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14 November 2018

Resistance, site size hit medium density

The West Australian

Community resistance and a lack of sizeable development sites are major barriers to medium density development in Perth.

Perth and Peel@3.5m promotes higher density residential developments around activity centres, station precincts and along high-frequency public transport routes, to create housing diversity and choice.

However, WA Planning Commission chairman David Caddy told an Urban Development Institute of Australia WA discussion, Intensity not Density, that despite community concern about high rise and denser development, more than three quarters of WA’s new housing was freestanding homes.

University of WA’s Australian Urban Design Research Centre’s findings showed despite perceptions of an apartment boom, these accounted for a miserly 14 per cent of new WA dwellings.

Mr Caddy, reiterating the State Government’s commitment to a strategic planning framework, said medium density development — the so-called missing middle that is touted as a potential solution to housing another 1.5 million people by 2050 — had declined sharply from 2014.

The best efforts of State governments to pursue medium density development of two to three-storeys, in a bid to halt urban sprawl, had floundered.

This was because of “steadfast public opposition, hesitation by the development industry, lack of support from some local governments and in some instances unintended policy outcomes such as blanket rezoning” which, he said, had resulted in greater land fragmentation with battle-axe, triplex and quadraplex developments.

“Issues such as ageing in place, baby boomer downsizing, manageable dwellings closer to transport and amenities, homes to suit millennial lifestyles, the declining need for backyards, getting young people on the property ladder — all of these and other challenges can be addressed to some degree by medium density development,” Mr Caddy said.

“So what are the challenges? I concur with AUDRC …that community resistance and a lack of sizeable development sites are major barriers.

“I would add to that a complex and sometimes inconsistent policy framework that can be challenging to navigate.

“Community opposition is mired in a genuine fear of change. Consistent and common concerns include increased traffic, parking, a potential drop in property values and loss of privacy and amenity including the urban tree canopy.

“People are rightly worried about the loss of streetscape and mature trees — the heat iron effect, on street parking and the increased burden on local services and infrastructure.

“Poorly designed existing developments are also fuelling fears.”

However, Mr Caddy said making good design the centrepiece of WA’s planning policies would go a long way to “allaying community fears about poorly designed outcomes in their neighbourhoods”.

WAPC was working to “untangle” State planning policies to streamline development, he said.

It had just signed off on The Better Urban Forest Planning Guide, a collaboration with WA Local Government Association and the Department of Planning, to retain tree canopy in an environment of increased urban development.

Design WA apartment guidelines were on track to be gazetted by the end of the year and WAPC was working on a medium density scoping paper, to be released for public comment early next year.

WAPC was also devising precinct design policies, in tandem with a Metronet team, and setting up a broader framework for design review panels, including a State design review panel.

Design review panels were established with development assessment panels as a crucial source of feedback to allow developers to ensure proposals met a higher design standard before they were submitted for approval.

Mr Caddy said a draft policy on lots of less than 100sqm, to make a significant contribution to housing diversity and affordability, was also under way.

The WAPC was also in the early stages of creating a community engagement program on infill development, Mr Caddy said.

“We have a clear responsibility to raise community awareness of what we intend to do, why we are doing it and what change will really mean for the community,” he said.

“We need to look and learn (from the cases in which) infill has faced resistance, such as within the Town of Cambridge, Joondalup and Stirling.”

Mr Caddy reiterated AUDRC’s comments that Perth’s forecast population growth offered a never-to-be repeated opportunity and that its capacity to deliver “high-amenity, medium-density development” will “define Perth’s liveability and visibility this century”.

“I am confident that we can meet this challenge provided we remain receptive to new ideas and shared goals that consider the needs and views of all stakeholders,” Mr Caddy said.