MISSING MIDDLE / PLANNING INITIATIVES
DISCUSSION PAPER AND PROPOSED MOTION AS PASSED AT AUGUST 2023 FORUM
Greens member guidance regarding policy development
The ACT Greens constitution gives the forum the function to discuss, consider and decide policy and campaign issues (14.2.1) and to give policy guidance to ACT Greens who are parliamentary representatives (14.2.2).
The ACT Government is currently working through significant planning reforms that include the contemplation of significant changes to the Territory Plan.
The ACT Greens policy platform provides a strong framework to provide guidance for MLAs engaged in this work, and negotiations regarding the detail of this (the election planning platform: https://greens.org.au/act/planning). Key principles of our policy platform include the need to respond to the reality of climate change, the need to embed ecologically and socially sustainable development, the need to improve liveability and the need to limit urban sprawl.
Current discussion regarding the missing middle and connection with ACT Greens policy
The ACT Greens have an existing clear position of supporting 80% infill and 20% greenfield development to provide sufficient housing for Canberra’s growing population while protecting our wild places. However, the ACT Greens MLAs, through their combined work have seen evidence that:
a) There is far too much reliance on greenfield development and city expansion, there are no clear definitions about what is infill, and Labor is not counting homes towards the infill target correctly;
b) Inaccurate census data has been corrected, demonstrating that Canberra’s population is growing more rapidly than was previously understood, meaning that approaches to densification must be reassessed; and
c) Australia’s housing crisis has exacerbated, including in the ACT, with a need to urgently ensure that all policy tools respond appropriately to provide a home for all.
The IPCC has recommended that all governments implement land use planning to tackle climate change. Specifically, they recommend governments protect and restore natural ecosystems, achieve compact urban form, reduce urban heat, include blue and green infrastructure in cities (water, trees, and green spaces), co-locate jobs and housing and support public and active transport. It is clear that the ACT will not meet these recommendations without intervention.
The Greens have campaigned for years and delivered government commitment to Living Infrastructure policies that ensure we have 30% tree canopy coverage and 30% permeable surfaces to cool our city. This increases nature in the city and reduces the urban heat island effect. But delivering on the targets is already difficult, even though we know that these targets need to be further analysed. With regard to the permeable surface target, higher targets are probably appropriate – particularly across our suburbs and neighbourhoods. Many objections to increased density often come down to a fear that we will end up covered in concrete with no trees or green spaces. It is possible to densify and retain trees and green spaces if we limit site coverage on a block and have strong tree protection.
There has also been significant public discussion on key elements of the planning system around zoning requirements, led by the ‘Missing Middle Coalition’ that proposes a range of significant changes to the zoning system, which is aimed at increasing density as a response to the housing affordability crisis. This discussion has included specific proposals to change zoning requirements across the urban footprint. A copy of the Missing Middle Coalition calls are at Attachment A. A copy of some of the key requirements of current zones is at Attachment B.
There is limited evidence that increasing private housing supply through loosened zoning requirements on its own delivers more affordable housing[i]. In fact, the highly financialised Australian housing market, combined with deliberate government decisions to reduce public housing stock have seen Australia fail to deliver adequate affordable housing for people on low income. Instead, evidence (and Greens values and priorities) point to the need for specific interventions to lift the stock of public housing, and other forms of social housing led by both the community sector and government. Such measures need to be supported by specific interventions in the planning system as part of densifying the city, to ensure they are explicitly accommodated and prioritised.
Finally, building quality and design, and reducing the carbon footprint of housing construction itself are core goals for the Greens. Australia and Canberrans still build some of the largest houses in the world even though our household size is shrinking. A densification agenda for the city therefore needs to explicitly consider how to support innovative housing models that ensure existing large houses are fully utilised, and also respond to the crises of affordability, a home for all and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Planning has a role to play in this process as well as building and construction codes, and more[ii].
Given all this, we know there are benefits to densification, particularly if done correctly. Denser cities increase community connection, and significantly reduce sprawl into new, environmentally sensitive areas. Densification is also integral to increasing the uptake of active and public transport options. 60% of Canberra’s tracked greenhouse gas emissions come from transport, primarily from cars. Switching petrol and diesel cars to EVs cuts emissions but it does not address the other problems presented by private vehicles in a city. According to the 2019 HILDA survey by the University of Melbourne, the ACT saw the greatest increase in daily average commuting times of all Australian Capital cities between 2002 and 2017, a 65% increase which was more than three times greater than the average of mainland capital cities, so we will soon all be stuck in traffic.
Cars are an unaffordable form of transport for many people. Cars require roads and car parks, which use a lot of precious urban space and which generate emissions in construction and maintenance. We cannot simply swap one type of car for another, we also need fewer cars. People are far more likely to use public and active transport for shorter trips (those below 10km or 5km respectively). Creating a denser city is essential to tackling climate change, protecting our natural habitats and ensuring our city remains liveable.
ACT Greens Membership Engagement
As part of the Politics in the Office series, a session on the current planning reform process and the ACT Green’s engagement was held in June 2023. A copy of the presentation is at Attachment C.
A membership workshop was held on 23 July 2023 that was open to all members to explore the case for change and seek feedback on a range of specific proposals around changes to zoning requirements. A copy of the presentation is at Attachment D.
Some key outcomes from the session included:
- Consensus that there is a case for change in relation to significant measures to increase density in the city, for reasons including responding to climate change, growth in population, promoting liveability and connecting residential and work centres better;
- Support for proposals including combining RZ1 and RZ2 zones, but recognising that changes need to go beyond support for relatively low density change such as dual occupancies;
- Acknowledgement that the Missing Middle Coalition changes alone will not deliver enough infill housing to address the long term need for infill housing in Canberra and that there will be need for additional areas to be zoned above the RZ2 standard than proposed in these changes.
