400mm, not enough to use, let alone walk through and yet they each use up resources when with good design, much less could be used and a much better level of amenity achieved.

We definitely need a rethink on how we design houses here in Canberra.

Amanda Evans Amanda Evans 1:50 am 03 Nov 19

We need much more medium density housing like Urambi, Swinger Hill and Wybalena Grove.

    Michael Roy Michael Roy 6:54 am 03 Nov 19

    Amanda Evans I love those developments but they are actually low density. The dwellings per hectare is the same as the suburbs they are in. Well actually my statement is not 100% true, urambi has slightly higher density.

    They do however have considerably more open space and fewer roads then the suburbs they are in.

    But I do think there is something in what you are saying, we need more medium density housing and can learn a lot from these high quality developments that respond to their sites have good landscapes and include community building values in their planning and design.

    Amanda Evans Amanda Evans 7:37 am 03 Nov 19

    Michael Roy actually I think you'll find they are exactly what medium density is. If they were low density, they would be single dwellings surrounded by streets and larger blocks instead of sharing walls and communal space (driveways, gardens etc)as they do.

    All of the places I mentioned offer that transitional living between a house and garden on 700m2+ block size and apartments with no gardens , no private open space including no balconies.

    Canberrans value their gardens, views and the broader landscape around them. These types of developments provide all of that on a small 250m2 to 300m2 size block but with generous provision for communal landscapes including good shade trees and community or communal facilities.

    There are other examples around town too such as those in Jameson, Duffy, Bruce etc, but very few, if any have been built in the last 15 to 20 years and we need many more.

    Apartment living really isn't for everyone and we need to offer an alternative for the thousands of ageing Canberrans who will be needing or choosing to downsize over the next 20 years. At this stage, people are staying put, because they have limited to no options other than apartments, and for many, they just aren't interested.

AbbDon Helen AbbDon Helen 10:15 pm 01 Nov 19

Finally some common sense will prevail and stop flooding us with apartment block we don’t want taking up our green space and car parks

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:04 pm 01 Nov 19

    Um, single houses take up even more green space. So your comment makes no sense at all.

    AbbDon Helen AbbDon Helen 11:49 pm 01 Nov 19

    Julie Macklin depends on your point of view ... destroying the market for investors with over supply of apartments so it makes economic sense as well as protecting spaces allocated as green space

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 6:48 pm 01 Nov 19

“….as well as the ‘missing middle’ of small-scale units, townhouses and dual-occupancies….”

The prices being paid for the existing, ageing stock of these sorts of dwellings is clear evidence of the strong, ongoing demand for them, and sensible land release policies would increase the supply.

Nicholas Spence Nicholas Spence 3:17 pm 01 Nov 19

Most sensible thing I've heard in ages out of the Assembly, if released in the right spots (the Libs will know where) this is a winning policy for Canberrans and offer diversity back into the housing market for both buyers and renters

Fiona Dickson Fiona Dickson 11:55 am 31 Oct 19

living in the 1950s. The only way we can get more liveable cities is to intensify. This is a recipe for major environmental damage and carbon pollution.

    Natalie Grey Natalie Grey 12:45 pm 31 Oct 19

    Fiona Dickson remind me again how many mansions Al Gore owns?

    Kieran Angus Kieran Angus 12:47 pm 31 Oct 19

    Natalie Grey I didn't know All Gore was an ACT MLA.

    Gwg Heldon Gwg Heldon 2:51 pm 31 Oct 19

    Fiona Dickson apartment living isn't for everyone. Nor is a quarter acre block for everyone. Livability also means people being happy coming home to what they consider to be their perfect house.

    For the record, I've lived in a townhouse for the past 8 years and have lived in flats, houses and townhouses.

    Phil Ebbott Phil Ebbott 5:31 pm 31 Oct 19

    The Australian Progressives (Canberra) would love to see more medium density on transport corridors and town centres.

    Fiona Dickson Fiona Dickson 6:03 pm 31 Oct 19

    Gwg Heldon yes I know there are individual preferences - but sadly in this over populated world it is not sensible to use individual preferences to drive public policy. the cost to the public of urban sprawl amounts to trillions every year - they estimate about 7% of US GDP is wasted every year due to urban sprawl. That is 7%not going to hospitals, education, open green spaces in our cities, policing and emergency services, the environment. Well designed urban environments create great communities. Urban sprawl does not.

