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Brisbane City Council Votes to Ban Townhouses

By February 28, 2019Legislation
The 'Hive' townhouse development in a low residential area

Apartments and townhouses will no longer be developed in Brisbane’s suburbs zoned low-density residential.

Earlier this month, Brisbane City Council voted unanimously in favour of making a Temporary Local Planning Instrument (TLPI) under the Planning Act 2016(the Act) to ban apartments and townhouses in low density residential areas.

TLPI 01/19 – To Maintain and Protect the Low Density Character of the Low Density Residential Zone proposes to override the current provisions in the Brisbane City Plan 2014 which enable Multiple dwellings to be built on well-located sites of over 3,000m2in the Low density residential zone or Character precinct of the Character residential zone.

Background Behind Ban

The driving force behind the proposed ban is understood to be the Brisbane Future Blueprint, which Council released in June 2018 on the back of its “Plan your Brisbane” campaign.  This campaign saw 114,447 residents “have their say” on the future of Brisbane as Council plans how to accommodate an extra 386,000 residents by 2041.

The Blueprint features eight (8) principles and 40 actions to guide the future planning of Brisbane with one of the key principles being, to “protect the Brisbane backyard and our unique character”.  To do this, Council set as its key action item to “stop townhouses and apartments being built in areas for single homes” and to only allow them on appropriately zoned land, specifically identifying this as medium density residential zoned land.

Council’s City Planning Chairperson Cr Matthew Bourke says the TLPI achieves this principle and the corresponding action item as it “puts a stop to cookie-cutter townhouse developments and instead protects the Brisbane backyard and unique character”.

Background Behind TLPI

The Lord Mayor intimated at Council’s meeting on 5 February 2019, that Council were proposing a TLPI to effectively circumnavigate due process as the major amendment to the Brisbane City Plan 2014they submitted to the Minister in September 2018, had not yet been approved.

A TLPI suspends or otherwise affects the operation of a planning instrument (i.e. Brisbane City Plan 2014) for a period up to two (2) years.

While a TLPI needs Ministerial approval, it is not required to be publicly notified like a major amendment to a Planning Scheme thereby removing the opportunity for the community and industry to comment.  It can only be approved if both Council and the Minister decide:

  1. there is significant risk of serious adverse cultural, economic, environmental or social conditions happening in the local government area; and
  2. the delay involved in using the process in s18 – 22 of the Act to make or amend another local planning instrument would increase the risk; and
  3. the making of the TLPI would not adversely affect State interests.

Council claim “the development of multiple dwellings in the Low density residential zone is inconsistent with citywide community feedback received … and therefore the city is a risk of adverse social impacts if they continue to be approved”.  The TLPI is proposed to provide interim protection to the character of Brisbane’s suburbs while the proposed planning scheme amendment progresses.

Plan Your Brisbane Consultation

Interestingly, the “Plan your Brisbane” Engagement Summary Report prepared by Articulous reveals:

  • 114,447 people were recorded as taking part in “Plan your Brisbane” across 20+ different engagement activities, however, it does not confirm whether these “people” are different people or discount that the same person could have been recorded engaging in multiple activities.
  • There is no specific mention of townhouses or that they should be banned. If this was such a hot topic which requires an urgent TLPI, one would think it would emerge a key theme.  Instead, tackling housing affordability and providing diverse housing choice appeared as common themes and that participants considered the form, aesthetic and context of development as important.
  • medium density was the preferred density choice in Council’s game survey.
  • Participants supported a balance of low, medium and high-density housing to manage population growth.

HOPD Opinion

The proposed blanket ban feels nothing more than a political stunt to protect Council at the next election.

Stopping “cookie-cutter” townhouse developments and stopping all types of townhouses and apartments being built in low density residential zoned areas are two (2) totally different things.  There are plenty of examples across the City of high-quality townhouses being developed in areas for single homes.

Housing affordability is a well-publicised problem in Brisbane.  Townhouses are a product that play an increasingly important role in our property market. They provide an affordable and low maintenance home, often without the price tag of the traditional detached house. This knee-jerk reaction is more likely to cost jobs, stifle property development and impact housing affordability.

Irrespective of our professional opinion though, there is a statutory process that needs to be followed when making or amending a TLPI. Council’s suggestion that the City is at significant risk of serious adverse social conditions if townhouses and apartments continue to be developed on low density residential zoned land, is unsubstantiated.  The “Plan your Brisbane” Engagement Strategy does not reveal any so called “citywide community feedback” opposing townhouses.  Instead, it reveals that two (2) of the biggest concerns across all age groups are housing affordability and diverse housing choice.  The proposed ban is more likely to put the City at significant risk of serious adverse economic, environmental and social conditions by further exacerbating housing affordability by removing choice and encouraging urban sprawl.

As Council has already prepared and submitted an amendments package to the Minister seeking for the enabling provisions to be removed, it cannot be argued that continuing to follow this statutory process increases any risk.  While the Brisbane City Plan 2014currently includes provisions which enable townhouses to be developed in the Low density residential zone, all proposals trigger impact assessment and therefore are subject to a detailed assessment process and are required to be publicly notified. The proposed TLPI however, takes away the community and industry’s opportunity to “have their say” on an ordinary planning policy matter and also takes away the opportunity for any landowner affected by the change to seek compensation (as it is not payable when the change is the result of a TLPI).

Recommendation

Hickey Oatley Planning & Development strongly urges Brisbane City Council to:

  1. withdraw the proposed TLPI;
  2. revise the proposed major amendments package to retain the current provisions which enable townhouses and apartments to be developed in low density residential areas and instead amend the Multiple dwelling code to better address the matters residents actually have concerns with (i.e. design, car parking); and
  3. formally consult with the community and industry to understand their real sentiment and consequences of such a broad ban on our city and economy.

We further implore the Minister to continue to assess these planning instruments strictly in accordance with the Act.

Image: Hive, The Gap – Luxury Townhouses, Edits: Rhiannon Smit

Mia Hickey

Author Mia Hickey

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