19 November, 2011

Australia's Housing Market is Oversupplied

For some years now we have been aware that developers have been marketing overseas, mainly in China and south east Asia, while claiming there is a housing shortage in our home market.
Michael Matusik, Director of Matusik Property Insights, who has been involved in over 500 new residential developments, admits that our housing market is oversupplied. You can read his article via this link - http://www.propertyobserver.com.au/residential/australia-s-housing-market-is-oversupplied.-yes-oversupplied/2011083051360
Because our manufacturing industry has largely gone offshore, the development industry has been used by lazy governments to boost our economy. Migration has been accelerated to feed the housing sector but the numbers of migrants have dropped from around the 300,000 p.a a few years ago to around the 150,000 p.a. so we are now building too much stock, hence the push recently to increase migrant numbers again. At the same time the development industry ignores the social housing shortage because there is not the same degree of economic return. They would rather sell to overseas customers because they are prepared to pay more. Of course, this pushes up prices and so the cost spiral continues.(The reality is that some developers are aggressively marketing overseas selling up to 50% of new housing estate to customers in those markets). 
Its time governments both federal and state start to develop new and innovative activities to drive our economic growth rather than relying on the development industry. As we've said before, to bring in migrants to feed the housing industry is just a ponzi scheme and somewhere along the line it will come to a disastrous end.

17 November, 2011

Lets Get the Facts Right

Recently we have been bombarded with articles in the media by Bernard Salt covering a range of issues about planning and population growth. Bernard Salt is often(almost always) described as a demographer or Australia's leading demographer. In a recent item in the Weekly Review, he said Melbourne needs New York style higher density because our population could double to 8 million and he has long argued that the retirement of our baby boomers about to exit the workforce will place pressure on our future tax base and our ability to cope with the aging society. The so called "Aging Population " is a scare tactic which is constantly being used by the growth lobby to argue the case for increased migration to bolster our workforce.
Well, lets get the facts straight, Salt is not a demographerhe is a partner at KPMG, a large accounting firm, and advises the big end of town on business issues. More accurately he could be described as a social commentator. He has now abandoned his baby boomer theories because he got his calculations wrong and he has retracted his position (sort of). In reality Bernard Salt could be described as a lobbyist for the business sector including the development, building and construction industry.
Residents in Boroondara may remember that Bernard Salt was used by our council to argue for its very flawed Activity Centres proposals. He was intoduced as a demographer at the "summit" and made some very silly comments about widows in their large cream brick veneers moving out to make room for families as a way of coping with the increasing population.
So far, because real demographers do not comment upon what a populist like Bernard Salt writes, he has flown under the radar and recieved little crirticism. To the contrary, he has received much adulation from business groups and the Australian newspaper.
We thought is was about time to balance the ledger.

31 May, 2011

Draft Activity Centres -Report on 30th May Planning Committee Meeting

The Coalition of Boroondara Community and Resident Groups presented the Urban Planning Special Committee (UPSC) an alternative plan in an endeavour to reach a sensible compromise to the Councils draft. To the credit of the Coumcils Strategic Planners they did look at our alternatives  and produced some amendments to their original draft. The amendments were published on the Councils website a week prior to the 30th May meeting. However, in our opinion the amendments do not go far enough.
 The Coalition of Community & Resident Groups'  recommendations  :
  • introduce Residential 3 zone for all residential areas as protection against opportunistic infill development.
  • All identified "Local Centres" be removed from the Strategy.
  • Remove Maling Road, Canterbury Village & Auburn Village.
  • Level 3 to be in scale with the predominant surrounding area.
  • Level 2  to have separate structure plans and to retain role as village centres.
  • All Centres to be identified as "Urban Villages" (as A.C.s sends the wrong message).
  • Interim height controls to be made mandatory.
  • No development on car parks.
  • Enterprise corridors to be treated as listed in our submission(complex).
  • Heritage protection to be stepped up especially in shopping areas.
The council officers' amendments included the Res. 3 recommendation.The Local Centres were transferred to Council's  "My Neighbourhood Strategy" (not sure what this means). Maling Road, Canterbury Village & Auburn Village  remain in the draft Strategy. Mandatory controls to be persued with the Minister for Planning. The car parks remain identified for development. Otherwise the draft had some cosmetic further changes which make no real concessions.
At the May 30th meeting, which was well attended, most remained critical of the councils Activity Centres Strategy (ACS) although some accepted the amendments and indicated support for the ACS, mainly from the Surrey Hills area where separate negotiations with council gained some further concessions.
The Urban Planning Special Committee will meet on Monday 6th June to decide on whether to give the draft plan the go-ahead or abort it altogether.The meeting starts at 6.45 pm in the Council Chambers.

