There certainly weren’t legions of planners in government offices trying to exert a command and control influence over community choice by wielding an ideological stick in the form of planning policy.
Instead “back in the day” there were a handful of city engineers, and applications for development tended to be approved if they met basic building code and engineering guidelines.
With this absolute minimalist approach to regulatory intervention in urban growth, we created large, efficient cities which somehow got it right.
The roads, railway stations, commercial developments, hospitals and all sorts of community facilities and parklands grew mainly in response to market forces – shaped by consumer demand. Where people wanted to live and in what types of homes they wanted to live in created demand that developers responded to.
Whole suburbs were developed in this way, and housing was affordable. In response to this, other developers identified opportunities for shopping centres, workplaces and other projects. Transport connections were delivered in response to the market driven locational choice of our urban inhabitants, and with them were developed the medical facilities, community facilities, parks and public spaces that also helped shape the character of our urban form.
This largely market driven approach is how most of our major cities were shaped, with the exception of Canberra.
Not only was the vast majority of our current urban form delivered without the benefit of complex regulatory planning, but apparently it was so successful that huge swathes of the community now believe that much of it should be protected from any re-development.
This is a sweet irony: the structures and precincts that were originally created with a quick ‘how about we put it there’ discussion and approved for construction with basic plans in a matter of days (no one had heard of an EIS) are now the subject of fervent protectionist instincts.
These are from among the same sections of the community that talk loudest about the need for even more government planning and development control. They’re actively espousing the conservation of an urban form that reflects a period of minimalist or non-existent planning.
But this same coterie of voices that champions preservation of suburbs, precincts, places and structures created by developers unassisted by the guiding hand of a regulatory planner, also somehow believe that only highly regulated controls over developers can achieve similar outcomes in today’s world.
The community now views developers with suspicion and somehow we now place our trust in the hands of regulatory urban planners and academics, many of whom have never in their life built so much as a Stratco garden shed.
This seems to be a widespread community sentiment which is a great shame because the longer it goes on, the more we are deluding ourselves about how our cities really grow and respond to the needs of their residents.
Will it ever change? No, I think that horse has well and truly bolted. But it could be worth reminding some of the loudest voices in favour of more and more regulatory control of a few home truths. Here are some of my thoughts:
Developers Know The Market Best
You can assemble as many thinkers and urban planners and futurists in a room as you like but the moment someone has to risk their own money on a project, the room clears. Those left are the ones who truly know what a market wants in a particular location and what they’re prepared to pay. They know the costs of delivery, the risk of time delay and the risk of market change. In this way developers are more acutely tuned to real consumer and business community demand. Their views could be more widely sought and respected in terms of what can work and what won’t when it comes to urban planning. Otherwise we create plans which aren’t based on reality and which – for that reason – are difficult to deliver without excessive taxpayer support.
Developers Tend To Be Ahead Of The Trends
There’s nothing like a market driven psychology to keep you on top of trends and to know how fast they’re changing, and in what direction. Regulators on the other hand tend to learn by third party reference, through various conferences, talk fests and media reports. These are often well behind the trend because they’re referencing something someone else has already done. Once again, I’d be more inclined to put my faith in the views of a few developers when it comes to knowing the latest trends than an entire roomful of theorists who aren’t in the business of risking capital. Especially their own.
We Need Developers
The anti-development voices seem to think that taxpayers and governments are the means to improved urban environments and that developers should be highly controlled and their role limited. But without developers and the private capital (not taxpayer dollars) they bring to projects, all the plans in the world will never materialise. It’s the developers who create the houses, the shops, the cinemas, the restaurants, the coffee shops, ‘green star’ offices, industrial workplaces, medical centres, tourism resorts, hotels, theme parks, and other attractions that characterise where we live, work and play.
Today, developers are also increasingly providing schools for our children and public parks, particularly in master-planned estates. They are providing aged care and retirement living for our seniors. Private health organisations are developing new and world class hospitals, operating theatres and health facilities for large cross sections of the community, usually at lower capital cost and greater operational efficiency than traditional government delivery models.
We are surrounded by the results of development and this development was in the main created by developers risking private capital to meet a market opportunity. We are not likewise surrounded by the evidence of unwieldy regulatory planning instruments which impose needless delays, are unduly prescriptive and rarely in tune with community or market need.
