29 November 2023

'Why limit the size? Why limit choice?' Liberals' attempt to remove dual-occupancy restrictions rejected

| Claire Fenwicke
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housing from above

The dual occupancy allowances have been designed to allow for more infill rather than creating more housing through urban sprawl. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The Canberra Liberals have been slammed for trying to change aspects of the interim Territory plan mere days after the new system commenced.

Shadow Planning and Land Management Minister Peter Cain called on the ACT Government to remove the proposed 120 square metre size restriction on second dwellings and allow for separately titled dual occupancies on residential zone 1 (RZ1) blocks over 800 square metres.

“Why limit the size [and] … why limit choice? Let the owners decide how big the house they want to provide to the market [is],” he argued.

“Why limit it to a unit-title arrangement? Why not let the owner surrender this large Crown lease and get two parcels that just creates, again, a greater flexibility of the type of ownership that can be available to the market?

“Why not let the owners choose? What a radical thought.”

According to a question on notice asked of the ACT Government, there are 28,178 RZ1 parcels of land between 800 sqm and 1000 sqm eligible for second dwellings, 9785 blocks ranging from 1000 sqm to 1200 sqm, 3235 blocks between 1200 sqm and 1400 sqm, and 3511 blocks of land larger than 1400 sqm in the Territory.

Mr Cain wondered why a 120 sqm limitation needed to be placed on most of these blocks.

“The effect of this limit is to actually deny the market a wider range of housing choices,” he said.

“What about the needs of very large families in our community? Perhaps 120 sqm is not quite adequate [for them].”

Mr Cain also argued that planning regulations, which addressed easement, tree canopy, and permeable surface issues, would prevent any overly large homes from being built on the blocks.

“So just like a home being built on new land in the ACT, there are planning regulations that ultimately affect what size house you can build,” Mr Cain said.

“I think the planning regulations themselves, which the government will administer, should be allowed to operate and let the owner choose the size of this second dwelling.”

Removing the dwelling size restriction and allowing for separately titled dual occupancies on RZ1 blocks over 800 sqm is Canberra Liberals policy ahead of the October 2024 election.

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The motion was criticised by Planning Minister Mick Gentleman, given an active parliamentary inquiry into the interim Territory plan was on the way, and that the new planning system had already begun.

Mr Gentleman called the motion “disingenuous, uninformed and misguided” and questioned if Mr Cain was ignoring elements of the changes.

“I want to be very clear: dual occupancies, two houses on a single block, have always been permitted, and these will continue to be permitted on blocks over 800 sqm that are located within RZ1 zoned land,” he said.

“It has just been that these sites dwellings cannot be unit titled and sold separately previously. It is not clear if this is a distinction Mr Cain doesn’t understand or is simply ignoring.”

Mr Gentleman argued the size restrictions would allow for additional homes to be built in established suburbs without making “drastic changes” to the local neighbourhoods, limit the impact on the environment, and provide more options for downsizers or couples entering the housing market.

He also questioned Mr Cain’s sudden faith in the planning regulations.

“Mr Cain’s argument seems to be that houses should be built to the largest possible footprint within the allowed planning regulations. These are the same planning regulations that Mr Cain has previously described as ‘anti-community’ and ‘anti-environment’,” Mr Gentleman said.

“It’s nice to hear that Mr Cain has now flipped and apparently has full faith in the current planning system’s regulations and requirements outside the one specific aspect of the government’s RZ1 changes.”

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Mr Gentleman also explained the decision to allow for unit titling, but not subdivision of land (ie, the creation of two or more blocks on the same parcel), was chosen as it would allow the original block to be retained and wouldn’t constrain development as a result of certain requirements needed for a subdivision, such as separate access and servicing.

“The new territory plan strikes a balance of development freedom, improving the supply of housing and giving people the capacity to appropriately transform their blocks if they choose while maintaining the wonderful character of our suburbs,” Mr Gentleman argued.

Any proposed dual occupancy developments will still need to go through the development application process.

Mr Cain’s motion was defeated.

