10 November 2023

'That's enormous': Barr defends 120 sqm limit for dual occupancies

| Ian Bushnell
Join the conversation
man and woman seated on stage

Chief Minister Andrew Barr makes a point at the ACT Property Council lunch: affordability and choice are at the centre of planning reforms. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has gone into bat for the 120 square metre size limit to dual occupancy development in Canberra’s residential zone, rejecting the notion that that kind of home is a mere granny flat.

“That’s enormous,” he told the ACT Property Council lunch on Thursday.

“I live in a 120 sqm house, an extended ex-govvie. There’s two of us and one very large cat. We don’t need that 250 sqm house.”

Mr Barr said the size limit was aimed at enabling more affordable detached homes to be built in Canberra to provide more choice in the market.

“One hundred and twenty square metres is bigger than most two-bedroom apartments, bigger than most three-bedroom apartments, and it is designed for downsizers to people in their first entry point into the housing market,” he said.

READ ALSO Public transport lobby attacks hidden changes to Woden Interchange

Mr Barr said the Rz1 and RZ2 policies, which will also allow two-storey apartments to be built, were designed to have a better allocation of housing across the Canberra demographic.

“2.4 people [the average number of people in a Canberra home] rattling around in a five-bedroom home not so good. Families of five in crowded accommodation is not so good. There is a bit of a mismatch, so we’ve extended planning and tax policies to address that,” he said.

Mr Barr said the government was focused on building homes that people could afford to buy where they wanted to live.

He said anything more than a 120 sqm home, which would sell for $700,000 to $800,000, would be out of the reach of many first-home buyers.

“At $4000 or $5000 per sqm to construct, how is a 250 sqm house going to be affordable for anyone,” Mr Barr said.

“In the end, the housing affordability equation is going to be a combination of the land value and how many dollars per square metre the construction costs and then the profit margin for the developer on top of that,” he said.

“That’s going to be the selling price. If we just go on building the biggest houses in the world, we’re not going to improve housing affordability.”

Mr Barr also took aim at calls for single detached homes to be a bigger slice of the market, saying they were already dominant and would not be enough to provide the housing needs of a growing Canberra over the next decade.

Mr Barr said of Canberra’s 195,000 dwellings, around 123,000 or 63 per cent were single residential dwellings, about 38,000 or 20 per cent were apartments, and the balance of about 33,000 or 17 per cent were the so-called missing middle, the semi-detached townhouses and terraces.

READ ALSO Polished Lee in fighting mood, but she still has party baggage weighing her down

He said the ACT would need at least 100,000 additional homes on top of the 200,000 it would have by 2025, probably before 2050.

“This obviously cannot be achieved through single residential dwellings on quarter acre blocks,” he said.

“It’s neither practical, deliverable or economically or environmentally sensible,” Mr Barr said.

“100,000 additional homes over the next 20 to 25 years will require the full mix of housing types to ensure affordability, to provide people with choice but also to maximise the opportunity from our existing social and economic infrastructure.

“So delivering additional missing-middle housing through an approach I’ve described as gentle urbanism is the government’s preferred pathway that is underpinned by the planning system reforms.”

Mr Barr said the RZ1 changes could unlock nearly 50,000 potential secondary dwellings across the city over the coming decades.

He said the RZ2 changes to allow two-storey apartment complexes were also important because that would provide more single-level homes so people could age in place, close to where they may already have lived.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments
brucewantstobecool5:14 am 11 Nov 23

If someone other than Barr had said this, would it have received similar blowback from the Riot ACT readership?

He’s not wrong that 120m isn’t a shoebox/granny flat; it can be a small house like which were the norm not that long ago, or in my case bigger than my 3 bedroom townhouse. It’s just another housing option in the missing middle between actual shore box apartments and overly large houses. The more of these smaller housing options that exist that aren’t apartments or even townhouses, the more options there will be for people to adjust their housing needs as their circumstances or desire change. The more options might, if we’re lucky, mean more supply and cheaper housing overall, too.

Yes, in my case I intend to upsize, but that will leave this place available for someone else or people to inhabit; a person or people more suited to this sized place or who only desire something of this size.

I was surprised at the vitriol he’s received on this (well maybe surprised is the wrong word – it wouldn’t have mattered what he said, some will have still found a way to twist it). He hasn’t said all houses need to be that size. He was talking about dual development blocks. That arrangement will not suit everyone, but should be an option for some.

megsy, Of course they would. There is a total of two people that live in that tiny house and no the cat doesn’t count.

No-one is beyond criticism when they say something stupid, whatever their politics may be.

Brucewantstobecool, No small houses like that weren’t the norm, not that long ago. My first house was a little 3 bedroom and it was still close to 140sqm and it was built in the mid 70’s.

