THERE is a lack of diverse and affordable housing in Canberra, yet the Government’s commitment to a quota of affordable homes has been thwarted by a planning regime that restricts realistic and reasonable options for renewal in established suburbs.
If we don’t improve housing choice, many older Canberrans will not be able to age within their communities when the family home becomes difficult to manage or less desirable.
The Government’s policy to increase urban infill looked poised to address this issue, but has not been matched by easily accessible planning rules to facilitate suitably designed new homes in older suburbs.
Instead, options for “right sizing” have been severely limited – forcing people out of their neighbourhoods or up into apartments.
Changes to unit titling laws and new lease variation charges, coupled with the Garden City Amendment, have limited redevelopment within existing neighbourhoods to two-storey townhouses plus basement, and have destroyed the rational dual occupancies of the past. Dual occupancy gave us low-impact housing, mostly single storey, which was financially viable and great for ageing in the community.
It was possible for people to stay in their neighbourhood and remain close to friends, shops and amenities. Dual occupancies also encouraged the replacement of outdated and oversized houses with smaller, more energy efficient contemporary homes – true sustainable and responsible development.
Add to this mix the new prescriptive requirements of Variation 306 – the latest change to the Territory Plan ostensibly framed to protect suburban character and solar access. The reality is a significant restriction on development in existing suburbs with negative flow-on effects for ageing in place and urban revitalisation.
Variation 306 has made single-level, multi-unit developments in RZ2 zones almost impossible to achieve.
Instead, two-storey buildings with basements are favoured that are much less suitable or attractive to older residents.
If the Government is serious about housing diversity and affordability it cannot ignore the storm these changes have created for our ageing community. By blindly preserving big blocks we are simply burying our heads in the backyard sandpit.
Catherine Carter is ACT executive director of the Property Council of Australia