13 April, 2011

Report on Meeting with Urban Planning Special Committee

Boroondara Council's draft Activity Centres Strategy is fundamentally flawed because its genesis is the former government's obsession with its Melbourne 2030 planning policy, population growth and the setting of arbitrary population targets for councils to meet. Our council has always resisted the setting of population targets arguing instead that the growth in our city should be a response to the capacity of our infrastructure and our capacity to accommodate change. In any case the former government's planning policies have now been scrapped by the new government, so why is our council obsessed in pushing these discredited and discarded policies?
Council claims its Strategy will direct development to our shopping centres away from our residential areas but this is just not so because the draft Strategy does nothing to control medium density in our residential areas. Developers will continue to buy sites for development anywhere they like and they like our residential areas. So councils Strategy will fail on all counts.
The council's summit on its Activity Centres Strategy was heavily criticised at a meeting with the Urban Planning Special Committee (UPSC) attended by over 150 residents. It was made very clear that the process was manipulative and there was no opportunity for residents to ask a question of the councils presenters nor were those attending able to speak.
We say this is not the way a consultative process should be handled.
However, the UPSC meeting, arranged after our negotiations with Council, did allow residents to make presentations to the committee, just under 40 speaking against the Strategy to create 48 Activity Centres with only three who spoke in favour. Many criticised the council's communication process making the point that they were unaware of the Strategy until alerted by various resident groups.
On behalf of 16 resident and community groups from across Boroondara, BRAG made a 20 minute  presentation which criticised the draft Strategy as it would  neither enhance nor protect the character of our local shopping strips. We pointed out that it was misleading for council to suggest that this Strategy will protect our residential areas from unacceptable development.
We put forward an alternate strategy, which was devised after consulting three town planners, including Professor Michael Buxton of RMIT, who recommended we push for council to immediately protect our residential areas with a Residential 3 Zone, which replicates Residential 1 Zone, except that it includes provisions that limit the building height of dwellings and residential buildings to a maximum of 9 metres. We also recommended that it include a previous council proposal to amend this provision that if 3 storeys were applied for then the roof line must follow the roof lines in the street( in effect this forces the 3rd floor to be an attic within the roof area thus removing the possibility of a three storey flat roof dwelling being approved).
There were other recommendations including reduction of proposed height limits overall and to remove totally the smaller "local Centres" from the plan as well as those with heritage overlays such as Maling Road, Canterbury Village and Auburn Village. A copy of the full presentation is set out below.
The UPSC referred the residents views back to the councils officers in the Strategic Planning Department for further consideration and report back to a meeting arranged for the 30th May . We are not confident that there will be any real changes to the draft Strategy - but we live in hope.
We urge residents to attend the meeting at the council chambers on 30th May 2011.

Summary of Presentation to Urban Planning Special Committee

BRAG made a six page presentation to the council's Planning Committee on Monday 21st March 2011 on behalf of sixteen community groups from across Boroondara.
The presentation made strong arguments to limit the proposed Acticvity Centre Strategy being pushed by Council's Strategic Planning Department and offered an alternate strategy which is supported by the sixteen community groups and devised after consultation with three Town Planners.
A summary of the alternate strategy :
Residential Areas - Introduce a Residential 3 Zone covering all residential areas in Boroondara (currently there is no protection for these areas). The 3 Zone is the same as the existing 1 Zone except it limits the height to 9 metres. (This has previously been looked at by Council with a suggested amendment to ensure any third floor proposal is within the roof area which must follow the existing street roof lines, this means that any third floor must be an attic within the roof to stop three storey flat roof construction within the 9 metre limit).
Local Centres. - All identified smaller local shopping areas to be removed from the plan (they are totally unsuitable to be made activity centres).
Level 3. - to have mandatory heights introduced that are no higher than the surrounding residential areas and remove from the list centres with heritage overlays (Maling Road, Canterbury Village and Auburn Village). Heritage studies be carried out as a matter of urgency and no parking areas to be developed.
Level 2. - Be renamed Urban Villages as Activity Centres sends the wrong message. Have separate structure plans prepared involving local communities and heights not to exceed 3 storeys to blend in with the surrounding residential areas. Heritage studies to be carried out in each area and no parking areas to be developed.
Enterprise Corridors - The proposed 10 storeys in Burwood/Camberwell Roads cannot be justified and separate studies in 5 different areas be undertaken taking hertage protection into consideration.
The height in Canterbury Road to be limited to 3 storeys (6 storeys proposed).
Tooronga - to be included in Residential 3 Zone
A copy of the full presentation, which includes our arguments and explanations for the recommendations and identifies the 16 groups is set out below.


