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More Urban Sprawl

July 29, 2011

Alan Parr (foreground) with members of Friends of Turramurra

It’s an unreal world we live in.

Canberra runs a high annual immigration intake. This increases the pressure on our cities. As a result Australian cities sprawl. Governments cannot build new rail lines to every new suburb.

We have debates about immigration numbers and public transport without consulting urban densities. An unreal world.

The previous government in NSW decided, quite sensibly, to require more apartment dwelling around train stations in Ku-ring-gai Municipality. Just as there are apartment dwellings around train stations at Chatswood, Bondi Junction, Parramatta, Hurstville, Strathfield. Having high density development at train stations means you reduce dependence on private vehicles: it is easy for people to use public transport. That’s common sense and good land use planning, a desirable environmental outcome.

Not according to the Land and Environment Court which has struck down the plan – apparently on a technicality – in line with the wishes of a local residents’ group that imagines blocking apartments near a railway station will protect the character of their community. In the long term, the way to protect the low density character of these leafy streets is to see that new apartments are provided around a transport node. The alternative is to see medium density development in the form of townhouses, villa houses and dual occupancies seep into all neighbourhood streets.

This decision means 10,000 more future dwellings will have to be found on Sydney’s urban fringe, a result the superficial Sydney Morning Herald report today does not even hint at. The paper only reports the court decision as a win for local residents ; the implications for the rest of this city of four million do not get mentioned.

Governments will be hard pressed to fund public transport into these new releases. But it already exists on Sydney’s North Shore Line. Where there is room for consolidation around railway stations. That chance is now gone.

Specifically Sydney is foregoing 10,000 new apartments as a result of this decision – the upward pressure in the longer term on housing prices will be real. You’ll be able to measure it. Especially as the O’Farrell government has removed pressure on local government to deliver more medium density zonings. But if you run high immigration – and Barry O’Farrell supports it – your cities either go up or out. If you say they can’t go up – even along a major existing public transport artery – they sure as hell will go out.

More urban sprawl.


  1. Paul Heath permalink
    July 29, 2011 11:03 am

    Mr Carr,

    You are absolutely correct.

    A comfortable walking speed of 6 km/hour would allow someone to walk 1.5 km to a nearby rail station in 15 minutes.

    Most people are unlikely to want to walk much further than that.

    That suggests that it would be sensible to relax most building height restrictions for a distance of 1.5km around each station.

    Considering there are well over 100 stations in metro Sydney that would provide ample room for new housing development.

    With a more sensible approach to migration levels (Australia is one of the highest in the world – check out the google graph below) and less front loading of development charges onto to the first purchaser (rather than higher rates over say a 20 year period) we could solve affordability and sprawl without difficulty.

    With plenty of affordable housing near railways for first home buyers – the cost of free standing houses for families or those who love a garden will also be much lower.

    • boy on a bike permalink
      July 29, 2011 6:14 pm

      People won’t walk more than 800 metres to a train station, and 400 metres to a bus stop. Those numbers are dropping as we get lazier. The walking catchment of a train station is surprisingly small. People will drive to a station – if you provide parking. They might also cycle – if you provide secure bike parking at each station.

      Both are dreadfully lacking in Sydney.

      • Paul Heath permalink
        July 29, 2011 8:18 pm

        Yes 1500 metres is probably the outer limit but i would still be inclined to make that the radius for relaxed height restrictions. Due to the lesser convenience the border apartments would be lower in price perhaps making them more attractive for the young or fit.

        By relaxed height restrictions i mean relaxed. Let developers go as high as they believe the market will support. High ceilings would be a welcome possible consequence for new apartments targeting the higher end parts of the market.

        The critical issue will remain population growth, as even with a more responsive supply chain for housing eventually those sites will fill if Australia’s presently extremely high migration rates continue.

        Users pays for services to new housing is appropriate but there is no need to load all the cost on the first purchaser to finance with a mortgage. Instead fund the works with govt bonds that are repaid by higher rates on the block for a period of perhaps 30 years.

  2. July 29, 2011 11:58 am

    Some say we have already passed peak oil, if not the moment of truth cannot be far away. Within ten years, sprawling suburbs serviced only by private motor cars will cease to be viable. Only then will the blind who follow the short-sighted think to build a public transport network based on accommodation hubs -but by then it will be too late!

  3. July 29, 2011 3:49 pm

    I live in Chippendale, to those that don’t know it’s an area on the city fringe that is the logical place for the city to grow into, but it seems that people have a soft spot for abandoned factories and warehouses and want to protect some culture that to the best of my knowledge has never existed, or perhaps continue to charge exorbitant rent or just dance with glee when they see the artificial value of their roach infested-shitty little houses climb well and truly beyond the million dollar mark. They use strange arguments about increased traffic, apparently building houses on the city outskirts away from public transport will somehow reduce traffic. Crazier still, that public transport won’t be able to cope with the pressure of additional people. I had a guy complaining that he couldn’t get taxis in Sydney, and yet when he was in New York, they were cheap and reliable and frequent. Sydney is a small country town, he told me, and yet it can’t even compete with the massive monstrosity of New York for public transport. Apparently, small country towns have fantastic public transport. It amazes me that people haven’t worked that increasing population density increases the productivity and viability of public transport. Even though everyone seems to be aware that it is cities like Tokyo that are renowned for excellent transport and cities like Tamworth that aren’t, they still think that increasing the population of the city would destroy public transport!

