29 November 2022

Home Truths: nosey neighbours and low-hanging suburban zoning fruit

| Lottie Twyford
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Autumn trees

The inner suburbs are full of large blocks – many say these could easily be reduced to allow for greater density. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

It’s no secret the Territory’s got growing pains.

With a 70/30 infill target, the Barr Government is locked into putting the majority of this growth within the city’s existing footprint.

Getting to that target is proving difficult and the government is coming under increasing pressure to pass reforms which would make denser suburban development easier.

Mick Gentleman and Ben Ponton

Planning Minister Mick Gentleman and Chief Planner Ben Ponton release the draft Territory Plan. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

The Territory government has been working on a draft Territory Plan and draft District Strategies.

Those are currently open for community consultation.

Ostensibly, that plan will help shift planning away from a rules-based compliance system to an outcomes-based one.

On one hand, it’s expected to make development easier.

But it’s also going to add stricter rules relating to the environment and tree protections.

Some, including housing and construction industry representatives, worry those two goals contradict one another.

Unsurprisingly, that’s not supported by the Conservation Council which argues it is possible to save trees and densify at the same time.

Executive director Elle Lawless said increasing urban density was best done by houses going up instead of out.

“[We hold] the position that there are opportunities to increase urban density in environmentally sensitive ways and support it as long as the housing is good quality and energy efficient, mature trees are maintained as much as possible, and there is space available to plant new trees,” she said.

READ ALSO Home Truths: Barr urged to get tax reform done to reap full rewards

But Housing Industry Association executive director Greg Weller is concerned a swathe of proposed tree laws will just add to developers’ red tape and make infill harder.

“If we’re going to constrain the supply of new land, we need to get an awful lot better at delivering land within the city,” he said.

Mr Weller is also worried about the increasing number of neighbours putting in objections and getting in the way of building.

“Previously, we had a system where if someone was building an exempt development with a minor technical variation from the Territory Plan, the planning authority was able to approve it when it had no impact on anyone,” he said.

“Now we see this getting referred to all of the neighbours and people withholding consent because they feel it isn’t right or against the planning system.”

That apprehension is shared by housing advocacy group Greater Canberra.

Convenor Howard Maclean is concerned the ability for new development to be blocked through ACAT is leading to a situation of inertia.

He wants more developments, including medium-density dwellings such as duplexes and townhouses, to be ACAT-exempt as with large apartment buildings in city centres.

“That’s one of the major reasons we think RZ2s don’t deliver enough housing,” he said.

“There’s a risk of a relatively low-value development being subject to a multi year-long delay and hundreds of thousands in legal and planning costs related to a challenge which could come from anywhere.”

READ ALSO Home Truths: The limits of land supply in the ACT

The pace of reform also concerns Mr Maclean, who’s uncertain whether the speed of Canberra’s growth and the housing issue has really sunk in.

“We’ve got a problem where these big masterplan brownfield projects take a really long time to deliver and don’t do it quickly enough,” he said.

For now, Mr Maclean said RZ1 and RZ2 reforms were a major focus.

“The draft Territory Plan does go to addressing some of this such as allowing apartments in RZ2. The easiest way to allow more housing in the ACT is to relax them even further,” he said.

Michael Hopkins

MBA ACT CEO Michael Hopkins wants the “Mr Fluffy” rule applied to all RZ1s. Photo: Region.

For Master Builders Association ACT CEO Michael Hopkins, an easy piece of low-hanging fruit for the government would be to apply the “Mr Fluffy” dual-occupancy rule to all RZ1-zoned sites.

RZ1s are generally low rise and low-density houses which basically permit one house per block.

“That rule contained requirements around block area, site cover, height limits and open space requirements which dealt with established character,” he said.

“But at the same time they allowed two dwellings to be built on the site.

“That’s a small and straightforward step that government should take.”

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William Newby3:25 pm 03 Dec 22

Barr wants to trash what we currently have, he will not be happy until we are as congested as Hong Kong all living on top of each other.
Anyone with half a brain can see vacant land all around, this “land shortage” he bangs on about it purely an administrative shortage, with the stroke of a pen this could all be changed.
But no, we must build a crowded city with increased congestion, smaller sections, no sections at all, less greenery, forget the urban forrest, more noise complaints, more cars parked out on streets, more neighbours with yapping dogs.
But we’ll have a tram!
This is going to be marvellous, notably Barr will be retired, in his pension, living down the coast, all after he’s sold us his monorail vision. Kinda like that episode on the Simpsons.

Inhabitants of the territory want what everyone wants i.e. good roads, a functioning health services (just about anywhere in Malaysia has a better health service than Canberra) , and safe family friendly homes and neighborhoods. Instead of land sales going to those who want to build their own homes, land is almost exclusively sold to developers. I wish I could believe the tree friendly claims portrayed here, but experience has shown the rule is otherwise. At least 1000 trees (which were all numbered before the clearcut) were removed from Northbourne Avenue for the money pit tra of a tram, which only replaced one bus, and with fewer stops. And what is to become of the large trees in the land adjacent to Northboourne Avenue between Condamine and Greenway. Haig Park itself is under threat, and there have been serious `incursions.’ Canberra is falling apart around us and the standard of construction is abysmal. Buy off the plan at your own risk is the rule today.

Shared roofs mean you can’t have your own solar, which locks you into extortionate on-grid energy prices. The young and poor get the shaft, the wealthy who can actually afford detached housing get lower bills. Infill is elitist policy. And don’t get me started on the dearth of EV trickle-charging opportunities at workplaces and commercial parking lots during solar hours, keeping the young and poor locked into buying petrol.

You sure about the shared roofs? My neighbours (shared roof) just got solar put on and I’m pretty sure that they contacted the body corp before betting any work done.

My mother had a shared room and she had solar.

devils_advocate10:11 am 30 Nov 22

Rz1 can only feasibly be done on very large blocks since, if it is more than one dwelling, it can only be single storey, and in most if not all cases the plot ratio will be 35%.

The fact that they cannot be separately titled would also discourage any infill redevelopment.

Increasing the number of blocks zoned for multi-unit development (Rz2 and above) will not achieve anything unless the taxes and regulatory burden are reduced.

Just put up a second storey and call it a mezzanine. That’s how my neighbours got to put up a second story and shade part of my house. Objecting got me nowhere.

devils_advocate1:00 pm 03 Dec 22

Rz1 permits 2 storey dwellings if single dwelling, but if dual occupancy on the single title only 1 storey, and they can’t be sold separately.

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