Chief Minister Andrew Barr has called time on urban expansion in the ACT, declaring that the era of establishing new suburbs cheaply is over and that the future of the town centres is high-rise.
Mr Barr told The RiotACT that Canberra could no longer continue to sprawl out due to physical limitations and the sheer expense of developing new areas.
“The point often missed is the cost of developing some of those new greenfield estates,” Mr Barr said. “We don’t have acres and acres of land that is easy to develop.”
Mr Barr pointed to the Molonglo Valley which was ‘tricky’ to develop – “it’s not flat, there is a river corridor, there are environmental and bushfire challenges”.
He said these development challenges and costs affected the price of land, and eventually the price of houses that people bought.
“That era of just rolling out another suburb that’s easy and cheap is over for Canberra. It doesn’t matter who the government is. That era is over,” he said.
“You can’t roll out new land like that next door to Civic or the Parliamentary Triangle, or Woden or Belconnen. The only way you can provide new dwellings in those areas is high density. They ain’t making new land in Turner or Reid or Braddon.”
Despite this, Mr Barr said 85 per cent of the housing stock in the ACT was a single detached house on a large block and the number of apartments in Canberra was still relatively small relative to the total housing stock.
But there are many more apartments to come, especially in the town centres, which Mr Barr believes can go tall with good outcomes.
In a debate last week in the Legislative Assembly, Mr Barr lamented the ‘small-town, backwards, 1940s mindset’ that opposed high-rise development in Canberra.
“One principal point of difference that the town centres have over the CBD is their capacity to sustain buildings of some height. We simply have to get over this phobia regarding buildings that are, even by Australian standards, not very tall. By international standards, if you go anywhere else in the world, they would laugh at you if you said that a 12-storey building is high rise. Even a 20-storey building is not high rise,” he said.
“We need to move beyond that, and we also need to recognise that short, squat buildings that fill up all of the available space are not necessarily better outcomes than tall, elegant buildings. This is not an argument to say that every tall building is a good building; they have to be well designed. But they can be, and we should not be afraid of some height in some parts of the city of Canberra. For national statutory reasons, that will never be the case in the CBD, so that is a clear point of difference for town centres.”
The Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate says land releases are planned over the next four years in Gungahlin, Molonglo and Belconnen, through the Ginninderry joint venture.
This involves 16,250 dwelling sites, with 4,120 dwelling sites scheduled for release in 2017-18, with 1,450 of these in Gungahlin, Molonglo and Belconnen.
Englobo residential releases are also scheduled for Lawson stage 2 (2017-18), and the remaining development sites on Kingston Foreshore (2019-20).