Tuesday, May 24, 2022
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A ‘global’ Sydney with local consequences

The draft District Plans and an amendment to the metropolitan strategy, A Plan for Growing Sydney, were released on November 21 by Chief Commissioner Lucy Turnbull at a ceremony in Parramatta. Greater Parramatta and the Olympic Peninsula (referred to as “GPOP”) will be the future heart of the three-city metropolitan model. West of GPOP is the third piece of the puzzle, the newly conceived “aerotropolis” situated around the planned airport at Badgerys Creek.

If the changes are realised, they will mean the most significant transformation to Sydney’s economic and social composition in decades and potentially restore some level of equity to a city that has suffered dearly from a lack of investment in critical infrastructure. This is not the only objective of the planning super-agency. The Commission’s aims are centred around “productivity,” “liveability” and “sustainability”. Indicative of the “global Sydney” brand, these three words are woven throughout the draft District Plans, including the Central District, home to South Sydney.

The Commission hopes to balance productivity, liveability, and sustainability at the same time as accelerating the rate and scale of development across the region. It plans to do this by working with key government agencies and local councils to coordinate the provision and utilisation of physical and social infrastructure while fast-tracking the development approval process. The statistics alone give a sense of the challenge. Within the Central District the Commission aims to work with councils to build capacity for 46,550 new dwellings of various tenures and types before 2021. Some 18,300 of these are to come from the City of Sydney local government area alone.

Density brings investment, people and their incomes. It also brings challenges that need to be addressed for key services and housing affordability. The economics 101 of supply and demand tends to break down in the Sydney housing market, where the value of land as an investment, buoyed by an ocean of cheap debt, means that prices are largely set by investors. In the Central District, most apartments are not owned by the people that live in them. Home ownership is being pushed further beyond the means of Sydneysiders. To answer this “liveability” issue, the Commission poses no revolutionary options and few concrete answers. For places like Redfern-Waterloo, where many low-income families and students reside, this demands greater attention.

The Commission has chosen a low affordable housing target of 5-10 per cent, which applies only to additional floor space in urban renewal areas that benefit from rezoning and new green fields areas. This means that many new high-rise developments could contain only a few or zero additional affordable rental housing premises. These targets must be worked into local government housing strategies but they are not mandatory and will be subject to a “feasibility” assessment, which provides little certainty that the Commission will achieve the 4,000 to 8,000 new affordable rental dwellings across Greater Sydney that it believes is required. Without a greater commitment to affordable housing the economies of scale required for affordable housing providers to grow their portfolio is diminished and opportunities lost in the rush to provide additional capacity.

Affordable rental housing is not something that should be up for negotiation. It is part of the continuum of housing that runs from moving out of homelessness to social housing and through affordable rental housing to home ownership. It is also critical to providing accessible living arrangements to key workers in strategic centres. If the Commission is serious about one thing it is connecting the right jobs to the right urban areas, whether by boot, bike, rail or road. It is therefore disappointing and out of step with its own mission to begin the discussion with such a low target.



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