A presentation by BRAG to the Urban Planning Special Committee on 21st March 2011, supported by the 16 concerned resident and community groups listed on page six.
We believe that the Draft Activity Centres Strategy is fundamentally flawed because its genesis is the former government’s obsession with population growth and the setting of arbitrary population targets.
This Council has always resisted the setting of population targets, arguing instead that growth in our city should be a response to the capacity of our infrastructure and the capacity to accommodate change whilst maintaining the character of our city. In our view, the Draft Activity Centres Strategy should be driven by one goal only and that is the desire to enhance and protect the character of both our residential areas and our commercial shopping strips. We could support the principle of a Draft Strategy if it is motivated by the attainment of this goal.
We understand that Council cannot stop developers from buying and developing land. In recognising this, we believe the Strategy provides Council with an important opportunity to properly manage change.
However, in its current form the draft Strategy will neither enhance nor protect the character of our shopping strips and the adjacent residential areas. It is misleading to suggest that this Strategy will protect our residential areas from development. The Strategy cannot force developers to build in activity centres if they want to develop in residential areas. There has been nothing to prevent developers from building in activity centres since the introduction of Boroondara’s planning scheme.
Despite a development boom in the first decade of this century there has been relatively little development in Principal and Major Activity Centres for residential purposes.
Our support for this Strategy is conditional upon a number of changes being made to the identified centres and the heights proposed.
Local centres should be completely removed from the plan. These centres contain few sites and are low scale given that they are very much part of the residential fabric of the city. Increases in density and the additional commercial development likely to support it will not be consistent with the residential character of their settings. The inclusion of local centres in the strategy simply constitutes an invitation to developers and should be avoided.
In our view it is essential that the Strategy recognises Boroondara’s character as a suburban location which is predominantly residential. The scale of buildings in its residential areas and in our shopping strips reflects this. It is not inner city and we should not plan to create a character which will make it so. The beauty of Boroondara lies in its very suburban form and the human scale of its shopping centres which create a village atmosphere dominated by people interacting on the streets. We should not lose this. The alternative of foreboding structures towering above our footpaths will create impersonal spaces and connections between people.
We fear the draft Strategy will remove forever those defining elements which make this city special
We say this draft Strategy does nothing to protect our residential areas. Developers have continued to develop in residential areas despite there being no height limits in our shopping centres. It is critical that Council put in place a strategy to protect residential areas from developments proposing excessive height and density.
Therefore, we say the R3 zone suggested by Council a few years ago and amended as proposed should be introduced immediately. This amendment as proposed was that if 3 storeys were applied for, then the roof line should follow the roof lines in the street, so that the third floor was in effect in the gables rather than a flat roofed 3 storey building. This R3 zoning should be applied immediately. Following this immediate protection to residential areas, then the work on Council’s housing strategy should be carried through to completion to enable better controls which reflect the differing neighbourhood characters throughout Boroondara.
Level 3 Centres
Level 3 grew in response to the needs of the immediately abutting local community and should remain in scale with the predominant form of residential development which surrounds them. The prospect of four storeys in any of these centres must be seen as setting a benchmark for development in the abutting residential areas because whether we like it or not, this is how developers and VCAT make decisions. They look to the nearest tall building to justify something higher than would normally be accepted.
Therefore we recommend that:
1. The centres with Heritage Overlays be removed from the list, for instance, Maling Road, Canterbury Village and Auburn Village.
2. Have immediate mandatory heights introduced that are no higher than the surrounding residential areas.
3. That no parking areas be available for development .
4. That Heritage studies be carried out as a matter of urgency.
Level 2 Centres .
It is acknowledged that Level 2 centres are larger centres and that they offer a wider range of retail, commercial, employment and community use activity. However, the relationship between built form, neighbourhood character and the feeling one gets when interacting with these spaces remains important. The essential suburban, village feel of these spaces will be lost if the streets are lined with four to six storey buildings. As stated earlier, we should not delude ourselves about the reality of our planning system. High buildings become the justification for even higher buildings. The prospect of 4 to 6 storey buildings will result in the very desolate canyons we should be seeking to avoid. The risk that residential sites at the interface with such high buildings will become targets for equally high buildings should not be underestimated.
