Dual occupancies and strata titles are good for Canberra, but the Mr Fluffy planning changes don’t go far enough. We need to be more forward thinking.

You might have heard the ACT Government has recently announced a number of planning changes that will affect a large proportion of the Mr Fluffy blocks in Canberra. The most important planning changes in Draft Variation 343 (DV343) revolve around current restrictions and regulations relating to dual occupancy and strata titles on specifically zoned blocks of land.

Currently if you own a block in an RZ1 zone, you can build a secondary dwelling of up to 90m2 on that block providing the combined size of the existing and new dwelling does not exceed 50% of the site area.

In order to protect neighbourhood character, under the proposed changes in DV343, a 50% limit will only be allowed where both new dwellings have street frontage, otherwise a 35% maximum limit will apply. It is worth noting that any block in RZ1 can already be built to a 50%, 2 storey limit, for a single dwelling, or as already noted, for a single dwelling and an additional new dwelling. DV343 also includes a number safeguards that limit the height of buildings and infer a design criteria that ensures they meet high quality architectural standards and do not detract from the existing streetscape.

The really significant change is to allow strata titling of these sites. Although strata titling in RZ1 has not been allowed since 2008, prior to this time strata titling was allowed throughout Canberra, and there are many examples of dual and tri occupancy developments throughout Canberra in RZ1 areas.

These changes will affect 770 blocks across 56 suburbs in the ACT. The changes are designed to add value and more flexibility, which is obviously the ACT Government’s intent. They have ACT explained that the community needs an increased value for these blocks in order to recuperate some of the $1 billion being spent as part of the buyback scheme.

The consequence of this is that it might make it more difficult for Mr Fluffy owners to repurchase their own blocks. But we’re not here to make judgements on the merits, or otherwise, of the buyback program. We acknowledge that the ACT Government was in a difficult position and had to find the best balance between the property owners impacted by this issue and the needs of the ACT economy, and they are trying to find the best way to resolve the financial burden placed on the ACT budget by the implementation of the buyback scheme.

That being said, there are actually a number of positives in terms of urban planning. While it will only result in a minor increase in housing density in the affected suburbs, it should lead to an improvement in housing choices in these areas. Being able to build newer, more age appropriate housing in Canberra’s older and more central suburbs is an important step in meeting our city’s future housing needs. But the DV343 changes are really just a return to pre-2008 planning, with the exception that these options are now only available on the Mr Fluffy blocks.

If the ACT government really is keen to meet its own planning objectives of 50% of new housing as urban renewal, then a more effective, broader and forward thinking approach needs to be considered.

Some serious thought needs to be put into the regeneration of Canberra’s older suburbs to ensure a vibrant future for our city. Urban regeneration is important if we want to:
• Replace aging housing stock with properties that are more in tune with market demand.
• Provide an alternative for owner occupiers (particularly those with mobility problems) to apartments.
• Allow our aging population to obtain suitable housing in the areas in which they live, instead of forcing them to remain in unsuitable accommodation.
• Reduce greenfield infrastructure spending.
• Increase government revenue in the form of property and land taxes, which are an important part of the ACT budget.

In turn, this will increase housing supply, and as a result, affordability and opportunities for first home buyers.

We hope that DV343 produces effective planning outcomes in the short term and that it is only the first step towards a forward looking planning regime that meets Canberra’s housing needs for the next 30 years. What we really need is the ability to produce a lot more affordable, single level properties in central established Canberra suburbs, and that means smart, sensible redevelopment opportunities on a lot more of our RZ1 suburban blocks.



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