7 November 2021

Is 70 per cent infill requirement a millstone around Barr's neck?

| Ian Bushnell
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Housing development.

New housing in Coombs. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

There are no silver bullet solutions to the runaway housing market that is turning homeowners in average Canberra suburbs into millionaires and locking out many others hoping to partake of the great Australian dream.

You can’t blame the Canberra Liberals for having a shot at the Barr Government for allegedly choking the supply of land for detached housing to keep the price of land high, and at its Greens-influenced target for 70 per cent of new housing to be in infill areas.

If only it were that simple.

House prices aren’t just surging here in the ACT but everywhere across the nation and the world, and Australia is nowhere near the top of the OECD ladder.

It’s just cheap money feeding an asset bubble, says Chief Minister Andrew Barr, and it’s hard to disagree.

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It’s also the product of decades of favourable tax settings for property that have funnelled investment into bricks and mortar and a high immigration policy to feed the demand even more.

The tax issue appeared settled at the last election when Federal Labor’s reforms for negative gearing and the capital gains tax concession were rejected, to be promptly dropped like a hot potato by the party’s pragmatic new leadership.

But even the Liberal NSW Government, alarmed at the growing inequity and the ramifications for its housing responsibilities, has suggested that the capital gains tax concession needs to be looked at again.

But don’t expect any courageous decisions from Anthony Albanese.

That leaves boosting supply, especially of detached housing, something the Canberra Liberals say will help.

They are still looking longingly at Canberra’s western edge for more land releases, and if it made it to government, the 70:30 housing split would be history.

But don’t expect land to be suddenly cheaper, and supply does not necessarily translate into more affordable homes, especially with interest rates at record lows and investors flocking back to the market.

Even so, Mr Barr argues there are more than enough greenfield areas on the go in Gungahlin, Ginninderry and Molonglo for the government to manage, all with affordable housing components, and the ACT’s population growth rate is down due to international border closures.

He says land supply in the ACT is limited and that the city should not sprawl indiscriminately but consolidate to preserve the natural environment.

But one wonders whether he would prefer at least the option of playing with the 70:30 mix to suit the conditions of the day.

The political reality is that the Labor-Greens power-sharing deal ties his hands on this matter, and is possibly something he may chafe against but is resigned to living with.

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The Liberals will keep chipping away at this point, knowing that many Canberrans would prefer to buy a standalone house but are being channelled into denser living, and week by week, many others are further away from achieving their dreams.

But without a holistic approach to housing and an acceptance that the Howard-era tax settings do need revisiting, providing a few more hectares and home sites will not reverse house prices.

The bind is that for those with skin in the game, the last thing they want to see is the value of their home drop, especially if they have only recently maxed out their mortgage.

If interest rates rise, and there are plenty chewing their fingernails every time the finance news mentions inflation, some could find themselves in negative equity and bailing out.

It’s not the kind of bargains in the market that would be welcome.

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michael quirk12:17 pm 09 Nov 21

To effectively address the housing affordability issues Federal capital gains and negatively gearing policies need to be part of the solution, but as identified this in unlikely given what happened in the 2019 election.

The problem with the Barr-Rattenbury government’s 70 per cent infill policy is that it was arbitrarily determined with no analysis undertaken of (a) the optimal level of intensification (b) where it should be prioritised (c) the cost of augmenting existing infrastructure (d) the implications of restricting detached housing supply in the Territory (e) the merits of alternative greenfield areas including Kowen and (f) housing preferences .

The Barr government needs to base its decisions on evidence. To optimise the ACT governments contribution to addressing housing affordability, a comprehensive review of the ACT’s housing, planning and transport strategies, which currently are based on platitudes rather than analysis, is required

Some Great points in there. Mr Barr’s switch from 70% greenfield development to just 30% was instantly made post election night.

Urban planning shifts of this level for a city of this size need to be planned, graduated and evidence based. Not knee jerk.

Canberra deserves to be a better planned city for residents across the entire city, not just developed to suit select areas that aid local developers and politicians.

I suppose the opposite question could equally be asked, where is the evidence that the previous approach was superior?

