As a key stakeholder in the communities of tomorrow, the development industry needs to improve the dialogue with local government – a dialogue that starts with a single vote.
Local Government is a key stakeholder for the property and construction industry. Local Government has the most interaction with the community and implements State Government policies. Recent, welcomed, changes such as independent Development Assessment Panels, reforms to the R-Codes and electronic DA applications, have improved the development process. Further changes to local government such as local rezonings for greater densities, harmonisation of Town Planning Schemes and adoption of private certification, are still required.
Local Government is a key partner in ensuring the goals, employment and population, of Directions 2031 and Perth @3.5 million are met.
Non-compulsory postal voting for West Australian local government elections is due by the 17th of October.
According to WA Electoral Commission (WAEC), in 2011, 30.9% of eligible voters mailed in their ballot, highlighted by 44.8% of City of Perth electors. By 2013, the response rate across the metropolitan area had dropped to 27.8% of eligible voters.
In media reports this past week the WAEC note that the 2015 response rate is tracking 2-3% lower than 2013 – a response rate of approx. 25%.
Response rates this low favour single issue, typically anti-development, candidates. In 2013, local councillors in most major metropolitan councils were elected with 1,000-1,500 votes. In the City of Perth 1,278 votes was enough to be elected.
Since the release of Y Research’s two part study into the existing supply of apartments within 15km of the Perth CBD, I along with Geoff Cooper from the Master Builders have been meeting with Mayors and senior administration figures to discuss the current and future apartment market in metropolitan Perth. This round of stakeholder engagement was undertaken to help provide local government officials with an understanding of the low number of current apartments in selected metropolitan local governments as well as providing them feedback from the development and construction industry regarding recent development issues.
In general, most Local Government leadership is understanding of the need for greater housing density. However the location, height and scale of development remains a key concern. Councils largely want to focus higher density housing in a limited number of sites within the Local Government area. These sites are around existing public transport infrastructure and shopping centres. They largely want existing low rise suburban areas to retain their existing character.
Most Local Governments want greater dialogue with the development industry, be it in feedback on proposed local policies or scheme amendments. They note when the community is prepared for developments of greater height and scale, there is greater community acceptance. Too often the community feels surprised by proposed developments and mount campaigns to stop them. When voter turnout is low, and biased towards stopping development, Councils continue to decline/or defer final approval to the State Administrative Tribunal, the WA Planning Commission or the Minister for Planning.
There is a distinct lack of narrative on the benefits/need for greater housing density between proponents (the development industry and the State Government) and the local community. Local Government needs positive examples of housing density done well to share with the community. In many suburbs there is no recent reference point for housing density housing and, in the vacuum, people’s minds are influenced by the red or brown towers that exist by the freeway in Glendalough, along Guildford Road, on East Street in East Fremantle, or just off Stirling Highway in Mosman Park. Modern developments have evolved significantly but haven’t changed the mindset of the community. Density evokes a negative response in most of the community.
The development and construction industry needs to reshape the narrative – greater housing density is about creating housing choice and diversity. Greater housing density is needed to combat urban sprawl and to maximise efficiency of, current and future, infrastructure.
New housing types, townhouses, apartments or unit developments, allow more people to enjoy parts of Perth currently enjoyed by a minority, close to shops, schools and beaches. More housing choice allows for a range of occupiers to decide to live close to where they work, reducing traffic congestion.
Greater density allows for long term local residents to age in place. Not everyone wants to live in an aged care facility. Apartments allow residents to downsize from the large, former family home to a low maintenance lifestyle. Ageing in place allows for people to continue to use the local shops, to visit the local GP and make use of local community facilities.
Greater density brings more people into our suburbs. New developments activate our street fronts creating spaces for new cafes, bars and restaurants. The increased local resident base makes the sustainability of new local businesses more viable. Many ground floor businesses suffer from Perth not being dense enough.
Local Government wants greater dialogue with the development industry. They want you to choose their local authority to invest in over neighbouring areas. If you are exploring development opportunities in a selected area, include the local government. Make them aware of issues with development assessments, site size requirements or market conditions.
We need more councils to embrace the need to manage change, not stopping change. In visiting council offices the election platform for candidates is outlined. Most note, in some form, a desire to limit taller apartment buildings. Review your postal ballot for councillors open, if not for development, to dialogue.
Even one vote can make a difference.
For more information on Local Government elections, please visit: https://www.elections.wa.gov.au/enrol/local-government-enrolment
About the Author
Damian Stone is the Chief Problem Solver of Y Research which specialises in providing independent research and analysis on West Australian commercial property.
Y Research produces a series of regular reports on Western Australia’s commercial office, retail, apartment and industrial markets, as well as providing consultancy services to a range of Government and private clients.