- Acknowledgement that measures to infill the city should be driven in the first instance by sustainability and liveability principles, rather than believing they will explicitly address housing affordability.
- Agreement that any changes must embed protection of living infrastructure, and mitigate potential impacts of density regarding heat island effect etc;
- Discussion around implications of windfall gains in relation to changes, and the importance of ensuring socio-economic and intergenerational equity.
- Discussion and agreement to support the Assembly team to progress discussions around a range of proposed changes to the Territory Plan, including combining RZ1 and RZ2 zones, allowing unit titled dual occupancies/secondary residences and townhouses in areas currently zoned as RZ1, mechanisms that allow higher density such as smaller apartment living in areas currently zoned as RZ2, and enabling shop-top living in CZ4 zones; and
- Agreement on the need to consider moving the discussion around greenfield/infill to a discussion around city limits.
The ACT Greens recognise we are living in a climate emergency, as well as facing extinction and biodiversity crises. We have a growing population. We are also responding to an inequality crisis which has resulted in many members of our community unable to find accessible, affordable and appropriately located compact housing now, and under current settings this will get worse in the future.
Current policy settings regarding our planning system are inadequate to deliver a liveable city that meets the needs of a growing population in a climate that is hotter and drier, and to ensure equitable access to homes close to amenities to ensure a high quality of life for all. There is a lack of community confidence regarding the quality of buildings that might come as a result of densification, and we are also seeing people on low income increasingly pushed to the margins of the city, without good public transport or local employment options.
Current policy settings also reinforce an over-reliance on cars for transport. Transport comprises 60% of Canberra’s tracked greenhouse gas emissions, and this is driven primarily by private vehicles. Research shows that people are more likely to use active and public transport for shorter trips, specifically those under 5km. Creating a denser city is therefore essential to encourage a mode shift in Canberrans choice of transport, reduce greenhouse gasses and other pollution, increase collective health, and create a more vibrant and connected city.
The ACT Greens support changes to the planning system/ Territory Plan that enable increased density, and are well designed, climate sensitive and inclusive. The ACT Greens support policies that look at better utilisation of our current housing stock and ways we can ensure this is sustainable and climate wise. The ACT Greens also support setting clear city limits beyond which we do not develop, and protecting areas of nature from development within our city limits.
Call to action:
The ACT Greens membership support elected parliamentarians to engage in the current planning reform process in a manner that delivers these aims. Specifically, when considering changes to the Territory Plan, the ACT Greens support:
- Universal upzoning of RZ1 to RZ2. This will reform the RZ1 Suburban Zone to legalise low impact medium density housing in all RZ1 areas, similar to the current RZ2 policy settings.
- Support for the expansion and upzoning of the current RZ2 Suburban Zone to higher density housing, similar to the current RZ3 policy settings.
- Implement changes that enable consolidation, subdivision and unit titling of blocks, ensuring the policy intent of well designed, medium density housing is facilitated through these changes and we do not miss opportunities for better designed more consolidated density particularly in areas currently nominated as RZ2.
- Changes that ensure adequate space for trees and greenspace (living infrastructure), solar access and water/biodiversity sensitive design and an effective compliance and enforcement regime.
- prohibiting single residential redevelopment in RZ2 and RZ3 zones as they fail to meet the objects for those zones and forfeit ongoing opportunities for block amalgamation
- Reform the CZ4 Local Centre zone to more easily allow residential uses above local shops (‘shop-top apartments’) of at least four storeys.
- Reduction of mandatory parking requirements to 1 car space per home across all residential zones. [This is in line with our existing platform “The ACT Greens want; public and active transport solutions to reduce the requirement for car park spaces in multi-unit developments” (https://greens.org.au/sites/default/files/2020-06/2020%20ACT%20Greens%20Policy%20Platform.pdf#page=88)
- Set city limits.
In progressing these changes, the ACT Greens membership asks elected parliamentarians to prioritise:
- Support for proposals that emphasise increased density beyond dual occupancies and townhouses – particularly mechanisms that enable creating larger consolidated blocks that are appropriate for medium density housing including apartments at a human scale, such as the height of the tree line of 3-5 storeys. There is discussion of how this might occur, and if this should be targeted or universal, including whether it might be based on individual sections, suburbs or districts with a focus on access to jobs, services and sustainable transport.
- Support changes to planning and building rules that currently prevent large homes in RZ1 & RZ2 being easily internally divided and then titled as two or more homes, which in turn acts as an incentive to older Canberrans ageing in place and encouraging cooperative and shared housing models.
- Support for changes to zoning to enable increased density in a manner that mitigates against heat island effect, promotes living infrastructure and ensures ongoing solar access and amenity for neighbours and the community. Ensure there is clarity on how this will be delivered, and how enforcement and compliance will occur.
- Consideration of potential windfalls for those who currently control land, and interventions that will address housing affordability, intergenerational inequity and reduce the potential for super profits from the speculation and control of land.
- Support for requirements in the planning system to increase the quality of design outcomes, including guidance such as design guides, with clarity on how development proposals that do not include minimum requirements outlined in planning specifications will be able to demonstrate their effectiveness in mitigating climate risks such as heat island effect.
- Ensure that proper resourcing and management of development approvals, compliance and enforcement and post occupancy evaluation is provided to ensure that the outcomes-based planning system is deriving its intended outcomes.
- Explore mechanisms to promote and facilitate high quality sustainable development including identifying suitable land, profiling exemplary developments across Canberra and encouraging innovative co-housing/shared housing models.
Co-sponsors; Jo Clay, Rebecca Vassarotti, Simon Copland
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