In fact, on the base of it, there’s clear evidence that the old sprawling land release model caused significant issues for residents, some which you’ve pointed out here regularly.

I’m not arguing to stick with the old way. That’s your words and the ACT government’s previous policy.

I’m after an evidence based approach and better urban planning, not knee jerk reactions from one extreme to another.

We should be aiming for higher density development done right. As I’ve argued for a long time on here, we need large apartments that will attract older downsizers. Not the smallest apartments in Australia which is what we are currently building.

But those small apartments are selling and increasing in value. Demand is high.

So whilst I agree that there needs to be a good mix of development types, clearly the market doesn’t agree with you that the amount of smaller apartments is wrong.

What do you mean those smaller apartments are increasing in value? Two One bedrooms i know of in Braddon recently sold for slightly less than they were bought from off the plan 3 years ago.

It is the houses and townhouses in Canberra that are going gangbusters NOT the small apartment prices like you claim. Even You should be able to honestly admit this.

There’s off the plan 1 bedroom apartments in civic for $360k. I bought a 52sqm Braddon 1 Bedroom on Torrens St for $420k 4 years ago off the plan, my guess is that it’s hardly changed in price or value.

The overall data says differently and I notice you conveniently avoided the first part of my comment that they are still selling.

Whilst these unit prices aren’t growing as much as houses because of the greater supply, they are still selling and have been increasing in value.

The rental vacancy rate is extraordinarily low.

If what you say is true, there would be swathes of unsold, empty units across Canberra.

But there aren’t.

What planet are you on? Small one bedroom apartments in Canberra have the lowest price growth of any Canberra property type.

Thanks for admitting the prices are increasing as I said. Sort of defeats the argument you were making that they are unwanted by the market.

The problem you have is the market disagrees with you.

How much more would apartments cost if they were building more 3,4 bedroom ones like you suggest? People simply couldn’t afford them.

I live on Earth, not sure where you are.

That’s the most ridiculous cop out ever, you’re trying to twist my words because you can never admit your opinions are wrong. Many Canberra one bedroom apartments are still selling for less than they were purchased for and any price growth is the worst of any Canberra building type and only being dragged up by the massive and artificial price growth in houses due to many factors, such as lack of supply and tax incentives.

Used car prices went up because of the hail damage and supply chain difficulties for new cars. Doesn’t mean that used cars are now a worthwhile investment.

You only kid yourself when you stick your feet in the ground that one bedroom units in Canberra are going gangbusters. Even a mate from Geocon doesn’t talk as positively as you about Canberra 1 beddies.

I haven’t twisted anything. Growth means getting bigger. Your own words.

If you can provide any statistical evidence that smaller units are not selling and are reducing in value, I’m all ears.

Link it here.

The facts are these units are still selling and appreciating in value. You simply refuse to admit that the market doesn’t agree with your opinion. And that there are specific market conditions that lead to this outside of developers creating products that people don’t want. I’d prefer a Ferrari but can’t afford it too.

Nothing to do with “going gangbusters” or anything else you want to put up as a strawman.

Here’s the link about Canberra units being the biggest losers of value in the nation, and whilst results have improved slightly for 2021, Unit price growth remains well below house price growth in ACT. Townhouses and 2-3 bedroom units are included in the Unit data split and they are driving any price growth well above 1 bedroom Units. You will have to purchase the 2021 data yourself.


Further to the previous data I posted. Today we get a report that Canberra units are down 2.6%.


Sorry as the above article is behind a paywall as subscriber only, it’s a bit useless to assess. Got any open source data or somewhere else to read it?

And your domain link below is a bit strange even for them.

Their own quarterly data doesn’t match up with the Allhomes data, nor with their own previous quarterly updates for the last couple of years.

Either way, the data they present over the last few years of updates shows that unit prices have been growing in value exactly as I said and are still selling. Allhomes has units up around 5% this year.


Interesting that the Corelogic data from 2 weeks ago has Canberra units up nearly 13% in a year.

Can’t help you with Paywalls but the reports say what I said.

Core logic have some different definitions to some other data providers around what’s classed as a Unit. I’ve seen some Unit categorised data include Townhouses and semi detached housing, which skews the median price growth.

