‘We’ve done an abysmal job’: Australia is struggling to handle its swelling population
John Roberts has reached his 60s and has decided it’s time to trade in the family home for the apartment lifestyle.
“I have quite a bit of what I call memorabilia, my wife calls it something else I won’t mention,” he joked.
“You do have to get rid of a lot of stuff that you accumulate over the time.”
John Roberts has purchased a Claremont apartment off the plan, overlooking a football oval. (ABC News: Rebecca Trigger)
As Australia’s population grows, Mr Roberts is one of a many Australians moving into higher density-style living spaces — flats, apartments, semi-detached houses, row housing or town housing, which now makes up more than a quarter of Australian housing.
His home town of Perth has had the highest rate of population growth of any state or territory in the past 10 years, and is grappling with massive urban sprawl.
The problem affects almost all Australia’s capital cities and governments are trying to force the population closer to vital amenities like public transport and reduce commuter headaches.
In Perth, the government has set infill targets across the metropolitan area, in a big to force local councils to approve more development.
Mr Roberts is downsizing to an off-the-plan apartment in Claremont, in a development overlooking the local football oval of his favourite club, the Claremont Tigers.
“We thought the apartment style of living would better suit us because grandkids do take up a fair bit of time so we didn’t really want a garden, we didn’t want a pool,” he said.
“I don’t see that it’s going to be really much different to the house we live in, it’s going to be a touch smaller.”
And he prefers to look on the bright side of being close enough to hear his neighbours.
“That sort of living in close quarters is not something that’s going to worry me at all — in fact I think the opposite, I think you’ll develop a community feel,” he said.
Mirvac General Manager, Residential Development Paige Walker in front of the Claremont development. (ABC News: Rebecca Trigger)
Mirvac WA residential development general manager Paige Walker said the project’s proximity to public transport and amenities in Claremont’s town centre made the site attractive to prospective buyers.
“It is typically the Australian dream to own a home on a big block of land, but it’s becoming harder,” she said.
“The benefits of apartments is they’re typically … next to train stations and amenities, it’s easy access to work and … you don’t really need to use your car.”
City suburbs grow apart
An analysis of planning data by the ABC has revealed high-rise, high-density housing development is outstripping State Government expectations in some neighbourhoods, while other areas are lagging so badly they are struggling to meet government targets.
The data paints a picture of two cities — one in which apartments and subdivided blocks with small or no backyards are changing the face of the neighbourhood, an another in which families continue to live on sprawling blocks and spread-out homes.
Planning authorities stress infill development is unlikely to progress in a linear way across councils, as large-scale developments can take time to come online. Figures in areas with smaller dwelling numbers are also more volatile, making it harder to predict trends.
In 2015 and 2016, there was a higher proportion of infill projects yielding 50 dwellings or more per lot in comparison to the historical average across Perth — which means more tower apartment blocks are going up.
The overall rate of infill in the city in that time was 41 per cent, the highest since the Department of Planning started measuring it.
The cost to the community
Nedlands resident Kellie Hasluck with her daughter Avalon and son Oliver. (ABC News: Samuel Yang)
Down the road from Claremont in the City of Nedlands — located in the heart of the city’s affluent western suburbs — the Department of Planning’s latest zoning proposal has seen locals push back, concerned they will lose the big backyards and the leafy, low-traffic aspect of their suburbs.
Business owner and mother-of-three Kellie Hasluck is worried the new zoning plans will increase traffic around her children’s school.
“The greatest thing about living in this neighbourhood is the community that we’re involved in, we live really close to the school and the kids can walk down the street really safely,” Ms Hasluck said.
“Because it’s quite a low-density suburb a lot of people drop their kids to school.
“It will become a carpark, there will be kids that will be endangered by traffic issues.”
Kellie Hasluck is concerned high density will increase traffic near her children’s school. (ABC News: Samuel Yang)
Resident and stay-at-home dad Noel Youngman fell in love with the older cottage-style homes in the area and moved in nine years ago.
“It goes without saying that the trees will disappear as the developers come in,” he said.
“Where you have this lush, vibrant green space with lovely ambient temperatures under the trees, they’ll be the first thing that goes,” he said.
He is concerned government and planning authorities are being pig-headed about pushing through change, at any cost.
“They’re really looking at the area as a map, rather than looking at the area as a community,” Mr Youngman said.
“The amenity of the area becomes less of an important issue to those groups than it does to the people living there.”
From penalty to reward
Nedlands Mayor Max Hipkins is concerned the character of the area will change. (ABC News: Samuel Yang)
Nedlands mayor Max Hipkins said he is not opposed to high-density developments, but what is being proposed will alter the character of the area.
“At the moment we’ve got four suburbs in the top 10 most desirable suburbs in the metropolitan region … basically we want to keep it that way,” he said.
But Planning Institute of Australia WA President Ray Haeren said local governments should embrace high density, and areas progressing infill rates needed to be rewarded with increased infrastructure spending.
“I think also there is the risk whereby infill development is sort of seen almost like a penalty,” Mr Haeren said.
“We need to get rid of that notion and understand that in fact it’s providing additional housing choice for people who live in that area.”
Planning Institute of Australia WA president Ray Haeren does not support blanket re-zoning for high density. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)
But he said it was important to get the balance right.
“I do not believe in rezoning entire suburbs, but having more housing choice in that area is not only going to be a positive thing for the local residents,” he said.
“There is also I think a broader societal obligation and requirement for an area such as that to actually contribute towards the growth of the city as a whole.”
A statement from a Western Australian Planning Commission spokeswoman said planning legislation required local governments to update their local schemes and strategies every five years.
“There are a range of state planning strategies and policies available to local governments to help them address population growth and changing demographics,” the statement said.
It said changes recommended in Nedlands would help provide housing diversity, with good access to established infrastructure, in order to meet the needs of current and future residents.