There’s been mixed reaction to the Territory’s announcement to open up dual occupancy options in some zoned areas of Canberra, with some saying it strikes the right balance and others labelling it “unambitious”.
The Territory Plan 2023, district strategies and design guides were released on Monday (11 September), which Planning Minister Mick Gentleman said would allow people to consider different ways to live in the future and allow for “gentle density growth” across the Territory.
“Our old Territory plan had a limit, it was rules-based planning, it didn’t encourage people to think innovatively,” he said.
“The new Territory Plan does.”
It is hoped these changes will boost both housing and renting stock in the ACT, providing options in already established areas at a better price point.
It’s expected missing middle houses such as townhouses, dual occupancies and duplexes will allow the government to provide more affordable and diverse homes for people to rent and own in established locations.
Molonglo Valley is likely to accommodate most of the Territory’s future growth, while the Inner North, City and Belconnen are expected to experience most of the new medium and higher-density development.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said while the Labor Conference had adopted the policy of upzoning, concessions also had to be made to ensure the plan had a majority vote when the legislation was presented to the Assembly.
“We have to operate in the art of the possible, and I’d rather an outcome and get 80 per cent of what the party wants by way of increased [housing] supply,” he said.
“This won’t be the final say in planning for the rest of time … but what we’re announcing now is something I think will have a duration of several decades.”
Political compromises appear to have mainly been with the ACT Greens.
“The Liberals have effectively stayed out of this and offered no serious engagement on the issue,” Mr Barr said.
The Greens are particularly happy with the inclusion of a Biodiversity Design Guide, which developers will have to consider when submitting applications for the first time.
“Ending new gas connections, requiring charging points for electric vehicles, saving and planting more trees on every development site – all of these Greens policies are set down in the new Territory Plan to make Canberra an even better place to live as our city grows,” Sustainable Building and Construction Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said.
Other policy changes include living infrastructure and urban heat provisions for commercial and community-facility zoned land, as well as subdivision applications, and amended vehicle parking requirements for EV charging facilities.
The Greens will be watching closely to make sure the ambition becomes reality.
“[The plan] has very significant ambition in terms of quality, in terms of ensuring that developments are ‘human scale’ and responding to the environment,” Ms Vassarotti said.
“Enforcement and compliance is a really significant issue for us, and ensuring the system actually is delivering so we can look at potential additional things.
“We don’t think this is the end of the conversation.”
Compromises will always come with disappointments for some.
The Housing Industry Association (HIA) has been calling for subdivision in RZ1 in some circumstances for a number of years, so while it has welcomed the announcement, it’s disappointed secondary dwellings will be restricted in size.
“This seems at odds with the overall design of the new planning system, which is promoted as being outcome-focused rather than prescriptive,” ACT/Southern NSW executive director Greg Weller said.
“It would also have been preferable for the block size to be set at 700 square metres, as it was for the former Mr Fluffy blocks.”
Size also matters to the Canberra Liberals.
Planning and Land Management shadow minister Peter Cain has slammed the RZ1 announcement in particular as an “unambitious copy” of the Liberals’ plan that they took to the last election.
“Our plan is more ambitious, it allows a greater variety of housing by not limiting the size – would a family be able to live effectively in a 120 square metre granny flat?” he asked.
He also expressed concerns about how these changes would impact current wait times for DAs to be approved, how the logistics of hooking up utility connections would be managed, and if there would actually be any significant uptake.
“It’s fine to say ‘here’s a policy, here is a new scheme’ but if it actually doesn’t get taken up, then that’s not a successful policy,” Mr Cain said.
The Canberra Liberals will deliver their planning policy closer to the election.