You can buy lower level sales data that shows in Canberra that 1 bedroom units below 60sqm are often selling at a loss. Do some sales searches on Realestate.com with some filters and you can see this happening. Start with Braddon for example.

I go back to my original comment that Canberra is building too many tiny apartments and we need to be building bigger apartments. This might not suit profit driven developers but it will be better for homebuyers.

From previous versions of those reports they also show that of the minority of units (20-25%) selling at a loss, 70-80% of them are investment properties, so this doesn’t really align with what you’re claiming about what homebuyers want. These aren’t homebuyers wanting to live somewhere, they are property speculators trying to turn a quick buck and being burned.

And what you still aren’t getting is that your claim is that developers are controlling the market doesn’t make sense because you aren’t considering all the factors involved.

If the market did not want these products, the developers would not be able to sell them, nor make a profit.

The market is self correcting, in that developers will target the areas in demand that can maximise their profits. Oversupply in one area of the market creates bigger profit opportunities in other areas that will then be exploited. In recent times, we have no doubt seen more smaller apartments and the market is reacting to it.

And a large part of that relates to cost and affordability. If developers started suddenly making more 2,3,4 bedroom apartments, they would cost significantly more than smaller apartments, when purchasing power in that area of the market is already constrained.

As I’ve said above, consumers may “want” a bigger apartment or house but whether they can actually afford it is a completely different matter.

So you may think bigger apartments would benefit homebuyers but would it really benefit them if they were then priced out completely?


Recent report from Core Logic above.
Core logic also highlight that unit price growth is relatively subdued (they often send mixed messages on their data findings to suit the audience, ie property advertising web sites get a positive twist on the data).

I’ve given you data that shows issues with price growth on Units , that Canberra has had Australia’s largest proportion of property sale loss for sold Unit’s and also given you methods to determine property value issues for small apartments over the last two years.

Surely at a very minimum you can admit I didn’t just make up this issue with a lack of price growth for small Canberra units and that I was highlighting a real issue with our Urban Planning around Mr Barr’s apartment focus.

We have 5,290 more units coming in the next 2 years and a lot less houses being built than that. It will be interesting where both Canberra Unit and House prices go over the next few years.

Interstate and overseas investors might continue to like the rental return for small apartments in Canberra if not the capital growth for them. Many property investment sites like Michael Yardney advise against Canberra unit investment.

There’s no doubt there is a significant and growing gap between house and unit prices in the ACT.

But that has almost solely been driven by the ACT Government’s planning strategy and lower greenfield land releases, rather than anything developers are doing with unit sizing.

Personally I wouldn’t be investing in small units with someone else’s money but that doesn’t mean there is a market failure. If those units stop selling or making money for developers, owners and investors, the market will readjust.

If the property industry overshoot supply, they will suffer.

1 in 4 Canberra units selling at a loss is actually a very high number and a very poor result in a growing property market. Canberra was the worst performing city in Australia for selling Units for a loss at the time of the report.

I wonder how many owners sold because overseas student renters left the unit?

It’s possible that a 70% infill or similar is workable, but the way it’s being implemented / managed is fundamentally inequitable and divisive – established owners who also in many cases happened to pay much less for housing are handed windfall gains, while others are left unable to afford a home or left mired in record debts, driving inter-generational inequality.

Coming from Queanbeyan I see a vast area of undeveloped land to the south of Fyshwick, bordered by Canberra Ave, Hindmarsh Drive and Monaro Highway. This land would seem ideal for a new suburb of housing, being flat and cheaper to build on, being treeless grazing land so having no environmental merit and importantly being well located near Fyshwick and South East Canberra.
However, the urgent, logical, economic and social need to release land (anywhere) for affordable first home owner housing will not happen because impotent Labor is dictated to by the ideologically obsessed Greens, with their Stalinist vision of bland cramped apartment blocks, urban densification and removing green spaces for infill.

Temperate grasslands hold enormous environmental merit. They are home to countless species of flora and fauna many of which are critically endangered. People are often quick to forget that Canberra was previously mostly open grassland. Lack of trees does not mean lack of environmental importance.

The areas you talk about have been looked at for development in the past and rejected because of environmental constraints.