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We need more single level dwellings on smaller blocks so older Canberrans are able to move and free up their larger houses on large blocks.

I’m still surprised Barr is claiming this RZ1 secondary dwelling policy can add 50,000 extra dwellings in Canberra. I reckon they’ll be lucky to add 10k extra dwellings under this policy in thee decades. Which is obviously way too few additional detached houses for the expected population growth.

What a ridiculously naff housing policy to have as your key strategy in the goal to add extra building density in Canberra. No wonder no other city in the world has tried it.

I reckon he only chose the RZ1 policy because it’s mainly land blocks that sit on the fringes of the city and fringes of suburbs and because it’s the most politically safe approach.

It also sounds to your casual observer like he’s adding a lot of extra housing, but in reality he’s just leaving it up to existing RZ1 property owners to make the decisions and do all the work.

William Newby7:20 am 02 Dec 23

I don’t agree with the Libs here (normally I do), in fact I don’t think the Greens or Labor are doing anywhere near enough to preserve the “Bush Capital”. It seems anyone can cut down any tree they like, and anyone can build all they like on their property, and concrete in all the gardens.
We are doing noting to maintain the amount of vegetation that we have at present, we are doing nothing to prevent over development and allowing cars to be parked all along our once quiet streets.
Canberra is quite rapidly being turned to an urban sewer, release more land, don’t infill and destroy what we have.

Should we just all protest and paint our roofs tree green. They’ll then immediately reach their canopy targets and be done with this mess.

Most of the older houses on the larger blocks would be less than 120m. Does this mean that no new houses can be over 120 or just the 2nd one.

I assume this is screwed for those that have a granny flat and want to rebuild their main house. the main house would become the 2nd property and be limited to 120.

Work around is to design a large house made of two houses and just never finish the ‘connection’

devils_advocate3:43 pm 01 Dec 23

The vast majority of RZ1 blocks in the ACT would have a street frontage of less than 20 meters

So the plot ratio would be 35% for both houses combined

Plus single storey and block setbacks from boundary and solar envelopes

Absolutely pointless to add the 120m size restriction on top of all that

That plot ratio hasn’t applied for nearly two decades. In the newest planning rules, 20% of the block has to be vegetated and that’s it. No plot ratio. Boundary setbacks and solar access rules have been weakened again too.

devils_advocate8:21 pm 04 Dec 23

The plot ratio refers to the total gross floor area allowable for habitable spaces and an assumed 18m2 garage

Water permeable surfaces and planting spaces, private open spaces are separate and additional requirements

The size of the second dwelling is only a small part of the housing and population density changes issue.

The real issue is that RZ1 is not the best location for either political party to focus the vast majority of their population and housing densification efforts for Canberra.

HiddenDragon7:25 pm 30 Nov 23

The newsletters which occasionally appear in the letterbox from a Liberal MLA in my electorate unfailingly mention concerns about over-development as an issue raised by residents in meet and greets at local shopping centres.

There’s nothing surprising about that, but what is surprising is that the Liberals apparently nonetheless think there are more votes to be gained than lost by their “let ‘er rip” policy for densification in RZ1 Canberra.

I would not expect a re-elected Labor government to stick with the 120sqm. limit for too long, so it might be better for the Liberals to point out that likelihood and develop a more detailed and nuanced alternative policy, which links the size of second dwellings to block size and builds in better protections for privacy, solar access etc. for neighbouring residents.

Ploughing ahead with their current policy looks like a really good way for the Liberals to alienate voters who might be looking forward to a change of government, but won’t be voting for that if it will seriously increase the risks of an oversized monstrosity going up on a block near them.

“by their “let ‘er rip” policy for densification in RZ1 Canberra.”

They still have to go through all the typical approval processes that they do currently. You make it sound like they are advocating for a free for all, which they aren’t. The Liberal party are simply against limiting the size of properties based on ideology rather than practicality.

Who would honestly believe that you should artificially limit the size to a 120sqm dog box on a 1400sqm block… while selling off large numbers of 350sqm “full sized” blocks of land in new property developments? It was a ridiculous policy from the start.

