Avoiding the slums of the future

(An edited version of the article was published in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday 27 August)

Building apartments that are small and badly designed might be what some property developers want, but it is no good for the people who actually buy and live in them.

In the 1990s, apartment design in Sydney had become so bad the NSW Government had to step in to fix the problem and stop developers building the slums of the future.

So it's hard to sympathise with the confected outrage from Chris Johnson and his developer lobby group Urban Taskforce. Complaints about councils creating 'red tape' on their developments is a classic case of putting dollars before sense.

Let's look at the facts. The City of Sydney's planning controls have helped create much-needed new homes for tens of thousands of people.

We're the fastest growing local government area in NSW. Why? Because people want to live close to work, public transport and great services. They want well designed homes near parks, pools, libraries and child care. They also want apartments that are more than drab concrete boxes.

Our community is made up of different households so we need different sized apartments to ensure there is space for single people, for couples with and without children and for larger extended families.

The City's planning controls protect the public interest, not just the interests of the property industry.

We are seeing a boom in our population. The number of people living in the CBD alone has grown from just under 5,000 people in 1991 to more than 22,000 people in 2011. By 2030 that number will jump to 34,000.

We are already approving more apartments than ever before. Approvals have increased from 1,250 in 2008 to a record 3,387 last year.

Our work to transform the former industrial area of Green Square has helped create 5,700 new homes since 2000. By 2030, Green Square is expected to attract 40,000 new residents and 22,000 new workers. This is Australia's largest urban development project, valued at more than $8 billion.

Two and a half thousand people will soon move into the new Mirvac development at Harold Park. The Ashmore estate near Sydney Park is set to grow. And the redevelopment of the Carlton United Brewery in Chippendale has already begun to fill with new residents.

Parking spaces add to the cost of new apartments, which is one reason why we take a flexible approach to parking. We're investing in public transport - even though it is a State Government responsibility - and we're making it easier for people to walk, ride or car share.

Barry O'Farrell promised to return planning power to the community in the run up to the last election - the right move after the scandal-plagued Labor Government lost the community's trust.

But what the Urban Taskforce wants is to sideline the community's input so some irresponsible developers can build quick and dirty to turn a buck in a desperate market. If they are successful, Sydney would return to the bad old days of shoddy units.

The rules on what can be built and where, should be about more than cutting the cake into the smallest pieces to sell at the biggest profits.

I want to see Sydney grow and continue to be a place that people young, old, single, married, rich and not rich call home.

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