We therefore propose:
1. that the Level 2 centres be named Urban Villages and
2. a separate structure plan (urban design policy) is carried out for each of them involving the local communities. They then retain their role as village centres and do not become mini impersonal cities.
3. No development should be allowed on parking areas.
4. The recommended height of any development should not exceed 3 storeys to blend in with the surrounding residential areas abutting the commercial precinct. An immediate interim mandatory height control should be requested from the Minister, and exist until the structure plans are in place.
5. Heritage studies should be undertaken on each.
It is essential that the Strategy protect the interface with abutting residential areas and the setbacks proposed are considered to be minimums. There should not be any scope to vary these. Indeed, our support for any planning Strategy is conditional upon Council being willing to adopt the height controls we have suggested as mandatory controls. If these controls are not introduced as mandatory, the intent of the Strategy will be defeated by developers and VCAT who consistently ignore Council policy where they have the discretion to do so. We believe that Council should aspire to providing the community with certainty about the future development of our city and there is no certainty with discretionary controls.
Without mandatory controls the suggested heights will simply become minimums.
We also have particular concerns about the enterprise corridors. The proposal for the Burwood Road / Camberwell Road corridor to accommodate buildings up to 10 storeys in height is strongly opposed. This Council fought a very expensive fight at VCAT to oppose the 14 storey building approved by VCAT on the Henley Honda site.
Council’s framework for this site suggested that it be limited to seven storeys despite its location in the Camberwell Junction Principal Activity Centre. How can you justify supporting a height of 10 storeys on a commercial strip which is not even recognised as a Principal or Major Activity Centre? Such heights will create the very canyons that Council worked hard to prevent in its West Hawthorn Design Framework and it should continue to prevent this type of character in our city.
We are firmly of the opinion that the Burwood/Camberwell Roads corridor should be divided into 5 sections and separate studies be done on each section, taking into account the areas that are protected by Heritage Overlays and the areas that are predominantly 2 storey. The exception of course is Swinburne University over which unfortunately council has no control. What must also be taken into account is the traffic impact of development on this corridor of both local development and development in other parts of Melbourne that use this as a corridor. The question has to be asked – what impact studies have been done? This applies to all levels of infrastructure, including sewerage which, according to Yarra Valley Water, is at capacity
The draft Strategy also seems to ignore the relationship between the 6 storey heights contemplated for the Canterbury corridor and the immediately abutting Surrey Hills centre at one end and the Canterbury Village and Maling Road at the other. Developers will attempt to justify greater heights in these end areas by referring to the 6 storey buildings in the abutting Canterbury enterprise corridor. Again we are of the opinion that this section be subjected to a study involving the local residents but in the end should be no higher than 3 storeys to maintain the special character of the area.
Tooronga is also included in this study which seems very unfair considering what they have been subjected to because of the area being taken out of council hands by the previous government. Therefore this area should be excluded and the area under discussion be included in the R3 zoning concept.
Council also needs to recognise that many of our centres also have heritage buildings located within them. These heritage places should be recognised and the suggested heights should reflect the importance of retaining the integrity of the heritage status of these buildings. As a matter of priority, Council should extend its heritage work in the shopping centres and be prepared to adjust the height and setback provisions of the strategy to respect heritage buildings.
In addition heritage work should be stepped up to protect more residential areas and request made to the Minister to allow tighter controls.
In summing up, we would support a Strategy provided it is along the lines we have suggested and the additional work on both heritage, the housing strategy, enterprise corridors and shopping centres is progressed to complete the package.
We thank Council for making this opportunity available to concerned members of the Boroondara community and hope that our efforts will not be in vain. We have a new government, no population targets and a new opportunity.
The Boroondara community urges you to take this opportunity.
Authorized and supported by a Coalition of resident & community groups from across Boroondara:
Boroondara Residents’ Action Group, Canterbury Mont/Albert Road Group, Glen Iris Residents’ Group, Grace Park Residents’ Group, Kew Cottages Coalition, Kew Residents’ for Open Space, Maling Precinct Protection Group, Mont Albert Road residents’ Action Group, Planning Backlash Inc. Pleasant Road Residents’ Group, Protectors of Public Lands Vic. Inc., The Shrublands Association, Willsmere Park/Kew Billabong Group, Willsmere Village Residents’ Co-op, West Hawthorn Group, Yarra River Action Alliance.
(Edited by Jack Roach - original submission Tuesday, 12 April 2011, 04:16 AM)