I personally love the Orwellian doublethink of the people parroting the “reducing the options for redevelopment is actually giving people MORE choice” …you really can’t make this stuff up.

There will come a time when this place we call home will.just become a congested metropolis like the other major capitals. There is limited land and clearly there isn’t a plan to figure out what happens when we’re full. A 120sqm house or a 2 bedroom flat is hardly fit to raise a family, but Labor and Greens know best. Can’t wait to get rid of them next year.

Michael M, There are plenty of huge houses already existing, so go buy one of them. Very few, if, any smaller houses are being built today, so this 120sq.m limit is adding much needed choice. The average household size is by the way 2.5 people.

I have a 120 sqm 3 bed townhouse with my 2 kids. And a reasonable garden. Its perfectly adequate to raise a family. So many people have a ridiculous idea of how much space you need.

It is not so simple as giving the developer choose because “the market will decide”. People who already live in the street will be impacted. Factors such as parking. noise levels and light penetration need to be considered. Imagine you’ve been living in your home, happily co-existing with your neighborhood when one of your neighbors moves on (could be for any number of reasons and not always bad). Imagine if a developer buys that house and decides to turn it into dual occupancy and insists that they should have the right to build a massive second house on the block, without consideration of anything else apart from their profit margin. What rights will the existing residents have?

Mr Cain, its time you stopped pandering to the developers and acknowledge these situations need to be a balance between competing needs. It is not as simplistic as you are trying to claim.

Daniel Rackshack1:12 pm 30 Nov 23

I’m inclined to agree with Cain on this occasion – this strikes the right balance between not being overly cumbersome for neighbours in the area, while sensibly densifying in RZ1 neighbourhoods while maintaining our urban footprint.

I agree that 120m2 is far too small of a space in the 21st century, I can’t imagine this would have any effect whatsoever on prospective block-owners legitimately taking up the cause. Working from home is here to stay and we need houses and apartment units to accommodate this trend

We need action on housing and we need it now, support

The size restriction is good as smaller houses will give more choice to those who want a smaller house, but also a garden. The average sized Australian house built now is between 232-252 sq. m, so for those who want a McMansion, go buy one of those. Not much choice for those who want a smaller home with a garden at present. This restriction adds choice, which wouldn’t be available without the restriction. It’s a shame it has to be compulsory, but if it weren’t there would be another McMansion filling every available space on the block that they could get away with.
For interest, the average Australian home in 1950 was 100 sq.m; smaller than the 120 sq.m. (That’s bigger than the first house I had, which was about 86 sq,m. Three of us lived there comfortably.)
Naturally the Liberals have come out against this. Sad, they can’t be more forward looking and want to give people more choice in housing; not only those who want monstrous McMansions.

Gentleman couldn’t plan a birthday party, Liberals are on the right track with this reform.

I think you are wrong! I hear Mick is quite the organiser and loves a good party, especially a party party!

It doesn’t take long for the Liberal party supporter trolls to get going on social media. They have been quite busy lately as we head into another election. As usual, the Canberra Liberals refuse to engage with the government and it is left to the Greens to do this. The Liberals only engagement on any policy matter is negativity. Opposition spokesperson Peter Cain says a person’s choice of home size does not matter and there should be no restrictions on new homes built on subdivided land. Of course, the devil is in the detail of their planning policy which they refuse to release only that it will be “closer to the election”.

I do wonder how Mr Cain or any other members of the Canberra Liberals would feel if their neighbours subdivided their blocks and built an overbearing monstrosity overlooking their homes and privacy! Not to mention all of the spillover traffic and cars. I am sure they would be the first to complain!

No everyone wants there streets changed to dual occupancy housing which is where this heading, bad enough when they did the fluffy blocks

Guess I will be voting Liberal in 2024 for the first time. And even they aren’t going far enough. Mr Gentleman and his colleagues should rethink this silly restriction and do some proper reform in our residential zones. All they have to do is look across the border at zoning reform in NSW to see how backward they are looking right now.

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