‘I’m alright, Jack’ rules the city’s housing market

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“The announcement to increase the population of Civic and the inner-north came out of the blue and has not, so far as I can recall, involved any consultation or modelling or analysis,” writes JON STANHOPE.

THERE has recently been some discussion about the appropriateness of the ACT Coat of Arms which inevitably invites consideration of a motto suited to our city and the times.

Jon Stanhope.

Of late, I’ve thought that a motto which might fit the current mood and disposition of we Canberrans is “I’m alright Jack”. The expression has an interesting heritage but is nowadays used to express a self-centred complacency and indifference to the circumstances of others. 

The motto came to my mind most recently when I read that the ACT government had announced plans for something like a threefold increase, to almost 50,000, in the population of Civic and the inner-north over the next 20 or so years. 

The announcement came out of the blue and has not, so far as I can recall, involved any consultation or modelling or analysis. 

A range of significant implications flow from a decision such as this, including: the potential impact on housing choice and affordability; the consequences for development in other parts of the city, including most particularly the other town centres, if development is to be concentrated in one precinct; and good old-fashioned but increasingly ignored triple bottom line social, environmental and economic impacts.

It is indisputable that by concentrating development in the city centre and inner-north brownfield sites that there will be a dramatic worsening in housing affordability and especially in the detached housing market. 

There will be associated increases in the cost of rent. A further large cohort of Canberrans will be excluded from home ownership and their children and grandchildren will be similarly left behind. The announcement nevertheless elicited little apparent concern particularly from opinion leaders and Canberra’s dominant middle-class, hence my rather dejected reflections about Jack.

I’m sure it was purely coincidental, but in the same week that the ACT government announced this new plan, the Palarang Council also revealed that it has plans to triple the size of Bungendore. 

The Bungendore announcement follows the release of plans some weeks ago to double the size of Sutton; the ongoing expansion of Murrumbateman, Gundaroo and Collector; the commencement of work at Tralee; planning for the release of up to an additional 1000 housing blocks in Yass and dramatic increases in the number of daily commutes from Goulburn, Cooma and Braidwood.

Not to mention, of course, that the new city of Googong is marching inexorably to its planned population of 15,000 and the ACT government has itself invested massively in a housing development catering for up to 15,000 people across the border in NSW at Ginninderry.

What has been happening in recent years is that the housing market in Canberra and the surrounding region is doing what markets do when a significant inconsonance develops between supply and demand. The market responds in an effort to restore the balance.

The ACT government has for the last six years so constrained the supply of land for detached housing that the median house price has increased by an average of 5.8 per cent or $34,000 a year. While it is true that many Canberra families having been denied the choice of purchasing a detached house have instead purchased a flat, it is also the case that many have moved across the border into NSW and become part of an expanding diaspora.

This phenomenon demands closer attention than it has been afforded by the government and its advisory bodies. 

There should, in particular, be a detailed analysis of the environmental, social and economic impacts of the land supply, planning and development decisions being made in Canberra which should include the cross border and other distributional impacts of those decisions. 

In any event, it’s surely well past time that the Climate Change Council took a serious and objective look at the distributional impacts of all of the ACT government’s claimed climate-change initiatives and determine who is bearing the greater relative burden.

Relevantly, both the Federal Liberal and Labor parties promised in the recent election campaign to fund the duplication of the Barton Highway. The duplication was costed at $100 million and its justification is centred on the fact that more than 7000 people a day commute from the Young and Yass Shires to work or attend school in Canberra. The ACT government’s land supply policy has clearly contributed to the need to duplicate the highway.

The duplication will reduce travel times from Yass to Canberra to 30 minutes and will be a boon to the developers who have for years been buying up rural properties all the way from Hall to the Hume Highway and will undoubtedly result in a rapid increase in the populations of Yass and Murrumbateman, as well as along the route. There are worrying implications for the ACT Budget from ever increasing development in NSW.

A cry I hear increasingly from the ACT government, as it seeks to justify or explain away planning decisions that are most likely driven by Budget considerations that we have to stop Canberra from spreading to our borders in order to protect our environment. Such claims are specious if they are not supported by credible analysis of the full gamut of social, environmental and economic implications of constraining development in the ACT only to see it occur across the border as people go in search of an affordable house. 

Jon Stanhope was chief minister from 2001 to 2011 and represented Ginninderra for the Labor Party from 1998. He is the only chief minister to have governed with a majority in the Assembly. 


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Jon Stanhope
Jon Stanhope was Chief Minister from 2001 to 2011 and represented Ginninderra for the Labor Party from 1998. He is the only Chief Minister to have governed with a majority in the Assembly.

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