Over the last two weeks my letterbox has been filled with more than just the latest bargain offerings from Target, and menus from my local restaurants. As a result my evenings have seen me do more than enjoy take away in the comfort of my new Pyjamas. I also perused about 12 different flyers received from those running for local council election. Each pitching what they will do for my local community, if elected.
After the first few flyers arrived, my approach upon finding a new contender in the mail changed. I would scan down the page until I found the words, “I will oppose inappropriate development”; on every single one, regardless of political affiliation. Obviously a pretty hot topic given it was on every candidate’s to do list. So this led me to this week’s blog: what is inappropriate development?
This topic gets me fired up folks. Fasten your seatbelt, forget the call to Houston, Melbourne we have a problem; and it’s costing this city I love dearly. You see inappropriate development has a different definition to different people, and that is at the core of this issue.
Firstly, I oppose inappropriate development. Those who know me know I live, eat and breathe design. It’s my life. So it saddens me that I see so little good design around me when I look around at Melbourne’s housing stock, totally “inappropriate” in my opinion. Good design does not cost any more, but that’s an entire blog of its own, for another time.
In the context of planning policy, inappropriate development should mean one of the following:
– Too high an increase in density for a given area – too many extra houses/ apartments.
– Out of scale – too big or tall.
– Of a purpose not fitting the area eg. a nightclub in a residential street.
Here are some examples to illustrate this. Imagine a street full of single storey houses. If one of those houses were removed and replaced with 20 apartments over 4 storeys, it would be like a limo turning up to the Mini car club, it just doesn’t belong. Alternatively let’s imagine that house is replaced with 4 townhouses, not as bad but still packing a lot of extra people and cars onto a site too small to cope. Therefore an appropriate development in such a case should be about incremental increase in density in residential areas. The main roads should be for bigger buildings, they have the trams, shops parking etc to handle the job.
As someone who submits applications into councils many times a year, I get so frustrated when my clients and I propose to replace one house as in the situation above with just two, and then have to fight with residents and council to get a permit. Is this inappropriate development, one extra house that actually meets all the planning regulations? I think not.
The bigger picture: our attitudes have to change. We all complain about traffic, but then object to increasing densities, which is the only way to make it possible for more people to live closer to where they work and play, and reduce reliance on cars. For most, affording a home is out of reach, so to split a block in half makes it affordable for more; it’s half price land. So when a neighbour who is lucky enough to own a house is scared their property will be devalued by two new townhouses next door, and objects on these grounds, people who need more affordable housing miss out. We all know how expensive homes are here, an article in The Age Newspaper on Friday, talked of the lack of affordability of home ownership for so many Australians.
None of us want worsening traffic; we all want our kids to be able to own their own home. So if you would like to do something about it, understand that not all development is inappropriate, incremental change is necessary for affordability, reducing traffic, lowering green house emissions etc. The same article in the Age predicted we need 1 million more homes in Melbourne in the next 30 to 40 years. Where I ask?
If demand has made our property amongst the most expensive in the world, imagine what will happen to land values with another one million people competing for properties in the next 30 to 40 years. Already the reality is that since 2001, the five areas of highest population growth in Australia have all been on the outskirts of Melbourne (Aust. Bureau of Statistics 31/07/2012). This will only continue if one house becoming two on a standard block, is so often considered “inappropriate”.
Back to “devaluing” of property, a common objection I see submitted to council against my planning applications. There has been a dip backwards in the last 12-18 months. It varies but maybe its dropped around 10% in the last 2 years. Even if it’s more, let’s not forget it doubled in the eight years before that. It was the GFC that bought along this slight dip, not two townhouses next door. Object if a proposed development will have a window looking into your back yard, it’s not fair and should be changed, but don’t object due to the fear of change. If we don’t alter our attitudes, please don’t complain about housing affordability and traffic.
Consider this: I’ve never met anyone who dislikes the city of Paris. Yet the entire city has barely a single freestanding house. Almost the entire city lives in apartments, no backyards. But many of us have probably daydreamed of living there. I’ve never heard a complaint about density being too high from those I know who have been there. The extra people in any given area actually adds life to the streets, that brings with it more shops in walking distance, as there is more demand for more local business. The result, the services they need are right at their doorsteps. Most of us need to get in the car to buy more baguettes.
We are not and will never be like Paris, we are proudly Melbournian. We live in the world’s most liveable city. So please, to my potential local members of government, development is not a bad word. Stop perpetuating people’s fear of it. Inappropriate development should be stopped, but instead recognise that there is a difference between good and bad development. We should stop poorly designed and inappropriate development, and only that. It’s the only way we can keep our mantle as the world’s most liveable city. Your flyers should have said, “We will only allow appropriate development”.
Give architects a chance to design well designed, affordable, appropriate housing for a greater part of our population. To own a house should not be a privilege. I ask the councils, start evaluating design quality; stop letting rubbish through and people will fear development less. If their experience is seeing interesting well designed new townhouses gracing their streets, they’ll be happy to see them everyday.
I’ll dismount my soapbox now, it’s in my backyard, and so is a new townhouse the previous owners built, it allowed me to afford this house when I purchased it a few years ago; because I couldn’t afford a full sized one.
I support appropriate development. Do you?