NSW State Liberals Back Up-Zoning

This weekend, the NSW Liberals held their annual convention. One of the motions passed is to up-zone all neighbourhoods within a 5-minute walk of train stations.

The motion “calls upon the State Parliamentary Party to develop a comprehensive housing policy.” Its features are, inter alia, “rezoning all lots within a 5-minute walking radius of existing train and metro stations according to R4 high density” (i.e. high-rise residential).

The convention also called for R3 medium density within a 10-minute walk of train and metro stations, and within a 5-minute walk of light rail. They call for planning controls to be designated at a state level based on zoning designations.

Another call was to reform the 1997 Heritage Act. Earlier this month, pro-development Liberal Chris Roth was out drawing attention to overwrought heritage protections, filming a video at this heritage-protected electric sub-station in Burwood.

The Liberal proposal is certainly polemical. For example, it proposes a “NIMBY penalty” whereby councils that fails to meet housing targets are stripped of infrastructure funding. But it also calls for development applications to be moved away from councils and be decided at the state level.

The plan is a direct challenge to Chris Minns, the ALP Premier of NSW. Minns’s signature campaign since taking office in March is to increase housing supply.

Though he called for “generational” reform, Minns’s package only designated seven Sydney neighbourhoods for high-rise, high-density development.

Three of those zones already have significant high-rise development. Another is Sydnenham, too close to the airport to build tall. 

This weak ALP policy appears to be the product of MPs’ fears for their own seats in the face of NIMBY campaigners in their own electorates. Time will tell if the NSW Liberals show more staunch commitment to housing in response to such pressures.

Alan Kohler wrote in Friday’s AFR that Australia is in the hands of a “bankocracy”: “The way real estate works in Australia is that the federal government and banks encourage demand for it while state and local governments restrict the supply of it,” said Kohler.

But the contest between Minns and the Coalition suggests there are votes to be won in breaking up this status quo.

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