Monday, July 4, 2016

Affordable Housing at 'Lachlan's line', Macquarie Park

NSW Government developer UrbanGrowth has released details of its plans for Affordable Housing at 'Lachlan's line' - a major residential development in Macquarie Park, Northwest Sydney. Measuring 9 hectares, Lachlan's line sits between Epping Road and the M2 motorway, and adjacent North Ryde train station. The brownfield site was most recently owned by NSW Government agency RailCorp, and used to assist construction of the Epping to Chatswood train line. Once complete, the site is expected to house approximately 5000 residents in 2700 apartments, across 10 'super lots'. 

Above: Concept art of a completed Lachlan's line

On June 27 2016, UrbanGrowth announced that it is seeking expressions of interest from Community Housing providers - potentially in partnership with private developers - to purchase and develop one super lot as Affordable Housing for key workers. According to the associated information memorandum, this 2507 square metre lot is zoned R4 (high density residential), and has a concept design for 96 apartments, including the floor space bonus available under the NSW planning policy for Affordable Housing. Expressions of interest for CHPs and developers close on 29 July 2016, and UrbanGrowth will issue invitations to tender later this year. No timeline for the development of the Affordable Housing lot specifically is available. However, construction of residential towers at Lachlan's line generally is expected to commence in 2017, with residents moving in by 2019. 

Also announced on June 27 was an EOI and tender process for private developers concerning a further two super lots - of 6883 and 6745 square metres, also zoned for high density residential. Collectively, these are expected to house approximately 172 apartments. UrbanGrowth sold an additional super lot - the largest of the 10 - in late 2014. Shanghai developer Greenland purchased the 1.2-hectare site, zoned B4 (mixed use). According to The Australian Financial Review, Greenland intends to build up to 900 apartments on this land. There is nothing to suggest that any of these lots will include an Affordable or Social Housing component. 

Above: The Lachlan's line build site

Lachlan's line is the second major residential project in Macquarie Park being undertaken by UrbanGrowth - together with the redevelopment of the Ivanhoe Public Housing estate under the 'Communities Plus' program. TUNSW Clearing House has recorded details of the Ivanhoe project here, with an update here. The NSW Government has designated Macquarie Park and its surrounds a 'priority growth area'. 

Our response

Despite the flurry of news this week, Lachlan's line is not an especially new initiative. It was announced way back in September 2013, and the Government's vision for the site as a major residential development can be traced back at least as far as the sale of the mixed use lot in 2014. Until now, all evidence suggested the project would deliver its mammoth 2700 apartments for 5000 residents with a Social and Affordable Housing component of precisely zero; In other words, a rare and valuable opportunity spurned. According to National Shelter, rental housing in Macquarie Park and neighbouring suburbs is 'severely unaffordable' for low income households - meaning they pay over 38% of their income in rent on average. NSW Land and Housing Corporation's own initiatives and decade-long wait times in Northwest Sydney also reflect an urgent need for more Social Housing.

The news that one of the ten super lots comprising Lachlan's line has been set aside for the construction of Affordable Housing is therefore a considerable surprise, but certainly welcome. But it must be noted that the Affordable Housing lot is the smallest of the four to be put to market thus far. It is approximately 20% of the size of the Greenland lot, and one fifth smaller than the other two designated for private housing. In turn, the 96 Affordable Housing apartments will make up around 8% of the 1170 dwellings to be constructed across these four lots. Which is not insignificant in itself; But if the remaining lots are given to private development, that will mean that just 3.5% of all housing at Lachlan's line is Affordable. Moreover, there is still no indication that the project will include any Social Housing at all.

We therefore call on the Government to build on its good work. It should ensure that the remaining six lots at Lachlan's Line include a substantial Social and Affordable Housing component - thereby delivering a true mixed tenure development for the benefit of all of Northwest Sydney. 

Finally, the words of Planning Minister Rob Stokes, speaking to 7 news about Lachlan's line, have also given us pause for thought. He acknowledged there is "plenty of demand" for Affordable Housing throughout NSW, and noted, "We'll earmark a certain percentage in new developments such as this one for key workers - people like emergency service workers, nurses, and teachers". Again, we approve of the principle of including an Affordable Housing component in all major residential developments. We just hope the percentage the Minister has in mind is significantly higher than 3.5. 

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