More support for innovative thinking, greater certainty for industry and community and the encouragement of diverse housing choices are top of mind for the new head of the ACT Property Council, Arabella Rohde.
With more than 20 years experience in the property and construction sector, Ms Rohde, Senior Development Manager at Lendlease Development, is the first woman to be elected to the top job having been a Council vice-president for the past two years.
She replaces Village Building Company CEO Travis Doherty, who will fill one of two vice-president roles on the council. Amalgamated Property Group General Manager Phil O’Brien fills the other vice-president position.
Ms Rohde said that in a time of economic recovery and intense competition for resources and skills, she wants to work with government and the community on fostering innovative development proposals and how they can better work through the approvals system.
“At the moment it’s very difficult to think about something outside the square – so understanding how we can collaborate and engage better is a pressing priority,” she told Region Media.
“How out of the box thinking may produce better urban design and how that may be able to be supported.”
Ms Rohde said that often the planning system focused on protecting against poor development but not necessarily about striving for great development.
She believes the pressing need for more affordable diverse housing choices in Canberra is an area where such innovative thinking could help.
“We need to look at what the industry can bring in terms of innovation and design excellence,” she said.
This included a holistic view of affordability that took in the proximity of housing to employment and costs such as parking fees, as well as providing a greater variety of housing styles to meet a range of needs.
“We need the missing middle, such as town houses, smaller single lot townhouse type products that we have seen in some developments,” Ms Rohde said.
“We’ve got a diverse community and we really need housing that is reflective of that diverse community.”
Ms Rohde said the industry was starting to see competition increasing for sub-contractors from Sydney and the South Coast as the post-COVID rebound and bushfire rebuilding picks up.
This would only increase construction costs and timelines.
She said both industry and the community needed greater certainty about the time frames for the processing of development applications which are inconsistent, and compliance.
These were challenges when developers were contemplating investment decisions.
“We have lost 10,000 jobs in Canberra in the last year and the property sector amongst others was greatly affected,” she said.
“This has highlighted the need to respond to process improvements to ensure the industry is able to be resilient, recover quickly and provide greater certainty for both built environment professionals and the community.”
Ms Rohde also identified the region’s reduced population growth due to less migration as a hurdle.
“However, Canberra also has the opportunity to build on its competitiveness with our capital city counterparts with our quality of life and affordability, but we must ensure improvements to our planning, land supply, infrastructure, tax and housing policies are geared to best leverage these opportunities,” she said.
Ms Rohde said she hoped that the government would continue to review the complex question of tax and lease variation charges.
In a pitch for a sector that is often maligned, Ms Rohde said she represented a diverse industry and profession that had a commitment and a passion to outcomes that leave a lasting legacy and to positive design that contributes to the community.
ACT Executive Director, Adina Cirson said Ms Rohde, who has also chaired the Council’s Planning, Residential and Sustainability Committees, was ideally placed to lead the peak body at this time.
“This experience makes her the best leader to advocate on behalf of the property sector on what is needed for our city and community to recover, grow and transform for the future,” Ms Cirson said.
She said the new leadership team provided a diverse breadth of industry expertise.
“Never before has our advocacy work on behalf of the sector been so important. But the work is far from over as we face the next 12 months recovering and remaining focused on what is needed to continue to grow and transform as a city – and play our role as the economic heart of the region,” Ms Cirson said.
The new ACT Division team was elected at a special meeting on Monday 1 March.