    Most people are stupid and they don’t know what is best for them, but I reluctantly concede that it is probably for the best that we let them in to the political process and let them take responsibility for their decisions (which they won’t). Maybe it is time for Australia to build a new city in the interior. A nuclear powered city that is designed with the ability to grow with a grand plan that will be fought hard to be achieved by it’s residents. Cities that experiment with the idea of terra-forming the desert in to productive land. (A activity that may well not be the best for immediate economic success, but is scientifically essential if we ever intend on doing the much harder job on Mars) There you go I let out my craziness for the day sorry Bob.

  4. Nickmof permalink
    July 29, 2011 6:07 pm

    i also 100% agree and have been spruiking the same thing to all my sydney friends who want and indeed expect large family homes on large blocks of land that those days are over. The Aussie dream of raising kids jumping under the sprinkler are over. We need to start living in smaller, greener more economical places. Just look at the density in London. Thats where we need to head. Convert big houses in to good size apartments.
    Why are you not running this state still Bob?

  5. Mr Squiggle permalink
    July 29, 2011 7:49 pm

    Bob, your article illustrates a major problem for Australia without making a song and dance about it…

    The power to determine immigration levels rests at the Federal level, but the results are suffered and managed by the state and local governments. I couldn’t count the number of politicians and political commentators who, in the face of recent rejections of ALP state governments, claim that there are no Federal issues playing out in State elections.

    Our political system is structured so that accountability for our ramped-up migration can never be allocated where it should be. Federal politicians will never feel the true heat of overpopulation, State governments will.

    As always, thank your for your activism on this issue. By the way, I see nothing wrong with local communities rejecting medium density development. The pushback has to start somewhere……

  6. Planning Geek permalink
    July 30, 2011 2:32 am

    I couldn’t agree with you more Bob. Firstly, im appalled at how the Class 4 appeal in the Land and Environment Court was dismissed on the basis of the validity of the LEP? I was of the understanding that the Judicial Review process queried the due process of the assessment only. I believe the court acted in ultra vires in this instance.

    Moving on from Windeyer Chambers, I couldn’t agree with you more Bob. As a Council Planner in Western Sydney, we’ve been give the task of ensuring we strike a balance of urban sprawl and environmental conservation. Councils out here have made it a goal to facilitate employment locally for residents and therefore reduce car dependency and travel. Although this is utopian in some respects, there is a need to increase densities along and within transport nodes which \yourself have been a champion off since your days as Minister for Planning. The plan Sydney into its Third Century 1988 as well as SEPP 32 and 53 provided a dramatic shift in policy and reflected the times of population growth in the Sydne Basin.

    The days of the Cumberland County Plan and Regional Outline Plan are gone, we need to tackle the housing shortage through urban consolidation, period. O’Farrell’s policy in dismantling the policy of urban consolidation is beggars belief to say the least. Urban consolidation has worked perfectly in ensuring integrated land use and transport, gentrification/renewal and contemporary urban design (thanks in part to SEPP 65). The impact on our catchment is another matter to consider but is lost when our friends in the North Shore or the eastern ‘burbs care about views, trees or the outdated character of their street.

    I shake my head at how childish and immature the residents of the North Shore have carried on about urban consolidation. It can work perfectly if implemented correctly. The statutory framework was in place in the form of the SEPP and LEP which identified land which could suitably accommodate increased densities. The North Shore mentality of throwing apparent ‘ghettos’ in Western Sydney is terrible and demonstrates the lack of appreciation for our existing rail network and unique environmental character.

  7. Alphonse permalink
    July 31, 2011 4:44 pm

    It isn’t too hard to read the a href=”″>Land and Environment Court decision, so it isn’t too hard to see that a typical state ALP refusal to govern openly meant that its basically correct policy is now at the mercy of a basically wrongheaded O’Farrell government that will get even more wrongheaded as it placated the Fishers and Shooters, Fred Nile and the rest of the Legislate Council crazies.

    There were environmental and heritage issues that could have been addressed openly without damaging the thrust of the urban consolidation around transport infrastructure that is an unarguable necessity. But Macquarie Street just had to do it behind everyone’s back. It almost seemed to be a badge of honour toward the end of state ALP’s putrid decay.

    Not levelling with the public is not, as you put it, Bob, “a techicality”. Belief that it is merely a techicality had a lot to do with the decline of the state ALP and the saddling of NSW with the looming O’Farrell disaster.

  8. August 1, 2011 2:47 pm


    I like your idea about getting rid of height restrictions. I’ve been in some beautiful old apartments in Woollahra that have 12-14 foot ceilings – they’re magnificent places to live in. Contrast that with the modern dog box that has a ceiling so low, you need to install light fittings flat against the ceiling so your head doesn’t knock them off.

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