Does this mean there is no role for regulation of urban development? Of course not. Public policy should reflect community opinion in any healthy democracy, and this in turn should shape the future growth, development and redevelopment of our urban landscape. It should encourage and facilitate private capital that aims to meet a community or business need. It should not reflect the minority views of unelected policy makers, nor resist market forces which are clear signals of need and demand, nor treat applications for development with deep seated mistrust and suspicion.
If developers and private development generally managed to create entire cities across Australia with considerable success, unaided by the heavy hand of prescriptive regulation, how is it that we came to this view today that developers are the enemy of efficient urban development? And how is that re-development of areas that are reminders of historically unrestrained development is now opposed in the name of ‘heritage’ conservation?
Maybe it’s explained by the word ‘profit’? Is it possible that we’ve come to view profit as a dirty word, rather than a sign of something successful? Does it mean that community opinion is more likely to support taxpayer funded developments which consume precious tax dollars (at a loss) as preferable to privately funded developments which actuallycontribute to the community tax pool (by making profits)? If that’s the root of the problem, the problem is much larger than we might care to imagine.
How good an investment is south-east Queensland
Why do we believe we’ll see increasing investor interest in this market? Strong population growth, a diversified and growing economy, and substantial investment in infrastructure should combine to boost demand.
We expect that these factors will swell the number of white-collar jobs – increasing demand for office space, which in turn will push down vacancy rates and raise rental incomes. This should be good news for office property investors – especially those like Centuria Metropolitan REIT (CMA) that are already well-positioned in the market.
A significant and growing population
South East Queensland (SEQ) stretches from the Gold Coast up to the Sunshine Coast and across to Toowoomba in the west. As Australia’s third-largest population zone, the region has been growing significantly, particularly Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Interstate migration figures show a pattern of steady net migration, with Queensland the only Australian state with consistent net inflows of people from other states. In the five years prior to the 2016 Census, over 220,000 people moved to the Sunshine State – mainly to SEQ where nearly 90% of population growth occurred. This is important for property investors because of its implications for demand, but the trend is interconnected with other favourable factors.
A diversified economy poised for growth
Queensland’s economy is diversified across a range of industries including agriculture, resources, construction, tourism, manufacturing, and services. Over the past two decades, its economic growth has consistently exceeded the national average – and in our view this is likely to continue.
The resources sector is gaining momentum, and a significant pipeline of major infrastructure and development projects is helping propel economic and jobs growth, in turn increasing interstate migration and driving demand for both residential and commercial property.
Investment in infrastructure
A strong infrastructure program delivers more than business and consumer amenity – it generates jobs, drives investment, and facilitates population growth. The pipeline of infrastructure and development projects announced in the past few years is likely to have a material impact on the region – substantially improving its accessibility and amenity – most notably, Brisbane’s Queen’s Wharf precinct and the Cross River Rail.
Queen’s Wharf, touted as a “world-class entertainment precinct”, is an integrated resort development costing $3.6 billion and covering over 26 hectares with retail, dining, hotel and entertainment spaces. As Queensland’s biggest ever tourism project it will be a game-changer for Brisbane, attracting overseas as well as local visitors. Estimated to contribute $1.69 billion annually to the economy, it will employ more than 2,000 people during construction and an estimated 10,000 once operational.
The Queensland Government’s number one infrastructure project, the $5.4 billion Cross River Rail, comprises a new 10.2km rail line between Dutton Park and Bowen Hills, which includes a 5.9km tunnel under the Brisbane River and CBD. It’s the first major rail infrastructure investment in the inner city since 1986 and is set to generate urban renewal, economic development and the revitalisation of inner-city precincts.
Outlook for commercial office property investment
These factors indicate a region poised for growth – and for growing commercial property demand. CMA’s portfolio has a significant exposure to the area in general (six SEQ assets with a combined book value of over $480 million), with many of the individual assets located in those parts of Brisbane set to benefit most from these developments.
Our view is that Brisbane office markets, where five of CMA’s assets sit, are continuing to improve, with vacancies hitting a five-year low – indicating increasing tenant demand – and continued yield compression, demonstrating strong investment demand. Office sales hit the highest level in a decade during 2018 (at $2.35 billion), increasing 60% from 2017.
With the strong outlook for SEQ, we expect the region will continue to attract tenants and investors alike.
Queensland’s 100,000-property public housing shortfall revealed
Queensland has a severe shortage of social and affordable housing, an issue that is projected to get worse by 2036 according to new research.
More than 102,000 additional social houses are currently needed across the state, and 54,700 affordable houses are also needed with nearly 13 per cent of Queenslanders spending more than 30 per cent of their income on rent.
