6 March 2023

Unlock the RZ1 suburbs for medium density to meet housing crisis, says Master Builders ACT

| Ian Bushnell
Join the conversation
Row of townhouses.

Townhouses in Coombs. Canberra needs more, says Master Builders ACT. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Canberra’s single-block residential suburbs should be opened up for medium-density housing under the new planning system, according to Master Builders ACT.

In its submission on the draft Territory Plan proposed for the ACT’s new outcomes-based planning system, the building industry group said more private, public and community-owned duplexes, terrace-houses and townhouses could be built if current RZ1 areas were rezoned to the RZ2 standard.

It also calls for RZ2 areas to be rezoned to RZ3 and to allow more terrace-housing and low-rise apartment buildings that would rejuvenate local centres.

READ ALSO Canberra Liberals’ light rail stand may box party in for 2024 election

Reforming the CZ4 local centre zone would also enable apartments above shops, including increasing building heights to at least three storeys and reserving ground floor space for commercial space.

At the very least, Master Builders ACT said the dual occupancy arrangements for Mr Fluffy blocks purchased through the Asbestos Buyback Scheme should be applied generally, including not having to pay additional lease variation charges.

It also backs dual occupancies in RZ1 zones being separately titled.

Master Builders ACT wants to see fewer restrictions on the number of homes that can be built on a block, calling for the proposed 50 per cent plot ratio limitation in the RZ1 and RZ2 zones to be increased so “scarce land with this zoning” can achieve “optimal residential yield”.

The submission said that the ACT’s acknowledged housing crisis would not be eased without a combination of accelerating new land release and amendments to the Territory Plan to allow additional housing options in the residential zones.

“Unless the ACT intends to continuously sprawl to the NSW boundary, the RZ1 zone must be unlocked to accommodate housing for key workers, our aging population and natural population growth,” Master Builders CEO Michael Hopkins said.

Michael Hopkins

MBA ACT CEO Michael Hopkins: more housing options needed in Canberra’s residential zones. Photo: Region.

The submission also wants mandatory parking requirements reduced to one car space per home across all residential zones to enable more sustainable housing designs and reduced housing costs for the increasing number of Canberra families who don’t own a car or only own one car.

It said storey limits should be scrapped in favour of an overall height limit in metres which would alleviate the need to regulate the height of basements.

Alarmed at the number of housing developments that end up in the ACT Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the submission calls for the removal of all third-party appeal rights for residential uses proposed in residential zones.

It said the new Territory Plan and the other components of the reform process should be supported by an Infrastructure Plan.

“If additional growth is allowed in established suburbs, in line with existing ACT Government policy, then we believe it is critical that the ACT Government also release a long-term infrastructure plan demonstrating to the community and industry where new infrastructure will be built to support this growth,” Mr Hopkins said.

READ ALSO Developer drops hotel rooms from Braddon Place project

He said the new planning system will need a boost to resources and training in the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate to achieve what it proposes.

“The adoption of an outcomes-focused planning system will be a game changer for the Territory and, if implemented properly, it should allow for innovative proposals from the private sector,” Mr Hopkins said.

“However, this potential will not be delivered unless an injection of resources is provided to the development assessment teams across Government, especially design and architectural skills.”

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments
Guy Incognito10:20 pm 09 Mar 23

Increased density can be achieved with controls on site coverage to retain tree canopy and green spaces. This with the added advantage of being able to use existing services, improving access for new home owners in existing areas and allowing residents to downsize.

All over Australia we need more “missing middle” housing, building 5 bedroom McMansions for couples and maybe one child is crazy. Missing middle housing includes things like court yard units, duplex, multiplex homes and multi family homes. Of course the NIMBY groups jump up and down about this – why we have a housing crisis. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missing_middle_housing

Michael Cuddihy5:06 pm 08 Mar 23

Fair enough, we do need a mix of housing choices. I just dont see that happening in the brownfield infill areas based on past experiences and the rational business incentives that shape behavior of developers.

I think a lot of the “missing middle” and YIMBY lobby groups will be disappointed by the actions that developers actually take if their campaign around zoning laws leads to a more laissez faire “let it rip” approach in RZ1.

A quality design-led development of affordable housing will not happen in brownfields sites in suburbs if proposed RZ1 changes are waved through by ACT PLA.

Good point Michael. Mr Gentleman keeps pointing to the success of the Mr Fluffy re-builds as proof positive of .

If he thinks a scheme that regularly delivered two $1.5 million dollar houses that replaced a million dollar house and land is delivering affordable housing, then he better think again.

