Liveable Centres

03 April 2009

A bias against residential development in major urban centres.

A bias against residential development in major urban centres is bad for the economy and will make Sydney’s transport problems even worse.

Liveable Centres was commissioned by the Urban Taskforce and authored by leading urban design firm, Roberts Day.  The report says the residential development of our urban centres will be hindered by recent zoning plans which discriminate against new housing in the areas that need it most.


The development of urban centres is crucial to future housing growth and the broader economy. In Sydney, the NSW Government has promised that 80 per cent of suburban streets will be protected from increased density, yet 60 to 70 per cent of anticipated housing development is to take place within the citys existing footprint.

Urban centres are now supposed to accommodate the bulk of Sydneys future housing, office space, retail space and entertainment needs.  For these plans to work, housing, workplaces, shopping and recreation areas will all need to be located together – within walking distance of public transport. Since 2007 NSW local councils, with the approval of the Department of Planning, have released 13 new zoning plans in-line with the governments new standardised format.

This report shows that five of the plans contain outright prohibitions on residential development in centres. New residential development will be banned in the heart of key urban centres with good public transport, such as St Leonards, Macquarie Park, Liverpool, Parramatta and North Strathfield.

This is only the start – every zoning plan in the state will be re-written in the coming years. If this is what we can expect, Sydney will fail to meet its housing challenge.


Six plans restrict residential development in key centres by giving more generous floor space allocations for commercial and retail development. In locations such as Burwood, Riverstone, Wollongong and Newcastle, residential development is nominally allowed, but new rules discriminate against proposals for new homes within walking distance of public transport. In these areas commercial and retail developments are allowed to be bigger than residential development, even though the visual impact of the different building types can be identical.

Eleven of the plans prohibit purely residential buildings in centres, forcing developers to build retail space instead of residential homes, even when there is no need for extra retail in an area.


Restrictive treatment of future residential development is particularly alarming, because residential development is likely to recover first when we begin to pull-out of the current economic slowdown.

There is an endemic bias against residential development in the heart of centres. If this trend continues NSW will be denied the benefit of many genuine mixed-use centres. Good urban design should be the foundation of our future neighbourhoods.

Conventional single-use zoning regulations introduced in the past 50 years have made it technically unlawful for the development industry to deliver mixed-use centres. A system founded on the goal of protecting public health is contributing to an obesity epidemic.


A thirty-year-old male living in a mixed-use neighbourhood is, on average, 15 kilos lighter than his sedentary single-use counterpart. Yet genuine mixed-use neighbourhoods are banned in recent zoning plans.


Mixing uses around public transport is the most effective way to reduce unnecessary traffic congestion. Reducing car dependence also boosts household disposable income. The average yearly cost of car ownership is the equivalent of servicing a $90,000 mortgage debt. Led by the residential sector, lifeless centres can be transformed into liveable 24-hour places.


The report says that regulation should be concerned with physical form of buildings, rather than the use of a building. The focus should be given to the adaptability of buildings rather than their immediate use. Adaptability over time is paramount; the current use is of secondary concern.


Conventional zoning was never intended to deal with physical form and many of the new provisions introduced, such as design guidelines, are nothing more than band aid measures to address this deficiency.


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