27/03/2018 - 14:51

Medium density misses the mark

27/03/2018 - 14:51

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A disconnect between urban infill ambitions in WA and the sector’s ability to deliver is hindering the development of medium-density projects.

Garry Ellender says medium density provides housing choice and more affordability. Photo: Attila Csaszar

A disconnect between urban infill ambitions in WA and the sector’s ability to deliver is hindering the development of medium-density projects.   

There is a ‘missing middle’ phenomenon emerging in Western Australia’s property sector. 

Steven Rowley, the director of Curtin University’s housing and urban research centre, told an Urban Development Institute of Australia industry breakfast earlier this month the state was failing to deliver in terms of its density and affordability targets, and in terms of buyer choice.

He pointed to the latest available data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which analysed 100,000 WA residential building approvals over the past five years and found about 35 per cent of approvals in ‘other dwellings’.

Breaking that category down, the biggest supply of density focused dwellings were in apartments four storeys and above, followed by semi-detached one-storey dwellings, with the remaining medium-density product falling short (see table).

“Density seems to be an ugly word to many, associated with parking issues, land values and a loss of open space, but done well, we know this is not always the case,” Mr Rowley told the event.

“Most have heard of the argument for greater density – how long is it going to take us to reach our infill target?

“But this isn’t just about density, it’s about delivering housing choice and affordability and this is the message we really need to enforce.

“So why aren’t we better at delivering medium-density housing? Is planning framework or lack of quality sites to blame?”

Access Housing chief executive Garry Ellender said although attitudes were changing towards medium density, there was still a strong presence of ‘Nimby-ism’ (not in my backyard).

During the past five years, the WA-based not-for-profit affordable housing company has delivered 298 medium-density residences across 19 projects, including a development aimed at seniors and people living with disability currently under construction in Hamilton Hill.

Access Housing’s 51-apartment project Jervis Rise. Photo: Access Housing

Mr Ellender said Access’s projects were largely in the medium-density space due to the increased ability to deliver affordable housing across a range of product types – units, villas, apartments and townhouses, varying in size from one to three storeys, all with high-energy ratings.

“There’s no one cookie-cutter approach, it’s down to the individual developers to ensure they deliver a product to the market that will be acceptable,” Mr Ellender told Business News.

Mr Ellender said medium-density product was best placed close to transport and high amenity, with Metronet hoped to be an enabler for more development in this space.

“It’s a growing market, especially for downsizers wanting to move out of big traditional blocks into more manageable spaces,” he said.

“The property industry is starting to respond and innovate because there is demand, but I think red tape continues to be problematic; there’s inconsistency across local councils.”

Access Housing development manager Duane Moroney said the company was aiming to expand into dual-key and terrace housing, and that there were inconsistencies inherent in perceptions of what medium density actually represented.

This was demonstrated at the UDIA event, where some panel members defined medium density as any semi-detached or apartment dwelling up to four storeys. Others, still, considered Georgiou Group’s The Pocket in Claremont, which features one six-storey building, to fit the brief. 

“Fundamentally we need to define what medium density is so we’ve got a base to work from,” Mr Moroney said.

“When there’s inconsistency in definition then the community has less confidence on what’s going to be proposed as medium density.

“A lot of weight falls on the shoulders of local government.”

Framework

The City of Subiaco’s proposed Scheme Amendment No 35, which will allow development provisions to increase the size of building envelopes, received more than 200 submissions during its recent public consultation process, according to a city spokesperson.

Windsor Knight director Greg Pearce has been keeping an eye on its progress.

The local developer, responsible for the recently completed Subi Centro precinct, lodged a development application for a four-storey mixed-use development at 385 Rokeby Road on the corner of Duke Street in 2016.

Windsor Knight’s proposal for 385 Rokeby Road. Image: Taylor Robinson

The proposal, which planned for two levels of basement car parking, retail on the ground floor, commercial space on level one and two storeys of residential, was rejected – largely on the basis of its height, Mr Pearce said, of about 17 metres (with current provisions allowing for about 12 metres).

“There is a real phobia about height, people just can’t cope with it and I don’t understand it,” Mr Pearce told Business News.

“We need to come to grips with the issues, take good planning advice and really ask ourselves, can Perth seriously continue its ever increasing low-density expansion?”

Mr Pearce said quality design underpinned good medium-density developments, which is why he increased his proposed residential ceiling heights to about four metres, well above the industry minimum standard of 2.4m.

“The top of the building is about the height of the existing trees,” he said.

Mr Pearce said his project would provide options for people to move into a quality development with a small number of apartments.

“There’s not much of this in Subiaco, there are a lot of apartments down the other end, but not up this end,” he said.

“The elected members at state and local level have to accept that it’s just not sustainable in Perth to continue with single residential.”

The City of Nedlands is also in the midst of reassessing its framework, with the city’s draft Local Planning Scheme No 3 set to replace its existing scheme, which has been in place since 1985.

The draft scheme proposes a selection of streets in Nedlands, such as Stirling Highway, Hampden Road and Broadway to have the potential for more density, with a 1,000sqm block under the R-code R160 allowing the development of 16 units.

This could help the city in reaching a target set by the WA Planning Commission for an additional 4,400 dwellings to be housed in the area by 2050.

Submissions on the draft close on March 29, with strong opinions voiced by numerous members of the community, so much so that two of the city’s residents have created a website called ‘Concerned Citizens of Nedlands’, which aims to debunk myths and misinformation about density, in favour of a range of housing options.

UDIA WA president Nick Allingame said a lack of a clear policy framework to facilitate and encourage medium-density development had been a barrier.

Finding appropriate land in the right location for delivering quality medium-density product was another challenge.

“Other factors such as tax  policy also play a role in why we haven’t seen more medium-density product in WA,” Mr Allingame said.

“Stamp duty in particular acts as a financial barrier to people downsizing and moving into more appropriate housing. UDIA is supportive of a review of inefficient taxes such as stamp duty and a move to a more broad based tax system.” 

He said the state government was currently tweaking frameworks for the medium-density volume for R-Codes as well as releasing their position statement on micro lots. 

Alternative

Earlier this month, the WA Planning Commission released a draft micro lots policy as part of the state government’s push for more housing options, trialling terrace houses on sites of 100sqm or less at Ellenbrook.

Long-term trials have already started in South Australia and Queensland, with an Urbis analysis commissioned by LandCorp finding micro lots provided housing typically priced at 70 to 80 per cent of the median house price in that surrounding area.

For example, Urbis found that the average house-and-land package at Peet’s Lightsview estate in SA was priced at $345,000 – 32 per cent less than the median price in an associated suburb.

Last year, Now Living, a BGC Homes Brand, started work on the first residential green-title lots in WA under 100sqm, with plans for 11 two-storey dwellings built on 80sqm lots, including two demonstration homes set to open in April.

Now Living’s 80sqm lot homes. 

Aveling Homes in partnership has built four display homes it has termed ‘Skinnies’ at LWP Property Group’s Ellenbrook Drummond Precinct, ranging in size from 120-160sqm.

All homes are two storeys and just 4.5 or six metres wide.

Aveling general manager, sales and marketing, Sean Quartermaine said advances in construction techniques and forward-thinking planning measures had created the right environment for the small lot trend to take hold.

“Perth is facing a housing affordability crisis, with homes being out of reach for many buyers, particularly younger people who are trying to get into the market,” he said.

“Our Skinnies range offers these buyers the opportunity to buy their own home on a green-titled block, rather than opting for an apartment, which is often their only alternative.”

Aveling is also about to commence construction on a new concept in Melville, where it will build four ‘Cubes’ on square blocks as small as 56sqm.

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