Are we are going to become Hong Kong? Absolutely not

By Stuart Moseley

July 22, 2019

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Increasing population, housing affordability, greater urban density and the impact all of this has on the liveability of our city are top of mind for Victorians these days.

Our city and state are changing rapidly. The biggest tranche of infrastructure projects in the state’s history are visible everywhere. We are going through growing pains and many of us aren’t that happy about it.

Medium and high-density housing are changing the nature of the inner city seemingly expanding the boundaries of the CBD.
Medium and high-density housing are changing the nature of the inner city seemingly expanding the boundaries of the CBD.CREDIT:ANGELA WYLIE

New suburbs seem to be springing up everywhere in what some might think is uncontrolled urban sprawl. Medium and high-density housing are changing the nature of the inner city, seemingly expanding the boundaries of the CBD. Some parts of middle Melbourne are seeing a boom in unit development on the traditional quarter-acre block.

It’s uncomfortable when you suddenly realise you have to fight for a car park in your once-quiet street.

In some of our suburbs the pressure of development has slackened, with a recent decline in house and apartment pricesSigns show things are ticking up again – great for existing home owners and investors, depressing for first-home buyers.

Some owners and investors who paid deposits during the peak of the property market are feeling the pain. Some who bought high-rise apartments have found they have dangerous flammable cladding surrounding them. And to top it off, Melbourne is not the world’s most liveable city any more, we’re second.


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*As Melburnians, I think we need to be honest with ourselves. I’m new to this great city and love it but I have noticed that many of us don’t much like change, especially if we have to sacrifice something to achieve it.

I think it’s time as a community to sort out the first world problems from the things that will really matter. Do we have a liveable environment? Can we walk or cycle to most of the places we want to go? Do we live within a 20-minute trip of where we work? Do we have easy access to all the services and amenities we need? Are our homes environmentally sustainable and do we have open space close to where we live? Are we totally reliant on our cars?

*According to the The Economist Intelligence Unit, which compiles the World’s Most Liveable Cities index, we have the desirable things people around the globe want, in spades – healthcare, education, infrastructure, fantastic culture and environment.

*The question on your lips is probably, are we stuffing it up?

There are a number of realities that as Victorians we don’t have direct power over. National population growth is one of the big ones. Melbourne will overtake Sydney in population at current projections by 2028.


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One of the consequences of this could be an endless suburban sprawl into Melbourne’s hinterland.

Most Melburnians probably don’t know that our city has for some time had a clear Urban Growth Boundary to limit urban expansion. Because there is agreement that sprawl is not a good idea, the Victorian government has an aspiration to accommodate 70 per cent of the new housing growth in Melbourne’s established areas. That means densification.

Does that mean we are going to become Hong Kong? Absolutely not. Different building types will be appropriate for different areas of the city and the state.

Brownfields, old industrial land near the inner city, will continue to be developed with a mix of homes.

We are working towards a proportion of those homes being affordable for low-income families and people, as well as social housing to help ease the painfully visible fact of widespread homelessness.

We also need to acknowledge the changing nature of our demographic mix. In many areas of Melbourne, the most common living arrangement, within a decade, will be “single person”. In recent times we have been confronted to learn that nearly 450,000 Melburnians are living in houses with more bedrooms than they need.

Of course, people should always have a choice, as apartments aren’t for everyone, but with an ageing population there are other important factors we should consider like proximity to family and friends and services.

One of the economic benefits of creating this choice is affordability. State government research for the two years from January 2016 shows that in Hawthorn, for example, 56 per cent of apartment transactions were below $600,000, compared to the median house price of $1.995 million. In Moonee Ponds, 82 per cent of apartments sold were below $650,000, compared to the median of $1.128 million.


Flammable cladding fuelled London's Grenfell Tower blaze in 2017, in which 72 people died.

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I would not be surprised that after recent well-publicised difficulties with apartment construction in Sydney and flammable cladding nationwide that some are questioning higher density living. 

The Victorian government’s response in announcing a $600 million package to rectify the crisis shows a commitment not only to fairness but to create confidence in the safety of denser living.

In the meantime, we are boosting housing choice in targeted locations in established Melbourne. Many councils have been leading the way on this for some years. For example, the City of Yarra has done great work with the Alphington paper mill development and along the Yarra at Abbotsford.

Another example is the Arden Precinct in North Melbourne. This brownfield site two kilometres from the CBD will be transformed into homes for 15,000 people and 34,000 jobs by 2051 and serviced by one of our new Metro stations. But much more is needed.

Stuart Moseley is chief executive of the Victorian Planning Authority.