IMPA event - standing room only!

On a cold Monday night in August, over 400 people crowded into Federation Square’s Deakin edge to participate in panel discussion about the design quality of new housing and public space in Melbourne.  Organised by IMPA, the event brought together a prestigious group from all sides of the planning spectrum.

Outgoing Victorian Government Architect speaks at IMPA event

Outgoing Victorian Government Architect speaks at IMPA event

The panel for the evening was:

·        GEOFFREY LONDON, Victorian Government Architect

·        LEANNE HODYL, Strategic Planner at Melbourne City Council

·        ROBERT LAROCCA, RP Data Victorian Housing Market Specialist

·        MONIQUE SASSON, Independent Property Analyst, Principal Career Eye

·        ASHLEY WILLIAMS, Evolve Development for the Property Council

·        KEN ONG, Councilor and Chair of Planning for the City of Melbourne. 

The moderator, Peter Mares, began his introduction with an acknowledgement of the traditional owners of the land, reminding the audience that the city of Melbourne now stands on a place where the different tribes of the Kulin nation would come together on the banks of the Yarra for ceremony and for business – to trade, to settle disputes and to negotiate over access to land and resources.

Peter ended with an expression of hope that “a sense of the enduring history of this place now known as Melbourne, will inform our own deliberations, as we discuss our hopes and fears for the future of the city.”

Robert Larocca set the scene by presenting current data about residential property market trends in Melbourne. Robert confirmed that the market is currently dominated by non-occupying investors who own over 77% of the apartments in the city.

Leanne Hodyl spoke about the Council’s aspiration for a city where housing is affordable, well designed and meets the diverse needs of residents. She indicated that 45,000 new dwellings will be created by 2031, housing an additional 80,000 people. According to Leanne, there is currently a significant shortage of affordable housing in the city, with just 6% available for the 25% of residents who need it. In addition, apartments are getting smaller and less diverse. 50% of apartments contain just 1 bedroom, with only 9% having 3 or more bedrooms.  40% of all apartments in the city are under 50sqm. Leanne's point ws that the current market The City of Melbourne’s “Homes for People” initiative is intended to deliver more affordable housing and improve the design quality of new apartments.

Photo: IMPA (2014)

Photo: IMPA (2014)

Geoffrey London spoke generally about the new design quality principles being prepared by the Office of the Victorian Government Architect. The new principles would set standards for apartment sizes, diversity and the need for direct access to natural light, air and outlook. Geoffrey provided examples of similar standards from Sydney, Scotland and Hamburg, arguing that the impact on housing affordability had been minimal.

During the panel discussion, Ashley Williams of the Property Council and property analyst Monique Sasson responded to the presentations. According to Ashley the Property Council took a different view about the impact of design standards, suggesting they would have a significant impact on housing affordability. He was also concerned that developers were expected to foot the entire bill for new community infrastructure when the State and Local councils were contributing very little.

Monique argued that the development sector was not providing enough diversity in their offering, with the emphasis being on small, single occupant apartments. The panel discussed the need to develop new markets that would provide for families, but could not suggest how this might occur.

Questions from the floor were varied but generally emphasizing the need for developers and planning authorities to be more accountable for design quality and the provision of community infrastructure.

This point was taken up in the summation, when each panelist was asked what they believed the most important next step should be. The majority of the audience supported Geoffrey London’s suggestion about the need to foster a culture of design quality, both in housing and the public realm. There was also overwhelming support for Leanne Hodyl and Monique Sasson’s affirmation that security of community infrastructure must be a top priority for any urban renewal precinct.  

Photo: IMPA (2014)

Photo: IMPA (2014)

In summing up, Councillor Ken Ong maintained that Melbourne was not a City in Crisis, but that significant problems would arise if housing affordability and diversity were not addressed. He also agreed about the importance of community infrastructure but argued that planning authorities did not often have the funds required at the outset of an urban regeneration scheme. He continued by saying that authorities are reliant on developer contributions, which are not available until a development is completed.

In the end, that is the kernel of the problem. Why has this situation become acceptable? Why are state and local authorities not required to provide the seed funding for community infrastructure, before urban renewal areas are developed? Is there a way where this might become possible, even in stages? IMPA will continue to explore these questions through further discussions with planning authorities and the development sector.