Do dragons exist?
BY GARETH KENT – Director, Preston Rowe Paterson Geelong
Do dragons exist? I didn’t think so, until very recently. And no, I have not been smoking the horticulture.
After more than 50 years of no sightings, the Victorian grassland earless dragon has been rediscovered west of Melbourne – about eight of them, to be exact. A few 15cm lizards have been found somewhere west of Melbourne and our biodiversity experts have therefore shut down development across hundreds of hectares in the Western Growth corridor, including the Lovely Banks Northern Growth corridor. Luckily, we have a National Recovery Plan, so that these eight or so lizards can be protected; too bad for the 246,000 people who won’t be able to buy an affordable house!
This lizard apparently has friends. One is called the golden sun moth, and the other is the growling grass frog. Who comes up with these names? It’s like reading something out of a comic book! These species, all very important, are having a dramatic impact on the availability of development land that we have spent the past 15 years planning for the growth of our population.
Lucky that this creature has no ears to hear my thoughts. For example, in Geelong, a critical part of the supply for new homes is housed in the planned Northern and Western Geelong growth areas. These areas are planned to provide more than 110,000 new homes. At an average of 2.4 people per household, that’s 264,000 people that will have to be housed elsewhere. This development, like many more, has been seriously delayed by continuous discovery of flora and fauna, along with other bureaucratic red tape.
On top of the flora and fauna experts, our developers have had to deal with cultural heritage studies, and rapidly changing taxation legislation. Victoria has the highest land tax rates in the country, according to research by the state’s Parliamentary Budget Office. And on top of this, the government has just announced the Windfall Gains Tax and the Vacant Residential Land Tax. However, at the same time, we have a housing crisis with record immigration. The costs of the available blocks keep going up as the Government adds more and more taxes.
At the API conference in Geelong last week, Rory Costello, CEO of Villawood Properties – one of the region’s biggest developers – divulged that as a company they were now looking outside of Victoria for projects. I note that I have been approached by several of my own developer clients, all who have decided to pull out of Victoria.
It’s not just the outer ring greenfield spaces being inundated with bureaucracy and utopian legislation. The pendulum has swung too far to the left when it comes to planning, and I refer to the planning overlays being applied throughout our local councils, such as the Neighbour Character overlay. Its is becoming far too hard and onerous on developers to go about their business, and if we want to meet the target of 80,000 new homes in Victoria each year from 2024, something needs to be done to rein in the dreamers. Simply, when is the outcome of providing affordable housing, via increasing supply, going to be more important than the utopian theories of “good planning” that are currently flowing the corridors of local councils?
I am heartened to see the government doing something about it. The proposal now being considered to limit powers of local councils over big development is, on the face of it, a good one. We already have very strict guidelines around development, what it can look like and how it must be built. We have regulation that is in place in all areas about height limits, setbacks etc. With any luck, the new legislation will allow developers to design within the frameworks that exist, and allow smooth and quick decision making, with less movement of the goal posts.
However, I would like the government to go one step further and dissolve the office of the Architect General. This again is another level of bureaucracy that serves very little purpose, takes far too long to do its job, and provides no benefit to the community.
Let’s get this state moving and take away some of the barriers to development if we are to have any chance of meeting the housing supply shortages we are presently facing.