Planning for people and planet

I believe that Canberra needs housing that doesn’t cost the earth (literally and financially) to build and then run with heating and cooling costs. 

But our housing market is mostly building two types of new homes – very large houses and apartments that are designed for speculative investors, not future residents.

This means that many in our community are missing out on the housing they need. Many people are looking for small homes, but are excluded by lack of affordability and supply. 

Apartments in town centres are great for some, but are not for everyone. Older people who downsize often want to stay in their existing area. Families looking for a more affordable or environmentally-sustainable small home prefer to stay near their school and want a small garden.

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Recent suburban development in Wright (RZ1 Zone). Only three blocks have space for
large trees on the block and less than half have room for outdoor play.

So how do we fix these problems?  

Changes are of course needed to the tax system which favours landlords over owner occupiers and more resources must be put into the public and community housing system.

But if we look at the planning part of the picture, the ACT Greens believe action is needed in three areas:

1. Changing planning rules

In my submission to the recent ACT Government ‘Housing Choices’ consultation on residential planning rules, I called for:

- A reduction in the amount of each block that can be built over;

- Protection of room for trees and gardens; and 

- Careful changes to the planning rules to encourage smaller housing such as duplexes and terrace houses. 

My full submission is available here.

Our current planning system makes it hard to build smaller houses, duplexes and townhouses in established suburbs.

Given Canberra’s new houses are so large, there is real scope to build two smaller homes on a single block instead of a McMansion. For example, two duplexes of around 100m2 each would leave more green space and have less visual impact than one McMansion of around 300m2. 

2. Lifting the quality of development

 More Canberrans would support infill development if it were better quality.  

The Greens believe that our planning rules should provide incentives for better development, including:

- Environmental certification above standard industry practice;

- Quality affordable housing distributed fairly across all suburbs; and 

- Heritage conservation work supported by the ACT Heritage Council.

Another way to lift the quality of development that has been successful elsewhere in Australia and around the world is showcase housing precincts. These precincts bring together government, industry, the community and researchers to deliver housing that is well above the normal standard.

These precincts bring many benefits. They lift industry standards and skill levels, test innovative designs and construction methods, and bring together buyers who want better housing with builders keen to build it. Importantly, they also deliver affordable and environmentally-sustainability housing. 

In June 2017, I tabled a successful motion in the Assembly that required the Government to deliver showcase housing precincts. Now it needs to be delivered on. The Government has now released a call for Expressions of Interest. I am pleased that this includes key Greens priorities like public and affordable housing, long-term rental leases, co-housing and green design.  I encourage people who might be interested to get involved here

3. Strengthening the Energy Efficiency Rating (EER) Scheme

The EER scheme is currently based on minimum energy efficiency ratings for new homes.  This is helpful, but is not enough to really improve our housing.  

It does not ensure that new homes are oriented towards sunlight or have cross-ventilation to allow summer breezes. 

It only rates the ‘shell’ of the house, such as insulation and double glazing, and fails to consider the full life cycle impact of the dwelling.  

That’s why I am calling for the EER system to be updated and expanded, especially to anticipate the effects of climate change. 

Real estate agents are required to print the EER rating in ‘for sale’ ads.  However, very few print an EER rating in ‘to let’ ads, so renters are not given the option to rent better houses.

The good news is improvements to the EER scheme may be coming. The Greens-Labor Parliamentary Agreement includes a review of the EER Scheme and this work was funded in the 2017-18 Budget.