Unlock the suburbs so that builders can buy an existing single house, build multiple dwellings on the same block and sell EACH of those dwellings for what they paid for the original dwelling in the first place.

In other words unlock the zoning to maximise profit.

devils_advocate1:46 pm 08 Mar 23

What will happen with all the zero-star EER ex-govvie iceboxes sitting on 900m+ blocks? Under the greens they won’t be capable of being rented. They can’t be economically retrofitted with their lack of solar orientation, no wall or floor insulation and single glazed windows.

They’re going to have to get knocked down anyway. Nobody is going to do this for free.

Michael Cuddihy4:50 pm 08 Mar 23

Sometimes they get bought and renovated and improved. Sometimes they get knocked down and replaced by a modern house with a yard. Not everyone wants to live in medium density.

Personally, I have lived in apartments, townhouses and houses all at different life stages. As I get older, I suspect that at some stage I will move into a different type of dwelling.

Most older people moving out of house are looking for single level dwelling, which developers don’t provide because they can make more money from building large houses or large townhouses on split block.

And yeh, businesses dont operate as a charity. They take risks, and apply their skills to earn money in the hope of profit. I see them siding with Missing Middle lobbyists as opportunistic.

But any likelihood of developers doing “affordable” housing or building the fabled housing diversity is wildly naive. They build dwellings that reduce their risk, which they can sell, and which deliver best profit.

Michael Cuddihy4:53 pm 08 Mar 23

100% agree. I suspect that there is a good reason that ACT PLA has not done any evaluation of what has actually happened in existing RZ2 and Mr Fluffy Blocks. Endless expensive large townhouses with limited vegetation, bugger all trees.

No affordable housing or diversity in dwellings.

Knocking down and old dump and building three to replace it at the same price is great. Much better than knocking that dump down and building one big McMansion to sell at three times the price.

Michael Cuddihy11:21 pm 11 Mar 23

Mostly I see each of the duplexes or triplexes selling for more than the original house.

That’s precisely what the PEOPLE of Canberra DON’T want. We WANT our BUSH CAPITAL Territory.

Jenny Graves4:36 pm 07 Mar 23

Hear, hear! They are planning to do this particularly in my suburb of Curtin, which would totally wreck the nature of the suburb. It breaks my heart. I agree with what other writers have said, it’s all about maximising profits for the developers. I just don’t understand the government’s agenda. They will totally wreck the city if they carry on like this. As it is, it’s nothing like the city I came to 25 years ago.

Outcomes focused for developers. How about creating more jobs in production of goods rather than increasing migration for a consumtion style economy to support continious housing growth. Even the construction products, timber (some from Russia), windows and harware are all now majority imported where they use to be locally produced. Other countries can mainatin steady populations and have stronger communities by having long term industries that employ people locally to produce products. Now there is limited job opportunities -APS, service industries, tradies, coffee barista’s or stacking shelves. Bring back local design and manufcaturing.

devils_advocate1:48 pm 08 Mar 23

You forgot education and tourism, two of the country’s more significant (sustainable) exports

In other words, the MBA believes that ratepayers should support developers to do whatever they want, rather than requiring them to consider the needs of residents (including children) and provide for their requirements. Kids have to be able to play outside whilst elderly and infirm people need places to walk safely.

We have extreme variations in climate here, so we need space for large deciduous trees giving shade in summer and allowing the sun to come in during winter, so people can have a good life without exorbitant power bills. We need more green space, more parks, more plants and trees, with less concrete, asphalt and glass.

Yeh, if there a a few hinsg that Canberra is missing, it’s trees, parks and green space… sheesh.

As usual, the NIMBY brigade to the fore. Heaven forbid future generations living close to the services and amenities that the NIMBY mob have enjoyed for so long! There is ample space in the ACT for tastefull higher density accommodation. Not all of us want to live in quarter acre siloes like modern day straps. We need to better share what we have.

Michael Cuddihy4:40 pm 08 Mar 23

Alternatively, ACT Govt improves services and amenities in Tuggers, Belco and Gunghalin. Plus continues to existing infill in RZ2 with existing controls. Build density in remaining greenfields.

Use the ample space in undeveloped parts of Molonglo, and Gunghalin to build higher density. Keep developing Civic, Constitution Av, West Acton

For those who want medium density, there is already heaps of medium density in many Canberra suburbs. and there will be more in future. The missing middle lobby groups must move around Canberra with their eyes closed.

