31 March 2023

How should we build the missing middle in Canberra?

| Jo Clay MLA
Join the conversation

Jo Clay and Greens leader Shane Rattenbury. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

What kind of Canberra do you want in 10 years? What about in 50?

The Greens want a vibrant city where people can move around easily. We want to preserve our remaining habitat and make sure we have plenty of trees and green spaces near where we live and work.

We want a city where everyone has a home. We want a zero-emissions electric city that can deal with the heatwaves and flooding already locked into our rapidly changing climate.

But in addition to the climate and extinction crises, Canberra is struggling with homelessness, housing affordability, a booming population and a growing gap between rich and poor.

We Greens often talk about how we should manage this. We Greens back high-quality densification, including “missing middle” medium-density housing the community has been calling for because this is the only way to tackle the problems.

We need planning and design settings that deliver a compact city that doesn’t rely on cars. We need careful densification through townhouses and apartments that are well located with services. We need to prioritise liveability in a changing climate and green spaces close to home. We need housing options that support people to stay in their community as they age.

The reality is our current planning and development system doesn’t allow us to do this well. We have had a developer-led system run rife. We’ve had building quality problems and more work needs to be done to improve this.

READ ALSO Community being kept in dark on District Strategies, says council chair

Congestion is growing three times faster than any other mainland Australian capital. Public and active transport, schools and services have not kept pace with population growth.

We have a mismatch between where the jobs are and where the homes are. Our cheapest homes are on the outskirts of Canberra, locking families and young workers into an expensive car-based commute. We typically either have high-density units or enormous houses for shrinking families and very little in between.

The ACT Parliamentary Governing Agreement commits to a minimum 70 per cent of Canberra’s urban development occurring within our existing footprint. We Greens want this to be 80 per cent with a view to no more sprawl. We’ve secured a 30 per cent canopy coverage target for Canberra and commitment to plenty of green spaces to offset the heat island effect.

We need our planning system to provide the choices Canberrans want. More than 80 per cent of Canberra’s residential land is in the RZ1 zone, which mostly allows for single detached houses. This largely prohibits medium-density options such as separately titled dual occupancies, town houses, low-rise apartments and linked shared space homes.

Many parts of the community are agitating for change. There are calls from community organisations and industry to abolish RZ1 altogether, like Auckland did. There are calls for more targeted upzoning around group centres and transport corridors which leaves most of RZ1 alone.

There are calls for inclusionary zoning that mandates or incentivises minimum affordable housing in all new developments. We’ve seen demonstration housing concepts such as Manor House (four linked but independent residences in the footprint of a traditional family home).

We’ve seen new ways of living, such as co-housing and programs that encourage older single Canberrans to downsize in place by welcoming family members or housemates. Many of these options could be combined and some areas might be excluded, including heritage zones.

READ ALSO Unlock the RZ1 suburbs for medium density to meet housing crisis, says Master Builders ACT

All would require easy access services and great public and active transport. We need to keep green infrastructure, trees and open space, both on private blocks and in our public realm.

But four years into a major planning review, we’ve not yet had a proper conversation in Canberra about how to densify. Our rapidly growing population means now we must. We know it’s necessary – the need to address the “missing middle” was a feature of the 2018 Housing Choices Collaboration Hub and most Canberrans agree this is a gap.

We don’t have specific models for increased density on the table in the new Territory Plan, simply yellow highlighted areas for ‘possible future development’. Many people raised these issues during the four-month consultation.

What’s the answer? We don’t have an easy-to-understand description of the different models we could pick. When are we going to talk about what the future densification of Canberra looks like? How do we deliver the missing middle?

The Canberra of the future is not just a destination we arrive at. It is a future we create and the way we get there matters. Let’s have this community conversation, up front and with good information and good will.

Jo Clay is the ACT Greens spokesperson for planning and a Member for Ginninderra.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Can’t wait to have my street full of dual occupancy housing and cars parked on the street, thanks ACT Gove,,,idiots

HiddenDragon8:26 pm 03 Apr 23

The reason that so many of the questions raised by the push to “unlock the suburbs” and build (or pretend to) the “missing middle” remain publicly unanswered is that many of the answers are difficult and unpleasant – and even the most one-eyed supporters of this push must know that there is a high level of public mistrust and hostility towards what is in prospect.

If there is one group that should take a step back from this part of the debate, and ask the prior questions about how we got to this point – i.e. primarily due to a high level of immigration-driven population growth – it is the Greens, a party and a movement which used to care about the concept of an ecologically sustainable level of population for Australia.

That concept seems now to have been abandoned, for all practical purposes, and all we get is contributions such as this article, replete with the usual divorced from reality spin about vibrancy, liveability, connectedness etc. etc. which might just as well have come from a developer’s PR machine – a skeptical public will not be taken in by this.

I find it funny that the Greens fought ‘tooth and nail’ to get rid of battery chicken farms from the ACT, but battery human living conditions are ok.

Good information is critical. It helps build trust.
Dual occupancies are allowed in RZ1 zones and there are many. How many? Why doesn’t the government build them instead of trying to squeeze 3 on RZ1 blocks? Have the Mr Fluffy houses been evaluated? Who is behind the “calls” to which you refer? Who is not calling for this? Why? Who is begging for some consultation on their ideas for infill?
Speaking of trust, was the DA for the Manor House, that you cite, proposed by a member of the ACTPLA demonstration housing team? Who said she, and the other proponent, had no conflict of interest? Did the Integrity Commission consider it?
In all the overseas cities that have discussed and implemented missing middle planning changes there has been recognition of the need for trust and extensive and transparent discussion. And Aria Popal’s study in Toronto, says it should not be oversold.

There is no climate and extinction crisis. What we do have though is 50 years of failed apocalyptic climate predictions. Unfortunately the UN’s wealth redistribution program under the guise of saving the Earth from the climate rolls on.

@Mark R
“… UN’s wealth redistribution program under the guise of saving the Earth from the climate rolls on …”
Don’t worry, Mark. It will only roll on til it reaches the end of earth – then it will fall off. The fact that the earth is flat will save us from it.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.