    Fiona Dickson Fiona Dickson 6:03 pm 31 Oct 19

    Natalie Grey and the relevance of your comment is?

    Jim Hosie Jim Hosie 9:03 pm 31 Oct 19

    Fiona Dickson exactly...Canberra needs more apartments.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 4:03 pm 01 Nov 19

    Natalie Grey A non contributing comment.

Nathan Burraston Nathan Burraston 11:45 am 31 Oct 19

Labors own budget papers made clear they were relying on high land prices in greenfield estates achieved by stifling supply, if affordability and supply of land is important then there is no question Labor is not your friend.

    Justin Watson Justin Watson 4:02 pm 31 Oct 19

    All governments of both Labor and Liberal persuasions are doing this, because the Australian economy isn't great and they are not getting increases to their funding that comes from the Federal government. To suggest its just Labor is a bit naive as Liberals do exactly the same thing in NSW and other states.

    Nathan Burraston Nathan Burraston 4:27 pm 31 Oct 19

    Justin Watson except ACT is the sole jurisdiction where the local government controls the monopoly on land supply. Every other state or the NT private landowners can rezone and develop land. Labor is in this instance indefensible even by themselves. It's a racket and a rort and it will come to an end.

    Scott Watson Scott Watson 6:45 pm 31 Oct 19

    Nathan Burraston If what you say is true and the budget papers show that supply is being stifled in favour of increased density then it is equally true that the government is already planning for the “racket” as you call it to come to an end anyway. The bottom line here is that the lifetime infrastructure cost to the community of single dwelling land sprawl is far higher than the cost base of increased density. If ratepayers want to ensure the future cost of government infrastructure services is kept under control then they would back increased density as a fundamental government policy.

Barry Finch Barry Finch 11:43 am 31 Oct 19

Builders are simply backing what is in THEIR own best interest.

    Mark Parton Mark Parton 5:10 pm 31 Oct 19

    Barry Finch Apartments or stand alone houses....the Builders still have to build them.

    Adrian Jay Adrian Jay 7:54 pm 31 Oct 19

    Mark Parton builders will support whatever gives them the biggest profit margin, not necessarily what the market wants. That’s why the Canberra property market is flooded with cheap and nasty 1 bedroom apartments when buyers want quality 2/3 bedroom ones, or townhouses.

    Mark Parton Mark Parton 7:57 pm 31 Oct 19

    Adrian Jay So the Builders are supporting the exact opposite of what you’ve suggested.

    Alan Myburgh Alan Myburgh 8:39 pm 31 Oct 19

    What the market wants will always support the profits... I don’t know what you’re trying to say Adrian. If they build something the market doesn’t want, they won’t profit... trust me... the system dictates... economics 101... if they’re blaggards, liars or cheats, the ‘supply & demand’ system will fix’em...

    Martin Milin Martin Milin 6:34 am 01 Nov 19

    Barry Finch, yes this is how we eat, pay our bills and support our families. 😩

Jennie Cowley Jennie Cowley 11:21 am 31 Oct 19

Give us some inexpensive tiny house community options and I’ll vote for you.

    Justin Watson Justin Watson 11:36 am 31 Oct 19

    Exactly. Set aside some blocks of land, where a few tiny homes can be moved to or built on. Have the sewerage and electricty all done up to standard and just allow people to buy their bit of the land, say 4 tiny homes on a bigger block, it means the land is a quarter of the price. Sure it is not for everyone, but provide options. There is no magic solution for affordable housing, but at least tiny houses is an option for those that want it.

    Mark Parton Mark Parton 5:09 pm 31 Oct 19

    Jennie Cowley Watch this space Jennie.

    Mark Parton Mark Parton 5:09 pm 31 Oct 19

    Justin Watson Totally agree

    Amanda Evans Amanda Evans 7:45 am 03 Nov 19

    Justin Watson great idea, but they need to be planned so that people can have private open space with shade trees as well as communal facilities. We need to increase our deciduous canopy cover if we're going to slow the impacts of a changing and hotter climate. Trees can do that, so all of our new homes should have access to shade in Summer and sun in Winter. We know how and can do this but more recently developers control the outcomes and they are only driven by profit. Everyone loses except them.

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