On City of Sydney’s density

City of Sydney CEO Monia Barone writes: Re. “Fact checking the SMH’s ridiculous Waterloo beat-up” (yesterday). I strongly reject your claim that we are playing “fast and loose with the facts.” Comparisons to Green Square are just wrong. The 278 hectare Green Square Urban Renewal Area has an average density of 22,000 people per square kilometre. It includes within that 278ha area, a Town Centre with significant commercial and retail space for 22,000 workers.

At Waterloo, UrbanGrowth are proposing 368 dwellings per hectare which is over 700 people per hectare. We don’t know what additional density if any is proposed in terms of retail and office workers on the site. The issue we have raised is dwelling density numbers because it is a sensitive land use. The Green Square Town Centre will have 4000 dwellings over 17 hectares which is 235 dwellings per hectare. This is below the 368 dwellings per hectare announced at Waterloo.

At this dwelling density it is very difficult to get enough sunlight to parks and homes and buildings will probably fail to meet the successful State-wide privacy, separation,solar access and ventilation objectives. This is the lawful requirement. This Waterloo proposal would also result in the loss of all, or most, existing trees in the precinct due to excessive building footprints.

The City of Sydney has more experience fostering high density apartment buildings with good amenity than any other jurisdiction in Australia. We’ve overseen more than $25 billion worth of development in the last decade and are currently overseeing an unprecedented development boom across our CBD.

Sydney City Councillor John Mant writes: Alan Davies has slammed the Sydney Council critique of Urban Growth’s massively dense scheme for the redevelopment of Waterloo and Redfern. I suspect Davies’ support for Urban Growth was driven more by his opposition to the tentative efforts of the Victorian Minister for Planning to rein in the runaway apartment controls in Melbourne than by a real understanding of the proposal and its context.

Much of what has been built in central Melbourne is substandard by Sydney standards. Low ceilings, poky rooms with bedrooms without windows, too many apartments per floor and, too often, poor access to natural ventilation and sunlight.  And then there can overshadowing of important public places.

Heights and floor space ratios (the controls that set the quantum of development) have escaped reasonable standards, with successive Liberal Ministers granting exceptions on exceptions and encouraging new plans without height or size limits.  An attractive policy of catering to the applause of the developer lobby but unworkable in the long run as each new applicant wants more than the last one, but there is no ceiling.

And it’s simplistic to say that the higher Sydney standards are the cause of housing affordability. Essentially the high apartment market in Sydney is tax demand driven.  To the extent that it is supply driven, it has more to do with Sydney’s geography, than the development standards.

Provided the development standards that control the quantum of development have justification and are consistently applied, the price of land takes them into account.  People play by the rules and in the hands of our Council’s clever planners, those rules allow sufficient flexibility to achieve some excellent designs that have good amenity and long term value. In Melbourne I suspect land values reflect the height and floor space of the last approval plus 10% exception and less the going rate of donation.