Canberra Liberals leader Alistair Coe has promised to boost the supply of residential land in the ACT to drive down prices and stop potential home buyers crossing the border in a quest for cheaper housing.
At a major speech to the National Press Club on Friday less than a year out from the ACT election, Mr Coe depicted a Government past its use-by date and out of touch, promised land for houses and rates relief, and gave a grudging nod to light rail.
In a clear pitch to voters who feel priced out of the stand-alone house market, Mr Coe told the National Press Club that despite what the Barr Government says there was more than enough land in the ACT, naming existing areas of Gungahlin, Kowen, areas to the west of Molonglo and Weston Creek and across the Murrumbidgee in Tuggeranong as potential greenfield areas.
Mr Coe said this could be done through the Suburban Land Agency or private developers, and suggested that there should be a target range for land price increases of 2 to 5 per cent.
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“This would be much fairer than a compounding 10 or 15 per cent increase that we’ve seen in recent years,” he said.
“If you have that target range you can increase and decrease supply to ensure that we’re maintaining the values of people who have invested but that you’re bringing new land into the market.”
Mr Coe said people aged 24 to 49 are voting with feet their and crossing the border with their children to buy houses in areas such as Googong.
He quipped that Chief Minister Andrew Barr may as well be mayor of Queanbeyan for all the economic stimulus his tax and land policies were bringing to the border areas.
“The rapidly growing town of Googong has similar-sized detached housing blocks to those on offer in Canberra, but at much lower prices,” he said.
“On availability, Bungendore (and Murrumbateman in Yass Region) offer larger blocks which are simply unavailable in Canberra. At the heart of this is the ACT Government policy of strangling the supply of land for standalone dwellings even though nine in ten people in Canberra aspire to live in a house and not an apartment.”
He accused the Government of profiteering, saying that if it is going to continue to be a land developer, its mandate should be to deliver affordable homes, and not deliberately price Canberrans out of the market.
“I want every single Canberran to have a path to homeownership,” he said. “We should be leading the nation when it comes to housing affordability. We have the land, we have the planning capability, we have the expertise.”
Mr Coe said the Government seemed to only care about those who could afford $1000 a square metre or needed public housing, and has forgotten those in the middle who have to rent privately.
“The best thing you can do to bring down the cost of rents, which are the highest in the country for a free-standing home at $570 a week, is to increase land supply and put a cap on rates,” he said.
Mr Coe also implied he would tear up the “ridiculous” Territory Plan and move to speed up the processing of development applications.
“The vast majority of issues in planning can be dealt with through a building envelope, permitted uses and the national building code,” he said.
While saying he would cap rates and overhaul commercial rates for business, Mr Coe was less clear about how the Liberals would pay for services with less revenue, apart from relying on growth from land sales.
“We should be broadening the tax base by having more people living in the ACT rather than just over the border and that starts with a steady and consistent land supply program so people can afford to build a house in the ACT,” he said.
On light rail, Mr Coe said the Liberals remained open to light rail, and Stage 2 in particular, but it had to stack up.
”You can’t go into Stage 2, or 3, 4 lightly. You’ve got to do it at the right time, right cost, with the right technology,” he said.
Mr Coe said a Liberal Government would not tear up any contracts that the Barr Government may sign “but there is a lot of water to go under the bridge before Stage 2 contracts are signed”.
Mr Barr said Mr Coe’s ‘manifesto’ outlined a typically conservative approach from the Canberra Liberals.
“Cutting revenue and public investment is not the way to strengthen our community or grow our economy,” he said.
“Canberrans want a Government that will guarantee more services as our city grows by hiring more nurses, more teachers, more police officers, more firefighters, and more city rangers. Only Labor will make this guarantee and only Labor can deliver.”