WA reforms tackle infill development, urban sprawl issues
Planning reforms and funding to encourage urban infill development are at the centre of a WA Government drive to ease critical housing shortages in the state and limit urban sprawl in Perth.
An $80 million fund is to be set up by the Western Australian Government to ease critical housing shortages in the regions and to promote higher density city living centred around public transport.
The Infrastructure Development Fund was revealed by Premier Mark McGowan as part of his Vision for the State speech at a Property Council WA event.
Equal funding will be made available for metropolitan and regional areas, with $40 million allocated for proposed apartment developments in urban infill and Metronet station precincts.
Mr McGowan said he wanted to provide families with better, more affordable and sustainable transport options.
“This fund will help to ensure we bring more housing online as quickly as possible right across the state, from the inner city to our regional communities,” Mr McGowan said.
“Perhaps (it will deliver) the choice not to have a second car or the flexibility to drop off a child at day care near a new Metronet station, saving precious time for busy parents, or the option to use our ever-expanding cycle network to get to work, school or a train station.”
The fund, first proposed by the Property Council, aims to address a significant disincentive to developers of infill sites.
High-rise projects often require millions of dollars to be spent in advance on infrastructure such as power, drainage and telecommunications.
Industry peak bodies welcomed the announcement and said it could lead to more design variety and help limit the expansion of suburbia in the world’s longest metropolitan area.
WA Chapter President of the Australian Institute of Architects, Sandy Anghie, said the housing infrastructure package would help address a critical housing shortage, including accommodation for essential workers such as frontline healthcare workers, teachers and police officers.
“The architecture profession in WA is very concerned about preventing long-term urban sprawl, which is severely impacting work-life balance, household budgets and the environment.
“We can tackle this with greater support for infill development and apartments coupled with the accessibility and urbanisation benefits of Metronet,” Ms Anghie said.
An issue confronting infill development has always been that it is too often cheaper to build a house in the outer suburbs that to construct an apartment in inner urban areas.
“With the new funding commitment to reduce these costs and the new Design WA planning codes, Perth can realise a new vision of housing diversity and improved housing and neighbourhood sustainability,” Ms Anghie said.
“With better design quality for infill housing and strong attention to energy efficiency and sustainability in design, we can achieve high liveability of outdoor and indoor spaces.”
The Master Builders Association of WA said the new planning policy for medium density developments was much needed.
“The pandemic has brought this need to the forefront as we simply cannot afford the delays, inconsistencies, unnecessary red tape and lack of accountability that has too often inhibited development in the past,” Executive Director, John Gelavis, said.
“We are pleased to see announcements that recognise the significant issues with, and the substantial impact of, planning issues and delays which stop projects getting off the ground.
“We must also address delays in development approvals for single dwellings, where the issues experienced by industry are significant and have a detrimental impact broadly.
“Master Builders supports further changes to address residential issues in the next tranche of reforms.”
Planning reforms not all plain sailing
The major reforms announced Wednesday (22 February) that will see greater powers handed to centralised administrative panels to consider property development approval have not met with unanimous approval.
WA Local Government Association (WALGA) President, Karen Chappel, told media that new planning laws will make local councils “almost irrelevant”.
“What has been suggested, that is going to be happening going forward, (is decisions will be made) without local government having a say in what is going to happen in their communities.
“It's just not fair to communities.”
Overcoming community concerns among home owners in inner suburban areas about infill development having a negative impact on the amenity and character of their area was also a constant struggle, according to Tanya Steinbeck, CEO, Urban Development Institute of Australia WA.
“NIMBYism (not in my back yard) on the surface appears to be widespread and driven purely by selfish intent and lack of education about what is required in order to accommodate future population growth and deliver housing choice.
“As you peel away the layers of emotionally driven objection, what likely remains is fear - fear of change, fear of negative impacts to either lifestyle or financial circumstances perceived to be driven by greater density in one’s local area.
“The antidote to fear is both courage and hope - courage to lead and make tough decisions is important when we need to deliver desperately needed housing supply in an infill environment.
“Equally, NIMBYs and more broadly our community need hope and evidence that the way in which this is executed enhances not detracts from the place they call their own,” Ms Steinbeck said.
R Code policy changes
Planning Minister Rita Saffioti on Thursday (23 February) released Western Australia’s first ever planning policy to guide medium density development across the state.
The policy, which is a new part of WA’s unique Residential Design Codes (R Codes), focuses on designing homes that are sized appropriately and suit the context of the land, as well as delivering better outcomes in the design of living spaces and for the sustainability and efficiency of new homes.
Ms Saffioti said current medium density residential development is resulting in a lack of housing diversity and affordability, loss of trees in many suburbs and limited access to natural lighting and ventilation that increases costs for the homeowner.
“As our population grows, our housing needs are changing, and medium density developments are becoming more and more common across our neighbourhoods,” she said.
“We need to ensure that our planning policies keep up with the changing housing needs of the community, and the Medium Density Housing Code will deliver better designed homes into the future.
“The new policy addresses what really matters to people, having choice about how and where they want to live, reducing their energy bills and making housing choices that prioritise good natural light, less concrete, more greenery and local amenity.
“The policy will also address the loss of neighbourhood tree canopies with incentives to be provided where existing trees are retained, and a requirement for new trees to be planted in all medium density developments.
“The transition period for the new policy will be six months for typical infill development and two years for greenfield development, which provides certainty for people with existing house and land packages and financing arrangements,” Ms Saffioti said.
The Medium Density Housing Code will deliver:
- improved tree canopy across suburbs with incentives for the retention of existing trees and the requirement for new trees and deep soil areas to be included in all new developments
- delivery of more housing diversity through a new deemed-to-comply pathway for terrace-style homes, and the requirement for a range of dwelling types in larger grouped and multiple dwelling developments
- improved housing design with new requirements around minimum living and garden sizes and the need for them to be linked, and the orientation of new homes to deliver better energy efficiency and natural light
- better neighbourhood amenity with consistent street setbacks and the requirement for new developments to consider impacts on neighbouring properties including noise, privacy, outlook, vehicle access and parking
- site area concessions and the removal of occupancy restrictions to incentivise the development of gold level accessible houses and encourage greater housing diversity and opportunity for ageing in place.