Hint, as Mikey Moore, just because you don’t “see” environmental merit, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

If it a choice between supplying urgently needed and affordable house and land packages for first home buyers and families, land that is located in the city, not a nature park, or preserving unattractive, treeless, over grazed grassland for resident grasshoppers, then the land can be released under the government’s own environmental offsets policy. Those who object to the release of land of little environment merit for necessary affordable family housing are simply demonstrating their own selfish ideological preferences.

It’s good to see your in depth research on this issue on full display. And to double down on the ignorance makes it even better.

“There’s no trees and I find it the area ugly, therefore no there couldn’t be any important environmental value”.


So you deceitfully concoct and wrongfully attribute a quote to me as a rebuttal. This merely confirms your own intellectual dishonesty.

It’s called paraphrasing and reflects exactly what you said. It’s not my fault that you are uninformed.

But seeing as you apparently value “intellectual honesty”, here’s a free bit of education for you as a taste:


I’ll await the apology.

HiddenDragon8:19 pm 08 Nov 21

“The political reality is that the Labor-Greens power-sharing deal ties his hands on this matter, and is possibly something he may chafe against but is resigned to living with.”

Such a convenient excuse for the implementation of this and many other policies which (supposedly) ACT Labor are not entirely comfortable with – even though the ACT Greens are about as likely to support a Liberal government for the ACT as the Nationals are to support a federal Labor government.

Canberra would be better and more sanely governed, and ACT Labor itself might be better placed, if they had the courage and the humility to run a minority government – but that assumes that there is any real policy difference these days between ACT Labor and the ACT Greens.

Had the ALP chosen to run as a minority Government, mostly they could have relied on support of the Greens in the Assembly. The downside would have been they would have been accountable.
With the ALP/Greens marriage, there is no chance of the Libs EVER forming Government, meaning the ALP/Greens as a unit are effectively unaccountable.

One suggestion to help with housing affordability would be to set aside 10-15% of residential land area in every new suburb for public housing.

Make public housing a viable option for any household with an income of say under $100,000.

Come up with a scheme so that after renting one of these houses for say 5 years the tenant can buy it for replacement cost (not market value) but they must own and live in that house for the next 5 or 10 years otherwise they have to sell it back to the government for what they paid for it. Maybe make it pro-rata after 5 years.

Sure the initial investment cost might be a bit high but it could be self sustaining possibly even money making in the medium-long term.

I say 10-15 % residential land area rather than 10-15% of residential blocks because you don’t want a suburb of 700m2 blocks (haha I’m an optimist) with 10-15% of those blocks being 200m2 blocks for public housing.

So if the average private block size is 700m2 and they set aside 10-15% of residential building land area for 350m2 public housing blocks then 20-30% of the houses in that suburb will be public.

“Knowing that many Canberrans would prefer to buy a standalone house but are being channelled into denser living, and week by week, many others are further away from achieving their dreams.”

I’d be really intrigued to see some proper data collected on this issue, in a way that doesn’t necessarily see results inherently compromised one way or the other (too often what research we see done is very heavily swayed by the way the questions are asked, because the person doing the research has an obvious agenda one way or the other).

I’m not entirely convinced by that statement at all, especially for younger generations. I actually think there is a decent proportion of the population in the younger demographic where a standalone house is no longer the absolute be all and end all – but the key challenge being is that in other types of properties, there isn’t enough being delivered (especially in apartment/townhouses) that can effectively allow for all stages of the ‘lifecycle’ (For want of a better term) to be effectively catered for.

I know in my circle of friends/colleagues, there are plenty that aren’t all that fussed on a standalone house vs townhouse vs apartment – but find there isn’t much choice in the latter two, especially when it comes starting a family when a 1 bed or 2 bedroom apartment may no longer fit as well as it does in previous times.

Not a criticism of the point – its reasonable and wouldn’t surprise me if still holds for a majority. But I sense things are definitely changing in that regard too.

Most of the young folk I know would prefer a townhouse or apartment to a freestanding house. They don’t want the maintenance hassles.

I think most of the surveys in this space are meaningless because they rarely, if ever, normalise for the price differentials involved.

