City apartment boom not delivering for Melbourne, forum to hear

Date: August 3, 2014 – 6:38PM

Melbourne’s apartment building boom is delivering poor outcomes for the city, with a third of new units badly designed and almost half too small, a forum on city planning will hear on Monday night.

The recently-founded Inner Melbourne Planning Alliance, founded earlier this year, will on Monday night stage City In Crisis?, a one-off event at Federation Square.

The forum is designed to stir debate around urban design ahead of November’s state election.

It will focus in particular on new apartment design in the CBD, and what organisers call a “radical program for the concentration of high density housing across inner Melbourne”.

Melbourne City Council’s co-ordinator of city plans and policy Leanne Hodyl is among the speakers at the event.

Ms Hodyl helped write the council’s recent draft housing strategy Homes for People, which showed some of Melbourne’s newest developments up to 10 times as dense as permitted in overseas cities.

She said on Sunday the existing policies to encourage affordable, well-designed and environmentally friendly apartment buildings were not working in Melbourne.

“We are getting zero affordability in terms of subsidised housing, one in three apartments are poor quality, and almost half of them are one-bedroom and under 50 square metres [in size],” she said. “Longer term that is not sustainable, socially or environmentally.”

Melbourne City Council is the fastest growing municipality in Australia, its residential population more than doubling since 2001 to now be around 116,000.

“It’s an economic success story,” Ms Hodyl said, “but it has to be a success story for the people who want to live here.”

She said Melbourne needed to aim “for something better than [to be] a city that is a place where people live for a couple of years and then leave because the housing doesn’t meet their needs anymore”.

Also at the event will be outgoing Victorian government architect Geoffrey London. On a panel alongside him will be well-known property analyst Monique Sasson.

Ms Sasson said few already living in Melbourne would be prepared to move into many of the new apartment towers now being built, “because they know they are a substandard”.

“The number of people you can fit into these apartment towers is mind boggling,” she said, and local residents would rightly ask “where is the supermarket, the parkland, the green-grocer, the doctor, the kindergarten?”

“There is no way in the world they [the properties] are going to hold value,” she said. “In five years’ time their underlying value is going to be less than what they paid for them.”

Ms Sasson said cranes on the city’s skyline were “a symbol of economic prosperity”, but there was a serious lack of infrastructure to deal with the number of apartments being built.

Representing the Property Council on Monday night’s panel will be Ashley Williams from Evolve Development, who said there needed to be a sensible discussion about what improving design standards would mean for apartment prices.

The state architect’s office has been working on a set of guidelines governing the size and design of apartments. A draft copy of the Better Apartment Design rules was leaked last month, and included minimum ceiling heights and minimum apartment sizes.

Mr Williams said there needed to be genuine consultation of the development industry as well as architects before any new rules were set. “[We] have to have a sensible discussion about the impacts on affordability,” he said.

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5 Responses to “Little Boxes”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    “There is no way in the world they [the properties] are going to hold value,” she said. “In five years’ time their underlying value is going to be less than what they paid for them.” Same will happen with the chicken coops that make up the majority of the mrc development. Slumville is around the corner for all housing diversity in Glen Eira.

  2. D.Evans Says:

    I’ve revisited the last council minutes and am quite staggered by both what was recommended by officers and what councillors ultimately came up with as a resolution about the size of dwellings. Okotel and Esakoff moved

    That Council:
    a) Notes that small dwelling (apartment) sizes seem to be
    primarily driven to improve affordability by lowering
    costs/price rather than having any link to livability.
    b) Takes no action in terms of specifically directing minimum
    prescriptive floor areas for dwellings
    c) Make a submission to the State Government advocating for
    better design standards for ResCode when the Good
    Planning Guide is released for public comment.
    d) Notes the Plan Melbourne initiative to “improve the quality
    and amenity of residential apartments” which has identified
    the “small size of many apartments” as an issue.

    They left out point number 3 of the officer recommendation –

    If it wishes to influence minimum dwelling floor areas, it can advocate
    through the MAV and/or the Minister for Planning to have state-wide
    minimum floor space requirements for apartment buildings included in
    ResCode. (Council could stipulate a numerical minimum floor area.)

    In the end it’s not just giving the okay to whatever is put before them but going a step further and even watering this down. Instead of advocating as hard as they can they will do nothing to improve the standards that allow developers to make huge profits and add to the worsening livability of suburbs. By far the best in all of this is the implied altruism of developers since they are looking to “improve affordability”. Nothing is said about increasing their profit margins by creating smaller dwellings and therefore more can be crammed into one lot.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Best comment of the night at forum was the suggestion that to get good design into buildings it should be mandatory to make developers live in one of their creations for at least a year or two. Love it!

    1. Anonymous Says:

      Ya reckon it would take that long?

  4. Reprobate Says:

    Whatever eventually emerges concerning apartment sizes, amenity and design rules, will be unenforceable, as all policies and guidelines are. No decision-maker takes seriously the Design Guidelines for Higher Density Residential Development, or the standards concerning residential amenity, or the policies about diversity of dwellings. Under the Victorian Planning System [sic] almost everything is discretionary. No system for reporting the extent to which compliance with standards or policies or guidelines are waived has been established.

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