Developer-led, block by block, bare earth knock downs has really only delivered large, expensive townhouses without trees. Nothing affordable that I have seen.

devils_advocate8:22 am 09 Mar 23

Affordability would be helped if developments weren’t weighed down by hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasteful taxes per unit; as well as excessive interest holding costs as a result of a slow and overly bureaucratic development approval system.

Michael Cuddihy5:42 pm 09 Mar 23

I dont think people in government have a great sense of how much elapsed time can drive costs in business. But interest holding costs as developers navigate planning system is a pretty clear easy to understand example.

The ACT Greens/Labor government has become a glove puppet for corporate property developers and land speculators. Densification results in congestion, loss of urban tree canopy and rows of bland, shoddy apartments. Densification will result in all of Canberra being Gunghalinised. Don’t be GeoConed.

So frustrating to watch our beautiful garden city become like every other overcrowded, overdeveloped city. All the attributes that draw people to Canberra will vanish. For no other reason than greed. Intensive infill is not sustainable design – it demands increased use of artificial light and cooling. The loss of tree canopy will mean the city becomes a heat bank.

Guy Incognito10:16 pm 09 Mar 23

Did constant expansion into greenfield areas suddenly become sustainable?

Michael Cuddihy6:47 pm 10 Mar 23

Nah – fringe sydney style greenfields development with no community infrastructure has always been a terrible outcome for sustainability.

But greenfields development has been reined back for a long time in the ACT, and has now slowed to a trickle. For the remaining areas that have not yet been developed, I think it would be good for them to be higher density than is currently planned and for the ACT govt to directly step in an actually build the fabled (and largely unbuilt) sustainable affordable dwelling diversity that they talk about; but which developers dont build.

Graham CLEWS10:56 pm 06 Mar 23

Yep, let’s really screw up this city and this territory. Pack us in like sardines cos how else is the building industry to make a buck?!
It can’t stop, of course. It is not in the nature of the thing! And, given time, people will have forgotten what they once had.
Mr Barr has always believed a sign of progress is putting more people into smaller spaces. So this idiocy has a fighting chance. And the building industry & developers will love him for it!

Michael Cuddihy4:59 pm 08 Mar 23

To be fair, it is not just the building industry pushing for more infill and smaller blocks and smaller houses. Supporters of the environment, public transport lobby groups, edal power, and social housing activists. For different reasons, but there is loud group of people who think that existing residents and people already in Canberra are less important than people who might move here in the future, and the interests of their particular lobby group or business.

HiddenDragon8:53 pm 06 Mar 23

This week’s (it’s only Monday, so maybe it will be more than one) “unlock the suburbs” spruik.

“Unlock the suburbs” – so that amenity can be trashed and stolen for private profit, while pretending to serve the greater good.

Guy Incognito10:23 pm 09 Mar 23

So that amenity can be shared. NIMBYISM is a form of greed.

Michael Cuddihy7:12 pm 10 Mar 23

The developers and sellers of land clearly financially benefit the most. The impacts on the existing community are typically derided as NIMBY protectionism by YIMBY activists, who have become more organised in the ACT.

I agree that community facilities and amenities should be used and shared. Similarly, I dont think that residents of Tuggers, Belco and Gunners should be abandoned and neglected.

I reckon the infill intensification is too focussed on Inner North and Inner South. There should be appropriate infill in these areas. I think RZ2 is about right now. RZ1 should stay, and go as hard as you can in the cities and remaining greenfields areas.

I think a big part of the answer to housing affordabilty is not the permissive rezoning that the odd mix of YIMBY/Developer/Left wing types advocate. I dont think it delivers affordable housing or really any of their promises. (Sidepoint: The YIMBY coalition does seem to enjoy ascribing villanous attributes to people who already happen to live in the Inner North or South.)

I would like to see far more actual public housing built and owned by the Govt. Not a little bit, but a lot more. An older solution but at least there is a direct link between Govt saying it wants something (ie affordable, sustainable, diverse dwellings) and responsibility for delivering it. Hoping developers will deliver that under an ‘outcomes’ planning framework is wilfully naive.

devils_advocate6:23 pm 06 Mar 23

Increased construction costs have made a lot of new build projects unfeasible in the short term.

The remainder are hamstrung by overly bureaucratic planning approval processes with constantly moving goalposts; and punitive stamp duties (imposed on the land and again when subdivided and sold) as well as outlandish lease variation charges which are a fixed cost per unit, discouraging smaller (more affordable) units.

Michael Cuddihy5:40 pm 09 Mar 23

Good point about the fixed cost per unit costs that are further disincentives on smaller units and dwellings.

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.