A swathe of new developments in Western Australia has prompted questions about whether the state is shedding its penchant for NIMBYism once and for all.
NIMBY, or “not in my back yard”, describes residents or interest groups that oppose change, particularly new development, in their local area.
This is an attitude that Perth has battled with over time, and has grown more prevalent as the state contends with significant population growth and the challenges that development for new housing poses.
Perth NIMBYs have had a well-documented fear of heights over the years.
Broadly speaking, they are concerned about a scattergun approach to infill developments in the suburbs, arguing that the state can accommodate a growing population and achieve its economic potential while respecting community perspectives.
Government policy has focused on the increased density in inner and middle ring suburbs, which has challenged residents in a range of established suburbs who are nervous about change and the idea of more buildings in their local area.
Chief economist at Centre for Independent Studies Peter Tulip is adamant that the nation’s housing affordability crisis has been caused by planning restrictions that pander to NIMBY’s blocking new housing construction.
While at the RBA, Tulip’s research along with economist Peter Kendall suggested that restrictive zoning contributed about 40 per cent to the price of houses in Sydney and Melbourne.
Tulip reckons that current planning restrictions were being driven by older, wealthy homeowners afraid of change in their neighbourhoods. There is a huge problem that working-class families can’t afford to live within commuting distance of the city.
NIMBYism is certainly a bone of contention locally.
“NIMBYism slows down supply in weird ways,” Perth estate agent Peter Fletcher Tweeted.
“For example, the requirement to keep the facade of old buildings that have no great historical value. Sure, it’s nice to keep old buildings and the history they represent but it’s also nice to keep bushland.”
The Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre published research in 2017 that revealed more households are looking for more central locations that offer access to job opportunities and a higher level of amenity.
The book, Perth’s Infill Housing Future: Delivering Innovative and Sustainable Housing, says the need for negative attitudes to be tackled early in the development process is crucial.
Residents near infill developments tend to be concerned about the impact on local traffic, parking and their own property values. These concerns can be overcome early by early and open discussions between the community and developers, the book reveals.
But the tide could be changing. WA Premier Mark McGowan has vowed to fight the nimbys and is openly supportive of density boosting projects.
His government passed major planning reforms to slash red tape to create jobs and help support the WA economy through the pandemic in 2020. Since then, new developments have been ushered in as the state outlines strong population growth targets.
Rarely used legislative powers were used to approve South Perth’s controversial Civic Heart project after a seven-year stalemate. The design incorporates two apartment towers of 39 and 22 storeys, and 25 ground-floor commercial tenancies.
Joint venture partners Far East Consortium and Cbus Property have been given the green light to develop one of the largest sites in the Perth City Link precinct.
The $100-million commercial project, dubbed King Street Campus, is on the western corner of King and Roe streets, offering 26,000sq m of office space.
The southern hemisphere’s largest wave park was recently announced for a 5.7ha site in an $80-million development for US wave park developers Aventuur. The project will feature a boutique 100-room surf hotel, health and wellness centre, co-working offices, a beach club and restaurants.
An application for central Perth to redevelop land on Plain Street will be considered on November 1 in another major mixed-use development.
Australian Development Council executive director Rod Hamersley admits that nimbyism is alive and well in Perth, but says it’s a localised phenomenon.
Planning reforms to remove red tape is removing a lot of unlikely conflict in assessing development applications, which comes amid strong population growth targets for the state. On the back of this, some areas have been nominated for substantial developments.
“For the first time in a long time, there has been a lot of growth in pre-sale apartments. That was set on a treadmill for a decade, so this has potentially brought across growth in off-the-plan apartments, particularly in the last 12 months,” Hamersley says.
Meanwhile, Aria Land has had five DAs approved over recent months, while another permit, which would have otherwise expired due to a Covid-induced sales slowdown, was renewed for two years. Each project will commence over the coming 12 months, with contracts valued at more than $140 million.
Aria Land managing director Paul Simpson says measures introduced by the WA state and local governments in recent months have pushed these DAs over the line.
First home buyer grants, two-year-extensions of DA validity, the establishment of the state development assessment unit, stamp duty debates and a more accommodation approach by local councils have contributed, Simpson says.
“In situations where anti-development sentiment exists in a few local governments, development assessment panels have been responsible for ensuring that DAs of merit have been approved,” Simpson says.
However, the major battleground remains steel pricing and material increases due to a Covid-related supply chain issue. Labour shortages due to the inability to import labour from other states or overseas have dramatically increased construction prices, Simpson says.
“The degree of the increases is such that many projects where there’s a lack of elasticity in selling prices will fail to register adequate sales to achieve construction financing.
His prediction is dire. “We will shortly start to see projects falling over, where the results of the fine work from government in stimulating DAs will be eroded through the construction industry’s inability to keep up with demand at commercial pricing,” Simpson says.