All of this while another local Labor politician just added another story to her existing house. And just to clarify, there is nothing wrong with that but it certainly shows how detached from reality of raising a family that people like Barr apparently struggle with.

Bob, you have missed the point. He is not talking about houses for families. He is talking about options for singles and child-free couples that won’t cause massive problems for neighbors. This is about dual occupancy. Nothing else. Imagine you own a house & garden and the people next door decide to turn their block into a dual occupancy. If they are allowed to have two massive houses on that block, it will impact on you. It will block out your light. It will cause parking problems in your street and it might increase the noise in the street. Would you be happy with that? Putting a limit on the size of houses in dual occupancies is a way of finding a compromise. It will be an option for those who only want something small; without making life miserable for the neighbours. Nobody is going to force a family to live in that small house. It is merely an option for those who want small houses.

Developers are not happy cause it restricts their profits. YIMBY groups are not happy because they dont think enough housing will be built, and that existing planning laws “artifically suppress land value” plus a bunch of other reasons that they grump about. But really lots of people are cranky for a bunch of differeing and conflicting reasons.

Personally, I think affordable means smaller sized homes and market has not provided smaller sizes houses in the recent past. Secondly, it is hard to stack up a business case to buy expensive inner suburban land and put “affordable” housing on it. What usually happens is expensive inner suburban land gets expensive housing – whether single or dual occupancy.

megsy – With all due respect, no I did not miss the point. 500sqm is about the average size of blocks for full sized family houses in the new developments and these are packed in on narrower streets with less amenities. Many of the blocks in older suburbs are 1000sqm with some at 1400+ and others even at 2000sqm or more. Putting a hard limit of 2 x 120sqm homes on a 2000sqm block is ludicrous.

As Michael C stated below, no-one is buying a million dollar plus block in the inner suburbs to put a couple of 120sqm dogboxes on it. Developers aren’t in the habit of losing money on property deals.

They pay lip service to wanting to increase density rather than release new land, which is what people actually want. Given this is their stated aim – how does this make any sense when they are putting hard limits on the size of subdivided blocks that won’t suit anyone but singles/couples?

Out of touch politicians dictating that that tiny floorspace is all they need so it’s all anyone else will get as well makes zero sense.

Bob – I agree it is quite rare for smaller dwelling to be built in the inner suburbs. But I have seen one recently built in my street. It was outside of Rz2. There was a small modest single story duplex (on two blocks with a side of the duplex on each side). The owner build a decent sized secondary residence in the backyard. Made by The Pod Canberra, you can see floorplans on their site. I would not describe it as a dogbox, but similar to an apartment.

It would not suit my family, but I am sure it will suit someone. Within my suburb (Campbell) a survey of residents did show a demand for smaller, modest single story houses (as distinct from double story, expensive townhouses.)

Unsurprisingly, there is now vastly less green space and heaps more concrete on that block but a modest home was built as a secondary residence.

However, far more of the time, I see expensive two story townhouses built in Rz2 and Mr Fluffy. Think $1.5-2.5M each.

Michael C – “The owner build a decent sized secondary residence in the backyard. Made by The Pod Canberra” sounds more like they were adding a granny flat rather than what is being proposed with these changes.

Given what land costs in Campbell, can you imagine that developers would be in a hurry to knock down existing houses to build two little 120sqm houses when they can’t make anywhere near the profit they could building larger residences?

Bob, my first house (three bedrooms) was about 85 sq m. I bought it from a family of five. Then three of us lived in it comfortably. The average sized house in 1950 was 100 sq m.
The average household number today is 2.5 people, so close to the size of Andrew Barr’s household.

I’d say the majority of original houses in the inner suburbs are less than 120m2. That’s 1300ft2 or 13 squares in the old money. I grew up in a 13 square 3 bedroom house that my parents built in Downer, and it was considered large compared to the standard 11 square (99m2) 3 bedroom guvvie houses next door and peppered around the suburb. It was a palace compared to the 81m2 two bedroom house we moved from in Melbourne. I went to school with kids from a large Scottish family of seven who lived in a four bedroom house the same size as ours (120m2).

Back in the 70’s and 80’s 120m2 was about the average house size & houses were affordable back then.

The problem is these days people are conditioned into thinking they need something bigger. We need to learn not to confuse need with want.

If you want to live on a shoebox mate that’s your choice. Most people want space for their family and room to.move for their children.

Nobody is forcing to live in a dual occupancy arrangement. If you have active children, of course it won’t be for you. However, many singles or couples without children only need and want a smaller house. This proposal is to help them and to allow extra homes in established areas without building monstrosities that overshadow neighboring properties. It doesn’t force anything on others looking for something different.

