High-density housing push divides communities in Perth's affluent suburbs as locals fight back
Perth is expecting an extra 1.5 million people by 2050. (Giulio Saggin, file photo: ABC News)
In more than a decade on the Nedlands town council, Max Hipkins had never seen anything quite like it.
- The WA Government has set high housing density targets for Perth councils
- It wants new developments centred on new and existing train stations
- But some councils want to preserve the spacious appeal of their neighbourhoods
“This is the most divisive matter that has affected the city in my time,” Mr Hipkins, the Nedlands Mayor, said of a public brawl over proposals to increase housing density.
“It was exceedingly difficult.”
As the Nedlands council grappled with State Government pressure to increase the density of the area, the pressure and backlash was substantial.
Protest groups were organised, local representatives were bombarded and relations between the council and the State Government fell apart, as concerns from residents grew at the prospect of a locality well known for its extremely spacious blocks facing major changes to that identity.
Nedlands is known for its wide, leafy streets, spacious houses and large blocks. (ABC News: Marcus Alborn)
But the inner western suburbs council was far from the first area to face such a fierce debate over the issue, with density becoming a divisive topic in Subiaco and Cambridge in recent years.
And, with major changes to the face of Perth underway, these stoushes may be just the tip of the iceberg.
Housing clustered around transport ‘hubs’
The McGowan Government wants the metropolitan area to be transformed over the coming decades, with medium- to high-density developments surrounding new and existing train stations at the core of that vision.
Some communities will be dubbed “Metronet Hubs”, with a particular focus on high-density housing options a short walk from train stations built as part of the Government’s public transport masterplan.
More homes built closer to train stations are a cornerstone of the McGowan Government’s plan. (ABC News: Patrick Stone)
For some suburbs it will mean major changes and avoiding further ugly brawls over density may not be easy.
Planning Minister Rita Saffioti said she was determined to avoid mistakes of the past.
“We are doing some research now and working with particular communities about how we have that discussion better,” she said.
“It is about making sure everyone is aware of the need to create some consolidation and some good infill.”
Property Council executive director Sandra Brewer says large concrete apartment blocks are not the only form high-density housing can take. (ABC News: Elise Pianegonda)
Ms Saffioti said she wanted to see density debates handled better, with a more active role for the State Government in convincing the public of the need for higher housing density.
“It is about making sure people are more aware of what is happening in their community, how it can benefit them in the longer term and how we can support businesses by having more people live close to them,” she said.
“We intend to work more with communities and really involve them in the discussions earlier on.”
Challenge to win over the public
The Property Council has also been pushing for a rethink of how the density debate is approached, saying state and local governments have not helped themselves with the way the issue is framed to the public.
“What leaders have not been able to do is find a language where the community also understands the benefits for them,” Property Council executive director Sandra Brewer said.
“When people hear ‘density’ they imagine big concrete flats of the past.”
Ms Brewer wanted to see the Government take a more active role in minimising public backlash.
“Just really listen to their concerns, they are valid,” she said.
“Really a conversation needs to be had by State Government, local government and these communities.”
WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti has been tasked with selling the infill policy to a wary community. (ABC News: James Carmody)
Planners are bracing for an extra 1.5 million people to be living between the Perth and the Peel regions by 2050.
At the same time, the Labor Government was also trying to put the brakes on the city’s rapid urban sprawl.
It could lead to plenty more public stoushes over density, but Ms Saffioti said she could get the public on board.
“We have to move on,” she said.