If you asked people whether they’d like a Ferrari or a Corolla, most people would prefer the Ferrari too. But not if you then told them they have to pay for it somehow.

Talk to the ones with young children

Problem is that Canberra home buyers are now paying BMW prices for what used to be a Carolla and there’s no Hyundai’s being released to the Canberra housing market. 😉

“Used to be”.

Yes, the housing market has fundamentally changed from what used to be. And for that, you can mainly fault the Federal government policies and taxation settings.

Linda Seaniger4:16 pm 08 Nov 21

Also in respect to residential housing blocks we have enough. But Barr restricts supply so that prices will stay high.
Also he does the development work for new subdivisions without putting in the infrastructure needed to support the population in the new area. I live in Coombs and already we have problems going to Belconnen because of the Coppins crossing weir flooding and yet we have to wait several more years before we get a bridge and Local shopping centre by that time our population in the area is expected to grow from 5000 to 30,000 residents.
So let’s stop the trams they are Extremely expensive and obsolete Technology and have basic infrastructure said that fast EV buses can utilise.
Also instead of just decreasing The number of sites and the size of blocks in new areas. The ACT government should allow larger blocks in any Canberra suburb to be dual occupancy without being in R2 zones. I have heaps of friends that are retired that won’t give up their house & garden simply because I can’t find a townhouse on a single level with a small garden. Give us more choices and more locations in established areas that need to be re-developed.

It’s a joke that when it rains there are only two lanes of road exiting Molonglo to anywhere. Three if you want to go to The Cotter instead of to work.

Cotter Road needed to be upgraded to 6 lanes minimum not 4. Tuggeranong Parkway desperately needs another lane in either direction. this should have all been done before a single dwelling was built in Molonglo.

That empty shopping centre should be compulsory purchased by the government due to non compliance with what the land was sold for (actual shops) and rented out at reasonable rates to attract tenants. At the moment it’s presumably just a tax write off for the owner and thus a burden on the taxpayer.

The problem is not that they are Asian or Indian but that we invite these new migrants to Australia without being prepared to provide the extra housing and infrastructure required to house them. One of the reasons why young Australians are being priced out of the market. We need to look again at the post warII housing policies that provided for that migration boom.

Linda Seaniger4:02 pm 08 Nov 21

Foreign buyers. We don’t ask residential buyers if they are Australian citizens.
In all recent auction I have attended recently the successful buyers we’re either Asian or Indian. I’m not being rascal just an observation. I would prefer that Australian citizen‘s (any race) are not priced out of the market by overseas interest.

Agreed we should only sell property to Australian citizens and permanent residents.
Foreign property investment should be banned.

Overseas investment is partially to blame for rising property values.

Capital Retro6:19 pm 08 Nov 21

Usually it’s the cashed-up baby boomers that get bagged for denying first buyers an affordable home.

Might be worth thinking about that comment a second time.

Capital Retro12:06 pm 09 Nov 21

I have thought about is again and I came up with the same answer.

Panny Anastasiades2:14 pm 09 Nov 21

Hey Linda, how do you know those Asians or Indians (who are also from Asia, by the way) aren’t Australian citizens?

ACT gov control the supply of land in ACT to inflate the price , last Taylor auction more than 7000 applicants registered for 115 blocks .what does it mean?, why they are not selling ready blocks in Whitlam? there is not block to buy anywhere in Canberra is someone want to buy today

Capital Retro7:32 am 09 Nov 21

In the 1980’s, before ACT self-government, the Dept. of Territories used to sell sell parcels of residential land by auction to builders. It was a good system compared to what we have now.

There was also a government appointed committee called the “Indicative Planning Committee ” (IPC , I remember it as) which met monthly and analyzed statistics relative to building activity in the ACT. This was very useful to the private sector, especially banks, building societies and finance companies who were operating in a regulated lending environment subject to variations in interest rates and money supply. That all went out the door when Keating deregulated everything to do with banking and issued 16 new banking licenses. The borrowing orgy that followed ended badly in the 1990s.

It is likely that in the wake of the massive debt driven COVID spending some more stringent lending regulations will return – the current ones regarding a borrowers ability to handle interest rate increases are a joke.

