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20/04/2016

Having a 'fair go' in Australia

Sydney

We know that the UK has an affordable housing problem. But what about elsewhere? As UN-Habitat III approaches, we're looking at the state sustainable urban development around the world. First up, Australia, where 'Pommie planner" Harry Quartermain has been working in Sydney for the past five years.

Working for the past five-and-a-half years as a ‘Pommie planner’ in Sydney has given me an insight into the state of housing sustainability in Australia.

Among the tenets of Australian culture are a connection with the outdoors, having a ‘fair go’, and ‘mateship’. These correlate closely with planning’s principles of environmental, economic and social sustainability. But when I read the Habitat III ‘Issue Paper’ on housing, I was not surprised to see many of issues on housing sustainability ring true, even here.

A consideration of environmental and social sustainability is required during the development assessment process in New South Wales.

The objectives of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 include the encouragement of ‘ecologically sustainable development’ and the provision and maintenance of affordable housing. This resonates with the connection to the outdoors and the idea of ‘mateship’.

"State and federal governments are not afraid to spend on infrastructure"

The Building Code of Australia sets basic standards for development, including new housing. Energy-efficiency rating is also common, and assessment of new housing against the Building Sustainability Index (BASIX) is compulsory in New South Wales.  

State and federal governments are not afraid to spend on infrastructure, with more than A$8 billion recently invested in the new Metro Northwest. Increasing the urban density of Sydney around existing and future train stations to create transit-oriented developments is an ongoing but slow process. Most local councils have been slow to respond to new infrastructure, but the state government is making changes to the zoning regimes around these stations to replace the traditional low-density suburbs with viable mixed-use centres.

Economic sustainability, driven by fiscal policy, is largely within the remit of federal government. Despite 89 per cent of the population residing in towns, the relationship between the federal government and urban issues, like housing, has been patchy. In 2013 the Major Cities Unit was dismantled and in 2015 the federal treasurer said cities were not within federal jurisdiction.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics says house prices in Sydney have risen 19.9 per cent in the past year. Australia’s population will double within 50 years and the proportion of people living in the capital cities will grow from 66 per cent to 73 per cent. In this federal election year we await government discussion on equitable access to homes for Sydney’s eight million future inhabitants.

This is the first in a series on sustainability and housing from Commonwealth planners in the run-up to UN-Habitat III

Harry Quartermain is a senior planner with JBA in Sydney

Image credit \ iStock

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