Housing: Look First At Councils

Michael Koziol has called out both Leichhardt Council and its minority of nay-saying residents in a long overdue Sydney Morning Herald article. God knows how the only paying reader of the SMH will take this:

Sydney’s housing crisis is substantially the fault of “narrow-minded, self-interested individuals who oppose the building of any new homes in their suburbs,” says a recent McKell Institute report. Bingo. But it’s not just your NIMBY neighbours blocking the road: it’s local government, too.

What is so galling about the Leichhardt Counci’s longstanding attempt to lock up the Inner West (as if it is classical Rome) is that it has been done by people ostensibly concerned about students, the poor and the homeless.

Yet Green policies that reduce housing supply are the root cause of unaffordable inner city rents and rising house prices.

What we actually have is a bunch of middle class wankers using a combination of planning, heritage and environmental laws to tell the young and the disadvantaged “Piss off, I’ve got mine”.

The Greens’ approach to urban consolidation is puzzling: they oppose it despite high-density being the most environmentally sustainable form of living we have besides farmland subsistence. The result of their intransigence is even more urban sprawl, the kind that produces McMansions and 4WDs to traipse the motorways twice each day.

They generously welcome migrants and refugees on one hand, but resist policies that would provide affordable accommodation for them on the other.

I am unabashedly in favour of higher density housing in the Inner West. Let’s be clear here:  my views are, sadly, not those of any political party (an obligatory rider, unfortunately).

Increasing density close to the CBD is a major equity issue that should be up front for the ‘progressive Left’: in modern cities geographic privilege can be as important as financial. Artificially-reduced densities support house prices that exclude outsiders.  And increased density has energy, environmental, transport and economic advantages.

It is absurd that 3-5 km from the centre of Australia’s most global city we can have a council that acts as if it’s a tiny town in rural Devon. And that we have some residents who expect the sort of privacy and silence they enjoyed as they grew up in monied outer suburbia or on our leafy north shore.

It’s the inner city, stupid. It’s noisy. It lacks privacy. If you want quiet and the ability to sunbake nude in your garden, buy a farm. Or move to St Ives. Not that I’d recommend either.

There are trade offs to living so close to a major city centre. But it is no surprise that those behind Green policies are unwilling to face the consequences of their choices, or make the trade offs their choices imply. That defines the Green mindset.

For twenty years I have watched as people have moved into the area and then whinged about noise. As if it were unforeseen there might be noise moving next door to a nightclub – which was subsequently shut down (actual case). Or that living on a main street above shops might be, well, a bit loud (trading restrictions applied). Equally absurd expectations on privacy restrict changes to people’s homes and backyards.

There is ample opportunity to allow increased floor space in existing homes, and to allow higher density housing in key corridors. And without the legalised blackmail of  voluntary planning agreements  with developers, which are just another in a long line of discretionary charges that bid up the cost of inner city housing.

Thanks to Hall Greenland’s input into the 2000 LEP (and the subsequent actions of a certain Legal operative) Leichhardt has highly restrictive Floor-Space Ratios which allow council an almost arbitrary power to disapprove development applications. They are applied inconsistently, waived frequently, but can always be relied on to ensure Council can stop whatever they feel like. Under Leichhardt’s perversion they have become a de facto density control rather than a bulk and scale control.

Too often I’ve seen  families forced to leave the Inner West because of rigid planning views on an extra bedroom, or heritage restrictions on housing changes, or arbitrary rejection of a dormer window.

Too often I’ve seen thousands in extra costs imposed on residents and businesses to deliver reports which were ignored, or to pay totally unnecessary court costs.

And while all reports from inner west architects suggest the misuse and misapplication of heritage orders has improved, for years it was a weapon to lock out any home improvements or expansions. Can you imagine being forced to maintain a wood cottage on a double block because it had 13 wood slats from the 1800s?

Given the longstanding Green agenda to fix or reduce population densities in the Inner West, it’s time they owned up to the fact that they are the cause of high rents, they are the cause of gentrification, and that they speak for the financially and geographically privileged.

The Inner West isn’t a retirement home for superannuated 70s activists. It’s a lively and dynamic area that can and should provide housing opportunities for all income levels without the foolishness of government subsidy or Council housing. All it takes is a Council that wants to make that happen.


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