By 2036, Queensland is projected to need 254,300 more social and affordable houses – the second-highest unmet need behind NSW, the report found.
The new figures come from a UNSW City Futures Research Centre report on social housing shortfall across Australia.
Regional social housing shortfalls are higher than in Brisbane, the data shows, but Brisbane residents are slightly more likely to be spending more of their income on rent.
Housing Minister Mick de Brenni said housing affordability was a “big issue” for Queensland.
“Through the Palaszczuk government’s $1.8 billion Queensland Housing Strategy, Labor is driving key reforms and targeted investment across the housing continuum,” he said.
“The Strategy commits us to build more than 1000 affordable homes for Queenslanders, as well as a further 4522 new social homes to help ensure everyone has a safe, secure and stable place to live.”
Lead researcher Laurence Troy said 22.5 per cent of Australia’s entire housing growth must go to social housing to meet demand into the future.
“Our analysis shows that the sheer number of households in rental stress across the country means that if we’re going to meet the need, at least 12 per cent of all our housing by 2036 will need to be social and affordable housing – which is a very reasonable ambition in global terms,” Mr Troy said.
“To cover the backlog of unmet need and future need in Australia two in 10 new homes will need to be for social housing over the next 20 years, and a further one in ten for below-market affordable rental housing.”
Mr Troy said the research’s financial modelling found the “best and cheapest way” for governments to meet the need for social housing was to fund it through upfront grants and low-interest government financing.
“Delivering below market rental housing through the not-for-profit sector, as opposed to the private equity model, will save $3 billion a year by removing developer mark-ups and shareholder returns,” he said.
The financial modelling was commissioned by the NSW community housing sector.
Mr de Brenni said the state government was “listening” through its recent public consultation on rental reform and was committed to investing in affordable housing in partnership with community housing, to provide more subsidied homes for low income earners.
“We heard Queenslanders are struggling to afford rental properties in the suburbs close to where they work,” he said.
“Through our Build-to-Rent pilot project, we are seeking to work with the private sector to increase the number of long-term, affordable rental properties for low to moderate income earners, including key workers in health, early childhood and hospitality.
“Internationally, the Build-to-Rent model is delivering fantastic outcomes and facilities for tenants and we’re looking to see what the market is open to delivering here.
“The pilot, if it proceeds, will see $70 million invested towards delivery of hundreds of affordable rental properties for key workers in inner-city areas where affordability has been identified.”
Mr de Brenni said the registrations of interest for that pilot had seen strong market interest, and the department was considering the responses before calling for expressions of interest.
Treasury: Negative Gearing Reforms Will Have ‘Little to No Effect’ on House Prices
Federal Treasury has delivered a serious rebuke to the Coalition for exaggerating the impact of Labor’s negative gearing and capital gains changes.
In emails released under freedom of information, acting treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer requested the department fact check the Coalition’s claims that Labor’s policies would cause house prices to fall.
In response, Treasury issued a correction: “The [s]tatement is not consistent with our advice.”
“We did not say that the proposed policies ‘will’ reduce house prices,” the email reads.
“We said that they ‘could’ put downward pressure on house prices in the short-term depending on what else was going on in the market at the time.
“But in the long-term they were unlikely to have much impact.”
Labor has jumped on the release, with shadow treasurer Chris Bowen saying that the government had been “caught red-handed” misrepresenting Treasury’s advice.
For his part, treasurer Josh Frydenberg denied that the government was misrepresenting Treasury, pointing to the Financial Review’s take on the release that changes “could” put downward pressure on house prices in the short term.
Frydenberg quoted building industry group the Masters Builders Association figures.
“If Labor’s policy is in place you’ll see 32,000 fewer jobs and 42,000 fewer homes being built.”
House prices hit spending
It has been a difficult week in economic policy, with GDP figures released on Wednesday revealing that the economy has slowed significantly, entering a “per capita recession” for the first time in 13 years.
Retail trade figures for the March quarter were also sluggish, with falling house prices impacting wealth and spending.
RBA governor Philip Lowe highlighted the link between the two at the AFR annual business summit on Wednesday.
“The evidence is that a tightening in credit supply has contributed to the slowdown in credit growth,” Lowe said.
“The main story, though, is one of reduced demand for credit, rather than reduced supply.
“When housing prices are falling, investors are less likely to enter the market and to borrow. So too are owner-occupiers for a while.”