Building code: developers say council backlash is a ‘proxy to protest’

As new laws fast-tracking duplex developments meet resistance from NSW local governments, Urban Taskforce says councils are being “mischievous” while experts call for focus on evidence.

Just weeks after Ryde and Canterbury Bankstown councils were exempted from the code, eight councils this week followed suit and sought to bypass the regulations out of concern they will lead to further population density without appropriate infrastructure.

Under the change, which comes into force on 6 July, one and two storey dual occupancy developments can be fast-tracked and developed in narrow 12 metre wide manor houses and terraces.

The new Low Rise Medium Density Housing Code provides fast-tracked development of one and two storey dual occupancies, manor houses and terraces.

The NSW Government argues that low-rise medium-density housing is the “missing middle” of the state’s housing stock, between free-standing homes and strata-titled apartments.

Urban Taskforce, a peak body representing developers, said the council backlash was escalating into a pre-election “anti-growth, anti-change” position that could prompt a state retreat from what it argues is a warranted response to population growth.

Chris Johnson

CEO Chris Johnson pointed to Strathfield Council which is seeking exemption from the code despite its existing prohibition on medium density housing as an example of the political slant of the debate.

He said councils were misusing the call from planning minister Anthony Roberts for local governments to raise any concerns about the code with the State Government “as a proxy to protest about overdevelopment.”

“The danger is the government looking like it’s backing down on a fairly sensible approach,” he told Government News.

Mr Johnson said the code itself will only apply to councils who already permit medium density developments. “Councils have been a bit mischievous to say it’s opening up a giant Pandora’s Box of new developments.”

Medium-density dwellings supported: research

Professor Roberta Ryan, director at the Institute for Public Policy and Governance, said the response to the code had become “political,” pointing to the institute’s evidence that medium-density developments are largely supported by constituents.

“This has become a political debate that’s separated itself from the evidence,” she told Government News.

“The research we’ve done indicates that people are receptive to add a storey to respond to population growth.”

While the code is to be welcomed as part of an “ongoing strategy” to fast-track medium-density development to support population growth, councils need to focus on both the evidence and consultation with local communities, Professor Ryan said.

“We need to invest in understanding what communities want at a strategic planning level and to fully understand what their aspirations are. This has all happened without that investment,” she said.

Need to undertake planning, says Randwick

On Wednesday, Randwick Council announced it was one of seven other councils seeking an exemption from the code, citing the need to undertake local planning and prepare infrastructure for the estimated 8,500 blocks that would be eligible for subdivision under the code, due to rollout in July.

Randwick Mayor Lindsay Shurey said the council needs extra time to undertake local planning measures such as its housing and town centre planning.

She said:

“It would be prudent to allow council more time to properly consider the issue until local planning has been undertaken and appropriate strategies such as our Housing Strategy and the K2K Town Centre Strategy are in place to ensure local infrastructure is sufficient to accommodate any increases in population that may result from additional residential development.”

Professor Ryan questioned whether there was evidence showing that the code would lead to increased population density in an LGA, but she noted that Randwick was undertaking a housing study.

“We should be looking more closely at large-scale apartment dwellings than one or two storey developments, ordinary people wanting to put another storey in their house, which might not even increase density,” she said.

Code could address infrastructure: developers

Professor Ryan said that while she supports the code, it has been compromised by the NSW Government’s infrastructure backlog.

She told Government News earlier this month that successive governments have failed to adequately plan for an estimated two-fold population growth.

Mr Johnson argues increased urban density that might result from the loosening of duplex regulations could help to address an infrastructure backlog, by funneling money into public infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and transport.

“It’s much more likely as development occurs the planning starts to occur for increasing hospitals, schools, pub transport, so I think it’s a process that in my opinion is better as it’s a kind of integrated approach with development,” he said.

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