Until last week, I had never heard of the term – Batophobia which is the fear of being close to tall buildings.
While new to the condition I have, and you have, no doubt been familiar with a number of people, areas and local government authorities that exhibited symptoms of the phobia.
Drive through Perth’s suburbs and you can see that double storey is now the standard that prevails. In terms of building heights, that’s as tall as many West Australian’s are currently comfortable with. Developments above the threshold have run afoul of the strong NIMBY factor that exists in Perth.
This will change significantly as Perth, the bastion for residential land sub-divisions in Australia, makes changes to its housing typology.
There is growing acceptance among all West Australians that Perth’s urban sprawl is unsustainable. Our metropolitan area now spreads over 150 kilometres from Two Rocks in the north to Bouvard in the south. A report recently released by the Environmental Protection Agency noted that urban sprawl is suffocating Perth. The level of urban sprawl, without widespread employment decentralisation, is placing pressure on infrastructure – public transport, public utilities and public finances in terms of expected service delivery.
As Perth adds 1.5 million new residents in the next 25-35 years, issues such as urban sprawl, congestion, infrastructure funding and urban renewal will intensify. To tackle these issues, infill development through units and townhouses, but largely from apartments, is required. The State’s Directions 2031 plan outlines that 47% of new dwellings will be located in existing suburbs.
To meet this aspirational goal, Perth is undergoing a structural shift in its housing typology with 1 in 5 new homes likely to be an apartment by the end of the decade. This is double the rate in 2010.
The rate and scale of development has concerned many local residents. Concerns have focused around the suitability of the location for density; the independence of independent Development Assessment Panels and lack of parking provisioning. Much like the Parliamentary Travel Expenses saga, while within the rules, developments are beyond the community expectations of such developments. What needs to change – the rules or community expectations? So far it has been the rules, as evidenced by recent State Government revisions to the R-Codes. These changes place undue limits on future development as well as increasing individual development’s car parking requirements at a time when public transport, shared car services and scooters should be a focus. These changes are Batophobia in action.
The level of community concern is representative of the fundamental change modern apartment living represents in low rise Perth. Even with strong recent development, apartments within 15km of the CBD currently account for approximately 3.4% of our metropolitan housing stock, and accommodate just 3.1% of our population. Of the 110 suburbs within 15km of Perth, 44 suburbs currently have no apartment buildings taller than 2 levels. There are just 20 suburban areas with more than 200 apartments.
What needs to change in the years ahead are community expectations. In response to more people living in cities, there is a global trend towards high density housing to create walkable communities supported by public transport. Perth this year has been labelled by visiting academics as the “lease dense” city in the world. We are growing up as a city to match our global peers. It is clear that in the next 20-30 years, Perth is destined for greater housing density.
Apartments are being developed in response to increased market demand. Only 4% of our current supply of apartments are currently vacant. A majority of developments are low to mid rise options for entry level buyers and downsizers. Research has shown that Perth residents are more accepting of the need for density and worried about the environmental impact of urban sprawl. Despite the growing acceptance, there is agreement from all levels of Government, and the development industry, that gaining widespread community agreement and acceptance of the necessity of higher density living is an ongoing challenge.
The challenge will intensify as taller buildings are proposed across all suburbs. The focus of opposition will be on the small number of projects above 20 storeys which exist in the CBD and in coming years, South Perth. These projects are the exception not the norm. In existing stock, high rise developments above 8 storeys are very limited, accounting for less than 10% of all properties. However these properties house over 30% of all apartment residents. Less than 25% of the existing stock of high rise development is located in suburban areas. Many of these buildings are older, red brick, towers developed as State Government housing. These buildings have coloured many people’s perception of high density housing. High rise in suburban locations will be focused around activity centres and train stations – not residential streets. Despite community opposition, high rise developments are not representative of current development trends; the average development in suburban streets is 3 levels and contains under 40 apartments.
Striking a balance between the location of the development and the scale required to meet the needs of Western Australia’s growing population will be a key challenge for the development industry.
After spending the better part of three months traversing Perth’s suburban streets, compiling new research on the existing stock of apartments in Perth’s suburban areas between 5 and 15 km of the Perth CBD, it was evident that apartments used to form a higher proportion of housing construction in Perth suburbs. By the 1980s, it appears, housing development significantly shifted to new land releases further than 15km from the CBD. The research showed that over 75% of Perth’s existing supply of suburban apartments are over 20 years of age, compared to under 50% of inner city apartments. The focus on infill development will see apartments returning to suburban locations.
A key theme to emerge during the release of the new research from discussions with developers, real estate agents, builders, local government officials and members of the media, is that the development industry as well as the State Government need to sell the broader community on the benefits of higher density housing and why it is becoming an increasing, and important, part of the state’s housing typology.
The key themes this discussion needs to centre around:
- Creating housing choice;
- Environmental sustainability;
- Shift from a car based society to more walkable neighbourhoods;
- Allow our ageing population to remain in their current suburb and allowing new families to move in;
- Maximising existing infrastructure around public transport, universities, hospitals, shopping centres and suburban employment hubs;
- Creating housing close to where people work not trying to relocate jobs to where people live;
- Opening up areas of Perth currently enjoyed by a minority of metropolitan residents for more people.
To overcome the NIMBY attitude, the development industry must focus on delivering projects in pockets of high rise development that are dense enough to underpin the expansion of public transport services and ground floor retail and commercial spaces.
One of America’s founding fathers, John Jay, said that taxes are the price we pay for liberty.
In this light, if the price for a vibrant, global and prosperous city is a slightly longer checkout line at the local IGA, is density really too high a price to pay?
Perth, it’s time to grow up. Time to consider the we and not just the me. Higher density housing opens up more of the Perth we all love for more people to enjoy. It’s time to conquer the batophobia that exists across our suburbs.
Taller apartment buildings (5-6 storeys) located around public transport links and major employment hubs will underpin increased public transport, greater retail amenity and deliver better environmental outcomes. Increasing housing around where we work will reduce congestion and provide for greater work/life balance.
For the long term health of our economy, environment and society – housing density is our destiny.
To find out more information on Y Research’s latest apartment research and how to order your copy of the research, please visit: http://www.mbawa.com/research/