There is only one solution to this problem – release a lot (and I mean a LOT) more land for single dwellings and townhouses with separate back yards that young families want , preferably aimed at modest cost dwellings. Its time the ACT Government stopped acting like a property developer trying to maximise revenue from land sales.

And where exactly is this land to release a lot of dwellings quickly?

And then what do you do when this land you think can be released quickly runs out (which it will)?

I agree re: Gov acting like a property developer (i.e. profit maximising rather than welfare maximising in decision making), but as Chewy says where exactly is this land you speak of? Its not a case of huge swathes of land being available at a drop of the hat – it simply isn’t.

The urban infill policy makes sense on a lot of levels – we should be maximising what we can achieve with the land already serviced and available – but it does need to be balanced as well.

The ACT government’s current approach for land release certainly isn’t working. Whole new Regions like Molonglo with inadequate community facilities or aged regions like Tuggeranong that are stuck in the 1980s.

I don’t expect or want the old days of 4 new suburbs a year, but the ACT Government needs a 20 or so year spatial plan that is somewhat locked in and at least provides some longer term confidence for developers, land owners, renters and businesses, etc.

The current land plan looks like it’s made up on the fly depending on the competing wants of the Greens, property developers and election promises.

ACT Labor seems to be working harder to partner with Corkhill’s on cross border NSW housing than providing the forgotten Coombs or Giralang shops development. Tuggeranong also had the promised new Thompson suburb disappear as quickly as it appeared.

There is no shortage of land in and around the ACT – just for starters: Majura, Kowen, Mongolo valley both sides of Coppins crossing, west of western creek, north of William Hovel. How about the land between horsepark drive, the federal hwy and flemington road. I would also note that the current position of the ACT border is a very weak excuse to shrug shoulders and say no more land is available. How about all the land between Canberra and Yass. Any special reasons why that can’t be developed over time? Ever heard of Googong? I don’t think it’s too much to expect governments to cooperate to maintain living standards in this country.

ChrisinTurner1:14 pm 08 Nov 21

I live next to hundreds of new empty apartments in Reid. Why are they empty?

Capital Retro3:57 pm 08 Nov 21

The sale price of home units is controlled by the private sector and the single dwelling land price is controlled by the government.

From time to time they have “specials” (taxpayer subsidised grants and bonuses) to break the log jam but at this time the larder is bare so expect what usually happens when supply exceeds demand.

Capital Retro,
If the single dwelling price is controlled by the government then why is there a property boom across Australia?

The local government can influence prices but they are in no way in control. The federal government policies and taxation settings currently have a bigger impact.

Capital Retro11:54 am 09 Nov 21

Everything is going up in price since the pandemic, with Canberra house prices having risen a huge 30.9% and unit prices 9.4%, which is the highest rate of growth across all of Australia’s cities. People in Canberra prefer to live in a stand alone dwelling hence the demand driven price increases for house being 3 times that of units.

My favourite frozen chips have increased 10% in price with the weight content decreasing 10%.

Capital Retro,
Except population growth has basically stopped completely in the last 2 years. So where is the “demand” you talk about coming from?

And how is it not mainly driven by federal, rather than local, government policy.

Relative changes in prices of one or more related product don’t say anything of particular note when considered in isolation.

One would need to look into the range of other factors that drive relative house prices before making a sweeping generalisation that it is evidence of well anything – let alone preferences around housing types.

While one can see the clear potential correlation, such evidence provides scant support for a claim of causality without considering the broader range of explanatory factors that may far better explain the divergence in price impacts between houses and units.

Capital Retro4:53 pm 09 Nov 21

Just like you living for 150 years chewy, people who were born before population growth stopped get older, get a job and get a home. If population growth doesn’t resume there will eventually be more homes than people and when supply exceeds demand prices drop.

Economics 1.01.

Capital Retro,
Um, you realise if population growth has stopped, the same amount of people are dying as being born right?

So those people you claim are moving into their own homes are simplistically matched older people transitioning into other residences.

The demand for these detached houses is not typically coming from younger people because they can’t afford the exorbitant prices.

Demography 1.01

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