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28 June 2018

Density debate discovers missing middle

THE WEST AUSTRALIAN

Housing’s “missing middle” is getting a push from the WA chapter of the Urban Development Institute of Australia, which wants to broaden the debate away from the extreme ends of traditional single-level and high-rise housing.

UDIA WA chief executive Allison Hailes said it was important to have a broader, long-term plan that integrated apartments, townhouses, maisonettes and walk-ups near train stations and commercial centres.

“We have got to develop an understanding and a maturity about how we are going to deliver density,” Ms Hailes said.

“Perth as a city is starting to transform. We have really only been talking about (how we manage this change) for the past three years, compared with Sydney and Melbourne, who have been doing it for 10, 15 years and longer.

“Let’s go and see some good outcomes. I think we need more demonstration projects here.”

Ms Hailes acknowledged there was tension in some communities about how to get the best outcome but stressed there was no need for streetscapes, landscapes and local character to be casualties of density.

“We need clear rules about planning and urban design outcomes for an area,” she said.

For example, Ms Hailes acknowleged there had been concern about development and height when Subiaco’s Subi Centro was built almost 15 years ago, resulting in most of it limited to three
levels.

“Now it’s a thriving part of Subiaco,” she said, adding that she doubted the character would have been lessened if it had been six levels but that it may have better supported local businesses and created more jobs with greater height. A tendency to be cautious about height created a tendency to underdeliver on some urban infill sites, she said.

Once an area was developed, particularly with strata developments, the land was effectively locked up for decades.

“We have a tendency (in Perth) to take a cautious approach which means we often under deliver on the potential of an area.”

There were other examples, such as the Gardens District of New Orleans where historic streetscapes had been meticulously preserved but inside, many of the bigger mansions had been converted into apartments, successfully adding density while retaining character.