Megsy. And watch the beautiful spacious bush capital be transformed into a congested urban nightmare.

HiddenDragon7:05 pm 10 Nov 23

“He said anything more than a 120 sqm home, which would sell for $700,000 to $800,000, would be out of the reach of many first-home buyers.”

The big supermarkets could learn a lot about the art of skrinkflation from this government and its mates.

Mr Barr has thrown his housing density eggs in the RZ1 basket and falsely claims it can add 50,000 houses into Canberra. That’s a completely fanciful number of dwellings, false advertising, unrealistic and totally misleading to potential homebuyers and homeowners.

Mr Barr hasn’t had his government undertake any in depth research into this RZ1 solution, didn’t undertake trials of the second dwelling plan in select suburbs, didn’t survey homeowners in detail to see how keen they really were on building a second dwelling in their backyard, in short his government and planners claim to be magically fixing long embedded housing density issues for Canberra with the least scary proposal for voters.

devils_advocate6:34 pm 11 Nov 23

Also nobody is going to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in lease variation charges, application charges, planning charges and infrastructure levies, before they even scratch the dirt, for the privilege of being allowed to build a 120m home on their own land. It’s ridiculous.

How can the CM’s ego fit in such a small space? I am flabbergasted. Surely there is hope for us yet.

It’s great that the Chief Minister Lord Farquaad is satisfied with his enormous shoe box (is this to compensate for his other shortcomings one wonders?) My daughter, her partner and a toy poodle live in a similar sized shoebox that I am currently renting to her. Unfortunately the Local Council’s rates and land tax grab along with the Body Corporate fees is sending me backwards. Obviously I should be charging excessive rent to recoup my losses. All hail our generous Lord Farquaad and his equally humongous cat for his valuable insight into how a DINK can live a luxurious lifestyle.

Very funny that you ALMOST figured out the actual issue without realising it. Maybe next time.

Incidental Tourist4:45 pm 10 Nov 23

Bill Gates once said 640K is more memory than anyone will ever need. So nobody will ever need more than 120 m2 house either. And no more than one large cat.

They could just release more land (As they have done since they got in) to lower the price.

Prince Andrew, is out of touch

The issue there, as we have seen in every new suburb in the last 20 years, is that they don’t release it to new home buyers. Property developers buy out 80% of it before it even goes public, and anyone looking to buy are forced into ‘house and land’ packages.

Yeah but that is at least increasing the supply. The alternative is just cramming more and more people into existing housing and pushing the prices through the roof.

Jesus wept! The arrogance of this bloke is unrivalled in Australian politics. What an outrageously out-of-touch comment.

Out of touch comment? I agree totally with this bloke Andrew Barr! He is going to need all the extra space he can for that cat.

I know just how glutenous, corpulent and slovenly a cat can be! They take over the house!

I’m old enough to remember The Goodies’ Kitten Kong!

“I live in a 120 sqm house, an extended ex-govvie. There’s two of us and one very large cat. We don’t need that 250 sqm house.”

Great, so a couple and a cat want to live in a shoebox. Gues who doesn’t? pretty much everyone else.

“Mr Barr said the size limit was aimed at enabling more affordable detached homes to be built in Canberra to provide more choice in the market.”

Only a politician would be brazen enough to attempt to frame setting arbitrary limits based on ideology as “providing more choice”

“This obviously cannot be achieved through single residential dwellings on quarter acre blocks,” he said.

Talk about dishonest. When was the last time a quarter acre block was actually the standard? How about you actually release more land rather than artificially limiting access to it.

“It’s neither practical, deliverable or economically or environmentally sensible,” Mr Barr said.

…and there we have it. You WILL live jammed into a tiny shoebox because your leftist betters have decreed that their ideology trumps your wishes.

devils_advocate3:22 pm 10 Nov 23

It’s not ideology. It’s pure greed.

They claim to support urban infil but they make it economically unviable through fees, taxes, charges and regulatory burden.

Because they don’t want infil projects completing with their drip-feed land release program.

Always trust the baser motivation.

So 120 sqm is a shoebox? Get a grip. Most people in this city lived in free standing homes around that size until very recently. Many still do. Me included. That said, I’d like to redevelop my quarter acre block, but the rz1 changes are ridiculous, and not because of the 120 sqm limit, but more so because of the restriction to 1 storey secondary residence and other nonsensical restrictions. The government has missed the mark here. They should have gone with the very sensible idea to ‘upzone’ rz1 to rz2 specs. Simple fix.

No thanks i don’t want my street full of dual occupancy houses , i was never asked if thats what we wanted

devils_advocate1:11 pm 10 Nov 23

So how much does the LVC add to the cost of this 120m palace?

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.