By Julian Bajkowski
There’s a longstanding joke that you couldn’t swing a cat in many of Sydney’s smaller flats and apartments, but debate over just how compact units in new property developments can has escalated into a full scale row over the future of the city’s industrialised inner suburbs of Botany and Mascot.
Property development lobby group Urban Task Force has publicly accused the City of Botany Bay of adding up to $250,000 per new dwelling through an attempt to make new builds a little roomier by regulating-up the minimum size a flat can be in an attempt to control the proliferation heavily crammed blocks.
"It would appear that Botany Bay Council is not interested in affordability and is trying to be more like the wealthy Eastern Suburbs as a place for the rich," Urban Task Force chief executive Chris Johnston said.
"Even the [NSW] State Government standards for apartment sizes are high compared to other states where there are less controls on size. The Building Code of Australia sets standards for minimum room sizes and the Urban Taskforce believes that there is no need for further regulation of apartment sizes."
The development lobby’s accusations centre around the City of Botany’s draft Development Control Plan which it claims “includes standards well above those required by the State Government in SEPP 65.”
"Botany requires 100 sq. m for a two [bedroom] apartment while the State Government only requires 70 sq. m. With Botany apartment sales at around $7,000, a square metre this adds $210,000 to the cost of a two bed unit,” Mr Johnston said.
“On top of this Botany requires 2 car parking spaces compared to the State Government's standard of one car space for a two bed unit and this adds a further $40,000 to the cost."
But City of Botany Mayor, Ben Keneally, isn’t taking the criticism lightly and hit has back hard at the suggestion he was trying to lure well-heeled investors to pay a premium over workers to move into Sydney’s noise-afflicted heavy transport heartland.
“At the City of Botany Bay we have been increasing housing supply at a rate much greater than most of the rest of Sydney,” Mr Keneally said.
The Botany Mayor also had a simple message for his more affluent neighbours.
“Last year we approved more DAs than Randwick and Waverley combined,” Mr Keneally said. “By building new high quality housing we take the pressure off our older housing stock, keeping it available for affordable rental and purchase.”
Mr Keneally said Botany strived “for a balance between housing types and prices.”
That includes a substantial element of public housing in architecturally iconic like Daceyville that shows little sign of being redeveloped soon.
“There is an abundance of existing affordable housing in the Hillsdale and Eastlakes areas as well as other parts of our City,” Mr Keneally said.
“Many of the areas where apartments are permitted are noise affected by the airport, ports and major roads, therefore, internal space is amenity based.”
The push by Botany to limit the phenomenon of apartment-size shrinkage comes as builders increasingly target once undesirable industrialised suburbs that are located relatively close to Sydney’s CBD.
Just seven kilometres from Sydney’s centre, the comparatively unreconstructed coastal swampland area is bounded by heavy transport infrastructure that includes Sydney Airport, the Port Botany docks and other heavy industry like fuel terminals and rail freight lines that dominate the area.
However the sheer proximity of the CBD now appears to be acting as a heavy counterweight to the many longstanding environmental challenges.
Buyers and renters across Sydney are attempting to move closer to their workplaces because of ballooning commuting times caused by poor or stretched transport infrastructure from the sprawling outer suburbs than mean people can spend as much as four hours a day just getting to and from work.
While developers are keen to sate the appetite for more inner city housing, councils across Sydney remain wary that quick, cheap and crowded builds could easily recreate a strata-title version of the infamous slums that used to dominate now gentrified areas like Newtown, Surry Hills, Paddington and Balmain.
The problem of inner-city ‘urban infill’ developments geared to maximising investor yield over good design and amenity is not restricted to Sydney.
The Australian Capital Territory Government in Canberra is increasingly incurring the wrath of residents in more central suburbs where it has allowed the widespread and rapid demolition of detached dwellings in favour of cheaply built unit developments that have caused serious congestion, parking shortages and problems with noise.
A major problem in the ACT is that although inner-city infill has attracted investors and occupants, the majority of Canberrans still eschew public transport and drive to work in areas that are dispersed around the city.
However developers counter that unit dwellers are not just becoming accustomed to sharing communal facilities, they are also reaping the benefits of smarter use of space that is integrated into building design.
"Modern design of apartments with built in furniture has maximised the feeling of space and new urban lifestyles are now sharing amenities like gardens and gyms and using new technologies to access services,” Mr Johnston said.
“Our concern is that those setting the standards are out of touch with the new innovations in apartment living and the lifestyle that goes with this," he said.
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